Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 2, Chapter 13


Chapter XIII

And So To War


Introduction

For almost seven years, until my release in May 1946, I served in the Gunners. So much happened during that time that I could not possibly commit all my memories to paper without causing boredom in the reader. What follows will be of a strictly anecdotal nature; namely the highlights of what for me were seven very happy years among comrades of the finest kind. The influence of the camaraderie I found in the Army (and the Navy too as you will hear later) has remained with me to this day and has certainly helped me along life's way.

Do keep it in mind too, that I did not keep a diary, that war-time restrictions on newspapers were pretty severe and that individual soldiers had a very restricted view of what was going on in the world. There were times when we would not see a newspaper for weeks on end and what was in them was, naturally, censored. In my own case several of the positions I held carried the official Secrets Act requirement of silence.

A) The first Month
On Sunday 3rd September 1939, the day war was declared, the 78th Field Regiment R.A. was gathered in the drill hall Grindlay Street, Edinburgh (opposite the Usher Hall) preparing to move out to a secret destination - we, of the lower ranks, knew not where! Wives, sweethearts, mothers, fathers, children and other relations of the soldiers were in attendance outside the Hall to say farewell to their loved ones. I was the only soldier who did not belong to Edinburgh so I could look on at the melee somewhat objectively. Especially was this so when at 11 am after the bells of St. Cuthbert's and St. Johns' Churches had ceased ringing, the air raid sirens screeched their warning of imminent air attack! Now the scene became one of bedlam within and without as civilians and soldiers sought shelter where there was none. I stood calmly in the quarter-masters' office looking out over the hall packed with panicking folk. The Assistant Adjutant, a young Writer to the Signet of a well known west end family, came rushing in telling me that we were all to wear our gas masks. He had no idea how to adjust his own and sought my help. He had obviously not had the practice which U/A/L/Bdr. Cameron had during the recent weeks. How alarmed he was when eventually the gas mask was on his face with all the straps adjusted properly. I had to assure him that he would not suffocate. The 'all clear' sounded on the sirens about 11.5 am and gas masks were removed with thankfulness.

Later, after a real Army dinner (never called 'lunch') eaten from our mess tins we had all to parade in the Usher Hall for medical inspection - only those found to be Grade A1 would be permitted to continue with a Field Regiment. On entering the hall we were ordered to occupy every second row of seats and to remove all clothing above the belt. The Medical Officer (M.O.) arrived with the Regimental Sergeant Major (R.S.M.). As they reached each row the R.S.M. ordered 'drop trousers and pants and raise the arms above the head'. Thereafter the M.O. walked along the vacant row looked at each poor soul with his arms in the air and feeling more embarrassed than he had ever done before and without exception the medical opinion expressed was 'all A1'. With that the R.S.M. gave the order 'Now get dressed'. You can just imagine how we all felt but that was all the medical we had!

Our 'secret' destination was Currie and Hermiston scarcely four miles from Grindlay Street: What a let down! The quarter-master's staff formed part of what was known as regimental headquarters and as such we were accommodated in horse stables at Hermiston. Our bedding consisted of three 'blankets - woollen army' which when properly folded (as taught during the first camp) could provide five layers of blanket below and three on top or vice versa depending on the sleeping quarters. On the stable floor of cobble stones the three blankets were totally inadequate. After the first uncomfortable and sleepless night I raised the matter with the R.Q.M.S. but he had no power to give us additional blankets. I therefore 'brass necked it' (to use an army expression) gained admission to the Adjutant by the simple process of knocking at his office door and entering. He was a young Advocate whom I had met in Parliament House on one occasion and he answered my plea by issuing an order to the R.Q.M.S. that all Regimental H.Q. staff were to have an additional half dozen blankets! Wasn't I popular with the plumbers, carpenters, train drivers and others who were my colleagues.

At 9 am. on the first Saturday as 'real' soldiers the members of Headquarters Troop were required to parade before the R.S.M. He ordered us to remove our caps ('cheese - cutters' as they were called), came along the lines of soldiers examining the many and varied hair styles; in front of each man he ordered 'Hair Cut'. When he came to me and saw the length of my fair locks his command was quite straight forward namely 'get if off!'. That afternoon in a barber shop which I used to pass going down Lothian Road of a morning, but had never used for lack of funds, the barber said you'll need a 'short back and sides'. 'No' I replied. 'Take it all off'. I left the shop with the leather lining of my cap stuffed with folded newspaper to prevent the thing falling down over my eyes! On the Monday morning when the R.S.M. came in to inspect my 'short back and sides' he nearly had a fit and addressed me in words which I will not repeat here! Three years, or more later I was to become his Adjutant!

About the middle of September I had to proceed with the R.Q.M.S. the Quarter-Master himself (who was a commissioned officer), Bill Irons and said Adjutant to Burntisland to which one of our Batteries had been moved. For what purpose I do not recall: But on the return journey just as we disembarked from the ferry at South Queensferry we witnessed the first attempt by 'jerry' to bomb and destroy the Forth Bridge. The German bombers had little success and were soon chased out of the area by fighters from the R.A.F. base at Turnhouse. As mere sightseers we saw the aerial 'dog fights', heard the anti aircraft guns firing and saw their shells exploding in the sky, but did not see the Forth Bridge tumbling down! For a record of this first German attack the reader will have to look elsewhere.

On 19th September my Grandfather passed away having been ill, for the first time in his long life, during the preceding four weeks. Leave was granted so that I could attend the funeral in Ardersier which I did and enjoyed the few days with my Mother and Father at home in 113. I was not to see them again until March 1942.

The news on returning to the Regiment was that our Commanding Officer had committed suicide! A new C.O. Lieutenant Colonel W.A. MacLellan, of the famous Steel Pipe Making company in Glasgow, had been appointed and was already installed.

The previous C.O. had put my name forward for a Commission and I had been interviewed in Stirling Castle. When Col. MacLellan received the letter informing him that I had been selected he immediately sent for me, told me that he wanted me to stay with the Regiment that he wanted me to take over responsibility for the Regimental office and with this in mind had already arranged a place for me on an Artillery Clerks course in Woolwich the home of the Gunners. So - What could I do? In my lowly position. I had to bow to my superior's wishes. The course was to begin at the beginning of October and would last for six weeks.

B) Learning to be an Artillery ClerkAt Woolwich forty soldiers from Gunners to Sergeants assembled for the course. Accommodation and feeding was of pre war standard: quite comfortable and plain with lots of 'plum duff' every day. The training was given by excellent lecturers, who helped us greatly by issuing copies of their lectures. This pleased me greatly. The administration of a Field Regiment was covered in depth and the law governing the Army as contained in the Manual of Military Law was 'drilled' into us. Only one subject troubled me and that was type writing! We were expected to pass out at the end of the course with the proven ability to type at the speed of 40 words per minute. No instruction was given but for those like me who could not type there was a roomful of Barlock typewriters available for learners and practice every evening after 6pm. At the end of the course we had to type a piece from that day's issue of the Daily Express and somehow or other I passed! The other subjects gave me no difficulty and I arrived back at Hermiston with a 'D' certificate in my pocket 'D' = Distinction.

Immediately I was promoted to the proud rank of Sergeant (A.C) which gave me three stripes and a gun on each arm and raised my pay from two shillings to 8/9d per day.

During that time in Woolwich we were free on Saturdays and Sundays and this gave me the opportunity of seeing something of London. The River Thames and much of the City were 'protected' at that time by a great many barrage balloons floating in the sky - a constant reminder that we were at war although the Germans had not yet attacked: nor had we of course during what was known as the 'phoney war'. I first experienced rowing a skiff on the serpentine - a wonderful experience after I got accustomed to the moving seat. After a few practices it became clear that this narrow boat could be propelled through the calm waters of a lake at a far higher speed than anything I could achieve in my dear old dinghy. To my horror one day when travelling at high speed I struck another boat broadside on. It capsized, the rower was in the water which gladly was quite shallow so when he stood up he towered above me and really gave me 'what for'!
I deserved it! Fortunately the other boat was not damaged - nor was mine. I left the Park, having had a second 'telling-off' from the boat attendant, feeling very ashamed of myself.

The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square with all its pigeons, the National Gallery and its Art treasures, Hyde Park Corner with its speakers of every persuasion. The Mall, the Planetarium and Madame Taussaudes were all visited during my six free weekends, sometimes in the company of another course member. I got to know the London Underground and the London bus routes remarkably well. Yes, it was a thoroughly enjoyable way in which to commence one's army career. Apart from the above mentioned 'sights'. I had the privilege of visiting Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral and heard that famous preacher Dick Sheppard in his lovely church of St. Martin's in the Fields. The crypt of the latter was being used as a soldiers' canteen and I benefited from that.

On being promoted to the rank of Sergeant I had, of course, to transfer myself to the Sergeants' Mess where, happily, I was well received. Whether this was due to the fact that I would daily be in contact with the C.O., Second in Command and Adjutant or to their previous knowledge of me in the Q.M. stores I do not know. I like to think it resulted from a general impression of 'wee Alex' - the wee fella from the Highlands - formed during our happy Friday evening training sessions in the T.A.

C) To Selkirk and PiddlehintonWe were not long in Hermiston and Currie before being moved to Selkirk and Galashiels where woollen mills had been requisitioned ('taken over' in ordinary language) for army purposes. Accommodation was of course fairly basic - large barrack - like halls from which the machinery had been removed. The 'other ranks' slept on paliasses (mattresses filled with straw) laid on the floor: Sergeants in smaller units on wooden beds. The large vat in which wool was dyed, when the mill was in operation, was filled with warm water and this provided us with a communal bath capable of accommodating two dozen men at a time in water about 3 feet deep. The C.O. had ordered that all ranks were to have a bath at least once a week so the vat was full every evening; with 550 of an establishment that meant that almost 80 men were washed and bathed every evening all in the same water! No harm came to any of us. The water was changed every day.

Feeding was of the highest standard as the army pre-war ration allowance still applied so we were fed like fighting cocks.

Soon after arrival in Selkirk our old 18 pounder guns were withdrawn, and so we were told, we were the first Regiment to be issued with what was to become recognised as the finest field ordnance in the British Army, namely the 25 pounder. That winter was one of very severe frost in the Borders and the oil in the buffer recuperator systems (the recoil mechanism) of the brand new guns froze solid. The casings were severely cracked, the guns useless! How old Colonel MacLellan fumed, Soon engineers arrived from Woolwich, the guns were removed and almost immediately replaced by new guns in which, we were assured, the oil would not freeze.

In Selkirk we had our first taste of the warm and generous hospitality which was extended by the local people to soldiers within their midst during the whole of the war. The Churches, Woman's Voluntary Service, British Legion all went to great lengths to entertain ( and feed! ) the troops.

No sooner had January 1940 come to a close than we were ordered to move to a place with the extra-ordinary name of Piddlehinton in Dorset. So on its first long distance move the 78th proceeded, at the prescribed speed of 12-1/2 m.p.h. and with a distance of approximately 100 yards between each vehicle in the convoy, towards this mysterious place. There were 150 vehicles in the Regiment of which 24 were gun-towers. After about five days on the road we completed the 450 mile journey: I had enjoyed it very much sitting as a passenger in a comfortable Hunter wireless truck filled not with wireless sets but with office equipment, files, stationery etc.

Two batteries and Regimental H.Q. were allocated accommodation in halls of various kinds, requisitioned mansion houses and such like in the village of Piddlehinton which we soon discovered was located, yes, on the River Piddle about 5 miles north of Dorchester. The third battery were in Puddletown just a couple of miles down river! The river was in fact no more than a burn.

In Dorset the local drink was Cider and as the pubs did not sell Scottish beer the boys indulged in the cider, encouraged by the locals. Many had to be carried home at night by their mates as the cider was much stronger than any beer to be found in the howffs of Edinburgh. In an effort to control the drinking the C.O. introduced a 10 PM curfew which did not meet universal approval! I still remember typing the order to be placed on all notice boards.

Not being a drinker I used to accompany a few of my Sergeant friends to canteens which had been organised by dear old ladies in church and other halls. They were astonished when we first arrived on the scene that we were not wearing kilts. The locals seemed to be under the impression that all Scotsmen wore the kilt and, moreover, had heather growing between their toes. We spent over three months in Dorset preparing for action. The spring weather was lovely, the apple trees blossoming gloriously. We enjoyed our sojourn in that part of England yet always wondering when the fighting was going to begin: and where. It began so far as the British forces were concerned not by Hitler landings in the UK by sea and air as we had anticipated but when he ordered his forces to move west towards the Atlantic over Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France.

D) The second B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force)Towards the end of May the Regiment was ordered to move to the Aldershot area. There we were issued with all the extra paraphernalia required by a unit going into action: tons and tons of equipment some of which we had never seen before. At that time the British Expeditionary force was evacuating from Dunkirk and at Aldershot we saw truck after truck arrive with survivors of the B.E.F. some dressed only in their trousers some indeed only in their 'shirts' truly a sorry sight. And here we were fully equipped and 'roaring' to go - but where?

Churchill answered that question when he announced he was sending the second B.E.F. to France to stop Hitler! And so on 5th June 1940 the Fifty-Second (Lowland) Division of which we were part and the 1st Canadians embarked from Southampton and Plymouth. On 12th June we were able to see on the cinema screen in Southampton all 24 of our 25 pdr. guns being lifted individually by derrick on to a large cargo boat! The Second B.E.F. had to turn and flee - for the record I might say that we lost only one vehicle and the guns did not even reach a French port when the Captain of the ship wisely decided to turn back.

Soon the Regiment was directed to East Anglia to defend the shores of old England! The Canadians were down in Kent and together these Divisions were the only fully equipped and manned units of the British Army at that time. We in 78th had only 24 rounds per gun, the normal peace-time holding, while the few soldiers carrying rifles, mainly for guard duty on gun and vehicle parks had six rounds each the same as the officers who carried Smith and Wesson .38 pistols.

E) East Anglia
R.H.Q. was stationed in the small town of Fakenham the people of which took the 'Scottish boys' to their hearts. The three batteries were located in positions, such that one had its guns always 'laid' on Marham aerodrome while the other two were eastwards towards Great Yarmouth and Gorleston those great herring ports.
Accommodation was in bell tents which were erected over a large hole in the ground three feet deep and of the same circumference, or so, as the tent. This was to provide shelter against anything other than a direct hit. There was a good deal of bombing by German aircraft but only against aerodromes. We were told that the spire of Ely Cathedral and its copper roof were being used by the enemy as navigational guides and no doubt that was the case for no attempt was made to bomb Ely.

At this stage our Divisional Medical Officers were finding more and more men inflicted with venereal disease and this created more worry among the Commanding Officers than a German landing would have done. What was to be done? In the end it was decided to ask the Reverend Roland Selby Wright, Minister of the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh and Warden of the famous Canongate Boys Club to use his influence with the men of the Division. And so it was that the Cathedral at Kings Lynn saw every officer and other rank of the Division in relays - fill its pews and choir stalls while they listened to R.S.B. preach a sermon on true love. He had a most wonderful way of getting his message home to men: we were reminded of the wives and mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, grannies and granddads at home in Edinburgh and of the heart-breaking effect news of V.D. in their loved one far from home would have. I don't suppose his appeal for celibacy was answered by all his hearers but the doctors saw an immediate drop in the number of cases and never again did the same problem arise.

In the Division we also had as Senior Padre the Rev. Joseph Gray M.A.,T.D. (later to marry Wilma and myself) and Rev Leonard Small (of St. Cuthberts). With their support I was able to obtain large quantities of C of S. Huts Notepaper and envelopes from 121 George Street, Edinburgh and to distribute these among the troops as an encouragement to write home regularly. All the officers became involved in my 'scheme' and this certainly helped tremendously in maintaining morale over a number of years.

On one of the occasions when the Adjutant had me with him down at the Coast several bodies of Germans were washed ashore, probably air crew who had been shot down. This resulted in a rumour that the Germans 'had tried to land and been beaten back' as one paper had it.

However the C.O. had news from the War office that the Germans were mustering barges and similar craft in Holland and invasion was to be expected soon. Guards at all posts were doubled and we all lived in great expectation.

However, there nearly was a mutiny in the Division! We had been issued for several weeks with nothing but tinned fish, herring, pilchards, salmon and tuna, for breakfast, dinner and tea! What a blessing the local ladies had set up their canteens and that we had access to 'good food' like sausage and mash, beans on toast, pork pies and so on. So bad was the situation that each Regiment was visited by no less a person that the King accompanied by our G.O.C. General Ritchie. The latter told each parade that the government apologised for the daily offerings of tinned fish but, he said, food intended for the United Kingdom from Canada and U.S.A. was being lost at sea every day. What we were receiving had come from government reserves. This did nothing to assuage the hunger of the young men who had until recently been fed nothing but the best.

Soon after this we were moved again this time to Scotland!

F) Back to Scotland
Our move back to Scotland included a firing camp at Otterburn in the Borders which lasted almost two weeks. This really allowed the boys on the guns to let off steam and the rest of us to see them in action firing live ammunition. It was a pleasant break in good weather. Our destination was Falkirk where we were accommodated in halls of all sorts . R.H.Q. was in an office right in the centre of Falkirk. One of those whose livelihood had been taken away from him was a Mr Jimmy Turpie a dancing instructor who told me, he had been a stoker in the Navy in World War I. He kept coming to see me about the possibility of allowing him to resume dancing classes in one or more of the halls which he had previously rented. There was nothing I could do about that but I was able to help him sort out his Income Tax affairs which were in a shocking state. In return he and his good lady, Mary extended kind hospitality to me and Jimmy even taught me how to do the quick-step, fox-trot, waltz and tango! I was never very good at these but Jimmy must have had an ulterior motive - or maybe it was Mary. Their daughter Jean was engaged to a Falkirk lad who played for the local football team but Jimmy entered me as her partner for a competition dance at the local ice-rink. To my utter astonishment we won first place in the quick step and slow fox-trot! Great rejoicing in the Turpie family and much leg-pulling in the Sergeants Mess! When I heard soon after this that the engagement was to be broken off I had to be quite firm and told Mother and Daughter that I was not in the slightest bit interested. So the engagement ran the usual course and Jean and her fiancee married. (He became an Electrical Engineer and worked in the Electricity Supply Industry as I was to do).

Actually the people of Falkirk were most kind to the troops providing all sorts of entertainment. At the ice rink one quarter of the skating area had been boarded over and fenced off from the skaters. The local W.V.S. were as always, quite wonderful. During this period I acquired a pair of skating boots and had instruction from some of my colleagues who could already skate. But I never did become an expert!

We were in Falkirk for only three months when the Regiment was moved to Dunblane and Auchterarder. From here it was easy to gain access to the firing ranges on Shefiffmuir. I have no recollection of anything exciting happening in Dunblane except perhaps that we were selected to participate in a service broadcast from St. Blanes Church at which Ronald Selby Wright preached an inspiring sermon and I was introduced to a prominent person in the B.B.C (whose name I've forgotten) who suggested I join his organisation as a news reader on the Empire service when war was ended. (We still had an Empire at that time!) He would personally recommend me because of my Inverness accent. But I did not take up that offer.

The next move was to Haddington in East Lothian where I became friendly with the late Rev. Robin Mitchell minister of the church beside the Regimental office. He was a great outdoor man and an expert on the flora and fauna of the area,. It was with him while we were fishing on the River Tyne one evening that I saw, for the only time, the death dance of the flies. Literally millions of flies gathered along the still waters of the river in the shape of a cone towering perhaps twenty or thirty foot high. The noise of humming as they rose into the air was awesome: the vertical climb lasted for about five minutes and then all at once the whole cone collapsed and fell into the Tyne. A truly moving experience which I have never forgotten. Robin and his wife were most kind to me all the time I was in Haddington. One of my clerks was the son of a Minister who loved to play the organ so he was appointed organist for all church parades -although he claimed to be an atheist. Jimmy Milne was his name and before the war he had become famous by marrying while still under the age of 25 contrary to the regulations governing employees of the Commercial Bank for which he worked. He was dismissed but appealed to the Court of Session on the grounds that the regulations were 'Contra libertatem matrimonii' The law of Scotland regarded as illegal any restraints put on marriage - it probably still does; I hope so anyway. I used to give him permission on a Saturday evening to leave his quarters above the office in order to practice 'for tomorrow'. Little did he know that five or six of us including the Adjutant and Second-in-Command crept into the back seat of the church while Jimmy sat in candlelight at the organ playing beautiful pieces of music from the classics, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel among them. For an hour we would sit enchanted by the wonderful music and then creep silently out into the night. If the organist had known he would have risen and left. Then one night the noise of aircraft filled the skies: enemy bombers on their way to Clydebank and Gourock but we did not know that. The anti-aircraft guns in the district were 'pooping off' all around Haddington while searchlights pierced the darkness. One bomber was hit and crash landed in a field outside the town but not before it had dropped five bombs all of which hit Military targets - his good luck and not good judgement. The quarter-masters store in a tenement in the centre of Haddington had a direct hit and was set ablaze. My friends Joe and Bob managed to escape by 'shinning' down a drain pipe. Across the street an unexploded bomb fell through the roof of a tenement and landed at the foot of the stairwell. In that tenement another of my boys - the most gentle of souls - had rented a room and kitchen for himself and his bride of a few days. He picked up the 50 kg bomb and carried it out the back door, across the back green and dropped it over the boundary wall - all in order that his lovely wife should not be killed. The three other bombs landed in the main car park and the gun park and although they exploded no damage was done.

When the C.O. heard what Gunner Bartlett had done with the unexploded bomb he nearly had a fit! But while he contemplated a court martial decided in the end simply to reprimand Bartlett. After the C.O. had explained how dangerous and therefore wrong it was to handle an unexploded bomb I remember Bartlett saying in his quiet way "and what would you have done, Sir, if your wife had been similarly placed?" The reprimand was merely a warning 'not to do the same again'!

Our C.O. Colonel MacLellan was moved and replaced by one who had been a Gunnery Officer at Larkhill, near Salisbury - the school of gunnery. He was a real fire brand! No sooner had he arrived than he was out inspecting every troop, every battery and, almost, every gun. It was evident that a disciplinarian had arrived as I typed order after order about every conceivable activity to go out to Battery Commanders. One of the first was that every member of the Regiment regardless of rank would parade on the nearest gun park at 6. am for physical 'jerks' under a P.T. instructor and whatever the weather. A foretaste of Monty's regime! You can probably imagine how clerks and cooks unaccustomed as they were to daily drills or parades reacted. But in the Army orders are orders. The P.T. Instructor for Regimental H.Q. was no less a person than the C.O. dressed in shorts and singlet. He had us hard at it for 30 minutes each morning before we were allowed to wash and shower at the out door toilet arrangements - cold water was freely available from a tap set above a metal wash hand basin.

Before the end of the first week he asked me to come in and bring my personal file. I knew not what was in store. After reading through it he demanded to know why I had not gone for the officer's training course offered in 1939 as I was just wasting my talents in this present job! My explanation was, of course accepted but he told me that he personally was going to arrange for me to go O.C.T.U. (Office Cadet Training Unit) as soon as possible. Meantime I was to go out to 181 Battery as a gun sergeant, learn all I could about the 25 pdr and ballistics and generally become a 'real gunner' to justify, as he put it the wearing of a gun on my arms! So off I went and did as the C.O. had told me to do. The gun itself and every part of it had to be mastered as also the trailer, in which 24 rounds of ammunition were carried, and the GUY gun-towing vehicle which not only pulled the trailer and gun but carried the gun crew of six including myself. Up until now the army had not let me loose among things mechanical and I revelled in this new found interest. There were handbooks to study, gun drill books to read and absorb and a detailed maintenance manual in relation to the Guy. I determined that before ever going to O.C.T.U. I would be a 'real gunner' as the C.O. had ordered and with the co-operation of my crew of five men and my fellow sergeants I like to think I was. We had several opportunities of firing live ammunition at Otterburn and Sheriffmuir. It was at the latter that my hearing was damaged. There was mist on the target area in the hills, the range was 10,000 yards and to reach this the layer (known as No. 3 on the gun) elevated the barrel to the required angle, I realised it was now fowling the camouflage net and proceeded to unlace the net to allow free movement of the barrel when the gun fired, the order to fire came as a shout from the Command Post and my layer without waiting for me to return to the No.1's position at the trail of the gun and then shout 'Fire', pulled the trigger. My head was about six inches from the barrel as the shell roared away into the sky. The blast knocked me out and when I came to I was at the Command Post, being cared for by a First Aider, with blood coming from each ear. Soon I was in Stirling Infirmary but was discharged that evening. For several months I suffered pains in my ears but when the call came for me to proceed to O.C.T.U. the doctor declared me A1 and off I went.

G) O.C.T.U. (Officer Cadet Training Unit)
Early in March 1942 I arrived at the railway station at Catterick in York-shire along with a number of other Sergeants, Bombadiers and Lance/Bombadiers all destined for six months at 121 O.C.T.U. One of the Sunday newspapers had given it the name of the 'Hi-di-Ho, Ho-di-ho' O.C.T.U. where 'they made you or broke you'. Certainly it turned out to be the toughest six months I have ever known.

On arrival at the barracks - a real army barracks not unlike Fort George - our uniform was taken from us and were issued with new battle dress uniform (with No badges of rank) and a white cotton band to be worn round our 'forage' caps - this was the distinguishing badge of an officer cadet.

Of the 49 Cadets in the 'intake' 24 were from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and 25 who had already been soldiers. Sleeping accommodation was in rooms for six or eight men with two tier bunk beds and polished wooden floors. For the first four weeks we had infantry training and in the gym the P. T. instructors endeavoured to make us gymnasts. Reveille was at 6.30 am with half and hour for ablutions in the barracks before 'falling in' on the parade ground for P.T. We were certainly ready for breakfast at 8 am! Before going out again for our first parade at 9 am we had to ensure that all our kit and blankets were made up in the approved regular army fashion. Before leaving the room we had to polish the floor so that it shone like a mirror with never the mark of an army boot on it. This was achieved with a heavy polisher on which, in our room I, as the smallest occupant, used to sit while one of my comrades pushed the polisher up and down over the floor retreating all the time towards the entrance. This procedure ensured that when the Sergeant Major inspected our room he found the place spotless. If he did not then the punishment was that all the occupants of the room concerned had to endure half an hour of drill on the parade ground after supper.

The office in charge of our squad of 45 Cadets was one Captain Garron-Williams (whose father we were told was a Brigadier on Monty's staff). He was known to all as 'Garbage Bill'. He was a real snob disliked not only by the Cadets who had been in uniform before 121 but the student cadets from 'Oxbridge' who themselves were regarded by others as being rather 'toffee nosed'. Perhaps because I was the smallest in the squad Garbage Bill took a special dislike to me. Because I was so small, because I was only a fisherman's son, (his words) because my father had been only a deck-hand in the Great War he assured me, one day, that I hadn't a hope of being commissioned. Of course I had no means of responding for to have done so would no doubt have seen me on a charge for 'speaking back' to an officer.

Ah well, we marched and counter marched, slow march and quick march, we ran for miles over the Yorkshire dales, crossed rivers by means of hand-hold ropes, fired rifles, bren guns and .38 pistols, endured a battle course in which we ran for miles, marched for miles, climbed trees, slid down ropes, vaulted over fences and ended up at the firing range: here we had to loose off six rounds at the distant target with arms and hands that were anything but steady. And all to prove that we could be gunner officers.

Towards the end of the fourth week we were on the 30 yard range one day when 'Garbage Bill' challenged anyone in the squad to 'take him on'. A fellow Scot, Shug MacGowan a Sergeant in the 79th Field Regiment of Greenock, spoke up! 'Cadet Cameron will take you on, Sir'. I was horrified for Shug was a good friend of mine. However I agreed. G.B. offered a choice of firearms but brought out a beautiful leather bound, velvet lined case containing two German Mausers and said he would prefer to use them. I had never seen anything like those pearl-handled pistols except in the museum in Edinburgh but as soon as I held one in my right hand I knew it was perfect for me. After all my Dad, who was a crackshot in World War I, had taught me to shoot. G.B. set up two targets the size of Swan Vestas' match boxes - at 30 yards they looked like bulls eyes and then tossed a penny to decide who should go first. I won the toss but when G.B said 'Oh well, that means you go first Cameron'. I replied that as in a game of cricket it was my privilege to let him 'bat' first. He did and put 5 bullets in the target. The good Lord was with me that day steadying my hand - yes, all six went through the target. G.B. was overcome - he was the crack shot of his unit - and this diminutive Scot had beaten him. The applause from the squad was heart warming but so also was the congratulations bestowed on me by G.B. He drove me to the Officer's Mess where the C.O. and second-in-Command were having tea, introduced me, told them what had happened and invited me to have tea with him. After that I never looked back!

At the end of the week 25 Cadets were rejected leaving only 24 to continue into gunnery training. How many hearts were broken by the Hi-di-hi, hi-di-ho OCTU! No wonder the Sunday newspapers were so critical.

Being already a 'real' gunner I loved the remaining five months of training hard work as it was. I passed my driving test on a 3 ton truck laden with 3 tons of ammunition. These were the days of square cut gear boxes. One commenced the test at the foot of the steepest hill in Richmond and was required to stop and take off (without moving back even one inch!) four times. Anyone who failed here was not allowed to proceed further. Gladly I managed all the other manoeuvres and received my driving license.

By the end of the fifth month 20 of the squad were informed that they would be commissioned and could now proceed to order uniform and camp gear etc. In Richmond, not surprisingly, there were two well known services tailors. It was a thrilling experience for us cadets to be measured for officers' uniforms, to select shoes, Sam Browne belt and cap. We all had three fittings and paid over our £32 allowance (granted by the government) - this covered only the service dress so we had to pay for the rest. In addition I elected to have the allowance of £18 for my camp bed, valise (which held the issue of three blankets) and some other items rather than the Army issue, the bed of which was far too cumbersome. My safari camp bed is still in occasional use (by grand children) after 53 years!

On the final day at Catterick we had to dress as officers in our new uniform for inspection by the Commanding Officer who naturally addressed us in suitably glowing terms. Thereafter the Adjutant read out the extract from the London Gazette in which our names appeared and came round handing out rail passes and instructions regarding routes to the Regiments in which we were now to serve. What I did not know was that my old C.O. had requested that I be posted back to the 78th Field: this was unheard of in the army but here I was detailed to proceed to Old Meldrum. Fortunately we were all given seven days leave so I was able to go North to see my dear Mum an Dad and friends in the old village. Little did I realise how much pleasure my commission would give to my parents: I suppose it was something they may have hoped for their son. Our Minister Rvd. Campbell Macleroy and his good lady had me visit the Manse for tea and presented me with the 'Little Bible' which is still in use: a complete bible without all the irrelevancies!

As a commissioning present my Mum and Dad presented me with a pair of leather gloves and a leather covered swagger cane. A magnificent present it was and I was so proud of it. Sadly two years later I lost both gloves and cane by leaving them behind after crossing London in a taxi from one station to another. To this day I regret that loss.

H) 182 Field Regiment R.A.From Fort George station at Ardersier I travelled by train to Inverurie where an Army truck was waiting to transport me the five miles to Old Meldrum. To my surprise I learned that the 78th Field Regiment had been broken up and was now on its way to the Middle East. One half of the Regiment had joined one half of the 79th Field and together were known as the 78th. The remaining half of my 'old' unit had been augmented by an intake of gunners from various other units and the combination was known as the 182 Field Regiment R.A. Happily the old C.O. and the Adjutant who had both wanted me back were still there and I was welcomed like the proverbial long lost brother. The R.S.M. who had drilled me at Murrayfield had also been 'left behind' when the 78th had left. The split had come a few weeks only before I left OCTU, but was so secret that my posting had been shown as being to the 78th. However all was soon cleared up and I was glad to be among so many well kent faces. To begin with the relationship between the former Sergeant and those who knew him as 'wee Alex' was somewhat delicate but not for long.

The second week in Old Meldrum saw me as Orderly Office for the Battery of which I was a member; the other ranks had all, or nearly all, been in the 78th The orderly officer's job required him to inspect daily the sleeping quarters to ensure tidiness and cleanliness, cook house, latrines, gun park, vehicle park and generally to ensure that everything was in good order and would be ready for the Adjutant's inspection on Saturday forenoon.

A very important function was to collect from a local Bank and hand over to each man his soldier's pay. Banks were advised in advance of the total amount required on Friday and the estimated number of the various denominations of coins and bank notes to make up that total. And so I proceeded to the North of Scotland Bank to collect the soldiers pay - little did I know that this was to be the most important day in my life! No sooner had I handed over to the teller the Requisition for Cash (as it was called) than I realised there was a fair young lady in the back-ground working at what was obviously a ledger. We could not of course engage in conversation but eye to eye contact is more important in matters of the heart. Yes, I left the Bank carrying the money bags but with joy in my heart. I must meet this lovely little blond who had made such an impression on me but, the question was, how?

Sitting at a table in the Battery Office with one of my fellow officers, Duncan Purdie, (who had also been at 121 OCTU and had accompanied me to the Bank) We handed over to each soldier in turn his pay for the week as detailed on a sheet provided by the Pay Clerk. It was easy therefor for me to make it obvious to all that 'wee Alex' had not changed even if he now had a pip on his shoulder and they were required to salute. In return of course officers had to respond to every salute and in practice officers saluted far more often than individual other ranks!

The Officers' Mess was in Meldrum House outside the town about one mile and set in wooded grounds with rather a nice lake at the side of the driveway leading up to the house. Believe me it was a cold draughty place during the winter of 1942/43 but the room in which officers foregathered before dinner at night (known as the ante room) for refreshments and a leisurely smoke was always well heated. We dined in the hall which was cold and unattractive with no means of being heated. The food was excellent.

The folk of Old Meldrum looked upon the soldiers as sons and went to great lengths of provide entertainment, dances in the Town Hall and food in a splendid canteen set up by local ladies in the cattle market. The canteen was open every night but the respective groups of ladies on duty went under different names e.g. Medical, Flappers, Elite and Old Ladies. The arrangements had been established long before the gunners arrived in the town, indeed I believe as far back as 1940 when Survivors of the first B.E.F. arrived. The local distillery had been requisitioned and the troops slept on the floors previously used for malting barley. The smell was enough to make one intoxicated!

There was dancing, open to all, in the Town Hall every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday the music being provided by 'Tipper' Stewart and his band - no amplification required.

Soon after my arrival the Sergeants invited the Officers to a dance in the T.A. Hall and a number of us accepted. Who should be there but the little blond from the Bank! Certainly we danced but stupidly I accompanied home after the dance one of her friends who lived miles outside Meldrum. I thought we'd never arrive at her house and then of course I had to find my way home to Meldrum House - the shortest route was across fields, ditches, hedges, fences and dry stane dyke. That was the first and last time I saw that lassie home! The next day my batman wondered where on earth my good service dress had been as it was covered in mud and my dress shoes were soaking wet!

At the next dance I persuaded the wee blond, whose name I discovered was Wilma, to sit beside me, after a fox-trot or something, on the men's side of the hall. In those days and in those circumstances the men sat on one side of the hall and the ladies on the other! Apparently there was consternation in the opposite camp as 'Wilma Wiseman chatted to her officer'. And that was the way our lifelong romance began.

Soon after this I called at her home address during the day time and asked Wilma's Mother if I could take her daughter to Aberdeen the following Saturday. She agreed but said that she would have to let her husband know: he was Frank Grant, Wilma's step father. Mrs Grant assured me I need not come, as I had offered, to seek his permission too!

On the Saturday I was at the head of the bus queue for Aberdeen awaiting Wilma's release from the Bank. There was a lengthy queue by the time she arrived but that did not worry me; little did I realise how tongues were wagging in Meldrum town!

As we waited a gentleman walked along the opposite side of the street - unknown to me- for the purpose of inspecting the young officer his step daughter was accompanying to Aberdeen. Apparently he approved and Wilma was told that she could have her 'officer mannie' to the house for a meal the following Saturday. This commenced a friendship which grew and blossomed over the years to our mutual pleasure and benefit. Yes, Frank was a wonderful person in ever respect.

The 52nd (Lowland) Division of which we were part was ordered to stand by for the invasion of Norway. In November every man and officer was issued with wind proof overalls which looked like pyjamas. They were of a a very light colour to afford camouflage in the snow but we all felt like 'Sissies' wearing them. Then the whole Division was sent on an exercise code named: Goliath. We were to be out in the open, in December, for three weeks forbidden to seek shelter of any kind at night and our rations consisted of pemmican hard tack (biscuits) and one ascorbic tablet every day. We set off early in December in heavy rain, cold winds and our Arctic suits. The latter were maybe wind proof but utterly useless in rain and any soldier who was not in a truck under cover was soon soaked to the skin. Fortunately we were gunners and travelled in vehicles so that we didn't suffer until going to action stations. The gun sites, usually fields or moss-covered hill sides were soon seas of mud especially when a vehicle or gun became bogged down and had to be winched out.

Our journey took us to the Carbrach, Craigillachie, Grantown-on-Spey, Cawdor and Errogie. From there I took a motor bike and went down to Ardersier to spend the night with my parents: my dear old Mum spent the whole night, while I slept comfortably in a warm bed, drying my wet battle dress and Arctic suit. In the morning the wretched motor cycle refused to start until my Dad and a neighbour had pushed me at least a hundred yards along the 'back' street: when it did, the noise of my revving wakened everyone in the neighbourhood! Fortunately my arrival back at the Battery position coincided with the pull out order. We proceeded to Fort Agustus, Spean Bridge and there turned North-east towards Newtonmore. By this time the 'enemy' were judged to be 'dug-in, in that area and in order to take them by surprise an out-flanking manoeuvre was put in motion. A battalion of infantry supported by Indian Army Mountain Gunners and a 25 pdr. observation Party were to cross from the head of Loch Laggan by night, proceed to Dalwhinnie and attack from that direction. I was appointed to lead the 25 pdr party comprising six other ranks and two horses to carry our wireless equipment and personal belongings! Fortunately the Indians could see in the dark : we followed closely behind them while the infantry just disappeared into the night. And what a night it was. We were following a track beside the Pattack burn - more of less - and by morning had reached a point near Ben Alder Lodge beside Loch Ericht. My orders had been to proceed along the side of Meale Cruaidh above Loch Ericht forest. So cold, exhausted and miserable as we all were there was nothing else for it but to obey orders. On the hill side there were many burns in full flood all in deep channels eroded over the years. After only a few crossings the horses refused to risk their limbs and lives on the steep slopes of such channels. We had received no training in horsemanship and my patience being exhausted I detailed two of my party to take the horses down to the loch side road and wait for me at Dalwhinnie. That night at mid-night the radio operator who was listening out for a message from the Regiment received one to the effect that operation Goliath was to end at 3.00 am. We fairly raced down that hillside and marched towards Dalwhinnie. On arrival it was to find that every available roof was providing shelter for troops even the signal box and booking office at the station. My horses and two men were taking cover from the elements in the school play ground shelter. I walked to the Hotel only to find bodies everywhere - the infantry had taken over and all I could obtain from the proprietor was a bottle of rum. As we were sitting in the shelter drinking the rum a train was heard approaching from the south, whistles were being blown by infantry officers all over Dalwhinnie and literally hundreds of men boarded that train. The School was emptied so in we went, finished off the rum and I lit my little primus stove to boil water One of the lads went to the school - house asking for some tea sugar and milk - the time was 3.00 am!. The school master's wife was most kind but her husband when he saw the glow from the primus stove stormed in and ordered me to put it out as there was no blackout on the school windows. Some hope he had! Here we were miles from civilisation, desperately in need of a hot drink at the end of an endurance test which had lasted for three weeks. He was told quite politely that he should relax and go back to bed. My party and I slept on the desk tops but at first light a 3 ton truck appeared on the scene in search of 'wee Alex's party' The boys fed and watered the horses and we left them tied up in the shelter while we proceeded in the truck to Newtonmore where I knew there was a baker's shop. We entered the bake-house and obtained one loaf each straight from the oven - piping hot. In the truck there was a supply of butter and tins of jam. Need I say more? Before leaving Newtonmore I got a wireless message back to headquarters asking them to tell the Indian Unit where the two horses were and received permission to go straight to Meldrum. As we were approaching the town the boys were singing 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing'!

Soon after this I was sent on a wireless course lasting two months at the Royal Signals depot at Catterick. There I became friendly with a Canadian officer whose father was an apple farmer in the Oakanagen Valley in Vancouver: his name was Bill Garrish and he invited me to come when the war was over, and become an apple farmer along with him. What would life have been like if I had accepted his invitation?

We each passed out with a 'D' certificate - the only two awarded on that course ('D' stands for Distinguished). Congratulations from Divisional H.Q. and the Regiment included a telegram from my Battery Commander Major Hunter Thorburn saying simply 'Bloody good show, Cameron'. The latter arrived at 113 in Ardersier where I was on leave with Wilma : my dear parents were, not surprisingly, shocked at such language addressed to their son.

I was no sooner back on duty than I had instructions to proceed to Rhyl for an M.T. (Motor Transport) Course lasting six weeks. There I learned to ride a motor cycle properly, and to drive everything from a 15 cwt truck to an army tank. In addition we had to learn all there was to know about these mechanical wonders. Again a 'D' which led me to an Adjutants' course at Larkhill which lasted only ten days. By this time the Regiment had moved to Alnwick in Northumberland where I was appointed Adjutant. All the courses I had been on - Artillery Clerk in 1939 and the recent ones gave me all the requisite qualifications but what a responsibility! I felt greatly honoured. The Adjutant is the C.O's right hand man responsible for the administration of the unit, for discipline, court martials, and in the field for co-ordinating the fire of all 24 guns. Perhaps, not surprisingly every other officer is in awe of the Adjutant for he has the ear of the C.O. One of my first tasks was to persuade the R.S.M. that while on parade we had to recognise the army conventions regarding the officer/other rank relationship, when off parade we could be as we were when in the same Sergeants Mess. There were no problems and we worked well together.

The Regiment made several moves in England a few months here and a few months there with no sign of a move to a war theatre or of the expected Second Front. After Alnwick we spent a short time in Kent and from there moved to Buckingham-shire. All our training exercises with and without live ammunition being fired were clearly aimed at preparing the Regiment for the Second Front. But then one day when phoning the War Office I learned, from the officer dealing with what query I had, that 182 Field were to be used as a feeder only. When I told the Colonel he was furious and not without good cause. He phoned one of his pals at Whitehall and my information was confirmed 'but to be kept secret'! That very day I saw an intimation in the London Gazette that the Combined Operations Bombardment unit (of which I had never before heard) were looking for volunteers. I offered my services, was interviewed in London and with the C.O.'s good wishes ringing in my ears and my fellow officers green with envy I presented myself at Dundonald Camp, near Troon.


I) Combined Operations Bombardment Unit

Dundonald Camp was very much a naval station but as we were there to learn something of naval gunnery that was to be expected.

There were 24 of us, all Captains, with 25 pdr experience. Twelve were selected for duty on board naval ships and trained accordingly. The rest of us were told that our job would be to direct naval gunfire on to shore targets from observation posts up with the infantry and for this were had to learn a new fire drill. For me it was not new as we had been taught at the school of signals how to operate what was called 'the clock code'. Practice on an indoor miniature range at Dundonald was followed by a gruelling two weeks of commando training at Inverary, Argyll and ten days at the school of naval gunnery on Whale Island, Portsmouth. All fascinating stuff! On Whale Island everyone from the C.O. down had to 'double' (run) when proceeding from one place to another. We had sleeping quarters on the Royal Yacht 'Victoria and Albert' to which one gained access by means of a floating pontoon: several of our 'squad' had the salutary experience, after imbibing too liberally in the officers' mess, of 'falling' into the drink, while making their way home to bed.

Back at Dundonald each of the F.O.Bs, (Forward Observer Bombardment - what a name to give any self respecting officer!) was introduced to his 'shore party'. Mine consisted of a Bombardier and three naval telephonists all Englishmen. Within a few days two telephonists dressed in their No. 1's (best naval uniform) asked to have a meeting with me. They were Leading Seaman Jamieson and A/B Seaman Telephonist James Scott. They wanted to come to France (or wherever we were to land) with me and asked me to arrange a 'swop' with their officer Captain Peter Cullen. This I did and then had as my communications with ships at sea the finest telephonists in the Navy. Jim Scott has been my friend ever since.

After a few landing practices on the beaches at Dundonald in which I usually ended up soaked to the skin our telegraphists were withdrawn for some top secret purpose - they were involved in 'Operation Fortitude' a ploy of General Montgomery's to hoodwink the Germans into thinking that the invasion would be aimed at the Pas de Calais. By the use of dummy landing craft, vehicles and signals networks the impression on the other side of the channel was that the British and Americans had a vast Army preparing to land immediately across the Channel from Kent.

During our stay at Dundonald the twelve FOBs were housed in Barassie Golf Club house and were made honorary members with the free use of clubs. So as our military activities usually finished at mid-day we enjoyed playing, or as in my own case, trying to play golf; it was a splendid way in which to practice for warfare! That spring and Summer of 1944 saw the sun shine every day - or so I remember it.

In the middle of May 1944 the twelve officers who were to be aboard ships during the invasion disappeared to their respective ships while the rest of us were transported to the confines of Southwick House near Portsmouth and found ourselves virtually behind barbed wire. This was General Eisenhower's -headquarters. There was tented and hutted accommodation for officers and other ranks, the food was of the best, the occupants were of 'every race and creed' and at times it felt as if one were in the tower of Babel so diverse were the languages heard. Strict censorship was imposed on all letters. The FOB's were issued with brand new Jeeps modified to enable them to be driven through deep water (i.e. the engine had been made water-proof and the air intake and exhaust pipes were extended to a height of three feet above the top of the engine). In addition we had brand new wireless sets (transmitter/receivers) which could be operated on a selected fixed frequency using Morse. Each FOB. had a number of frequencies allocated to him, all different and to be kept secret! The desired frequency was obtained by plugging the appropriate crystal into the set. There was also something new to us in the form of food, namely, a '14-man pack- which was common in the American Army. The 'pack' (made of wood) contained enough food for fourteen men for one day or one man for fourteen days. Yes - everything from toilet paper and cigarettes to baked beans and bacon and eggs! The foods which required to be cooked were in tins with a 'scratch here' marked at one end: when it was scratched the tin heated up as if by magic. Actually there was a tube within containing some material which burned quickly and as it did so heated up the contents. The bacon and eggs were very special as were pork and beans and creamy rice pudding!

I should of course also mention that being a 'Naval Party' I had on board a gallon jar of good naval rum (to be used only in emergency!).

When my telegraphists arrived they had with them all the accoutrements of a sailor, including kit bag (about 4 feet tall when packed with his gear), hammock, a rifle, box of ammunition and to crown all that the Navy had given them a 4 burner paraffin stove! As there was no room for all this in the jeep I told them to 'ditch' everything except a spare pair of under pants, spare socks and shaving tackle! This was achieved by sending the Kit bags and hammocks to their respective bases e.g. Chatham and Plymouth. I may say that Jamieson's went missing and to avoid him being court martialled some time later I had to provide evidence of despatch!

There was the inevitable briefing meeting for all officers in the camp, not to tell us where we were going but to allocate duties. I was to support the North Nova Scotia Battalion, but they would not land until two or three days after the initial landings. One had to accept the inevitable. In any case we sailed on a small landing craft housing six jeeps and their crews. and the sea was anything but calm. On reaching the French shore the landing craft went aground on a 'runnel' (bank of sand) a fair distance from the beach, the door was lowered and Peter Cullen in his jeep led the way. Poor Peter, the water was so deep on the shoreward side of the bank, that he and his jeep disappeared into the cold drink. The jeep had to be abandoned but Peter and his men came aboard while the skipper of the craft did a splendid job, notwithstanding the efforts of jerry gunners, of going hard astern and finding a more suitable landing place. When ashore we had to find our 'H.Q.' which was in farm buildings near the village of Courseulles-sur-mer. There we learned that three of our Colleagues had been killed on D. Day on the Lebiseux Ridge just of North of Caen. There were no replacements ashore and the whole advance had been held up. If the naval guns which these three FoB's would have used to support the infantry (no other guns being yet ashore) how different might the outcome have been. As it was the plan to take Caen on D. Day had failed.

I and my boys moved to join the Canadians. The Colonel gave me a great welcome and immediately took me out of his barn to point out a Church Tower 400 yards away which he wanted me to demolish as it was a German observation post. I had to tell him that when firing 14 inch shells, which I knew were the armament of the ship to which I was 'attached', our orders were to keep at least 1000 yards away. You can imagine what he said - I took on the target, never having before heard a 14 inch shell in the air, after the C.O. agreed to tell all his men to keep their heads down. In those days when the shell was five seconds away from its landing point the ship sent by Morse the signal 'SSS' (Splash, Splash, Splash) this gave the observer time to get his field glasses up to his eyes to observe the shell burst and make any corrections to ensure if possible that the next round hit the target. In this particular case no correction was required, the navy, had proved their undoubted ability, the church tower came tumbling down!

I do not propose to bore you with other details of our activities in Normandy except to mention the following which may be of interest.

The afternoon from 1400 to 2050 hrs. of the day before the final advance into Caen I was authorised to fire off 'up to 200 14 inch shells' in order to make life a little easier for the infantry as they moved forward. The C.O. of the North Novas was overwhelmed and he, his officers and others from Brigade met to agree what targets they wanted the wee Scotsman to demolish. As the C.O.'s target disappeared he ordered his batman to give me a present of 1000 Limey cigarettes. (British cigarettes which the Canadians hated!) Everyone who pointed out a target followed the C.O.'s example, and we ended up with 30,000 cigarettes all in tins of 100 each. Capstan, Woodbine, Senior Service etc. I was to learn later back in the Isle of Wight that the story of this shoot and cigarettes had been told in the Sunday newspapers.

We had to stop firing at 2050 hrs without fail: soon the reason was apparent. The sound of approaching aircraft became louder and louder: the first 'blanket' bombing of the enemy by thousands of bombers was about to take place. The leading aircraft dropped flares all along the front just 400 yards from our position at Villons les Buissons. A truly impressive sight. But as jerry still had Ack-ack guns in large numbers around Caen the initial waves of bombers were being 'massacred' many being shot out of the sky, parachutes appearing everywhere: we could do nothing to help: many a tear was shed by hardened solders as they saw in the summer evening sky the extent of 'man's inhumanity to man'.

Soon however the A.A. guns were quiet and subsequent waves proceeded harmlessly to drop their bombs.

That night Jamieson, Scotty and I decided to bed down under the stone staircase in a farm house. I had selected it as the gable end was pointing towards the German lines, the staircase was at the 'far end' and it seemed a safe place. I knew that the infantry were moving south at 0300 hrs. At about 0200 hrs we were awakened by a terrific shell burst which blew in the window opposite our sleeping quarters. The smell of Cordite pervaded our quarters. Then there was a clip clop, clip clop noise from the stone stairs above our beds. Suddenly a very heavy and hairy object was heaved on to me in my valise by Scotty who was on the front-side of the bed area. From somewhere he produced a torch and shone it on the hairy object - none other that a goat! -which was lying on top of me. Soon it was removed and chased out of the house. The poor creature must have been seeking a safe haven on the upper floor of the house and when the shell burst it had come down to seek shelter with the humans. Scotty announced in a happy voice 'It's my birthday, skipper, I'm 21 today'! And so it was: the 8th day of July.

When we went outside to get some gin from our recently acquired airborne trailer it was to find that food, drink, trailer, loot and one radio had been blown to bits! The jeep remained quite unharmed.

On another occasion a dear old French Farmer, who had remained behind despite warnings to get out of the area, came to the Canadian H.Q. Complaining that the soldiers were no longer shooting the animals but cutting steaks off the live beasts and then putting 'belly bandages' on them! The C.O. explained that what his men had done was to bandage up wounds caused to his cattle by shrapnel! Little did the C.O. know where his succulent rare steaks were coming from!. The Canadian cooks provided barbecued steak for supper every evening I was attached to them.

Following behind the troops advancing to Caen my two telegraphists and I were stopped at one farm by a French peasant to ask help in burying his family who had all been killed during the bombardment. As soon as I saw the hole left in of his farm yard I knew it had been created by one of our 14 inch shells. (These shells weighed 2000 lbs and cost £2,000 to make). My new Testament came in handy for the peasant wanted a Christian burial for his seven loved ones and although I was reading in English and repeated the Pater Noster also in English he appreciated what was being done 'pour moi'. Tears rolled down his cheeks but after a rude wooden cross had been erected he ran to an out house and carried from it a small barrel (a firkin) of Calvados brandy as a present for our assistance.

Over on the east side of the River Orne one of my FOB colleagues had been assisting the Commando and Air-borne troops but sadly had landed a few of 'his' shells behind his O.P. and among our troops. This was criminal. He was withdrawn and I was ordered to take his place for a few days until a replacement could be found. Oh the way we passed through the lines of the Cameron Highlanders where on enquiry I discovered that Willie Macgregor of Inverness - now a Major and Company Commander - was stationed. Willie had been the Law Apprentice whose place I had taken with Davidson Scott and Co. His C.O. and the second-in-Command joined us (each was given a present of a bottle of gin - compliments of the Navy!) and we all had a noggin of 'raw' gin. On my return journey about a week later I was very distressed to learn that Willie had been killed while on patrol the night after my call.

Over the Orne Scotty and I used a church tower for spotting until it was knocked down by an anti-tank gun one night. The only other useful OP. was the chimney of a brickworks which had wooden hand holds all the way to the top - inside. From it one really could see for a fair distance over the trees - the whole country is too flat and had too many trees for easy spotting. That chimney helped in the destruction of tank garages, individual tanks and other likely places of enemy habitation but it too was brought down - fortunately at night - by jerry.

I was pleased to be relieved by another FOB. The country here was much too heavily wooded for accurate observation, and perhaps not surprisingly the airborne troops and commandos had retained a suspicion as to the accuracy of Naval guns! At least back with the Canadians (and fillet steak for supper!) there was a fairly open view towards Caen and Capriquet aerodrome which we had shelled a few times. However the advance into Caen where I saw for myself the devastation caused by our guns and aircraft meant that we were now unable to use naval gun fire to help the infantry. The maximum range was 17 miles for the Monitors and Battleships. Recently I saw while sitting in the dentist's waiting room, an article on Caen in a magazine with a picture of L'eglise de Ste Pierre completely restored to its former glory: the narrative told how the spire had been demolished by H.M.S. Nelson but did not mention who had been directing the gun-fire!

At the start of our sojourn in Normandy I had to get rid of my Bombardier because he refused to light my little primus stove. The only fuel available was, of course, petrol and this was too dangerous for him so off he went - where I have no idea! That stove had been given to me by my dear Mother when I was in the Scouts and keen on going away for camping expeditions before the war. Sadly it was wounded on Scotty's birthday but after the war a German welder, who had been a Prisoner of War in Old Meldrum, repaired it for me. He had a good laugh when I took it to him and saw how a German shell had torn a great jagged hole in the brass body. He wondered if it had been awarded a War Pension!

We also had another telegraphist for a short time but he went bomb happy and had to go back to the beach.

I must confess to having acquired - looted is the War Office term - a beautiful dinner service each plate of which depicted a different type of fowl in glorious colour, and a tea set the plates and saucers of which each showed a French cartoon. Sadly, (or you may say, deservedly!) when we eventually hit the beach at Cowes, Isle of Wight, the Landing Craft came down with such a wallop that all my looted china was smashed except for two tea plate cartoons presently having in the hall of our house in Nairn.

We returned to the U.K. as soon as it became obvious to higher command that they could not use Naval bombardment in support of the infantry advance for the Battle of Falaise. 'Fox Nine' - (my code name/sign) - was instructed to report to the Pye factory near Staines and to endeavour to develop along with an Italian Professor a very high frequency radio which would enable FOBs to speak to the ship at sea! My telegraphists had proved their excellence as compared with others in Normandy and for that reason we were selected for this job. The Professor very soon produced a set to operate on a frequency of 1 metre but the aerial was a dia-pole about 6 feet tall! I told him how it might be necessary to climb a tree, or a church tower or even a factory chimney and that while the set was very small indeed just right for strapping on to one's chest, the aerial was impossible. Next morning he came to me with the radio having attached to it a cable 1 metre long - this was the aerial. Scotty Jamieson and I had great fun trying out this new (and as yet secret) device all along the Hogs Back and the vicinity of Hindhead: it worked perfectly and was still in use when I visited an Armed Forces Exhibition in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow many years later!

We FOB's were told we would not see further action until a proposed landing at Heligoland planned for March 1945. Meantime we would go on a jungle warfare course 'in the near future'.

In Cowes where our headquarters were in H.M.S. Vectis (a requisitioned Hotel on the sea front) I discovered that the remnants of my old regiment were in Newport so off I went bearing six boxes of very ripe Camembert cheese and a bottle of the Navy gin to meet and have dinner with my old Colonel John F. Cartwright. What a welcome the Mess gave me and Colonel Cartwright was overjoyed with the Camembert ('just right for eating, Alex!') and glad to have the gin to which he was able to add 'pink'. From his wallet he drew a cutting from a Sunday newspaper bearing the headlines 'Wee Scots officer shoots for cigarettes' plus a silhouette picture of said officer and Scotty beside the field wall (400 yards north of Buron at a place called Villez les Buissons (I think)) behind which we had crouched where shelling the German positions. How the story reached the papers I have no idea but Colonel Cartwright said -'there's no name mentioned, Alex, but I felt sure this must be you'!


J) Engagement and Marriage
Almost immediately after our arrival back in U.K. we were granted seven days leave. Off I went to Old Meldrum to see the girl of my dreams. One day we were with my sister Elsie and her recently acquired husband Willie MacLennan (Flight Lieutenant later D.F.C.) We visited Aberdeen probably to go to the cinema or dancing (I don't remember but Wilma will). As we were walking down Union Street we stopped and looked at the window of Hendersons the Jewellers. There were two engagement rings on display. I asked my companion if she would like a ring and, although I had never even proposed marriage, she looked at me with that lovely smile in her eye and said 'Yes'. In we went to find that these were the only two engagement rings in the shop - remember this was late July 1944 - Wilma tried one on but it was too big, the other fitted so I paid for it and we left the shop engaged to be married - at least she was wearing my ring - and that is the ring she still wears. It cost £27.

Needless to say Elsie and Willie when sitting in a bus for Old Meldrum, while we were still in the queue, saw the ring and showed their pleasure. Arriving home before us they kept our secret from Wilma's Mother and Frank her step father. In due course we arrived and when the news was told there was surprise delight and thankfully, congratulations. I had broken all the rules by not seeking Wilma's hand in marriage but that did not seem to matter.

That night Wilma's mother's cousin Annie and her husband Frank Bruce, a licensed grocer who were to become great friends, joined us to celebrate the engagement of my 19 year old fiancee - on gin of course!

We went to Ardersier to see my parents who were delighted with their son's choice and greatly approved of her. Then it was back to business and jungle warfare. Training in the New Forest of all places. Wilma's mother expected the wedding to be deferred until after the war was over, but in those days one had no idea when the war might end. In correspondence we agreed to marry 'as soon as possible' The date was fixed for 4th October and it was to be a 'big wedding'. Wilma's mother insisted on a 'proper' reception in the town hall following the marriage ceremony in the Church. Willie MacLennan was my best man although I had met him only once, at his wedding in March 1944. Remember there was a scarcity of available men in those days but Willie was entitled, as I was, to 'compassionate' leave for an occasion such as this. My sister was Matron of Honour and Marwin Bruce was her Bridesmaid. The late Richard Greig, a second cousin, was train bearer.

The Reverend Joseph Gray, B.D.,, T.D., who had been senior chaplain with the 42nd (L) Division and well known to me as such officiated at the wedding. He was a delightful person well loved by all the boys in the Division and was now the much loved Minister of the parish of Meldrum and Bourtrie.

All I remember of the wedding reception is that to my great surprise and pleasure my uncle Donald had accepted the invitation to attend and that the head waitress in her excitement spilt tomato soup over my service dress tunic and trousers! However my bride soon sorted that out!

We had a glorious week in the Cowal Hotel in Dunoon in wonderful weather. The hotel had been recommended to me by my former Assistant Adjutant, a Glasgow man who could never understand how, wherever he went 'people know I'm from Glasgow! The proprietor had his own small holding and the food was of pre-war standard. There I discovered on our first morning in the hotel that my darling Wilma did not appreciate having porridge for breakfast (after my having ordered it too as an officer and gentleman should!) - she still refuses to touch porridge! We had spent our first night in the Central Station Hotel in Glasgow (very grand!) my poor wee wife had to accept that the only drink available was gin with no orange, lemon or any other mix to be had. And in the morning for breakfast we had to eat 'scrambled' dried egg and sausage - horrible! But in Dunoon we feasted on the very best. The other residents were all elderly, retired teachers, bankers and such like from Edinburgh and Glasgow who referred to us as 'the children'. At the beginning of our stay the proprietor who had been given our ration cards said that if we were to stay on he would require proof of marriage. So a phone call to Frank Bruce ensured that a copy of our marriage certificate arrived post haste.

On our return journey we met, as previously arranged, my dear telegraphist Jim Scott and had a meal with him in the Ca'doro Restaurant in Union Street, Glasgow. When he met Wilma he turned to me and said 'she's a wee stunner, Skipper, I approve'. And he has approved ever since.
Having accompanied my wife back to Old Meldrum I returned to Cowes and more preparation for the proposed landing on the German coast in March 1945 and the possibility of further action against the Japanese in Burma.

With the C.O.'s agreement I asked Wilma to join me in Cowes where she would be for 'at least five months'. The Bank required a month's notice but then having secured 48 hours leave I went North and we travelled south together Wilma weighed town with goodies no longer available to civilian households on the ration card. A colleague, Capt. Lee-Smith, had secured 2 room and kitchen accommodation for us when I was over in the New Forest. It was above a public house the owner of which, Mrs Castaneda (Married to a Spaniard) and her daughter, also lived above the pub!

We had a large capon (hen to you!) to eat so two of my pals Tony Hawes and Dougie Dawes (yes, those were their names!) were invited to have lunch with us at 1230 for one. Sadly neither of us knew that the Isle of Wight gasworks had been bombed and the folk had to rely on temporary measures which afforded gas at very low pressures! Imagine my dear Wilma's embarrassment at 1.00 pm when she realised that the fowl was not nearly cooked. However, her husband and his pals were very tolerant and understanding: we sat down to a splendid cooked meal at 6.00 pm.

Wilma had reached the Island early in December and soon thereafter I was told to stand-by for action in the Dutch Islands - the battle for the Ardennes had started and the left flank of the British Forces required heavy artillery support! All my fellow FOB's volunteered for the task but the C.O. decreed that Fox Nine must go! Wilma and I had 48 hours leave in Shanklin: Holliers Hotel with frequent visits to the old world Crab Inn much loved by stage and film people and owned by Tibby and Tabby! Back in Cowes we attended a Naval Officers Mess dance where Wilma was invited to dance by our C.O. Not knowing who he was she gave him a 'piece of her mind' regarding the Colonel and his selection of her husband to go into action so soon after she had arrived. How embarrassed she was when I told her who her partner had been!

K) Holland

Intimation arrived that 'F9' was to depart from Cowes by Motor Torpedo Boat at 0600 hrs on Christmas morning 1944. Scotty came up to the flat to collect my valise, left us to say our farewells (with many tears) and when I reached the truck Scotty went back up to reassure Wilma that whatever happened he would 'see that the Skipper came back safely' And he did. I propose not to elaborate on our stay in Holland but to confine myself to the following tales (true of course!).

The Naval H.Q. to which we were attached was in a place called Bergen op Zoom in Holland. Their field generator which supplied electricity for the local hospital and field dressing station could not be run because of the very severe frost and lack of anti-freeze.

Having some free time I suggested to the Naval Captain that I might see if I could get some anti-freeze from the Army. He agreed and I proceeded to Antwerp to the Ordnance Dump but after calling at several offices I was almost convinced that all the anti-freeze in the British Army was being reserved for the battle of the Ardennes. As I was on the point of leaving one of these offices however, I noticed the name Captain J. Mayne on a door. This spelling of the name I had seen only once before and that was on a headstone in the cemetery at Ardersier marking the grave of one Major Mayne, a local boy who had joined the army as a bugle boy and had risen to this exalted rank early this century. Taking a chance on it I therefore knocked on Captain Mayne's door to find him seated behind his army table. When I asked whether he could supply the Navy with any anti-freeze he assured me that there was none available as it was all being reserved for the tanks and other vehicles engaged in battle further south. Little did he know of the little battles we were waging all the time in the Dutch islands or of the need for hospitals in places such as Bergen op Zoom. As is not uncommon with me 'I brassed necked it' and asked him whether he was in any way related to the late Major Mayne of Ardersier. You can imagine my delight when he said that he was a nephew and that he still had an Aunt, Mrs Falconer, alive in the old village. Mrs Falconer had been our neighbour ever since I was born and many a time I had 'cawed' the handle of the ice-cream making tub in her sweetie shop, payment for which was an ice-cream cone. Needless to say our conversation after lunch in his Mess extended over a period of some hours. We left with ten five gallon drums of anti-freeze in our 3 ton truck. Wasn't I the 'hero of the hour' on our return to Bergen op Zoom and the Naval Mess.

While in Holland and for reasons associated with the extreme cold weather and salt water I found myself in bed in the 'How de Lieuw' (Golden Lion) Hotel (our H.Q) with a very high temperature attended by a Glasgow trained doctor - Bill Macintyre. With the aid of 'M & B' tablets he overcame the pneumonia which had laid me low. In return I taught him how to drive. Bill introduced me to a young Dutch boy about 18 years of age who wanted to learn English. During my convalescence we spent many hours together and he made rapid progress having already had a good grounding from listening to the radio. His father had been shot in the town square and his two older brothers were incarcerated by the Germans. His name was Lo Broeckman and he lived with his mother above the ladies dress shop which they owned but at that time of course was empty. It was my privilege to receive hospitality from Mrs Broeckman on many occasions; while she did not speak very good English we got along with Lo's English and his mother's French! I used to take them cigarettes which were worth a fortune, she told me, on the black market as well as corned (bully) beef and other provisions readily obtained from the Navy Cooks.

On one occasion the boys and I were using a Dutch windmill as an OP. to bombard an island called Schouen (I think that's the spelling) It was not long before jerry, in the shape of the mad youngsters Hitler had manning his right flank, realised that he should demolish the windmill. We were happily ensconced on the top floor - beautifully clean and comfortable - when suddenly there were a series of blasts which shook the mill. The four 'legs' had been blown apart by a raiding party but the great wooden structure just settled down in an upright position. After that I preferred to keep away from windmills at night time.

We were allowed to return to U.K. in March 1945 as the German offensive had by that time been repulsed.

Wilma had remained in Cowes for a couple of months being joined by my sister for part of the time but decided to go home when there appeared to be no likelihood of her husband returning 'soon'.

Having reported back to Cowes I was able to get leave so hastened up to Old Meldrum. On the way I dropped off in London with a pal to attend the wedding of Peter Cullen who was marrying a Wren O.R. - much to the disgust of the Navy as she had been a waitress in the Mess.

I remember that her father was a Postman. He and his wife gave us a great welcome. They were married in a huge church with about a dozen guests present. Peter's mother (who with her husband did not approve of the marriage!) sat alone at the back of the church.

With the other guests we attended the reception in a restaurant with all the other diners around making the right sort of happy comments.

L) Dundonald Again
My next posting was to Dundonald camp. Wilma joined me and we stayed in a flat above the very nice family who owned the house. The other flat of the upper floor was occupied by an R.S.M. in the Catering Corps - he had been Chef in a famous London Hotel when called up. Many a happy party we had in that home. Because her shoes were hurting her after a dance in Troon one evening, my dear wife had to walk all the way home in her stockinged feet probably two miles.

We celebrated the end of the war after the mysterious 'atom bomb' had been dropped on Japan by the Yanks in July 1945.

M) Eritrea
For reasons best know to those in Whitehall I now found myself sent out to the Middle East! By train we travelled down through France to Tolouse where the liner Athlone Castle was berthed awaiting passengers. We lived in luxury for five days calling at Malta for a day and arrived in Port Said where we disembarked and were transported by train to Cairo. I found myself helping a staff Colonel at G.H.Q. but he had no work - after all the war was over. I now made use of a secret telephone number given to me by Mr Robert (Bob) Lawrence whom I had met in Frank Bruce's shop on some leave. He was tailor to King Farouk. Bob asked me to visit him in the Abdin palace for a chat. On arrival the guards refused to allow me to pass. Bob was called and escorted me to his quarters - in the harem (pronounced, if you will, 'hareem'). The Queen and her ladies had all been shut up by Farouk in some other palace. As we were drinking tea an Egyptian major barged in to the room and there ensued a slanging match with Bob - all in Arabic! I understood not one syllable. When he had left Bob told me the Major was furious because I was in the harem where no man may enter unless with the King's consent. Bob assured him I did have the King's consent for had I not brought out from U.K. several bolts of special cloths to be made into suits for the King! This was of course news to me but the ploy worked.

Following this I was granted two weeks leave to spend a holiday with the King's tailor in his flat in Heather House, Alexandria. We travelled in his huge Oldsmobile which he requested me to drive after we left Cairo and for the first time in my life I drove that car at 150 Km per hour on the tarmac road through the desert down to Alex.

We lived a life of sheer luxury for two weeks mainly sailing Bob's yacht and dining and wining in his various Clubs. Because he had 'the ear of the King' everybody with whom we came in contact treated him like the proverbial Lord.

After that holiday I departed for '19 Area' in Eritrea. Flying out of Cairo early one morning it was awe inspiring to see the sunshine racing across the land below and the river bordered by narrow bands of cultivated land on either side. We stopped off in Khartoum, where the temperature was 102 'F and then flew up to Asmara the capital of Eritrea. This splendid city had been built on a plateau 8000 feet above sea level by the Italians after they took over Abyssinia and Eritrea. It had a perfect climate for Europeans`.

My appointment was Staff Captain (A) which made me responsible for all admin, personnel and legal matters arising in the District. A fellow FOB, Jim Rainford, (later to be an optician in Bolton) was Staff Captain (Q) responsible for supplies. Each of us had his own bungalow but we dined in the Mess nearby. Life was very easy for us. The office was open from 8 am to 12 noon and from 4 pm to 6 pm when we were expected to work and we did in our respective spheres. The afternoons were spent playing tennis, or cricket, sunbathing or motoring off the plateau on which we lived to see the countryside 'over the edge'. The three main roads out of Asmara led to Masawa on the Red Sea, Kassala on the Sudanese/Eritrea Border and Addis Abba in Ethiopia; each built by Italian engineers who knew how to take a route down from 8000 feet to sea level by numerous hair pin bends on the precipitous sides of 'our' plateau.

Each trip was an adventure. Soon after my arrival a report reached my desk to the effect that a truck carrying 30 Sudanese soldiers had left the road and fallen 200 feet with only two twisted ankles! An Italian Chauffeur drove me to KM 22 and there I saw for myself that the truck was indeed 200 feet or more below us on the high vertical slope of the mountain - a write off! The soldiers all Moslems had survived, I was told, by their faith in Allah: they could all relax completely in the event of an accident and leave all to their Maker. If only we had such faith! Anyone who has motored over the Bealach na Ba from Loch Carron to Shieldaig, or on the La Colobra road in Mallorca or the Gross Glockner Pass in Austria will know what to expect if you ever happen to be motoring from Asmara to Massawa on the Red Sea.

In Asmara we had several hundred Jews behind wire (all without trial!) and also several thousand Italians (civil and military) most of whose wives were 'living it up' with our troops as substitute husbands. Even our Brigadier got himself involved with one very wealthy lady and gave me the job of 'disentangling' them. This I succeeded in doing but only after she had shed many tears and shouted at me in loud Italian. As a reward the Brigadier gave me a weeks holiday (leave) down at Massawa where I spent the time sunbathing on the hotel's terrazzo.

The most important court case we had was a follow on to a 'punch up' between Sudanese truck drivers and the locals (call the 'habash') in Addis Abba. The trucks had been sent south with food and medicines. Sadly three habash were killed and three Sudanese arrested and charged with murder. The Brigadier agreed that I should obtain the services of a Q.C. or Barrister from London to defend our troops. This was agreed by the War Office. After all I was only a Law Apprentice. A real problem arose during the trial when one of the principal defence witnesses refused to take the oath on the Bible or Koran. He would tell the truth only when holding the tribal spear. A young officer and sergeant of the Sudanese were despatched to Juba land to fetch the spear. The chief of the tribe insisted that his eldest son should carry the spear to Addis Abba. He did and after a delay of several days the trial continued: the said witness held the spear aloft in his right hand and in a loud voice swore that he would tell the truth. The three judges found our drivers to be 'not guilty'.

In March 1946 I was informed by the War Office that I would be released in May and should now take all necessary steps to return to the U.K.

From Asmara I travelled by truck down to Kassala when I joined the train for Khartoum a journey which took 5 days. The engine had been built at Springburn in Glasgow. A fellow passenger turned out to be a Mr Mackenzie from Ross-shire who was chief administrator for the Northern Sudan province - he had left Scotland as a youth serving as a deck hand on a freighter. In course of time he found himself in Port Sudan, liked the place and left the ship. He joined the Civil Service and in due course ended up with the highest post open to him. We spent many happy hours on the slow moving train: 30 mph was the maximum permitted speed over the sand of the desert. Each morning the coach attendant opened the sleeping compartment door and offered tea or coffee with cakes. He asked what one wanted to eat for lunch and dinner and stated his price. This being handed over one could be assured of a well cooked and presented meal served with true Victorian/Empire dignity in the dining car at the appointed time. The train took us down south to Juba land in a wide swathe and back up to Khartoum. A fascinating journey.

In Khartoum I met a British officer, Jock Adam of Ayr, who had served in the Sudanese Army for four years and spoke fluent Arabic. He accompanied me to Omdurman, the only wholly black city in Africa at that time. Here we sought presents to take home. I liked a snake skin hand bag for which the shop keeper wanted £30. Jock refused to pay; three times we were back with Jock 'haggling' away: at last the Arab invited us to take coffee with him in his 'back shop'. This we did - sitting tailor fashion on his beautiful Persian rugs The coffee was very strong and very sweet but was washed down with cold water after each sip, as is the custom. We also had sweet meats of a kind I have seen only there. I came away with the hand bag for which the old Arab accepted £10 and with his blessings, in Arabic, ringing in my ears. That day I also bought 12 ivory napkin rings cut for me from one tusk by a street trader using a pedal operated saw while he squatted on the ground.

A dozen leather coasters (gazelle skin, I think) were also among my purchases. Several are still 'to the fore' in our home after 50 years, the others having been given away as souvenirs.

I might mention that the Blue Nile which rises in the mountains of Abbyssinia (Ethiopia) indeed looks blue as it joins the waters of the White Nile which originates far to the south, I think, in Lake Victoria. Is that not what Grant of the Nile, that famous Nairn explorer, discovered. To stand on the bridge at the point where the two rivers meet somewhere between Omdurman and Khartoum is a never to be forgotten experience. For me it was a most exciting moment. As the waters merge the colour becomes distinctly greyish and so much less attractive.

Soon Jock and I were aboard the train heading north to its terminus at Wadi Halfa where we joined a paddle steamer to sail down river towards the Aswan Dam (built, of course, by that famous Highlander and Liberal M.P. Sir Murdoch MacDonald!) On the way we stopped at the famous temple to Rameses II to visit this wonder of the ancient Egyptian world. At the end of the nave behind the rock altar sat the effigies of Rameses with two wives on either side. On mid-summer's day at dawn and at that time only the rising sun lit up the King's face - a feat of skilled engineering, for the altar stood a fair distance in from the entrance door. But you can read all about that in appropriate literature. So important was the temple regarded that when Egypt decided after the 1939/45 war to flood the Nile basin in order to provide additional energy for the country the temple was actually cut out of the solid rock piece by piece and rebuilt at a higher level - but no longer is the King's face lit by the sun at dawn on mid-summer's day!

The steamer was full of whites (including in that category well-to-do Egyptians) but it towed another vessel, like a two storey barge, and that was crammed full of Egyptian peasants and negros. Jock and I enjoyed our sail immensely and lived like true imperialists for the three day trip. At Aswan we had to walk about a mile to the train which would take us to Cario and I was astonished to see my cabin trunk (it had cost £3 when my batman had bought it for me in the Isle of Wight) being carried shoulder high by one of a string of native porters. It had left Eritrea two weeks before I did and arrived back home the day after I was released from the Army.

In Cairo there was daily anti-British rioting of the most frightening kind with large crowds of Egyptians marching through the streets shouting all sorts of anti-British slogans. Bob Lawrence when I phoned him invited me to go up to Alexandria away from the mobs. We spent a few days in Heather House where his lounge walls were adorned with pictures of the prominent people for whom he had made clothes and uniforms before King Farouk bought him out. One photo was of the Duke of Windsor wearing breeches and bearing the inscription 'To Bob Lawrence the best breeches maker in the world' with his signature.

The King was envious of the cut of his staff officers' breeches, demanded to know who had made them and then summoned Bob to the Kingly presence. The outcome was that Bob was given a very large sum of money to stop tailoring in the private sector and offered a large salary by the King along with accommodation and servants in each of three royal palaces. Wealthy Greeks and Egyptians still wanted Bob to tailor for them and, I know, he did so in exchange for what would normally be regarded as extortionate prices. But the label sewn inside the jacket bearing the 'royal appointment symbol' was worth every penny.

Bob always wore a fez (cap) and spoke fluent Arabic. He never gave more than a shilling for a tip ("They're always hoping for more next time I call, Alex") in a restaurant and the Palace paid for all the petrol he used. He had served his apprenticeship as a tailor in Peterhead, Old Meldrum and Glasgow.

In Alexandria one afternoon we stood on the balcony of the flat while several thousand shouting scoundrels filled the square. We actually saw, to our horror, the bodies of three British soldiers being carried along; they had been brutally murdered by the mob. Not one word of this reached the British press; at least the folk at home knew nothing of what was happening in Egypt.

Glad we were to be leaving. In order to avoid violence all we British troops were quartered behind wire in a huge transit camp. As ships became available in Alexandria harbour we were carried by night to embark. (All our arms had previously been handed in otherwise the soldiers would have made short work of the fellaheen! Jock and I travelled on a Liberty boat equipped with three tier bunks in its hold. A most unpleasant 'cruise' to Toulon where we transferred to the 'Medlock' train and had to sit on wooden seats all the way north to Dieppe. A horrible journey: we were like cattle!

In Dieppe we met up with four other Scots officers and had a whale of a time, buying gifts for wives, fiancees, and mothers. In one shop we were given a 'demonstration' of ladies underwear. At dinner in the officers' Club we discovered that one of our number, a Lieut.-Colonel in the Argylls had attained the age of 40 that day so we celebrated with champagne. I may say they even persuaded the writer to stand on the table and sing that well known army song 'The Ball of Kirriemuir' -all twenty verses of it! I must have drunk too much!!

We left Dieppe at 2 am the following morning having had no sleep and the crossing was the worst I have ever experienced at sea. I think I spent, as did most of my fellow officers, the whole of the time on board in the gents toilet being ill. To my utter shame.

From Dover a train took us to Aldershot where we were issued with civilian clothes 'off the peg' including a tribly hat, overcoat, suit, socks, shoes, shirt and tie and given a rail pass to any station of our choosing: mine was for Fort George via Aberdeen. My official 'Release day' was 16th May 1946. By releasing rather than de-mobbing us the War Officer retained the right to recall us for duty up to the age of 40 years.

Any so came to an end my Army career: almost seven years of true comradeship: I enjoyed them all.
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