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15 October 2014
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Shedding Light:410 Coy 5th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers ( 53.S/L Regt. RA)icon for Recommended story

by radionewcastle

Contributed by 
People in story: 
G.E. Dickinson
Location of story: 
Tyneside/ Isle of wight
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 July 2004

This story was submitted to the Proples War site by Len Ralph (CSV Volunteer BBC RADIO NEWCASTLE) on behalf of George Edward Dickinson and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

Regiment was a territorial army unit, with 408 Coy based in Walker, 409 Coy based in Wallsend and 410 Coy based in Gosforth. We were mobilised in July 1939 for a month's full time training. As a member of 410 Coy I was stationed at West Chirton and Gosforth Park. Other detachments were on sites all over Tyneside. 410 Coy was released from full time training on 12 August 1939 but on 24 August 1939 we were called up for immediate military service. Some detachments were sent to sites in Co. Durham, but as there was a shortage of equipment etc. Remainder were allowed to sleep at home, but report to the West Avenue Gosforth Drill Hall every day. Again there was a shortage of rifles and clothing and when on guard duty, one rifle with one round of ammunition and a great coat were passed from one sentry to the next. About 30th August 1939 remainder of Coy were taken to Ponteland Rifle Range with no more sleep outs for any one.

When war was declared on 3rd September training increased and about the 7th September more searchlight equipment became available and the detachments were sent to Co. Durham and Teeside. 410 Coy HQ was in Sedgefield Racecourse whilst my my first site was at Chilton Buildings, a village on the old A1 near Ferryhill. I can remember other sites at Fishburn, Wingate, Coxhoe, Stockton road outside Sedgefield, Blackhall, Castle Eden and Greatham. Living under canvas until huts were built, it was a major change of lifestyle as we did two hours site patrol with four hours off, day and night. If any nightime exercises with the RAF planes were called or there were air raid alarms we lost the four hour rest period. Daytime was spent training maintaining equipment and site improvements. In August 1940 the unit title had to change to 53 S/L Regiment RA with the three batteries but was allowed to retain the 5th RNF in following brackets. We were also allowed to retain the RNF cap badge.

In the Spring of 1940, 410 Company was sent to sites in Shropshire, around the Bridgenorth area, for mobile training. Recall that our H.Q. was in an old hall near Six Ashes where the farmer opened a room off his kitchen every night to sell his own cider. Returned to same sites on Tyneside.

About November 1940, company moved to North Northumberland to set up cluster sites which meant that three detachments came together with their equipment to give greater illumination to aid RAF night fighters. 410 Battery was in Rock Hall near Alnwick and other sites I can recall were at Shipley(on B3646) Thropton and Brunton( near Christon Bank) Cluster sitea were abandoned in late 1940 and the unit relocated to Tyneside with single search light detachments. Company HQ was was in Debdon Gardens Drill Hall(off Benfield Road) and sites I served on or visited were Ryton, North Wylam, Dissington, Ponteland, Woolsington, City Golf Course Gosforth, Monkseaton, North Shields, Dudley, Stobhill( Morpeth), West Road Newcastle. In June 1941, 410 was given rest and training for two weeks based at Carlisle Racecourse. We marched with Regimental Band from Debdon Gardens to Central Station Newcastle. Whilst the train was halted on Scotswood railway Bridge an unexploded bomb detonated at the brickworks and I recall debris and telephone wires dropping onto carriages. No damage to us!

In 1942 unit got radar equipment to replace sound location equipment a great improvement, and in April 1942 two detachments took training on rocket guns at Tynemouth and were sent to Berwick. I was located at Pier Field, living in the cricket pavilion. The other site was on higher ground at Spittal, so that we covered the mouth of thr River Tweed and the Tweed Bridge. Understood that we were sent there as a German plane had flown in and under the rail bridge, but this was never confirmed. There for about six months, no action and we returned to Tyneside. Later in 1942 two detachments were sent to take part in a special mobile experiment code named 'TIGER'. This was near an old hall on a slope near the beach at Scremerston Northumberland and comprised of three Bofor LAA guns at lowest level, two radars searchlights at mid-level and two HAA guns on a higher level. Everyone living under canvas and the plan was that if any enemy aircraft came over the coast they would be suprised and attacked, the site would then move to another location. This did happen and a German plane was shot down. We were ordered to pack equipment and be ready to move by daylight, but did not do so, plan was abandoned and detachments returned to their units.

In 1943 Regiment undertook secret training to combat 'pilot less aircraft' (Later known as Buzzbombs) and moved to the Isle of Wight to assist in the defence of the build up to the invasion fleet and Mulberry Harbour etc. Air raids day and night but did not suffer any casualties. Battery HQ was Meadhamstead Hotel, Shanklin and at Parkhurst Barracks. I served on site at Haven Street Upton(nr Ryde), Godshill and Atherton.

On 3rd June 1944 when I was returning from leave to catch the last ferry to the IOW all passengers for Portsmouth Harbour Station were told to alight at Portsmouth Town Station. Military personnel were ordered to report to HMS Victory Barracks where our details were recorded. We were told to find shelter for the night wherever we could and to report at 8a.m. the next day as only naval vessels were allowed to use the harbour. I managed to find a bed for the night but many spent the night on floors of various service canteens. On reporting next day we were taken to the IOW in vehicle landing craft. The Solent was full of naval vessels, tank landing ships and sections of the Muberry Harbour etc. and we knew then that the invasion was imminent. On reporting back to my unit at Godshill I found that every one was on raid alert which lasted two or three days after the invasion. Before daylight on the 6th June we heard all the aircraft going over and at dawn we saw some of them returning and hundreds others going out. I do not recall any major German air raids during the build up to 6th June and cannot understand how all the Allied activity was allowed to take place without any major response.

The V2s and buzzbombs started coming over a few days later and we put our special training to good use, especially at night by illuminating them for the RAF night fighters. After Cherbourg Peninsular was taken, there were fewer air raids and we soon stood down, moved our equipment to depots and ourselves to Golden Hill Fort near Freshwater where personnel were interviewed and transferred to other Army units in the UK and Europe. The Regiment or what remained of it was transferred to Dovercourt in Essex, and I believe turned into an infantry unit. I was sent to Butlins Holiday Camp at Clacton for ability assessment. As the train arrived at Clacton I heard the familiar sound of Buzz bombs again as the Essex coast was still within range of them. After my assessment I was sent to 24 Training Regt.R.A. at Larkhill Garrison, salisbury Plain to train as an Artillery Observer, which was a 6-8 month course. When came we were told we would not complete the course and I was transferred to a driver-training unit at Deepcut Barracks near Pirbright, Surrey, to help train new drivers. It was a very civilised place those days.

About the 1st February I was transferred to 540/158(M) HAA Regt. RA at a site near Churchill Street, Wallsend on Tyne where they discovered that there had been an error in posting as I only had a few weeks to serve. I was 'demobbed' at York on 7th March 1946.

FOOTNOTE: Most of this account has been dredged up from memory without any research. If anyone reading this finds errors please get in touch with the web site. Similarly if any ex colleagues reads this I would really like to hear from them. as there cannot be many of us left


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