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Recruits in the Scots Guards:Spring 1944

by cambslibs

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People in story: 
Location of story: 
Caterham, Surrey
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Contributed on: 
22 June 2004

After 6 years in Egypt, the regiment had returned to the U.K. and were based at Caterham in Surrey. At this time, a large number of recruits were arriving for the Scots Guards, but the Welsh Guards had had heavy casualties and it was decided to transfer some of the recruits to them. The powers that be in their wisdom decided to choose the REAL Scotsmen for the Scots Guards, that is, the ones with the Scottish names.
The recruits were paraded on arrival to be divided into two groups. Their names were called out, followed by the name of the regiment they should join. The ones going to the Welsh guards were upset.
The name Charles MacArthur, Scots Guards was called out. He stepped forward and to their consternation, Charlie turned out to be a big Sudanese!!I heard an officer say "We can't have him standing in front of Buckingham Palace", but Charlie was staying exactly where he was: he didn't want to transfer anywhere!! He was a very likeable fellow and got on with everyone. If anyone made a remark on his colour, he accepted it and came back with a witty retort. At no time did he ever shriek "Racial prejudice" and was respected for this by everyone. He became very popular with all ranks. He came from Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and spoke with a very strong Glaswegian accent and had a big piano smile. He may well have been the first coloured man to serve in the Guards.
However, not all stories are as amusing. Another young, very tall lad arrived from a very remote Western Island. He had lived all his young life with only his mother's company on a lonely hillside croft. I never heard him mention his father. he was a real Virgin Soldier with a very nice personality. He was well over 6 feet tall, strong,clean and completely innocent of anything bad. I would swear he could get tipsy from drinking tea as he had never drunk it before!!
He became known as "The Highlander" and was teased alot for his innocence. He took all the jokes in good part. I seemed to win over his confidence even though I was an NCO and he would tell me about his island home. He couldn't read or write very well and neither could his mother, so I used to write letters home for him and the postman would read them to her. I then had to read her letters to him; it appeared that she missed him a lot as there was no-one to pull the plough and it was hard to keep the Croft in working order.
One evening he made a fatal mistake. He complained that there was not enough food to keep him going. Although he was paced on double rations, he was a marked man and one evening I discovered that he had been placed under close arrest in the cells. He took it very badly, feeling, I think, like a caged animal. he was staring at the ceiling, swinging his fist and pacing around the cell. Even my efforts could not calm him down.
That night, I slept very badly and got up earlier than usual. I went straight to the Guardroom and the cells. What I saw hit me as hard as the worst battle scene. The Highlander was hanging from the ceiling, slowly turning round and round. I stood for a little time, feeling that I had let him down and then the anger came. I re-entered the Guard Room and asked the Sergeant if he had looked in on the prisoner that night. He replied, "No, but I will do so now." to which I replied so angrily that I startled all the Guards on duty "You're too late; he's dead!" I then walked out into the cool of the morning to calm myself down.
He'd managed to hang himself using the cord from the blackout curtain I remembered the day that I had been locked in the cells for the first time. I had taken it very badly and I came from a tough neighbourhood in Glasgow. What must it have been like for him, living as free as a bird and then having that door slammed on him? He must have felt like a tiger caught in a trap.
I can't ever remember being that angry. All day I kept thinking of his mother receiving THAT telegram informing her of her son's death. To make it worse she was on her own in the lonely Croft, miles from anyone except the POstman. the lad had only been in the Army for about 2 months. I drilled my Squad like a zombie: I couldn't remember a thing I had done at the end of the day.

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