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T.A. Duties 1939

by bedfordmuseum

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
People in story: 
William Knight, A.A.Jones
Location of story: 
Bedford, Shoreham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
01 September 2005

The T.A. duties involved two training evenings each week as well as Sunday mornings and at Easter we had a weekend camp at Yelden near Rushden. Our guns were elderly 4.5" howitzers which had seen service in the 1914-18 war and had obviously seen better days but I suppose were adequate for training purposes. Our motor transport seemed particularly unreliable.
Then in the summer, early August I think, we went to a much larger camp at Shoreham on the South Coast and rumours of war became stronger. We participated in a large scale Divisional exercise which ended in total disaster, with our ancient vehicles littering the Sussex Downs with breakdown after breakdown. It would seem that the tempers of the management got somewhat frayed, and no doubt they had received uncomplimentary remarks from those higher up the ladder of command. Whatever the reason, one day it seems we had incurred the displeasure of Sergeant Major Westbrook, a seasonaed regular soldier who had grown impatient with the inadequacies of the youthful civilians in uniform, and as a result instead of the customary, 'Parade, dismiss' at midday he kept us marching up and down in the hot sun and hot chalky dust. At one brief period of halt a voice came from the rear ranks,'How sweet a thing is death.' 'Who said that?' roared Westbrook. The answer came back,'Shelley', upon which the whole squad dissolved in mirth, in which even the irascible Westbrook joined. Thereafter we were permitted to dismiss.
Following the camp we returned to normal life but it was to be short lived. On Friday 1st September we heard on the wireless that the Germans had invaded Poland and that general mobilisation had been ordered. I rode home from Stewartby (brickworks), put the motorcycle away in the garge, put on my uniform and reported to Battery Headquarters in Ashburnham Road. There was nothing much to do having reported and in due course I was told to go home and come back the next morning. On Sunday 3rd September we all listened to Neville Chamberlain's speech and realised that now we were at war.
One of our number was A.A.Jones. a future mayor of Bedford and MP for South Northants. He had one stripe on his sleeve so Sergeant Major Westbrook said, 'Lance Bombadier Jones, your initials are Ack Ack so you can be in charge of the Ack Ack gun, take three men and I want the Lewis Gun on the Drill Hall roof to be manned twenty-four hours a day!' I happened to be one of the three men but fortunately no German aircraft came anywhere near us, and I fear it would have been perfectly safe if it had. The Lewis Gun was notorious for jamming when under any stress.

Some days later I was awarded a rise in rank to Lance Bombadier (unpaid), a most miserable promotion. All it meant was that your pay of two shillings a day remained the same, but you were expected to perform the duties of a Bombadier whose rate was four shillings a day. We all felt that the Army was getting its N.C.O.'s on the cheap, but at least it was a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.

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