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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Neville Brooks, Matthew Brooks, Beatrice Brooks
Location of story: 
Brighton, East Sussex and Canterbury Barracks, Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 September 2005

In September 1942 I was working at the engineering company Allen West in Brighton. I had been working there since I had left Park Street School in August 1939, and I was now seventeen years old. Ever since the outbreak of the Second World War I had longed for the day that I would be old enough to join one of the armed services, but that seemed a long way off. On a Monday morning in October 1942 I went to the Navy Recruiting Office and told the recruiting officer I wished to join up. When he asked for my birth certificate I said I had forgotten to bring it with me, to which he replied, “Come back when you’re eighteen”. I told the lads at work, and one or two of the older men told me I was in reserved occupation and I need not go in the armed forces. I told them I had longed to join up ever since the War began, and nothing would stop me volunteering. The next day I went to the army recruiting office, next door to the navy office, and said I wished to join the army. I had to pass a medical by seeing four or five doctors, and was eventually sworn in and passed. At no time did they ask for my birth certificate. They must have been running out of infantrymen.

In October 1942 I received my call up papers. They informed me that I should report to Canterbury Barracks on the 18th of December, and there was also a travel warrant with details of what I should bring with me. I was quite excited, but being only just turned seventeen the time had come to break the news to my parents. My father, Matthew James Brooks, who had been in the regular army in the Royal Artillery, had rejoined the army in 1940 and was due on home leave in early October. I thought I would leave telling them ‘till then, as my father I thought would be more on my side. Whereas my mother, like most mothers, would be worried sick. Three weeks before I was due to leave, Mum and Dad were in the living room and I went in and broke the bombshell to them. My mother was quite shaken up. She said, “You can’t do that. You’re not eighteen”. I told them how I’d put my age up a year, and my father who had not said a word up to now, tried to pacify her by saying that I would be called up when I was eighteen anyway.

On the 18th December I packed my small unit case and said goodbye to Mum, brother Joe, and sister Joan. There were a few tears and cuddles from Mum, and then off to the station I went. This was the first time I had properly been away from home, and it was thrilling. I arrived at Canterbury Barracks and met up with volunteers from all over the British Isles, and it turned out that quite a few of them had also put their age up to join! A drill sergeant took over our squad and told us we would be trained for six weeks with drills and route marches of up to twenty miles with all of our equipment on. The next morning we would have our teeth inspected and injections given for various diseases such as Tab- Tet- Tox and typhus. There were four medical orderlies doing the injections. I had my four jabs, also one tooth removed, and in the evening my arm swelled up to twice its size. I felt quite miserable. “Welcome to the army,” I thought.

Once we got into our training I started to enjoy things. I had always been athletic, so I was reasonably fit, and that got me through the route marches. Once my boots had started to soften up, I was as keen as ever to join a regiment. It was now a couple of days to Christmas, and a concert by the NAAFI had been arranged. It was my first Christmas away from home. We trooped down to see the show which consisted of a tune which included the line, “My thoughts are ever winding home.” I was sent back to my bunk bed and felt quite homesick.

Overall the six weeks training went quite well, and by the last week in January I was ready to join my regiment. As I had volunteered, the sergeant had given me a list to choose from. The one I picked was the Rifle Brigade. We were given a week’s leave, and a railway warrant to join our regiment for twelve weeks intensive training. I arrived at Rarnby Camp at Retford in Nottinghamshire ready for twelve weeks which would finally turn me into an infantryman, and ready for action. I couldn’t wait.

This story was entered on The People's War Website by Stuart Ross on behalf of Neville Brooks. Neville fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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