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15 October 2014
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Tom Hewson's Soldier's Story - Part 3icon for Recommended story

by Big Yellow Bus

Contributed by 
Big Yellow Bus
People in story: 
Tom Hewson, Wally Birt, Maurice Kramsky
Location of story: 
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 December 2004

This story has been input by Robbie Meredith of BBC Northern Ireland's Bus team on behalf of Tom Hewson, the author. The author understands and accepts the terms and conditions of the site.

Based in Divisional HQ in College Gardens, Belfast - now the Queen's University Common Room - I made many new friends, including two Welshmen, Wally Birt and Maurice Kramsky, who worked in the cartography section. Maurice later volunteered for the Special Boat Service and I never found out if he survived the war as Wally and I did. I was assigned to operations section - Section G - and though I was only a 'rookie' I became a clerk to Major WRM Clifford who was the general staff officer. I gained much experience in army organisation as he was the frst to receive all documents and signals from the war office. This meant that I had to link today's War Office signals with yesterday's, so that he couldbrief his superiors immediately, such as Colonel Frere and the Divisional Commander Major General BT Wilson. Clifford and Frere, though stern and regimental, were also very caring and gave you confidence in the precision of their administration.

However, during of my duties, which were serious of course, some humourous things happened, a couple of which I'd like to recount below.


In the early months of the war the expansion of the army meant that there were many square pegs in round holes. At Divisional HQ security was of vital importance. Like every other Divisional HQ the 53rd had a 'central registry' and in the early days many soldiers with no administrative experince were being used for such work despite some being unable to string a sentence together, even if they were good weapons handlers. The most senior 'other rank' at Divisional HQ was a Staff Sergeant Major - senior in status to a Regimental SM. During the early days in College Gardens signals, radio and paper correspondence kept going astray. Our SSM - named Crawley - was being hauled in by his superiors all the time with threats that his rank, and even his career, was at stake!

So he called us all together and told us all that if he caught the culprit he would give him even harsher treatment than that he had been threatened with. It was even thought that there might be a spy in our ranks in the pay of the enemy.

Accordingly, with my responsibilities to sieve all documents and signals, I decided that if I could not find a previous signal or document to which today's War Office signal referred I would be in trouble, so I bought a large bulldog clip to safely clip documents together.

One day, going up the stairs, I arrived at one of the large landings when the SSM came in the opposite direction, and I thought that on seeing me with a bundle of documents in my hand he suspected that he had discovered the possible spy. His pause and his look were embarrassing and unpleasant, and he asked what I was doing with the documents. I nervously explained that I was only keeping them safe until I could present them together with previous correspondence. After a painful pause I was amazed when he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, 'Thanks, I will not forget this.'

Nor did he, for when he was posted to Aldershot as an Army Organisation Instructor I received my first promotion, up to Lance Corporal - the first rung of the Military ladder. Thus the bulldog clip, and the first chevron it ultimately gave me, was an important landmark in my military career.


The other humourous event I remember arose from my friendship with Wally Birt and Maurice Kramsky. In the Cartography section they had to receive and sort military maps that came from the War Office (now the Ministry of Defence). They also redrew the maps with enlarged contours - necessary in both training exercises and real battles. Maurice was Jewish, while Wally was Protestant. Some of us found church parades irksome, and risked punshment to try to escape from them. One Sunday Maurice, after a typical army breakfast, told Wally that he was going to Castlewellan Castle, in that lovely village, to 'do' some maps which had come in. Wally, inadvisably, decided that he could justify missing church parade to help Maurice.

Now Sergeant 'Smudge' Smith had a beady eye and missed Wally as the church parade ranks formed up. After parade he went to the castle, saw that two soldiers had missed the parade, promptly told them both that they were to be 'on a charge' on the following day, and marched them before the camp commandant.

Wally wondered how he could justify himself, and searched for an excuse. Then it occured to him that if he told the commandant that his abscence had been 'an inadvertence' the commandant might be impressed by his literary prowess and be sympathetic to such a wordy plea.

However, as luck would have it, his brain power was not called upon. The corridors in the castle to the commandant's office were so narrow that the Sergeant could not march the miscreats two abreast, so it ended up that Maurice was in front and went into the Office first. Wally, meanwhile, was nervously pinning his hopes on his wordiness, but he was surprised to find no noise coming from the commandant's office while Maurice was inside. Then Maurice was suddenly marched out looking quite relaxed which troubled Wally. When he got in front of the commandant Wally could not believe his ears as the commandant immediately expressed an apology to Wally for not knowing he was a Jew and should be spared any charge. Additionally, he said that he would arrane for Wally and Maurice to attend synagogue on Saturdays. Wally's confusion was so great that he wondered for a moment if he should correct the commandant's 'inadvertence.' However, he decided otherwise and was, from that day, able to miss church parade for the rest of his time at Divisional HQ.

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