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Knocking us into shape

by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Bill harvey
Location of story: 
Stonehaven, Scotland
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5327778
Contributed on: 
25 August 2005

In February 1941, with departure time drawing nearer, the Company was to be ‘knocked into shape’. This ritual began with the arrival of a regular army drill sergeant. Bill Harvey was to be one of his early victims. He takes up the story. “This sergeant was a veritable ogre of a man, a born Regular from the angle of his forage cap to the mirror-polished on his boots. He had a loud, gravely voice to match. When he gave orders it had a foghorn quality which made everyone in Stonehaven jump. After putting the complete unit through their paces for a few days he decided to give each NCO an individual test.

"A squad of 12 men was paraded on the esplanade running along the sea front. The terrifying drill sergeant with the NCO being tested at his side were stationed on the piece of flat waste ground which we used as a parade ground. The squad was at least 200/250 yards from the NCO giving the orders.

“We not only had the distance to overcome but the sound of the sea at the back of the squad. For us it was a terrifying ordeal, due to the distance and background noise. You could shout an order. Then wait for what seemed like 10 seconds before the squad moved. When my turn came I managed to get through without criticism. It seemed I had passed the test, to my great relief.”

Not everyone escaped without a tongue lashing. “One poor lad, who did not possess a powerful voice got his squad all tangled up. Eventually the squad marching away out of earshot. Helpfully the instructor said, ‘For heavens sake say something, even if it's only goodbye’”.

Bill was relieved to get back to the peace of the orderly room. His reward for having a loud voice was another stripe. He was now a full Corporal in the E&M section. “I thought just one more stripe and I should realise my immediate ambition to be a Lance Sergeant.”

This story was submitted to the people’s War site by a volunteer from CSV Oxford on behalf of the late Bill Harvey. It is a transcript of his own diary and several interviews. He gave written permission for the material to be edited and published.

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