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Robert Fleming Watson - A Scottish Signalman

by East Sussex Libraries

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
East Sussex Libraries
People in story: 
Robert Fleming Watson
Location of story: 
Kuala Lumpur
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6767986
Contributed on: 
07 November 2005

This story was submitted to the Peoples War website by a volunteer from Hastings Library with the permission of Robin Watson.

Robert Fleming Watson — A Scottish Signalman.

In1942-43 I was conscripted and told to join the Army by going to Maryhill Barracks for a six week course (PTC Course) in 1943. Later I was considered to be underweight so was sent to Hereford (Bradbury Lines) near Hereford where a development course lasting 10 weeks. Food was first class. Development included P.T., route marches, and battle course. This was leading up to a final fitness which included battle course of carrying man short distance, crossing a pond via rope, 10 mile route course. At the end we were returned to Glasgow Maryhill Barracks where we had a 6 week Primary Training course.

We were then sent to Catterick camp those who were going into Signals Regiment and later sent to Scarborough for 6 months course in signalling including morse code with Fullaphone, Teleprinting, E and M. When the course was ended we were sent to a camp outside or near Sheffield then went on Embarkation leave. On return we were kitted out with Olive Green dress and after leave entrained for Liverpool.

I was a member of the Royal Signals Regiment 14814398 and amongst other duties served with them in Bangladesh for about 4 months. We landed in Singapore, then moved to Kuala Lumpur where I spent about one year with the Malaya Command (previously known as the 14th Army). From there we were sent out to act as Teleprinters to the 7th Division (Indians) and Johore for about a year -2nd Division -We were situated at Johotr Bahru over the road across to Singapore.

Epic Affair of the long journey from Liverpool to Bombay. On arrival in India we were taken by train (troop trains were dirty with flies of many kinds around the light in carriage ) en route to Mhow which was a hill station. I took ill after short time with an ailment called Dengue fever which was said euphamistically a poor man’s Dysentery and thence after several months in India travelling to Singapore. Later travelling up country by Studdie Baker trucks to Kuala Lumpur where we became part of Malaya Command Signals where we had a long stay carrying out our signals duties.

When serving in Comilla (in Punjab)I was fortunate to get leave when I travelled up to Assam to meet and stay with my Cousin Arthur Thom who was manager of Tea Estate at Boisahabit. During my stay with him looked around the tea estate observing Indian women collecting the tea leaf (when green) before they were left in a house where with the heat and over certain time the leaves turned to black which later was tea. Some cases of tea were put together from different parts of the estate to have a mix of leaves which known to be successful at that time.It was an enjoyable experience. I was warned that a few of Assamese Leaf pickers were bitten and died after poisonous snake bites so I was warned to be careful when moving around the estate although the tasting of the made cup from mixtures of the leaves although well known now was unusual then. There was a large number of leaves drying in the heat, varying in shades of green to the lower level was black in accordance was normality.

The purpose was for me to tell you of any exciting moments all these years ago but they are very little as we sailed for Bombay just before the Japs decided to pack it in and so there was little or no military action that I participated in. I have a tale of a Jap officer who was convicted by court-martial and condemned to die. He chewed his tongue so that he would not reveal any information and thereby cause the deaths of his fellow officers, but he was prevented from doing further damage by Military Policemen who watched him carefully all the time.

I have a story of life abroad in H.M. forces when despite notices in the Barrack room that all food should be carefully stored, a Corporal on finishing his duties in Signals Office brought some biscuits to the Barrack room and left crumbs and the half eaten biscuits on the table. He then retired to bed. Later that night a Gorilla entered from one of the windows which had no glass protection because of the heat. It then consumed the bits of biscuits but unfortunately for the Corporal his hand moved in his sleep and the Gorilla plunged its talons into his arm but the Mosquito net saved him. Mayhem followed but the Gorilla escaped from whence he came. The corporal had to have numerous injections to protect him from any illnesses. But for the mosquito net the Corporal would have made a tasty meal.

After we moved up from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, as it is now, I was sent on a train journey to Penang, north of Kuala Lumpur. I was carrying mailbags and parcels for local collection at various localities in between. I was ’armed’ with a revolver, carried at a rakish angle down my leg, in a holster! However I was quite harmless as the pistol had no ammunition in it. Fortunately I was not stopped by anyone as the only traveling companions I had were the parcels.

Leaving from Singapore (from Changi Transit Camp) from where British Ordinary Ranks moved to the dockyard and boarded a troopship which left at the beginning of October travelling through the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal and then to the Mediteanan stoppiing at Algiers for drinking water and other supplies going through the Gibralter Straits , the Bay of Biscay where it was foggy but no storm although the troopship was inclined to wallow in the movement of tides. Some were seasick. The journey leaving from Singapore was quite pleasant weatherwise but the troops all regarded themselves to be making their way home and were close to being ‘Time expired men’ all looking to their first sight of Blighty for many years. It was a lovely day when we arrived in Southampton . After leaving the troopship the personnel moved on to York for demobilisation. The men were kitted out with civilian clothes and also hand in uniforms etc. I however left kitbag and case at York station where they protected by a Military Policeman. When the rekitting was finishes we returned to the station to be met by my Dad and returned home.

My parents, and neighbouring houses were festooned by welcoming placards but after some time abroad this was unexpected. After some leave spent getting used to civilian life and meeting old friends I restarted work in November 1947.

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Message 1 - Robert Fleming Watson - Scottish Signalman

Posted on: 07 November 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Sir,

to say that I am slightly confused would be quite an understatement -
first - you sailed to India just prior to the Japaneses surrender in 1945.....you then returned to Scotland around 1943 ....and with a number of 148..... you were demobbed in 1946/47.....would this be before either Ron Goldstein with a number of 142.... or myself with a number of 143.... in the May of 1947 ????
perhaps you can appreciate my confusion ???

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