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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper
People in story: 
Tom Canning
Location of story: 
Uk.North Africa Italy Austria
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 May 2004

Tom Cannin in pensive mood on aleadership course in Milan - 1946

Army Beds

Everyone who was in the Army very quickly became used to the idea that we were not there to enjoy our rest. Far from it, from the first night in Gibralter Barracks at Bury St.Edmunds, which must have been built for the stalwart Victorians of circa Crimea et al,to the last night before demobilisation, many and varied were the sleeping arrangements offered to the unsuspecting recruits. No longer would we relish in laundered sheets with a cosy eiderdown - this was long before we found the benefits of the duvets of Continental Europe, but rather we were introduced to the sleeping "biscuits" which one victim once described these as being 3'o" x 3'o" squares of indeterminate cloth stuffed with dehydrated "monkey muck". He was not too far from the truth with that description !

Another variation was the "palliase" which was a shroud like sack usually three inches too short for anyone over five foot nine, this was filled with as much straw as you could stuff inside in the hope that it would be a good 'cushion' for your bones against the rock hard bed , or in many cases, the concrete floor.

There were of course, many variations of the actual beds from low lying wire mattress type arrangements to double and three tier bunks and god help the lower bunk occupants should his upper tier neighbours came back to barracks the worse the wear with the demon drink ! These occasions led to actual practices of fighting the wrong enemy !

Another variation for Tank crews, was to slump over the main gun for a few if not forty winks, providing the Gunner had not beaten you to the softest spot of the main armament, another favourite was while in night convoy was to be lulled to the arms of morpheous by staring at the rear light seemingly powered by a No 8 battery of your Troop Commanders Tank and being woken by an irate RMP and discovering that the rest of the Squadron was now ten miles ahead of you and the others who had been held up while you slept on and on .... A very strict no - no was to sleep under the Tank as the 40 ton weight of a Churchill Tank was at times, too great for the soil upon which it stood and could quite easily sink down overnight suffocating all beneath it. Needless to say - it happened !

Yet another variation was to sleep standing on the Commanders cupola stand
allegedly ‘on guard’ until being woken by a strange winding up type of noise and taking seconds to recognise the arming of the infamous Nebelwerfer by some sadistic German who would not fire off the screaming meenies until you were at last in bed and just dropping off !

The big trick in trying to sleep was to find a hole - which someone else had dug - which was both safe and dry and was likely to remain so until your were finally refreshed enough to be fully compis mentis once more, this could be quite a challenge and a great deal of thought was spent on this on a daily basis, and hoping that there would be room service !

There were always compensations, I recall one week-end where a dozen of us Wireless Operators, from the Armoured Car Training School at Rieti in Central Italy were detailed to proceed to the top of Monte Terminillo in order to maintain a radio link with Cairo in Egypt. This looked like a good wheeze and so the volunteers were numerous.
Many hours later with the Bedford three ton truck groaning it's way to the top of the mountain, we arrived at our base which just happened to be a Millionaires summer "cottage". We soon sorted ourselves out in various bedrooms after admiring the gold taps and the marble in all of the bathrooms and two kitchens and then got around to looking for the radio link to Cairo.......there was none anywhere ! Nothing to be done therefore but to rest and take things easy, no point in going back to Rieti to report that as we had been detailed to stay until the Monday. The highlight of the week-end , apart from the restful atmosphere was the sunrises, which were fantastically beautiful with the sun rising below the clouds and making the whole world appear a shade of peaceful pink !

Another time when I was stationed in Strassburg in Austria I was ‘asked’ to attend a ‘leadership’ course, I objected having just returned from another course so the Sgt Major thought it would be a good idea if I went along as it was to be held in a Millionaires Mansion outside of Milan…. I felt my arm being twisted and so readily agreed to attend. Sure enough — it was a luxury week with servants to do everything that needed doing including polishing our shoes. The food was fabulous and served with silver and damask table linen, eight of us with our own bedrooms and bathrooms en suite…… I had forgotten what the course was all about during the two day train ride back to Austria !

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Army Beds

Posted on: 22 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Another cracking story, or stories I should say, as one comic anecdote merges into another. :-D

You'll be pleased to know Tom that traditions were kept up after you left, we still had three biscuits on three bed planks, on double-tier bunks, in Hong Kong in the early 1950s.


Message 2 - Army Beds

Posted on: 22 May 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Hi chaps
I've got a bed story for you too!

My Diary for Saturday 7th October 1944
Our present location skin factory, slightly lousy.

What actually happened was that we came across this empty building near Assisi and, on entering, found lots of what we took to be double decker bunk beds. They had latticed wire frames stretched across where a mattresses would normally be found and so, grateful for small mercies we all gratefully dumped our paliasses on the beds and retired for the night.
On waking in the morning we all found ourselves covered in flea-bites and
realised that the wire frames normally held animal skins.
The MO's orderly spent the next few days trying to rid us of our newfound friends !


Message 3 - Army Beds

Posted on: 22 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ron -
there you go you see - not being of my faith you failed to recognise that it was the home of St.Francis and his sister St.Clare who would to-day be called envirionmental nut cases in their all encompassing love for all animals and - of course - insects !
We had much the same experience once on a convoy taking Armoured Cars to Austria - we spent one night in a camp of 8th Indian Div. -- and had a scratching time all the way to Knittelfeld where the M.O. nearly ran out of Gentian Violet !


Message 4 - Army Beds

Posted on: 23 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

Hallo, Tom! an 8st, 5'9" girly, I ached in sympathy reading about the too-short, too hard beds!

Fantastic stuff, from you and Ron.


Message 5 - Army Beds

Posted on: 23 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Carey -
thank you for your comments - it's all Ron's fault as he kept a diary !

5'9" girls had it much easier as they had sheets and pillows and stuff, my wife spent five years in the WAAF and was in private billets for most of that time ! Whereas her sister also a WAAF spent all of her time in Barracks ! My wife still expects her morning 'cuppa'in bed !


Message 6 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

<<My wife still expects her morning 'cuppa'in bed !>>

Yes? And? And?

But, of course!



Message 7 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


A modicum of decorum, please! We do not wish to know how big-gunned tank bods disport themselves.


Message 8 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

Crikey, yes, you are absolutely right. A thousand apologies...

::slinks off a bit pink in the face::



Message 9 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

Crikey, yes, you are absolutely right. A thousand apologies... some things best left 'mysterium est'...

::slinks off a bit pink in the face::



Message 10 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

::even pinker for the double post...argh...::


Message 11 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

... not to mention the double entendre


Message 12 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter -
there you go with the big words again - the poor girl is in enough trouble for even thinking that after 54 years of marriage we could still get up to no good in the a.m.....or any other time !


Message 13 - Army Beds

Posted on: 24 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

all -
someone is really on the ball here as the photo is that of the 16/5th Lancers last charge at the Vienna Tattoo in the Schoenbrun Palace Gardens instead of the photo of me sitting in the gardens of the millionaires mansion at Milan in 1946 relating to the "Army Beds" story !
You will probably get a "charge" out of the photo's anyway !


Message 14 - Army Beds

Posted on: 25 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Ah, is that was it is! I mistakenly thought it was a stamp from an old battered postcard. :)


Message 15 - Army Beds

Posted on: 25 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter - c'on now that was my first effort in tranmitting photos on my new and upgraded P.C....I must figure out how to enlarge same prior to tranmission ! Actually I got a shock when I enlarged that picture to find that I had so much hair in those days ! A friend, who has an Apple claims he can remove wrinkles etc on his machine ?


Message 16 - Army Beds

Posted on: 25 May 2004 by Carey - WW2 Site Helper

::runs away COMPLETELY having now realised what is going on and hiding in the garden probably indefinately::

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