- 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
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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