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15 October 2014
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At War With The Royal Engineers - 1941

by searcherjohnedwards

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
searcherjohnedwards
People in story: 
Bob Thurman, George Bruce
Location of story: 
England
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A8993631
Contributed on: 
30 January 2006

On 22nd February 1941 he moved to Northwood House, Winchester where much of the time was spent on two hour spells of guard duty. Prior to mounting guard all equipment had to be blancoed and all boot toe caps highly polished before the all important inspection.
The following month with five others he was sent to repair the radar netting that they had built when stationed in Beaulieu which been heavily bombed In April they moved back to Barton-on-Sea and from there to Christchurch to build rafts and tow pontoons on the river.
On April 8th 1941 he had nine days' leave and an opportunity to take Joy to meet his parents in Birmingham. He left by lorry at 6 met her at 8.45 and eventually reached Birmingham at 1.45. His father met him at the station. The next night there was an air-raid with several bombs nearby, the nearest hitting a house round the corner in Orphanage Road. The next morning there was no water or gas. His diary records the damage "Town in a frightful mess. Hosepipes everywhere and broken glass and water. C&A's completely burnt out, also the Bull Ring, Cooks, the Prince of Wales Theatre, Great Western Arcade, the Queen's Hotel, New Street Station, etc. etc. A really pitiful sight, seems nothing left." On April 12th he and Joy went into Birmingham again and returned as an engaged couple. Her engagement ring was bought from Wright's in the arcade. The shop had a door but all the glass had been blown out.

His leave ended on the On April 17th which meant a return to the billets in Northwood House for route marches, field craft, musketry, squad drill,etc.
On May 8th 1941 came a move to Wallingford and sleeping six to a tent in a field. He had to wash at ablution benches in the open before marching to Shillingford to work on a new type of tubular steel bridge called "The Inglis Bridge” Whilst pontooning on the Thames he caught three fingers of his right hand between two road bearers and was sent to Didcot Barracks Hospital On return to his Unit , which by this time had moved back to Northwood House he found that a visit by the General Officer .Commanding 4 Division, Lieut. General Swain was expected within four .days' time so all the rooms were scrubbed and painted, all equipment blancoed and brasses polished, Meals had to be taken out in the open so that the mess room. Remained clean and tidy
On May 30th he was called to the Unit Office and told that along with others he was to be posted to a Chemical Warfare Company at Barton Stacey where part of the training was a concentrated course on Chemical Warfare. They were given six books on the subject to study for an exam at the end of the course on June 21st. .They were also taught how to use range finders and took it in turns to be in charge of a section so that their powers of leadership could be tested
On July 6th he was sent to South Molton for lectures on a new secret method of gas projection and to see a demonstration firing of rockets from the cricket ground. Later on the 17th there was an opportunity to see the new weapon being used at Lynton but afterwards there was long walk through the Doone valley to retrieve the missiles.
On July 25th he learned that he was to be posted again but luckily it was to 65 Company, stationed at Winterbourne near Salisbury, the nearest of any to Barton. On July 26th he left by train, carrying all his equipment, rifle, kit bag and greatcoat. The next day he was informed that he would now be in 3 Section of 65 Chemical Warfare Company Royal Engineers, The following days were spent either at Preston, a village near from Weymouth, billeted in a loft over some stables, on leave in New Milton or at an aerodrome some eight miles away making some trenches deeper.
On August 7th he an interview with Colonel Costello and was told that with four others he was to be sent on a meteorological course and made Acting Unpaid Lance-Corporals. The six stripes for sewing onto battle-dress and shirts cost fourpence each.
They were given books on meteorology to be studied in any spare time. By now three of the men three of the men with whom he had arrived had been posted elsewhere, leaving behind just George Bruce and himself.. With George Bruce he was also told to give a week's course on surveying to fifteen sergeants and corporals. Each lecture had to be for an hour sometimes in the presence of the Colonel and Adjutant.
At that time he was receiving thirty-one shillings (£1.55) a week, of which 14hillings (70p) was paid into his bank account at home, leaving only 17shillings (85p) to live on. This was not enough for bus and train fares and buns in the canteen, so he used to hitch-hike and go without the buns. .
On September 12th George Bruce was promoted to Lance-Sergeant and they both had to do a smoke exercise and write meteorological reports for a Brigadier and five Lt/Colonels.
When there was an opportunity he travelled to Barton-on-Sea to see Joy, sometimes with the aid of a blank pass to which he had added the necessary signatures. On one occasion he was picked up by a bus and given a free ride because the conductor would not take his fare.
September 26th, marked the beginning of an exercise he remembers as being aimless, travelling around Kent using only a minimum amount of water and cleaning out his mess tin with grass. On October 8th, Colonel Costello ordered a parade of the whole Group because there were no volunteers to go to the to Forton Gas Centre to be used as guinea pigs, and of the twenty who had been detailed, eleven, after hearing that previous volunteers were still in hospital had refused. Because, as he saw it the good name of the Second Chemical Warfare Group was at stake he announced that he personally would lead the next batch to Forton
Listening to the 9.00 news in the NAAFI on October 15th, he heard a voice that kept butting in contradicting what had been said. It was a person who became known as Lord Haw Haw. By November his pay had risen to 19 shillings per week. On November the 28th, he went with Joy to Bright's in Bournemouth, and bought themselves a blue and white tea-set. It cost 35/6 (£1.77p)
On Christmas Day, 1941, they were given an egg and two sausages each for breakfast, before the Church Parade. For the Christmas dinner, they had pork, brown potatoes and sprouts, followed by two helpings of Christmas Pudding and mince-pies, some bad apples, an issue of ten cigarettes, and free beer.
All the waiting .was done by the Sergeants. The Colonel proposed a few toasts, and the local Vicar made a speech that no one could hear . For tea they had cheese, celery, jam and blancmange, which hadn't set. In the evening, they went to a concert, where the band played all the latest tunes,. All the officers were there, and some told jokes, or sang songs on the stage. He contributed one of his poems entitled "Frocks", which apparently went down quite well. Beer was .provided free all evening, tin mugs being filled up as fast as they were emptied.

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