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15 October 2014
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Memoirs of a Sapper — Part 3 - Meeting Churchill!icon for Recommended story

by Thanet_Libraries

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Major C. R. Wampach — Royal Engineers
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24 May 2004

One of the many sessions organised by Thanet Libraries and UK-Online took place at the 'GAP' community centre in Broadstairs. Mrs. Wampach came in with the work of her late husband C.R. Wampach — Royal Engineers. He made the army his career and by the time the army decided he was of retirement age he had reached the rank of Major. In fact — had he not lied about his age when he joined — he could have stayed in the forces for a further 3 years. The account of his career is called 'The Memoirs of a Sapper' and this is one of those memories.

Memoirs of a Sapper — Meeting Churchill!

In August 1940 we disembarked from the Empress of Australia on to the shores of Iceland. We were marshalled and inspected by the Chief Engineer Brigadier Bliss who was a real character. He wore a monocle and would welcome us each morning with the words — "Good Morning Gentlemen — the question is — what's the answer?"

One morning we went into the office and felt that there was 'something on'. Headquarters was swarming with MPs and all personnel were confined to buildings. It turned out that Churchill was due to visit us. He had met Roosevelt at sea and they had signed the Atlantic Treaty on the battleship 'Prince of Wales' which had just docked at Havalfordur.

Churchill was coming to meet the Icelandic Government officials and to inspect the troops. He was due at HQ shortly. The guard of honour was drawn up and soon we saw the PM's car coming over the hill.

Churchill arrived with a large entourage. CIGS Field Marshall Dill, General Ismay, General Curtis (GOC Iceland (C) Force), The Chief of Staff Iceland, the CE and many more officers. He came in to the main office puffing a huge cigar. He spoke to the RE staff officers and then his eye caught the very large board in the office which showed the progress of all airfield construction on Iceland — this board was my responsibility — my baby. He looked at all of the coloured pins with interest and, pointing to the board he said, "Dill what is the position on the Melgerdi airfield?"

"Curtis," Dill said, "what is the position?"

And so it came down the line. Churchill, Dill, Curtis, Chief of Staff, Chief Engineer and finally to Cpl Wampach. I approached Churchill very nervously, "Number 2 runway excavated sir, number 2 ready for concreting, number 3 fully operational."

Churchill smiled and put his hand on my shoulder, "Thank you corporal." He then added in his gruff voice, "Thank God somebody knows the situation in Iceland!"

Arrangements were made for the PM to have lunch in the Officers Mess but he would have none of it. Getting a mess tin he came to our Mess Hut and lunched with the boys.

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