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15 October 2014
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Episodes from an Uncertain Memory (Part 3): 'Holding back the Hun'icon for Recommended story

by Bob Scrivener

Contributed by 
Bob Scrivener
People in story: 
Edmund F. Scrivener
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Contributed on: 
27 July 2004

For about a year we drifted up and down the east coast, bored out of our tiny minds, until, at last, the General Staff decided that we should settle down a branch line running from Ipswich to Felixstowe, where we became more of a menace to the local population than to the foe. By this time I had been promoted to Bombardier and given two stripes, which meant that in the event of our gun being fired, I might be called on to do it!

I grew very fond of our two great weapons, all 152 tons of them, and I looked forward to the day when I would pull the lanyard and the huge thing would spout fire and venom.

We fired it three times; the first time it sucked the entire roof of the crossing keepers house; the second time it sucked the windows out of a passing bus and peppered a Harwich fishing fleet with large chunks of white hot metal, and the third time it fired, it fell over. A stupid colonel declared that we didn’t need all those anchors and precautions needed to hold the gun down when it was fired; she was quite capable of firing without them.

To prove his point we were directed to a stretch of the London to Clacton line and ordered to fire off a few rounds into the sea. The first round was a disaster; she fell over backwards… I know… I was on it at the time. I fired it too. ‘Cush’ Cannon decided that this time the glory should go to somebody else.

Cleopatra was never fired again! She was called Cleopatra because she had two boob-like contraptions sticking out the front. Part of the recoil system. For the next two years we idled our time away. Going on leave every three months, the occasional exercise.

Most of the gun crew had girlfriends in Ipswich, and when their wives sent them some money, spent the night with the girl friend. When it was obvious that the Hun was not going to invade, we were given an old 15cm gun to protect ourselves against enemy tanks.

We took it to the firing range to get some practice on moving targets, but nobody could hit one until the officer in charge dared me to have a go. I did, and hit the target three times. The Major was so delighted he promoted me to sergeant. “Can’t pay you for it, Scrivener, but jolly good show.”

There are many tales I could tell you about life with the supers, but they are so ridiculous you wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Early in 1943 the Major sent for me. He had received orders that he was to forward the name of at least one man to be tested for becoming an officer.

At first I though he was joking. Me? A scruffy London urchin, with no money, no family, and no education, becoming an officer and a gentleman. But he was serious. I protested that I hadn’t a chance of passing the required tests, and he suggested that was fine. He’d put my name forward; I’d fail and come back to the unit, everybody happy.

Everyone not happy. To my utter amazement I passed all the required tests, and after some leave was posted to Woolwich to wait until joining the OCTU. Meanwhile, my colleagues on the supers were posted to a 25 pounder regiment (what a comedown) and were soon on their way to North Africa, secretly relieved,

I suspect, that at last they were to be called upon to do something to win the war. I met one of them in Acton High Street after the war. They had all survived except Millington. He had been killed.

And so it came about. Mr. E. F. Scrivener, Lieutenant R.A. Officer maybe, but no gentleman.

I was posted to a scruffy regiment in Leigh-on-Sea, near Southend. It was an old Manchester infantry mob that had been turned over to anti-tank regiment. They really were the pits. I wasn’t there long. The High Command suddenly discovered that they were killing off infantry officers at an alarming rate, and decided to grab as many artillery officers, of which they had far too many, as they could; send them off on a six weeks infantry course, and push them off to replace those they had killed. I was sent with 599 others to Dunbar for a course, and there was nearly a mutiny, until they made an example of a few by sending them to an infantry Privates.

And so it was that my one true army friend, Sid Turney and I arrived at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire to discover to our horror that we had joined the airborne forces. Bloody gliders! Made of three ply and firewood. At last I was going to have to live up to my promise made in 1939, that I would fight for King and Country. My army career was no longer a joke. There was every possibility that at last I would come face to face with the enemy, who would be trying his damnedest to kill me.

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