This extract is transcribed from a June 1998 taped conversation with CSM W ‘Jimmy’ James (5950427). I have added a brief sets of explanatory notes

'I was with the Battalion from its very first day. They cleared the depot out in Kempston Barracks. There were two lists in the ITC (1) in Bedford: the under-mentioned are going to be posted to the 5th Battalion, Beds and Herts in Singapore. I was on that list along with a lot of others. And there was a second list: the under-mentioned will go to Edinburgh to set up a new Battalion of the DLI. And there was a list of Warrant Officers and Sergeants--who didn't want go to the Durhams and they pulled strings in Bedford and gave 'Ginger' Beasley, the RSM there (2) a bottle of whisky or two and he switched the lists! So we went there instead of Singapore. Incredibly lucky, because those who went to Singapore were in the bag and didn't come back. And I know a lot of them were near my Army Number and Charlie Bray's army number: within 20 or 50 numbers of my number. They were the victims of Singapore, they were taken prisoner by the Japs and starved to death. And they're now lying in Yokohama Cemetery in Japan. Most of them were transferred to the mines in Japan. When they were taken in Singapore they worked there for a while and then they were transferred to Japan and worked in the mines and starved to death.

'So in the summer of 1940 we were sent to Edinburgh and I remember it very well, I was a Lance-Corporal, I was a signaller. I transferred out to as a signaller and it was a great adventure to go to Edinburgh and to unlearn what we had learned at Bedford, because the drill was completely different! Army drills and marching, all the drills were entirely different in the Light Infantry (3). And this was another reason why the other ones didn't want to go to the Durhams, but we went and we had to learn their new drills.

'I remember very well when we all arrived in Norton Hall, Edinburgh (4) which was a very large meadow. Nowadays it's a crematorium. We took this intake from the north-east. They arrived in their civvies and with their suitcases in this muddy field in Norton Hall, Edinburgh. It rained for weeks, we had duckboards and tents. Before they arrived we put up the marquees and tents for the whole of the intake and when they came in they were documented and their suitcases sent back home. And then they were soldiers in uniform.

'I was a Lance-Corporal. Although I was trained as a signaller, I was seconded to a sergeant whose name was Sergeant Deacon (5). And he had been at Dunkirk and he had lost part of his jaw at Dunkirk, I think a grenade had hit him in the mouth. And he was a religious maniac was Sergeant Deacon, but he was a jolly good soldier and I was his assistant. I remember particularly we were allocated our own various platoons and what not and it rained for weeks and weeks and it was really rugged. This camp became a morass.

'Sergeant Deacon was eventually put in charge of the 'Awkward Squad', because you always get the awkward squad in the intake, the ones who really can't march. Marching is really walking in an exaggerated way, but a lot of them put their right arm up or the right leg. Sgt Deacon was given the awkward squad and I was his assistant.

'We start off with this new intake and we were put into companies, but we had to start from the very first day doing all the basics. They had to learn to march on grass and you can't hear feet going like on a barracks square. So that was awkward for a start, having to teach them how to march in a meadow! So we started off like that from the very first lesson. You were put into a squad instead of platoons and companies and you had all the squads under various Sergeants and Corporals and Lance Corporals all over the place, going through the basic training. Teaching them how to march to start off with and then a elementary field craft and all things of training a soldier. The rifle would be on a tripod and the NCO would set up the rifle or breach it off and say to the recruit: "Now there's the target down there, set up this rifle for sights." And then you'd have a look to see whether he'd got it sighted, looking along the rifle sights, teaching them how to shoot.

'Bayonet drill I remember particularly with a long rod with a blob at one end and a ring at the other. So you could go through bayonet practice, parrying and things like that.

'I knew everyone who was on that draft to Edinburgh from Kempston Barracks, all were Warrant Officers and Sergeants eventually. I remember the very day we arrived with Ginger Beasley as the RSM--who merely shepherded us from Bedford up to Edinburgh. We arrived in this vast meadow and we were all on parade and Ginger Beasley was going leave us and he was sort of looking us over. I remember I was looking in my pouch for my knife, fork and spoon because we going to be marched off to the dining hall and I was looking prematurely for my knife fork and spoon and he saw me and he said: "Stop scratching, you bloody idiot!"

'This was the way of these RSMs and I've never forgiven Ginger Beasley for insulting me at that moment. And I thought, "You sod! Bloody good job you're going back to Bedford, out of my way!" I regarded him as an ignoramus and I've never forgotten that. But it was very early days and that was the way the Army.

'We ourselves were roughing it as well and there was this incessant rain and there about six of us in my bell tent and we all had to wash in the morning in this round galvanised bowl and by the time number four, number five and number six were washing in this bowl of cold water and shaving it was like mud! And I thought "Very Good! Let's get into buildings, lets get away from this, let's get into a barracks."

A Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment NCO joins the 16th DLI
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind