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The following article was written by ‘Jimmy’ James for the 1992 16th DLI Old Comrades’ Association Newsletter

REMINISCENCES OF CHRISTMAS DAY 50 YEARS AGO

25th December, 1942
Liverpool Docks

With the 16th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry on board the troopship Staffordshire.

Most of the Battalion were up on deck taking in the dockland scene, and enjoying the fresh sea air, having settled in below decks following the move from Camberley. There was a buzz of excitement generally, as we watched the Lascar crew going about their duties preparing the troopship for departure.

Good humour was in abundance, and morale was high. Fresh in our minds, the topic of conversation was the march through Camberley, with the military band, and the review of troops by the King. The strains of that rousing march The Army of the Nile were still in my head. When he looked us in the eye as he passed by, weren't we trying to convey by our very expressions, that we were ready to fight for King and Country?

His Majesty must have known that most of us were war virgin, untried men, embarking on a great adventure after two and a half years of hard training in exercises such as Bumper (1). Insofar as we were concerned, we were jolly glad the stunts were over, but we were not pretending to be looking forward now to the real thing. All of us knew our destination was to be Algiers. Nobody wanted to miss it.

Suddenly at 1200 hours, the Liver building appeared to be moving! We were on our way!

It was rumoured that we were to join up with a large convoy of ships from other ports. We were aware that U-boat activity in the Atlantic was at its height. It was comforting to see the destroyers moving with us. We could trust the Royal Navy and forget about horrible thoughts! Lifeboat assembly points had been allocated to us, and lifeboat drill was soon to follow. Everyone was issued with a Mae West and hoped we didn't need it.

As the Staffordshire headed for the open sea, small groups of soldiers stayed on deck taking a last long look, as England disappeared from view. For some--too many--it was indeed the last look.

Sadly, it had to be.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

Later that day, with the troopship ploughing a rough and choppy sea, not many of us felt like eating Christmas dinner. There was much puking.

CSM Etherington (2) suggested a game of cards--brag. There were eager participants, and part of the ship, the Warrant Officers and Sergeants quarters, quickly took on the atmosphere of a casino, with quite a large crowd of onlookers encircling the 'school'. There were some amazing 'runs' and 'flushes' and the flood of tanners going into the pool on the table made some of the onlookers gasp, including the RSM who was in the crowd silently seeing all.

A certain Colour Sergeant had an astonishing run of luck that crowned everything, winning 13 consecutive kitties, stuffing ten bob notes and quids into every pocket of his battledress, including the field dressing pocket. He was playing innocently and fairly, against players who time and time again had cards of such 'values' that they simply had to keep bragging, but Lady Luck was with the Colour Sergeant, who scooped all the winnings 'busting' the school.

News of this event spread rapidly throughout the ship, and reached the ears of Lt. & QM 'Bert' Newman who, with others, regarded the Colour Sgt. as the 1942 equivalent of a present day Paul Daniels, but it wasn't like that at all.

Where are you today RSM Thomasson? You could enlighten everybody, as you did the lucky Colour Sgt, months later 'in the field' in Tunisia--and that's another story.

God bless you for that, Sir! The enlightened Colour Sergeant. has never played in a game of brag since.

Compliments of the Season to all!

JIMMY JAMES.

Notes

(1) ‘Bumper’ was the code name for a large scale inter-divisional exercise in 1941.
(2) CSM Miles Etherington of B Company was killed in action during the Battle of Sedjenane in February 1943.

Christmas Day 1942, by ex-CQMS W ‘Jimmy’ James, D Coy 16th DLI