Late in the year we moved to Kessingland near Lowestoft in Suffolk. We were in flimsy chalets on a clifftop just out of the village. It had been a holiday camp. They were without heating or lighting and pretty cold. When the C.O came round and complained that the men’s denim work battledresses were dirty we were made to wash them. There were no drying facilities so they stayed wet for a long time. To make sure they did some of the blokes dipped them in a bucket of water from time to time. Whilst there I cycled over to one of the companies to teach their officers radio procedure. None of the later streamlined stuff. “Hello Bolo, Como calling, Como to Bolo Over” etc. It went well which proved to be a mixed blessing.
A minor incident around then that illustrates how much certain things have changed. We had a canteen run by the Navy, Army and Air Force Institute called a Naafi. Our bulletin board was right beside the counter. I walked into it one day. It was at one end of a Nissan Hut and the door was at the other. It was empty and I walked the whole length to see what was in the orders. They struck me as more than usually stupid so I let fly with some choice language. Then I realised that a rather nice Naafi girl was standing a short distance away. I turned scarlet, walked out and couldn’t bring myself to go in again for a few days. Sixty years later that sounds unbelievable.
A short time later it was announced that the unit was to be turned into a training battalion and most of my mates were drafted to go overseas. I begged to go with them but permission was refused, presumably because they didn’t want to lose a trained instructor. Also around that time the War Office said that men who had joined up as Young Soldiers could, if they wished, transfer to some other unit. Les was in the Royal Corps of Signals and had recently been commissioned. As I had specialised in signal work I applied to go to the same Corps.
One non-dangerous (for us) thing that happened at Kessingland is that a German bomber came in very low from the sea and we were able to watch as bombs left it and fell on the village. I guess from the point of view of the German crew it was safer to drop their bombs on a harmless village than a little further north on Lowestoft which was heavily defended. Sadly somebody was killed and the villagers were pretty upset that we had done nothing to try to drive the plane away. But we had no ammunition with us at that moment so there was nothing we could do. Not that we were likely to make much difference but it would have shown willing.
From there we moved about 20 kilometres further north to the slightly larger fishing town of Great Yarmouth. Of course we marched there. We were billeted in what had been a workhouse, a gloomy multi-storey building that had probably been erected in the 19th century. The first night I got lost and had to grope my way up a pitch black staircase. I was on the top of two bunks on the second or third floor. We were level with a flat roofed garage opposite on the top of which there was a man with a machine gun. I was in bed one morning when there was a raid and I could see tracer whizzing past the window. I just hoped his aim was true.
When my transfer came through I cleaned and polished my buttons and equipment in order to make the best possible impression but I found that I was going into a much more relaxed world. I reported to the office and they said you’d better see Major So-and-so. He’s in there. In the infantry you did not approach officers in that way. You were marched in by a senior NCO or Warrant Officer. Instead I knocked and just went in. I had to move to some huts around a village football pitch near the village of Canwick, just outside the city of Lincoln. A number of Royal Air Force wireless operator/air gunners who were temporarily surplus to requirements were attached to the unit. They were just leaving on the back of a truck and I joined them. When I arrived one of them picked up my spotless pack and chucked it down on the dirty ground. Certainly a very different world.
I found that I was working in the Divisional Signal Office operating a telegraph machine called a Fullerphone. I rapidly became extremely good at reading morse at quite high speeds but not so good at sending. I could see a difficult letter ahead in my message and although I never actually froze I had some bad moments. One of the chaps who became a mate got some old, thick cable and strung it between two trees. He hung a homemade trapeze from it that was about 2 metres from the ground. He used to swing up quite high. I wasn’t so bold but I sat on it, swung and then dropped back to catch with my feet in the angle between the bar and the cables. With army boots on that wasn’t particularly difficult especially as falling stopped the trapeze dead and it didn’t continue to swing.
A thing I learned here is that physical confidence translates to confidence generally and I overcame my sending problem. The Air Force men were operating wireless sets and I relieved one of them so although he showed me what to do I don’t think I sent or received any messages. I learned how to use a teleprinter. I probably got one of the girl operators to show me. There was a large telephone switchboard in the big house that was the Div headquarters. I filled in there once or twice. I expect you’ve seen one of those boards on old films. Two operators worked side by side. You plugged jacks joined to long cords into holes to connect extensions to outside lines. Sometimes you had to reach across each other to connect to an extension on the other board. At busy times it got quite complex. If you weren’t sure you listened in to see if anybody was still talking. “Finished please? Finished please?” and if there was no response you cleared the connection and slightly reduced the jumble. next