Life in the army chapter 2 – “Total Despair”

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LIFE IN THE ARMY - Chapter 2 – “Total Despair”

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: ARTHUR WARD, Bill Turner,Tom Pridmore, Len Beeley, Charlie Brewster, Al (Albert) White, Norman Harrison, Evelyn Williams, Eva Ward, Eric Ward, Tom Pridmore, Len Beeley, Sgt. Burkett, Capt. Jarvis, Sgt. Major England, 2nd Lt. W.C Hudson

Location of story: WYEDALE HALL, BROMPTON BY SAWDON, NR SCARBOROUGH, Swallownest, Beighton, Sheffield
Background to story: Army

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Arthur Ward and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.




Chapter 2 – “Total Despair”

We were met by Army Offices and NCO's again in a large yard where the only lighting were Hurricane lamps (paraffin). There were sandwiches waiting for us which went down well as we were hungry again. We were then detailed to various rooms in the large house which we were told was called Wyedale Hall.

By the time it was our turn all the rooms in the house were full so we had to climb the stairs into a bare room over the stables. They had been cleaned out for us but it was not the best of places to spend our first night away from home.

Also they had run out of straw which was used to stuff into Polliases which was like a large canvas bag and was used like a mattress so we had to sleep on a ground sheet on the hard wooden floor without any straw.

We did not sleep very much and I think this night must have been the nearest we had to "TOTAL DESPAIR".

Surely things cannot get any worse but luckily we did not know what was to follow in the next 6 years.

(At a later date about 1985 we were on holiday at Flamborough when we had a run out and called at Wyedale. The hall was being used as a training centre for religious people and the stables had been altered into flats where I spoke to a lady who had lived there for some years.

The yard which had been used as a parade ground had had part of it made into a garden).

After a restless night we had the first of many more shocks - at 6:30 am a Bugler sounded "Reveille" and NCO's were using their new found authority among us 'rookies' shouting "Rise and shine - the suns shining its heart out" and other army slang not so refined. It was pitch black until with some difficulty someone managed to light a hurricane lamp. Worse was to come, we were ordered for the first time to form up in the yard.

A roll call was taken and we were told to wash and shave in the open air at a row of cold water taps which we were told were called "ablutions".

We were all busy sticking bits of paper which wrapped up our "Wardonia" razor blades onto cuts on our faces due to the icy cold water.

We returned to our loft where we introduced ourselves to each other.

Besides myself were:
Bill Turner from Maltby, Rotherham
Tom Pridmore from Oughtibridge, Sheffield
Len Beeley from Firth Park, Sheffield
Charlie Brewster from Carlton, Nr Selby
We were all about the same age (just turned 20 years) and we felt better when we realised that we were all in the same "boat". The sun was now rising and as it became warmer our spirits rose with it.

At 7:30 am we had breakfast which was not so bad.

At 9 am was first parade and we were told that we were now gunners in FREDDIE TROOP, 279 BATTERY, 70th FIELD REGT. RA and my number which I have remembered all my life was 954330. The address was WYEDALE HALL, BROMPTON BY SAWDON, NR SCARBOROUGH. For the next few weeks we gradually eased ourselves into army routine. By stages we were issued with army battledress uniform which included long vests and long Johns which were supposed to keep our legs warm. We also had heavy boots which I soon became used to but some of the lads who had been used to working in offices had a terrible time breaking them in. Several times we travelled to Thornton Le Dale to a Doctors surgery for inoculations and vaccinations until we felt like pin cushions.

Some of the lads were very ill afterwards although I didn't feel too bad myself.

There was a long country lane outside Wyedale Hall where we marched up and down, right turn, left turn, about turn, mark time until gradually the time came to fall out.

Then we were introduced to rifles which were ancient ones - some were relics of the Boer War (about 1900) but the better ones were from the 1914-1918 war and were called Lee Enfields.

Then it was rifle drill for most of the day until we became efficient. Then we had our first experience of being gunners - we had 18 pounder Howitzers which again were survivors of the 1918 war and had large 'cart' wheels which had hooks attached so that they could be pulled by men and horses, Hence one of the first artillery terms we learned was "Without drag ropes prepare to advance". In 'our' war the guns would be pulled by tractors or lorries but we had not seen these yet.

We also had a limber which was a type of cart on wheels which carried the ammunition.

By this time we knew that the 70th Field Regt was a territorial unit which had been mobilised in June 1939 so our NCO's were supposed to be well trained in gunnery, although they were more or less still learning.

We found out that before firing the guns had to be laid on a certain line and distance by a gun layer, a job at which I became very efficient after a lot of training.

After a few weeks we changed to a gun which had been an 18 pounder in World War 1 and it had been converted to an 18/25 pounder so that it could fire 25 pounder shells and be used as a gun firing about 8 miles or a Howitzer to 'lob' shells a shorter distances over obstacles.

In later years the new Quick Firing 25 pounder field gun was said to be the best gun in WW II.

We had many route marches which took us through the surrounding villages which usually lasted half a day but at times we took haversack rations (sandwiches) and stayed out all day. Usually the sandwiches contained "bully beef (corned beef from Argentina). After the marches many of the lads suffered blisters on their feet but I was OK being used to wearing heavy boots at work.

We travelled for quite a few miles in the army "lorries" which we now had to refer to as "trucks".

A typical day at Wydale was:

Reveille 0645 hrs (army time 24 hour clock).

Roll call and physical training 0700 hrs.
Breakfast 0745 hrs.
1st parade and inspection 0900 hrs.
Route march 1035 to 1100 hrs.
Break 10 minutes.
Gun drill 1110, or;
Rifle drill 1145 hrs.
Dinner 1300 hrs.
Gunnery and map reading 1400 hrs.
Gas lecture 1500 hrs.
Tea 1700 hrs.

We were then finished for the day unless on guard or fire piquet. Lights out 2245 hrs.

By now we were writing and receiving many letters which we called "mail up' when it arrived. Also parcels of food kept arriving with cakes etc from anxious relatives.

We also visited surrounding villages (to the pubs usually) and attended local village halls (called Bug huts) to the dances.

One I remember well was a corrugated iron/asbestos hall at Snainton. There were many more "squaddies" than local girls so we did not have many dances and I do not know how we managed whilst wearing army boots.

(The 'hut' at Snainton is still standing over 50 years later).

XMAS 1939

We had a day free from duty and we learned that it was an army custom that for Christmas dinner the Sgts had to wait on the men and this was adhered to all my army life.

We had a very good dinner and the Christmas menu had been given to us on a properly worded card (with coloured writing). We had turkey, 2 veg, Christmas pudding with rum sauce with all the trimmings and a bottle of beer each.

Also we had a good tea which had made one very good day in our lives.

When on guard duty we had to stay in the guard room for 24 hours and the usual method was to patrol the area for 2 hours and then have 4 hours off duty but fully dressed in the guard room.

For fire piquet we could not leave the area for 24 hours in case of fire.

By this time room had been found for us to stay in the house so we were able;

to make ourselves more comfortable, especially as it had electric light.

Another interesting point to note is that we had to get used to army 'LATRINES' or in normal terms toilets - these were a line of buckets under a rough seat with a hole in the middle with canvas sheet all round about 4 feet high. We had realised by now that there was not much privacy in the army.

There was a lawn round the house where the grass turned brown for a radius around as the large bay windows had a flat roof with a door from the bedrooms - and many of the lads after a night out in the pub found that it was too far to the Latrines in the yard so the urine was discharged from the edge to the lawn below.

The commanding officer was not very pleased when he found out about this disgusting practice

Friday 5 January 1940
1400 hrs Pay parade - I received 2 weeks pay £1-8-0 (1 pound 8 shillings) plus ration money of £1.

Sunday 7 January 1940

Our first church parade. 0940 hrs we fell in (3 ranks) and marched to Brompton Church. On return we had remainder of the day off so we cleaned our kit and polished buttons.

During the day our civilian clothes were handed back to us so that we could take it home on our first leave.

Some of the original members of the Regt. were now having 7 days leave so we were hoping that it would soon be our turn. We had now been issued with full army kit which included battle dress, Glengarry's (cap), socks, jerseys, long John's (underwear), heavy boots and the puttees which we hated. They were like a long Khaki bandage which we had to wrap around the bottom of our trousers.

About this time I became great friends with Al (Albert) White from Thurlstone (near Penistone). We got on together ready well and he remained a good friend all through to war and then afterwards when I visited his home for many happy weekends and I attended his wedding to Margaret. The last time I saw him was in May 1966, but unfortunately he had a heart attack and died soon afterwards. My wife Connie and I attended his funeral where for the first time since 1942 I met another old pal Norman Harrison from Barnoldswick.

AI White was a signaller and his job was to lay and maintain telephone wires when a wireless (radio) could not be used.

January 08, 1940

A great day, our first leave.

0500 hrs Reveille (we were up at 0300 hrs).

0515 hrs First Parade then breakfast.
0600 hrs Second Parade.
0605 hrs Moved off in trucks.

Our truck broke down at Snainton so we missed our train at Pickering. Another truck picked us up and took us to Malton. We changed trains at York where we travelled to Sheffield, arriving at 1120 hrs. Finally I arrived home at 1245 hrs.

The first thing I had was a good bath. The week's leave consisted of walks with various people, visits to friends and relations, cinemas, dances and until June 1942 most of my leaves were very similar.

I visited my granddad and grandma who lived in a 3 storey flat at Intake Oust after the war these flats were knocked down and a fire station was built in its place).

My grandmother (who was pretty deaf) was quite morbid and said that I would not see them again as all soldiers were killed when they were sent to France. She had clearly on her mind the 1914-1918 war when soldiers only had a short life span and she would have lost relations in that war.

I saw them on several leaves afterwards but then my grandmother died but granddad lived through the war, dying when he was 85.

I attended dances at Swallownest and Beighton usually with Evelyn Williams and my Sister Eva.

January 14, 1940

Sunday. We had a tea at home which was 114, Worksop Road, Swallownest. Present were my mother (my dad must have been at work) Evelyn Williams, Eric (my brother), Stella and Eva (my sister) and Ken (none of these were married at the time). I walked to Beighton and back afterwards.

January 15, 1940

Caught the bus at 1545 and dad went with me to Sheffield LMS station. There we met Eva and Ken and Eve Williams. At the station was Tom Pridmore and Len Beeley with his new wife, they had been married earlier in the week.

Len Beeley's wife was a bit hysterical. When the time came to leave she finished up coming with him and finding accommodation in Brompton so that she could be near him. We could not understand this at the time.

The train left at 1820 hrs and we finally arrived in Wyedale at 0120 (early morning). It then started to snow.

January 16, 1940

Route march but we were caught in a heavy blizzard so we had to return early. We had lectures in the afternoon.

We were now in "F" for FREDDIE troop and Sgt. Burkett was No.1 of my subsection.

Our activities were a little curtailed due to the snow and at the time the drifts were 5'0" high.

January 25, 1940

I had to stay in bed ill and the M.O came and sent me into hospital in Thornton
Le Dale. I had tonsillitis. The hospital was in a large house at the side of the main road.

January 29, 1940

I was given another injection and discharged from hospital and returned to Wyedale where I was given 48 hours off duty to recover.

January 30, 1940

A little improvement as we had to hand in our puttees and draw gaiters which had 2 buckles on each and were either scrubbed white (for parade) or blancoed green for manoeuvres etc.

I was receiving quite a bit of mail at this time so a lot of my spare time was spent writing replies.

I also received quite a few parcels of food from friends and relations and my Auntie Frances sent me the "Sheffield Star" (for every night) every week right through the time I was in the forces.

We also received parcels from the British Legion which usually contained gloves, mittens, balaclavas and cigarettes.

Our Battery was commanded by Capt. Jarvis.

January 31, 1940

We went out for a full day on manoeuvres with the guns which were now pulled by Quads. We went out on to the Yorkshire Wolds pretending that we were in action, sometimes we fired blank cartridges so that we had a flash and a loud explosion but no shells fired.

Our Sgt. Major was called England and the troop commander was 2nd Lt. W.C Hudson.

March 16, 1940
A day out in Scarborough. For our days out here we usually did the same things.

Our truck dropped us off at a garage and in later years I saw the garage which is still there. This time we went to the Futurist cinema and saw "In A Dead Man's

Shoes" and had our tea at Jaconelli's (still there) which cost us 1/4 each (1 shilling and fourpence).

March 21, 1940

A great day for me - I drove a car for the first time. The regiment had several civvy cars which were used by the officers and for learner drivers instruction for the gunners.

I drove about 10 miles. We took turns and usually drove to Scarborough and then up and down the Marine Drive which had no other traffic.

March 27, 1940
Gun drill on the "new" (to us) 18/25 Pdr guns. These guns were 18 pounders from World War I converted to fire 25 pound shells.

March 28, 1940

Issued with gas masks. (This showed the state that the country was in where there were no haversacks to keep them in).

April 05, 1940

48 hours leave - usual visits etc.

April 07, 1940

I ended the friendship with Evelyn Williams (she was only 16 years old).

Whilst billeted in the main building of the hall I slept in an upstairs room where there must have been 20 men and we slept on the floors with our personal belongings stacked beside us. One night I must have had a nightmare and gone walking in my sleep, as I woke up I didn't know where I was. I then realised that I was at the far end of the room and I was terrified in case anyone woke up and accused my of trying to steal their private belongings as there were some "rum" characters in the army and we did not know one another very well at the time.

Fortunately I was able to find my way back to my place, although it was very dark as we were not allowed any lights due to the blackout and the room had very large windows and no curtains.

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