Training in England
April 1940 - 1941
In april 1940 the Regiment left Dreghorn Camp in Edinburgh and made its way to Chippenham in Wiltshire, where it became a real Artillery unit, complete with Transport and Guns.
Granted the guns were World War 1 BL 26cwt 6" Howitzers Mk 7 with metal wheels and together with their Limbers had to be carried on transporters but they provided very useful training and practice. As soon as the equipping had been completed the regiment went back up north to a firing camp at Redesdale in Northumberland but by the time the fortnights firing was completed France had fallen and the regiment moved to Amersham. Here we were trained in an operational role in the defence of Britain and in particular of its Airfields.
After the evacuation from Dunkirk everyone expected an Air/Sea invasion of the British Isles but in the event as we all know, Hitler decided to use his Luftwaffe only.
For most of the War our Air power was concentrated in the flatlands of the northern home counties and East Anglia. On the 14th August 1940 the Regiment proceeded to sites in Cambridgeshire-Essex and Huntingdonshire The drill was that each Troop would take up gun positions on the Airfield perimeter with the Guns trained on targets within the Airfield-not excluding the control tower!. 227 Battery was in Suffolk with "A" troop at Thuxted with Guns on Debden, whilst "B" Troop were at Apsley Guise. 228 Battery were based at royston with "C" Troop at Arrington and "D" Troop on Marshalls Aerodrome near Cambridge.
In September the Regiment was relieved and took up a new mobile role with Guns in Broughton Woods near Stockbridge in hampshire. While they were there they received the secret code word "CROMWELL" which meant German invasion - just a drill as it turned out.
The next move was in October 1940, was to Wincanton in Somerset where we joined V Corps. The first two weeks in November were spent in firing camp at Tilshead then back to Wincanton and the arrival of a new type of reinforcement. Regularly we had received drafts from training Regiments of various trades but this time we had one of our own- "A" squad some 30 raw recruits mainly from the London area.
They were put into a church hall equipped with bunks kitted out in the QM stores and settled in to await their fate. This came in the shape of Mr Owen the RSM who told them they were all his for the next six weeks and he would do his best to make Soldiers of them, they would then be posted through the Regiment and would be trained as "GUNNERS"
they were some what embarrassed to find that their foot drill would be carried out in the yard of the local Milk Factory under the amused eyes of the bevy of young woman who worked there. They eventually assimilated into the Regiment successfully, quite a few in 228 Battery which was a few miles to the east at Bourton in Dorset, Battery HQ was in fact in the local PUB.
During the first half of 1941 everybody worked and trained very hard, there were schemes and exercises galore, men disappeared on courses in all sorts of subjects and some of us enjoyed a Battery Surveyor,s course in a pleasant vicarage at Kingston Deveril. For recreation we visited Warminster and Longbridge Deveril and of course there was regular home leave.
One of the highlights for some was the installation of Anti-Tank defences at Sandbanks near Bornemouth, consisting of girders bolted together at the waters edge. The men were billeted in beautifully houses, some with sunken baths and in glorious weather they assembled the "Meccano" jumping into the sea when it got too hot.
In July we left Wincanton and moved a few miles to the area around Blanford forum in Dorset, here 228 battery in particular had to mind their P,s & Q,s because they were under canvas in the grounds of Letton House just east of the town, which housed the 3 Div headquarters to which we now belonged. It was a spell of very hot weather and twice a week all free men marched to the main Blanford Camp with soap and towels for showers.
We had the Regimental Piper, Charlie McLean with us and he frequently led us, one afternoon this was heard by the Div commander, none other than Major General B.L Montgomery, who was well known as an aficianado of the Pipes. He sent for our C.O and as a result for the rest of the time we were there we not only had the Pipes for Guard Mounting but for morning Reveille too.
During this period our Gun Crews were delighted to hear that after months of rumour and speculation it had been found possible to remove the Iron wheels from the Guns and replace them with heavy duty wheels with pheumatic tyres. This meant that the transporters could be replaced with our AEC Matador Tractors. So at intervals each Sub took its Gun up to the BOD at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire for the work to be carried out.
Part of the return route was by the way of the A350 which when it leaves shaftesbury on its way to Blanford goes down a very steep hill. On one occasion (Battery and troop will remain anonymous) when the vehicle was half way down the hill there was a shout from the Limber Gunner in the back "" Dont look now but theres a wheel overtaking us "" The Number 1 looked out the window and sure enough the wheel was just passing him and its hub on the road was trailing sparks. The tractor stopped and they sat and watched the wheel as it negotiated the (fortunately light traffic) traffic until it finally jumped a hedge and ended up in a field. We have never been able to prove that this happened to a Gun of the 66th but its a good story anyway.
Our last few weeks in this part of England was spent pleasantly, billeted in unoccupied houses at Wimborne Minster, with lots od week-end and evening passes to Bournemouth.
A former member of the Regiment was in Bournemouth for Rememberance Sunday in 1995 and was entertained by the local branch of the Royal British Legion, he found that the Regiment was well remembered for a Ceremonial Church parade at the Minster one Sunday when we marched to church behind the Royal Artiller Band, one inside the Minster they turned and played like a Symphony Orchestra and played during the services.
Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved