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Arm badge for RTR

In March, Jim rather gloomily described life in the camp, but then as leave drew nearer he sounded more cheerful again. He wrote that, as training came to an end, he and others were impatient for the next step, even though it would mean going overseas.

Arm badge for the Royal Tank Regiment

 

Warminster, Saturday (1 Mar 1941)

“You may have thought of me on Thursday but couldn’t possibly have imagined what it was like. It was a fearful day the worst I’ve experienced in the army. Blowing half a gale the rain pouring down all day – it was wicked. The redoubt was a sea of mud – the duck boards vanished in the quagmire. The gun was covered with a ground sheet which was constantly blowing off into the mud. The entrance to the dug-out was about 2 feet by 18 inches – a steep tunnel about 6 ft. long – it meant bending absolutely double and slithering down rubbing against the slopping sides. The mud was of course running into the dug-out and we were paddling in about 6 inches of it by night. The roof leaked like a sieve and everything was soaked. We were literally mud-packed from head to foot. To cap it all I had to leave in the middle of it all spruce up for P. O. Interview – and when I got there was told the business was postponed for 2 months! Back to A/A. At night before we left the redoubt we had to clean the gun – it was full of water and covered with mud – we were covered with mud – hands face everything. There wasn’t a dry clean inch anywhere and yet the gun was returned spotlessly clean to the A/A stores. It’s amazing how one does the imposs. in the army.”

Warminster, Tuesday (5 Mar 1941)

“It’s now 9.15 and I’ve just come off a spud-bashing in which twelve of us have peeled 9 cwt. of spuds and five sacks of turnips.”

“Yesterday my luck continued – some miserable tyke who wanted a decent pair of boots helped himself to mine leaving me an old pair made up from odd boots which I cannot wear as they are too small. He had 250 pairs to choose from but they must of course be mine that are taken.”

“Our Ord. Sgt. who does a very responsible job is one of the most ignorant men I have ever met. He cannot even spell words like parade and squadron – words he must have met hundreds of times.”

Warminster, Saturday (11 Mar 1941)

“I’ve done no real fatigues since I wrote last. Yesterday I took a chance and stayed in the barrack room but was caught and sent to spud-bashing at 5.30 pm. I was going out at 6.30 so at 6 my good friend L/cpl Stannier appeared at the Cook-House and in a very important voice said “Trooper Taylor here?”. On being given an affirmative reply he announced that I was wanted immediately for another job. “Get your stuff and come now”. Together we got the 6.50 bus to town.”

Warminster, Wednesday (20 Mar 1941)

“Out in Brens again today – this time on the Plain. We are going up to the White Horse at Westbury. You probably know the one I mean – cut in the chalk only it’s been blacked out now.”

Bren gun carrier“This morning we had great fun chasing hares and rabbits. We chased one particular pair up hill and down dale for nearly 15 mins. It’s amazing the speed they get up – we were clocking nearly 30 at times. We barged thro’ gorse bushes fences etc. but they beat us in the end by leading us into a bog where we lost our speed.”

 

 

Warminster, Sunday (31 Mar 1941)

“My “overalls in the wash” scheme is working very well even yet. 75 men were wanted for a whole days coaling today and 4 for another job. Through my scheme we were not in the 75! Instead we scrubbed a small office – panning it out to 2 hrs work.”

In April, Jim returned to Liverpool on leave, his training was over. Afterwards he reported to Ovingdean, near Brighton, Sussex to await embarkation "on active service". He wrote two letters in this time and I have included most of the second one, written while on a train, on the way to the ship.

Brighton, 19 April 1941

“The journey down was uneventful. I was in HQ by 10.30 pm. London is one hell of a mess. Leicester Sq. is completely wrecked, all of it. They are still digging out the bods. One deep shelter was also wrecked and all in it killed. There have been three warnings here this morning but nothing ever seems to happen.”

Between Brighton and London, Tuesday (postmarked Chiswick, 23 April 1941)

"Have just left Brighton en route for somewhere but where it is no one knows. Excuse the writing but the train is a bit shaky. I shall try to get someone to post this for me if we make any stops anywhere. We are not allowed to post from now on in the ordinary way so I assume that means censorship. Brighton (what I’ve seen of it) seems to be a nice spot. I wish I were staying there a while longer – however – c’est la guerre.

There doesn’t seem to be very much to say at the moment – not until I get used to this new idea and to the leaving out of everything appertaining to the army life. My mind at the moment is rather confused. I feel insignificant and very unimportant – the feeling will pass in time no doubt as I readjust myself. The weather down here is glorious. Primroses, daffs and tulips all over the place – clean cows – at least they look most uncowly clean – it’s the first thing that strikes one about them. I wonder where we’ll land up? We have been given two meat pies as rations. They seem fairly decent ones. It’s funny to see civilians walking the streets in the villages as we pass by – they know where and what and how – they seem to be denizens of another world. This letter is getting soulful n’est ce pas? It’s just my thoughts – they’re like that – jumping about from one daft thing to another. I suppose in a hundred years time people will say “How thrilling it must have been to live in those days” – Americans say it now – we’re never satisfied really are we?

We’ve just passed a plantation of young conifers about five feet high – all neatly in rows showing strips of light and dark – very nice. And it took a war to give them a chance of life – forestry scheme. Fred is asleep opposite me – he’s well browned off. I’m getting definitely peckish – what wouldn’t I give for one of my girl’s “odds and ends” stews! Never mind darling – I’ll sit down to one someday again – I expect I’ll have to get used to pulling in my belt a bit now and again – not that I have a belt to pull in. Lots of lines here and a big station but we’ve shot through it too fast to read the name.

It’s a steam train this one. I hope it takes us right through to where we are going – it will be an awful fag to get all this junk on and out and in and off again. It was a new thing for me to see the officers loaded up like we are – most of them seem quite human fellows particularly our major – he looks the sort that doesn’t believe in unnecessary bulling. I hope so at any rate although up to now I’ve seen no sign of spit and polish for the which I’m truly thankful – it can be a terrible cross to bear. Just passed a colossal pair of panties hanging on a line – she must be enormous – salmon pink. Everyone in the carriage seems to be asleep now except yours truly. Fred is buried up to his nose in his beret.

Did I tell you that this outfit is all young chaps? I should say the average age is not more than 25 or 26. There are no old ones at all – nevertheless some came through France last year. They don’t seem a bit worried about the future which may be a good sign. Another station – looked like Tutley or Tubley couldn’t quite get it. Another one – Purley Oaks – I got that. Doesn’t the average back garden seen from a train look an awful mess. Old sheds, bikes, buckets and boxes in profusion with a dank weed strewn grass patch. Hello South Croydon. Does that smack at London or does it? We’ve just stopped at E. Croydon. Time 1830 hours or 6.30 pm. My last meal was at 12 noon prompt. Quite a good one really.

I’ll finish this off soon I think because if we go into London I may be able to post it there. It may be the last uncensored one I can get through and in fact it may be the last one you’ll get for many weeks. I don’t suppose you’ll get any en voyage."

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