Felton Hall, the regiment's first home, was a large, rambling
house set high above the village in grounds which sloped steeply to
the dark and tumbling waters of the Coquet. War had dotted the
grounds with Nissen huts, which shared with the hall the housing of
the regiment. The townsman would agree that it was a pleasant place
on a fine day; to the countryman it was good on any day. And it was
a place which contained little to distract the soldier from his
training, for the nearest towns (Alnwick to the north and Morpeth to
the south) were ten miles away, and the more extensive urban
refinements of Newcastle far enough to be almost a mirage. Liberty
trucks ran at the weekend to Alnwick, Morpeth and Ashington, where
the pace of a dog meant for some the difference between a week of
affluence and one of poverty. For the rest of the week there was
work, the camp N.A.A.F.I., the camp dance (with W.A.A.F. partners),
football, cricket on a wicket which called for brave batsmen, and
darts and dominoes in Felton's two inns. At the end of a hard day's
training thirst for village beer had to be weighed against the steep
climb back to camp.
Most of that training was done in the wild Border country which
was almost on the regiment's doorstep - ideal country in which to
learn to fight and live rough.
The three squadrons which assembled at Felton Hall in that
February seemed a motley collection: vehicles and uniforms bearing
different signs, khaki berets, inadequate equipment and too few men,
except for masses of young officers, all regretting that they
appeared to have lost their independence. The memories of those
early days are strange now to those who stayed to see the regiment
welded, tested and proved. Imperceptibly, the transition from three
entities to one regiment with very high esprit de corps and great
morale began within hours of the squadrons' arrival. It was a
transition due to the avowed intention which men of all ranks shared
with their commanding officer: to make the 15th Scottish Division's
youngest unit its best.
As early as April 12th Brigadier H. D. K. Money D.S.O., Commander
of the 44th Lowland Infantry Brigade, who carried out an
administrative inspection, was able to say: "It was a great joy to
see the obvious pride the regiment had already got in itself." This
was the first time the regiment paraded as a regiment, being drawn
up with fixed bayonets to salute the inspecting officer. The
inspection was a great success and a most auspicious start to the
unit's career. Other visits to Felton Hall were paid by the G.O.C.,
15th Scottish Division, Major General G. H. A. MacMillan C.B.E.,
D.S.O., M.C., who met his reconnaissance troops for the first time
on April 26th, shortly after taking over from Major General D. C.
Bullen Smith M.C.; by Lieutenant General G. C. Bucknall M.C.,
Commander of I Corps; and by the G.O.C., Northern Command,
Lieutenant General Ralph Eastwood K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C.
The unit they saw was bigger than it had been when the 15th, 45th
and 54th Independent Squadrons came together. That amalgamation was
not itself sufficient to produce a complete regiment, and it was
followed in two days by the arrival at Felton of about three hundred
young men (soldiers for only six weeks) sent from Infantry Training
Centres and Primary Training Wings. Later reinforcements were
received from Royal Armoured Corps training units, principally the
162 Regiment, R.A.C., which had sprung from the Royal West Kents.
The training of the three hundred, known at first as "the
intake," was the regiment's first big job,tackled by the best
instructors from squadrons under the direction of Major MacDiarmid.
One end of the camp became a "sausage machine" into which went three
hundred recruits and out of which (after an almost incredibly short
time) came three hundred men shaped to be gunners, drivers,
mechanics, wireless operators and assault troopers. They had entered
their intensive training with an enthusiasm that was a pleasure to
see, and they were to become the backbone of the regiment. To the
intake and its early instructors the regiment owed a great debt.
While the intake was being prepared in cadres to fit into the
pattern of a reconnaissance unit the pattern of the unit's training
and tactics was being worked out under the colonel's guidance on
cloth model, in lectures and in TEWTs (tactical exercises without
troops). Training was no haphazard, happy-go-lucky affair. Before
the men, the armoured cars, the carriers and the weapons went out on
their manoeuvres the lines on which they were to practise fighting
had been decided by directive and discussion. After the routine of
the day, officers and N.C.Os. went to night school in the little
hall outside Felton Park to study problems on the cloth models
constructed by the I men, and to hear talks by the technical
adjutant and other specialists. Sundays were days for officers
and N.C.Os. to be up and out with sandwich packets for TEWTs on the
moors. The young officer, lost in contemplation of the charms of his
partner at the Alnwick Saturday night dance, would be recalled
sharply to the serious present by Major Gordon, flinging himself to
the ground, saying: "Shots from the ridge on your right. What are
you doing about it?" In such ways, the manifold problems of a
regiment in action were considered, including those of harbouring
for the night, disposing of casualties and obtaining replenishments
of food, petrol and ammunition. By the time that the men of the
intake (no longer the intake but fully-fledged members of the
regiment) were ready to take their places in the armoured cars and
carriers everything was ready for the theory of cloth model and TEWT
to be tested in exercises with men and vehicles.
What can be said, in retrospect, about military exercises that
will not cause the reader, after a brief glance, to skip a couple of
pages, then look again to discover whether another subject has been
reached? They require much preparation. They are mixture of
excitement, boredom, humour, discomfort, fatigue and argument. They
stand somewhere between the business of war and the Cowboy and
Indian games of childhood. In the chill of breaking camp amid the
dews of early morning they test the best of tempers. They prove that
warrant officers have a sixth sense which reveals when and where tea
is being brewed (only the soldier in war can know more than the
soldier on an exercise the sweetness of tea). They teach the value
of a shave. No matter how differently they are planned, some things
about them are constant, such as the extreme caution and reluctance
with which the signals officer rode his exercise motor-cycle. They
are controlled by umpires, who are invariably distinguished by
white arm bands and a complete blindness to the brilliance of
one's own military tactics. A" Punch" humorist can make amusing
reading of exercises.
But fundamentally they are serious things, which can teach
lessons that win battles and save lives. And recalled seriously they
make rather dull reading in detail, being battles only in
make-believe and lacking the full-bloodedness of a campaign.
In the green days of spring and in the golden days of summer the
regiment went forth from Felton upon its exercises. North it went to
Wooller and west towards Carlisle. Names on maps became places seen
from armoured car turrets: Hexham, Humshaugh, Harper's Town. The
regiment learned to move in disciplined convoy, smart, alert, making
sure of the roadworthiness of its vehicles during halts, reaching
appointed places at appointed times. (Woe to the sleeper in convoy,
and to the covert smoker.) It learned to set up its headquarters
in the field, making an orderly business of its maps, its
telephones, its wireless sets, its offices, its cookhouses, its rest
areas, its latrines. With the arrival of that marvel of science, the
No. 19 wireless set, it learned to use its communications between
points many miles apart. It practised discovering, compiling and
sending back (from car patrol through squadron and regimental
headquarters to divisional headquarters) the information on which
battle decisions are made: where the enemy is, how strong he is,
what he is doing, whether there is a way round him, or perhaps
whether a bridge is standing or demolished, a river fordable, a road
cratered or usable. Time and again the sequence of the encounter was
rehearsed: the contact by armoured cars, the use of carriers,
assault troopers, mortars and anti-tank guns to "winkle" the enemy
out of his position, or, the position being too strong, the keeping
of observation until the task was handed over to the following
The colonel would disappear after dinner, and in his room the
light would burn late. A day or two days later Sergeant Gilbert and
his colleagues would dispatch from the remoteness of the orderly
room the typewritten details of another battle to be fought and the
lessons to be learned. Each exercise was followed by its inquest,
with the colonel, equipped with pointer and large map, as coroner in
front of the assembled regiment, sifting the reports of umpires,
pointing out mistakes, praising the successful, weighing
suggestions. The mistakes were many in those early days, but the
lessons were being learned. Gradually, on "Peter", on "Patience", on
"Zulu" , the text book of the regiment's tactics was compiled.
Exercises were the "star turns" of the regiment's programme.
Between the upheaval of their comings and goings was the very
necessary "chorus work": the PT before breakfast; the weapon
exercises after dinner; the cross-country runs down through the
woods and back beside the Coquet; Officers' Week; the assault
course and its precarious crossing of the river (known also as the
back door to camp); the days on the ranges and of field firing on
Longframlington moors; the driving, gunnery and wireless cadres.
B Squadron, discovering the great stride of Shackleton, won the
sports on a ground laid out with great pains by Sergeant Instructor
Tyler, A.P.T.C. On Rothbury moors 10 Troop of C Squadron, commanded
by Lieut Brian White, won the tactical competition in which
reconnaissance troops had to meet and eliminate a pocket of enemy
and advance through a minefield. Sergt J. Cattanach, of A Squadron,
enriched himself with many prizes, and the padre, the Rev E.
Bradbrooke, showed what seemed almost an unholy proficiency, at the
rifle meeting at Ponteland. L/Cpl Johnstone won the highland dancing
at the division's assault-at-arms, a day of games and tests of
military prowess in a bowl in the Northumberland hills, where even
English breasts were stirred as the massed pipes of the division
played the old Scottish airs in this land of border foray.
Perhaps the men of the three reconnaissance squadrons and the
anti-tank and mortar troops remember most vividly their days of
camping and training in lonely places near North Charleton or
Rothbury or amid the rocky rises which bear the lovely name of
Shaftoe Crag. Anyone who has been a troop com-mander or N.C.O. will
know only too well how difficult it is to keep a full troop together
for training in barracks or anything resembling them. So many men
must go to the quartermaster to fetch stores from the station; so
many to the R.S.M. for regimental guard; so many to the cookhouse.
How many battles have troop officers, anxious to carry out a
programme, fought and lost against the insatiable demands of barrack
routine! When the standards of training had been propounded, the
colonel solved those problems by sending squadrons to live, to
toughen and to learn in their own camps on the moors. Food and
letters were sent to them daily. Sometimes, brown and fit, they paid
hurried visits to Felton Hall for baths and changes of clothing. The
policy was that the farther troops and squadrons got from their
squadron and regimental commanders the better. Living together under
active service conditions, troop officers really began to know their
men, and the confidence which grew between them, and the training
done during this period, were to pay a high dividend in action.
While the squadrons were" living out" an aero-plane crashed in A
Squadron's area and burst into flames. The pilot, flight officer and
navigator were rescued by Sergt T. Fraser, L/Cpl E. Fifield and
Troopers J. Arnold, W. Charlton, A. Conyer, B. Mellors and H.
Witherall. Their action was commended in a letter from 416 Fighter
There were incidents less exciting but memorable to those who
knew Felton. The I section is not likely to forget the enthusiast
who decided that the steep slopes to the Coquet were ideal for its
first lesson in motor-cycling. Eyes blurred with perspiration saw
indelibly the tall figure of the colonel, watch in hand, at the
finish of the cross-country runs, awaiting the laggards. Nobody will
dance an eightsome reel with-out recalling the major who insisted
that to do this he must wear spurs. Nobody will hear "Allouette "
without thinking of how tremendously it was sung when Canadian,
French, Belgian, Czech and Polish airmen came to see how the
regiment worked. To tread the Great North Road may be to remember a
long walk in the moonlight after missing the returning liberty
truck. The crack of bat against ball will bring to mind the zest
with which that enthusiast, Jack Lane, imagining bat and ball,
hurled himself into the bowling of Bradmans, the clouting of
Grimmetts and the catching of Ponsfords in the brief intervals
between Officers' Week parades.
By September l0th, when the regiment moved south to Yorkshire,
the division and brigades had "accepted" it and were beginning to
show signs of wanting to know what the " Reece" could do. Close
liaison was established, and each reconnaissance squadron was
affiliated to a brigade - affiliations which endured to be tried and
proved in battle a year later. The cooperation between the 44th
Lowland Brigade and C Squadron was particularly close, while A and B
Squadrons were both pupils and teachers in their relations with the
46th and 227th Highland Brigades respectively.
The regiment was lucky in many ways. At one time there were 61
officers on the books, and when the call for drafts for units
already trained and in action came it was not necessary to cripple
the "first eleven" to find the bodies. The greatest help was always
given by H.Q., 15th Scottish Division, and particularly by the
G.S.O. I, Lieut-Colonel J. D. Tyler R.A., the A/Q, Lieut-Colonel
Kingsford Lethbridge, and A.D.O.S., - that well know and beneficent
figure, Lieut-Colonel Sid Walker, who had a warm corner in his heart
for the " Reece".
There were few clues to indicate how long there would be for
training and when the regiment would be called upon to fight.
Determined not to be caught unprepared, it worked at full pressure
throughout the summer, and the response to the demands of training
was enough to enable the unit to feel worthy of its place in a
division that was to make a great name for itself in action. It is
easy to look back and remember all that was fine and successful,
but, as is the case with all new units, there were teething
troubles. Like the building of Rome, getting to know everyone and
putting him in his best place took more than a day. One small
incident may recall early troubles-who took the truck on the night
of the Felton dance and dumped it in a ditch on the Great North
However, at Felton the regiment got off to a very good start.
This staff table shows the major appointments in the regiment
between February 15th and September loth, 1943 :-
Commanding Officer: Lieut-Colonel J. A. Grant Peterkin.
Second-in-Command: Major P. T. I. Mac-Diarmid.
Capt E. A. S. Sole.
Technical Adjutant: Capt T. J. Bryson.
Anti- Tank Officer: Capt E. A. Hutchings.
Lieut W. Kemsley.
Lieut and Quartermaster: Lieut H. E. Hughes.
Intelligence Officer: Lieut W. B. Liddell.
M. T. Officer:
Lieut W. H. Rogers.
Mortar Officer: Lieut C. J. McCathie.
Medical Officer: Capt T. S. Chalmers, R.A.M.C.
Commander: Lieut P. A. Todd, R.E.M.E.
Padre: the Rev. F.
Regimental Sergeant Major: R.S.M. W. H. Eardley.
Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant: R.Q.M.S. D. W. Dobbin.
A Squadron.-Officer Commanding: Major B. C. Crowder.
Second-in-Command: Capt O. W. Butler.
Major: S.S.M. W. McMinn.
Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant:
B Squadron.-Officer Commanding: Major A. Gordon.
Second-in-Command: Capt T. G. Fordyce.
Major: S.S.M. A Franks.
Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant:
S.Q.M.S. L. Piper.
C Squadron.-Officer Commanding: Major L. H. Mills.
Second-in-Command: Capt J. K. Boynton.
Major: S.S.M. A. Ward.
Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant: S.Q.M.S.
C. G. Reeder.
Headquarter Squadron.- Officer Commanding: Capt M. C. K. Halford.
Second-in-Command: Capt A. C. Davies.
Major: S.S.M. L. A. Evans.
Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant:
S.Q.M.S. W. R. Leadbetter.
May.- Major W. L. Rowlands was posted to the regiment and assumed
command of Headquarter Squadron. Capt Butler was posted to the 80th
Reconnaissance Regiment. Capt Davies became Second-in-Command of A
June.- Capt Halford was posted from the regiment. Capt L.
T. Ford became Second-in-Command of
July.- Major Crowder was posted to the 80th Reconnaissance
Regiment. Major Rowlands became commander of A squadron.
August.Major G. W. T. Norton was posted from the 51st Training
Regiment, R.A.C., assumed command of Headquarter Squadron and was
posted to the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment. Major C. K. Kemp was
posted from the 162nd Regiment, R.A.C. (R.W.K.), and became
commander of Headquarter Squadron. The Rev F. Ockenden was posted to
the 119 L.A.A.
Regiment. The Rev E. Bradbrooke was posted to the