Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 2
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Fenton Hall

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 infantry brigade.

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 Squadron.

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 Road?

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.
Adjutant: Capt E. A. S. Sole.
Technical Adjutant: Capt T. J. Bryson.
Anti- Tank Officer: Capt E. A. Hutchings.
Signals Officer: 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.
L.A.D. Commander: Lieut P. A. Todd, R.E.M.E.
Padre: the Rev. F. Ockenden.
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.
Squadron Sergeant Major: S.S.M. W. McMinn.
Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant: S.Q.M.S.J. Waddell.

B Squadron.-Officer Commanding: Major A. Gordon.
Second-in-Command: Capt T. G. Fordyce.
Squadron Sergeant 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.
Squadron Sergeant 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.
Squadron Sergeant 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 Squadron.

June.- Capt Halford was posted from the regiment.  Capt L. T. Ford became Second-in-Command of
Headquarter Squadron.

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 regiment.
 
 
 
 
 


 

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