Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 3
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PONTEFRACT

From Felton to the Pontefract area of Yorkshire was a wet day's drive down the Great North Road and the difference between two worlds. Instead of a sweep of bare moor against a smokeless sky the regiment's horizon was the slag heaps and tall chimneys of a mining district in which one town straggles grimily into another. The clean air of Felton was changed for the smell by which Castleford first makes itself known to the traveller from the north. The compactness of Felton camp was succeeded by a web of billets houses, church halls, shops, offices, cafes and a race course spread at first over two towns and a village and later over a still wider compass. In these aspects the move to Yorkshire might be counted to the regiment's loss. But for many of its members the balance was redressed by the cinemas, dance halls, public houses (Pontefract alone had 53) and clubs with which they were surrounded, and not least by the engulfing hospitality of the Yorkshire people. Nobody, for instance, could have done more for the regiment's well being than Mrs C. W. Thompson, head of the W.V.S. in Pontefract.

Regimental Headquarters set itself up in first-floor offices above one of Pontefract's main streets, and most of Headquarter Squadron was scattered over this town, distinguished from others of the Black North by a touch of Newmarket and evidence in its architecture, spaciousness and ruins that it was associated with England's history before the dark onrush of the Industrial Revolution. The Anti-Tank and Mortar Troops had their own small world in and about the long fronted hall in the village of Darrington, B and C Squadrons occupied the racecourse and A Squadron moved into Castleford. Pontefract was one of the few places where wartime racing was still allowed. It introduced the regiment to the riding artistry of Billy Nevett, to Lady Electra (swift daughter of Fairway and Eclair) and other winners, to Fair Tor, which stood unmoving at the start, and to the many which started yet managed to lose. Before each meeting the two squadrons experienced the upheaval of moving beds and belongings out of the grandstand and Tote huts. After each meeting came the chore of restoring tidiness to a scene resembling Hampstead Heath after a Bank Holiday. Compensations were the free passes which enabled members of the regiment to go even to enclosures where winners are whispered, and the substantial contribution which the racecourse authorities made to the regiment's funds. Over these funds Major Cyril Kemp, the P.R.I., presided cheerfully and energetically in a small office invariably stacked with oranges, razor blades and dance tickets, which he would sell expertly to the unwary, lulling them with reminiscences of his days in the Royal West Kents.

The move to Yorkshire had been preceded by much speculation about Castleford. Castleford's look was blacker, less inviting than Pontefract's but occupation of Castleford carried with it an aura of independence. When the choice fell upon A Squadron, already a squadron of rather independent air, there was some surprise, and grumbles rumbled from that squadron's office. The grumbles stopped under the impact of Castleford's kindness and good billets in cafe and club, and the men of A Squadron moved with the greatest reluctance when changes in January switched them to the open hills near Shipley, the Anti-Tank Troop to Castleford and C Squadron to Crofton Hall, close to the many attractions of Wakefield. It seemed, too, that the people of Castleford were sorry to see A Squadron go, in spite of the way in which it had disrupted their road traffic with its Wednesday runs and their canal traffic with the scrambling nets which were hung from the bridge on Saturday mornings.

Other scrambling nets hung from the indicator board on the racecourse, and on the racecourse, too, a concrete ramp was built to provide practice in driving vehicles on to and off landing craft, with hand signals to guide the driver by day and torch signals by night. In these and many other ways training outlined ever more clearly the shape of things to come. French was studied in that enlightening book Bill et Tommy en France. Once a week regimental orders (translated by the adjutant, Capt W. B. Liddell) appeared in French. French names were given to places in cloth model exercises, and the less fluent officers went down with colours flying and" I'll bibe tout beer" and "Ma pere est dans la jardin" on their papers in a French examination. A series of lectures by Captain S. Rosdol, the division's intelligence officer and always a welcome visitor, widened the regiment's knowledge of the enemy waiting on the soil of France.

Early in December the preparation for disembarking vehicles off shore was begun with the first of a long series of waterproofing cadres directed by Lieut W. H. Rogers, and in the same month a regimental party, under Lieut G. R. Blount, took Humber armoured cars to Weymouth for wading trials, in which the Inns of Court and the Household Cavalry joined. Sgt Gartland, R.E.M.E., was in charge of the regiment's fitters. The vehicles were loaded at Portland Bill on to two tank landing craft and disembarked at Weymouth into about four feet of choppy water. The trial was a failure in that all the vehicles were" drowned". But the information gained helped to make a success of the disembarkation off the Normandy coast. Another preparation for days of action, or, more accurately, for the days of inaction mingled with them, was the filling of the troop comfort boxes with writing paper, ink, playing cards, draughts, chess, cigarettes, books, liver pills and a variety of other odds and ends which varied from troop to troop.

Exercises took the regiment through miles of smoky streets to the fresh, sharp air, the mud and the ice of the moors and wolds, and Captain Lane and his battery travelled the width of England with their six-pounders to fire them on the Harlech ranges. It was from Pontefract that the regiment went on its first really large-scale manoeuvres-the great wolds exercises, Black-cock and Eagle, on which tactics for the Normandy bridgehead were tried. On Blackcock the unit moved, lightless, on a September night, through Wetwang and Fridaythorpe to a forward area, broke out of the bridgehead, seized and held crossings of the Derwent and led the advance towards York. When Eagle spread its wings over miles of February mud the regiment practised being traffic policeman on a mine-field (a role which it was to undertake a year later before the Siegfried Line near Cleve). The 46th Highland Brigade secured the bridgehead on the far side of the Eagle minefield, and while A and B Squadrons, under Major MacDiarmid, exploited this advance the rest of the regiment made sure that the clattering, roaring columns of the 11th Armoured Division and the Guards Armoured Division passed safely and without congestion through the lanes which had been cleared of mines. This was a vast and complicated process involving march tables and serials, R.E.M.E. recovery parties, R.A.M.C. ambulances, the Provost and Royal Signals line parties. Each end of each lane was controlled by an officer of the regiment, in communication with the colonel at gap control headquarters by wireless from an armoured car, and, when the tanks' rough tracks chanced to spare the patient work of the signallers, by field telephone. One of the minor crises of this operation arose over the lavatory at gap control headquarters. The regiment took a modest pride in its field hygiene,and portable lavatory seats were part of its battle equipment. In consequence, the news that the general himself intended to make use of gap control headquarters was received without alarm-until it was discovered that on this occasion of all occasions the lavatory seat had been forgotten. Hasty improvisation with an upturned ration box solved the problem and saved the good name of the unit!

While training indicated the nature of the regiment's future, a series of inspections and visits suggested that it was a future not very far ahead. In the February and March of 1944 the unit, parading as part of the 15th Scottish Division, was inspected at Leeds by General Sir Bernard Montgomery and by the King, who was accompanied by the Queen and Princess Elizabeth,
and at Harrogate by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Lieut-General Sir Richard O'Connor, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., who had taken command of VIII Corps after his escape from Italy, addressed officers of the division on March 2nd, and a fortnight later visited the regiment and inspected a representative squadron at Darrington Hall.

In spirit Pontefract was the regiment's "Eve of Waterloo" . When Byron wrote his famous line "There was a sound of revelry by night" he might have been describing Pontefract, Castleford and Wakefield in a later war instead of the Brussels of 1815. Days of arduous training for a hazardous task not far away were followed by nights of revelry at Pontefract Town Hall and at the barracks on the hill. At the Town Hall, Ronnie Regan, known on parade as Cpl Thomas, conducted the regiment's own dance band, "The Recce Rascals" , and for those who were not taking part in the shoulder-to-shoulder dancing there was the endless fascination of watching to see if the tall, flame-headed Hudson would ever drop his whirling drum-sticks. At the barracks, the regiment joined gladly in the dances of the A.T.S. Training Centre. At Christmas time, the A.T.S.  produced "Aladdin" and sent a party of helpers to the party which the regiment gave for 650 Pontefract children.

This party was organised by Lieut A. V. Sadgrove, who had taken Pontefract very much to his warm heart, and who was prepared to lavish his shining enthusiasm and boundless energy upon the causes of the unit and those of the town. He wrote to the barracks for the help of one A.T.S.  N.C.O. and eleven other ranks, using the Army abbreviation "one and eleven". The first feminine response, erring on the side of generosity, was a postal order for two shillings. But the help arrived. Among the guests were the Mayor of Pontefract, Councillor F. W. Lane, the chairman of the Education Committee, Alderman Frain, and the matron of Pontefract Hospital. The R.S.M. assumed unusual benevolence as Father Christmas, and at the end of the party the colonel solved the problem of allocating 650 children to 650 coats by holding up each coat in the manner of an auctioneer. At a similar party, A Squadron entertained 150 Castleford children. Such events provided copy for the Racecourse Rag, a wall newspaper published by L/Cpl McFarlane and Tpr Kingsbury, of B Squadron.

The regiment's rugby football match on Boxing Day against the Home Guard of Castleford was of sufficient importance to be copy for the local newspaper. The Home Guard team, including J. Croston, the international, and other Rugby League players, had not been beaten in its annual match against the unit stationed in the district. The regiment's team, captained by Michael Blair, who had played sturdily in the jersey of university and country, was one of the best in the division. This time the regiment won. Later in the season the Home Guard had its revenge.

The teams for the Boxing Day encounter were:
 

Reconnaissance Regiment: 

Tpr McShane; 
Lieut Royle (Worksop ), 
Tpr Kenefick (Cardiff), 
Lieut Gray (Haileybury) , 
Sgt John; 
Capt Liddell (Glasgow University), 
Lieut Blair (Oxford University and Scotland); 
Lieut Arundel (Brigade of Guards), 
S.S.M. Franks (King's Liverpool Rgt) , 
Sgt Holland (Burton),
Lieut Shirley (Repton), 
Lieut Dalton (Worksop),
Capt Ford (Torquay), 
2/Lieut Green (Eastern Counties),
Capt Bryson (Blair hill). 

Home Guard: 

Pte K. Place (Headingley O.B.); 
Cpl Norfolk (Knottingley and Selby), 
Pte Womersley (Headingley O.B.), 
Lieut J. Croston (Castleford and England), 
Capt H. L. Donovan (Blackrock College and Selby) ; 
Cpl K. Brooks (Castleford), 
Lieut F. Ablett; 
Cpl Hodgson (Pontefract), 
Pte J. H. Hill (Castleford), 
Pte Hall (Knottingley), 
Pte J. Frost (Knottingley), 
Sgt H. Hale (Castleford), 
Sgt E. Bailey (Selby), 
Pte Thornton (Castleford), 
Cpl J.Walker (Wakefield O.B.).

The referee was L. Tune (County Durham).

This is what the newspaper said about the match: " Before about 2,500 spectators on Sunday afternoon on the Wheldon Road ground, Castleford, Army and Home Guard fifteens met in a Rugby Union encounter which was fairly even until the last ten minutes, when Lieut Croston, who with Pte K. Place, full back, had played an outstanding game, was injured and had to go
on the wing, thus weakening the centre. The Home Guard were the better side in the first half, but the Reconnaissance men were fitter and stayed the course better. They were best represented by Lieut Blair. Early in the game Lieut Croston kicked a lovely penalty goal and then made the opening for Capt Donovan to score a fine try, which was not converted. Pte Womers-
ley scored in the second half, and Lieut Croston converted. The Recces ran in a couple of tries in the last few minutes to win by 16 points to 11.  Their scorers were Lieut Blair (2), Capt Liddell and Sgt John with tries, two of which were improved. A Scottish regimental pipe band played before the match and during the interval. The match was for the benefit of the local Prisoners of War Fund, and cleared about 70."

In the semi-final of the division's rugby championship the regiment lost to the 19 Field Regt, R.A.  There were, in addition, the unit's own sports cham-pionships, fiercely contested. 'A' Squadron had a notable season, winning the seven-a-side rugby, the six-a-side hockey and, with 1 Troop, the six-a-side football, and reaching the final of the football cham-pionship, in which Headquarter Squadron gained a victory that was unexpected but well deserved. The unofficial sport was cycling. Because the regiment was so scattered, the colonel borrowed about forty bicycles from the Glasgow Highlanders, and by day they took officers soberly and sedately from mess to office, and messages from headquarters to headquarters. Their more interesting journeys were made under the cloak of darkness. This mercifully hid the erratic progress of the officer who returned from the barracks with the inner tube of the rear wheel entwined in the spokes, and complained thickly about the steering when picked up from the gutter. No night, however, was long enough to hide the beautiful black eye of the officer (fairly senior) who rode at the post at the race course entrance with the valour of Don Quixote charging his windmill.

In the later days of the regiment's stay in Yorkshire came the two clearest indications that the time of training was drawing to its close. Officers began the nightly labour of censoring mail, and on April 5th all leave was cancelled. Squadrons went in turn to Spaunton ranges, bivouacking for five days each in the village of Lastingham. Armoured cars carried out exercises on the field firing ranges at Fylingdales Moor, north of Scarborough. The wireless vehicles of the command net (the links between regimental and squad-ron headquarters) ranged north and south in a final test of long-range communications.

On April 21st the regiment moved south again. Many friends were left among the Yorkshire smoke, many happy memories taken to the Channel shore. The people of Pontefract could not have been kinder, and the regiment was sorry that security reasons compelled it to slip away without being able to express its thanks in some visible way. As the next best thing, a letter, addressed to the Mayor, was sent to the local paper, and a very warm acknowledgement was received.

There had been changes since the regiment left its first home. Captain Sole, posted to H.Q., 15th Scottish Division as a staff captain, Lieut McCathie, Capt Chalmers, R.A.M.C., and Lieut Todd, R.E.M.E., had gone; Captain Boynton was appointed to command first line reinforcements; and Captain Bryson joined first line reinforcements. Capt Liddell became adjutant; Lieut J. A. Isaac succeeded him as intelligence officer; Capt Lane assumed command of the anti-tank battery; Capt G. E. Pearce became technical adjutant, and Lieut A. R. Rencher M.T.O. Lieut J. M. B. Pooley, R.A.M.C., came to the regiment as medical officer, and Lieut F. Sharman, R.E.M.E., assumed command of the L.A.D. In February, 1944, Major K. C. C. Smith (12 Lancers) was posted from GSO I, VIII Corps, to be second-in-command of the regiment, and as a result of this appointment Major MacDiarmid became officer commanding Headquarter Squadron, and Major Kemp second-in-command of that squadron.  Capt Ford succeeded Capt Boynton as second-in-command of C Squadron.

Capt Sole's departure to divisional headquarters was made after he had completed the difficult task of forming the administration of the unit, a task to which, unflagging, he had devoted many hours a day. The regiment's reputation for its administration was a sufficient measure of his success.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

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