ENGLAND-TRAINING PERIOD, 1941-1942
New Year's Day, 1941, dawned with 36 officers and 844 other ranks on strength. That first English winter was all the travel book said English winters would be. Comparing our prairie clear, cold, crip winters to this continuous rain, sleet, and damp cold proved to be the main beef of the troops. It was hard to become acclimatized, but the increased recreational and regimental activities and trianing program helped to ease the men into new surroundings and living conditions. Training was new and rigourous. Most officers and N.C.O.s were sent on various courses to learn new methods of battle tactics and instruction. The first regimental night convoy move will be long remembered by troops and drivers alike. The 1" aperature dimmed healights and small reflected rear housing lights with trucks moving in packets just a few yards apart through a heavy fog demanded a new quality of skill in the drivers and map-reading of the officers. By the time our drivers reached the continent months later, they were experts at driving in complete darkness.
Blackouts in all buildings was another of the rules to be obeyed closely. The least crack of light from under a window brought a shout from the Orderly Seargeant.
Several changes in War Establishment were made, including the reforming of the Intelligence Section and the adidtion of the Scout and Sniper Platoon in B.H.Q. with Lieutenant G. B. Buchanan as Intelligence Officer.
Our Sports teams were entered in army leagues of soccer and basketball, and tours of famous places such as Windsor Castle, etc., filled many of our Saturday and Sunday afternoon recreational needs.
Training exercises included extensive gas instruction and field exercises such as "Mud", "Benito", "Rat", "Crow", "Joseph", to give practice in control of troops and vehicles in warfare.
The oft up and down Corporal Legerre was drilling a new squad of reinforcements one morning when the R.S.M. sent him an urgent request for extra help in the kitchen. Legerre played it smart. He asked the squad if anyone knew shorthand. Three men stepped forward in good faith but were told to report to the cook-house as they were shorthanded there.
On 27th March the Battalion was assembled at Minley Grange for a quick visit and inspection by Their Majesties the King and Queen. The road was lined with troops who cheered their Majesties wildly as they passed among them.
Field firing practices and tests of elementary training with grenade, rifle, and machine gun were carried out on Caesar and Ash Ranges and memories of these places will include the long marches to them, the wet cold days among the gorse, cheese sandwhiches, and the Naafi tea. In May the battalion had its first really long route march of 3 day duration via Heckfield Heath, Mortimer, Warfield Cramwoods, and Bracknell. The Scout and Intelligence Platoon was getting into fine shape with personal camouflage and other training, and became so efficient that one one occasion, when demonsntrating for some Senior Staff Officers, a Major General obeyed a call of nature on the very tree which was in part a member of the platoon.
Sgt. Bowie was N.C.O. in charge of the Intelligence and Scout Section and Corporal Joe Gregory in charge of the Sniper Section.
The month of June saw the Q.M. stores holding packing and field exercises for the unit exercises, "Maple", and "Waterloo".
Sgt. Norm Michie, one of the originals in the battalion and a very popular N.C.O. was accidentally shot in the stomach and eventually sent back to Canada. On June 20th, the battalion was inspected on Bagshot Commons by the Duke of Gloucester. The men were now becoming used to "Most Distinguished Visitors."
On 2nd July, the unit moved to Seaford, Sussex, on the South coast, and exchanged battle stations with The King's Regiment (Liverpool). The main positions covered the possible enemy invasion points along the Cuckmere River Valley.
This, the South Saskatchewan Regiment's first really "active service" role, was very interesting and diaries record items about the oversvation point (O.P.) on "High and Over," the minefields and the occasional body that washed up on the beaches, the coast guard shacks which quartered the duty platoon, the dogs runnign through the minefields till they blew themselves up, and the "stand-to's" on air alerts. While in Seaford the battalion made a lasting friend in the person of Lord Buckmaster. This earnest gentleman followed the activities of the Sourth Saskatchewan Regiment throughout the war and never failed to notice events important to the unit.
On 13th August, 1931, the Seaford area was turned over to the King's Regiment and the South Saskatchewan Regiment moved to Hurley Camp, or "Hog-Hollow" as it was better known. This was a tented camp situated in a low-lying piece of ground and the mud from incessant rains finally forced another move on 27th August to Hartley Row.
During this time the R.S.M. and his 5 C.S.M.'s attended a 3 week drill and deportment school at the "Guards Depot" at Caterham.
In September, Brigadier J. P. MacKenzie, D.S.O., took command of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade in time to lead the formation exercise the Candian Army had participated in to this date with 12 divisionals involved, all under British command. The SOuth Saskatchewan Regiment, after concentrating North of Cuckfield, took over guard duties at the Thames River with bridges at Marlow, Reading, Sonning, and Henley with Battalion Headquarters at Harpsden. After coming under command 1st Canadian Division, they moved to Studham and then to Great Offley. B Company distinguished itself on this exercise by capturing a whole company of field ambulance, one battery of field artillery and 13 petrol vehicles.
In October, the Seaford Battle stations again became the home of the South Saskatchewan Regiment for a short period.
The unit band had been getting quite popular in the Canadian army and many requests for their services were received. Chief among these was the request from the Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G.) to play for the presentation of their colours by Queen Elizabeth. The Band, resplendent in dress caps and white music carriers, straps, belts and bayonet, drew praise from Her Majesty, who also remarked it was fitting that a band of a brother Saskatchewan Regiment was available for the ceremonies.
During this fall, the Right Honourable Mackenzie King made a flying trip to England. A parade was arranged and an inspection on the sports field at Aldershot. Each Canadian Army Unit had a party in attendance at the field to witness the Army sports and games. It happened to be a very cold, wet Saturday and most of the field units had travelled 50 miles to reach the scene on time.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Mr. King's entry into the stadium was delayed a couple of hours and consequently the bands and men were soaked and cold.
On 19th November, the Regiment was informed that Lt.-Col. Wright was vacating the command because of ill health. There was a feeling of great loss and a decided let-down among all ranks. Lt.-Col. Wright had been the admired leader and valued friend of every last man in the unit. He knew them all by name and background, and his sense of impartial discipline was greatly respected. One unknown soldier made the fitting remark "When God made a man, he made Lt.-Col. Wright."
Lt.-Col. Wright's place was filled on 1st December by a very able officer, Lt.-Col. Sherwood Lett, M.C., E.D., our former brigade major. Lt.-Col. Lett came to the South Saskatchewan Regiment with the highest recommendations and his reputation as an officer with a future gave the regiment the neede confidence after the loss of Lt.-Col. Wright.
On 5th December, the battalion moved to the Lewes, Sussex area, in defensive positions to counter possible invasion of the south coast. It was in this area, while digging new slit trenches, that three skeletons were uncovered which were supposedly buried during the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Sad to relate, before the English authorities could retrieve and preserve the ancient relics, parts ofthe skeletons and teeth had been distributed as souvenirs.
Incidents and places like the Firle Force, Lewes House, the Race Track, Lewes Jail, all appear again and again the the War Diary as do storeis of diggin slit trenches in the white chalk of the Downs and carrying the chalk away to avoid air observation.
Reminiscing of Lewes days will also bring to mind places like St. Mary's Hall, Offham House, Beddingham, Firle Beacon, and various well known pubs, the fish and chip shop, the exercises with Home Guards, and that good Mayor of Lewes, Colonel Crisp.
1st January, 1942, begana year of many events in the Battalion. It was to be the year they received their first "blooding" and it was to be a year of four changes in command.
On 16th January, Brigadier Mackenzie vacated the command of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade to Brigadier W.W. Southam, E.D., who was a member of the famous Southam newspaper family.
Lt.-Col. Lett increased the officer and N.C.O. tactical training with troops and emphasized smartness in foot and small arms drill whenever possible. This proved valuable training for the innumerable inspection visits by Brigadier Southam, Major General H. Roberts, G.O.C. 2nd Division, Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar, Canadian Corps Commander and later, on 28th January, Lieutenant-General Montgomery, C.B., D.S.O., G.O.C.-in-C. South Easter Command.
During a company training exercise, "A" Company found a German light automatic gun on the downs near the race track. This was turned over to a Corps Intelligence Officer.
The Regiment's Band under Sergeant A. E. Mundy, had been practising diligently for months and playing to all unit parades but now their services were being asked for by other units and formations. The orchestra was also playing to capacity dance crowds in Army messes, etc. On February 16th, the combined band and orchestra played a 30 minute concert on the B.B.C., which was recorded for rebroadcast to Canada.
The month of February saw two serious accidents when Pte. H. M. Murray was wounded in the thigh, and Pte. H. A. Blanchard was accidentally killed by a sentry.
On 21st February, a ceremonial parade was held for General Montgomery, who was accompanied by Lieutenant-General H. D. G. Crerar, G.O.C. 1st Canadian Corps, and many other notable army officers.
After the Inspection and March Past, and a thrilling perfect advance in review order, a Mess Dinner was served in the White Hart Hotel in Lewes. A souvenir napkin ring of Warick oak was given to all officers and to General Montgomery, one of silver. The general was so impressed with the oaken rings that he asked to have one of them also.
General Montgomery's glowing praise of the men from Canada's prairies was climaxed by his statement that a new standard of perfection had been established that day in the Canadian Army. It should be mentioned that General Montgomery was a former Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Warwicks and thus his keen interest in ours, the allied regiment.
During the winter Majors McTavish and Mather and Captain Fritz attended the Canadian Army's new Battle Drill School. This, the first new change in section and platoon tactics, became the medium to revitalize all training. It was very similar to the training received by British Commando Units and required fast, clear thinking on the part of the N.C.O.'s andofficers and excellent physical fitness from all ranks.
During a demonstration at which General Montgomery was in attendance, he was asked many questions of Captain Fritz, who was in command of the company. During this question and answer session the husky red-haired Captain chewed a wad of gum incessantly. The ever proper General turned to the Colonel and asked him what that officer was chiewing. The officer replied with his fingers crossed that it was chewing gum and that all Canadian and American athletes chewed gum because it was so good for the wind, etc., etc. The General was very impressed and stated all soldiers should be chewing it.
On 2nd March, the Battalion again paraded to say good-bye to one of its C.O.'s, Lt.-Col. Lett ahd been appointed to command the 4th Canadian Brigade. Lt.-Col. Lett told the Parade that the South Saskatchewan Regiment was the finest regiment he had ever served with, and he would always consider it "his" battalion.
On 4th March a detachment of instructors was dispatched to Canada which included Captain A.D. Devine, M.M., Captain F. H. McDougall, Lieutenants S. Linton, M.E. Gray, and C. E. Smith.
A platoon under command of Captain R. Stephens, with Corporals Coxford, O'Neill and Karessa also attended a special Commando training course near Seaford. This training was completed in the Hebrides and its results were very beneficial to the unit.
On 2nd March, Lt.-Col. C.C.I. Merritt arrived and took over his first battalion command. He was destined to carry higher still that spirit and tradition of the South Saskatchewan Regiment that his predecessors had established so firmly. His early days in the battalion were occupied by exercises "Flip," "Flap," and "Flop," and "Beaver III," all of which helped him to get a firm grip on the reins of the administration and training. During one of these exercises, Lieutenant J. D. Poulton was fatally injured by a motorcylce on a very dark road at night. Sergeant V. P. Zorn, who was with him at the time, suffered a broken leg.
Early in March the Battalion moved to a tented camp in Firle Park and imporved the defensive positions on Firle Beacon, Black Cat Farm, Harry's Farm, Beddingham Hill, and around Wilmington, Glynde, Cobb Place and Hailsham Road. Exercise Beaver was the longest yet experienced by the Battalion and the long route marches tested the staying powers to the limit.
On May 15th, a move to Wykehurst Castle into a hutted camp was made. Wykehurst Castle was a modern castle inhabited by a middle aged woman who kept an incredible number of cats. Shortly after arrival at Wykehurst, Captain A. W. Ashley, the unit Padre, went home to Canada on compassionate and health grounds, and was replaced by Captain Adams. Captain Ashley had been with the Battalion and had accomplished much valuable work in the daily routing.