« The Outing | Main | Sound The Trumpets. Lower The Drawbridge. »

Shalom and Sheiks: 22 - Stunned Into Disbelief

..."I've never seen anything like it in all me life!" It was like coming home again. He was reputed to have the loudest voice in the army. Nobody ever disputed the claim and his drilling of all the companies of the whole OCTU was an unforgettable event.

"BATT—ALLEE—UN—SHUN!" would be heard all over Aldershot. Then without fail would follow, "That third man from the left, centre rank of C Company, you are idle. Take his name, Sergeant, for being idle on parade." And the unfortunate individual 'lost his name'...

John Powell's training as a Guards officer becomes tougher - and louder!

To read earlier chapters of John's splendid autobiography please click on Shalom And Sheiks in the menu on this page.

The survivors of our initial training moved on to the pre-Officer Cadet Training Unit, or the pre-OCTU. It was situated at Pirbright Camp in Surrey, the location of the Scots Guards Training Battalion, a picturesque camp surrounded by large pine woods and through which ran the most gruelling assault course one could ever fear to meet — and meet it we did, every morning in the middle of winter. We returned tingling with warmth and a ravenous appetite for breakfast.

In addition, with full equipment, we went on regular routemarches of twenty miles; run a mile, march a mile, and we soon became fitter than we had ever been in our lives.
Anticipating learning something new, we were at first disappointed to find ourselves back on the parade ground — square bashing. Only this time we no longer chorused 'one-tup-three-one'. Sergeant Daly had instilled the correct timing into each of us.

Our training soon dispelled our initial disappointment over the square bashing. Life became hectic: more detailed weapon training, German weapons, mines and disarming them, street fighting, tactics, attacks, defences, slit trench digging, barbed wire handling and, most popular of all, learning how to ride motor cycles and drive army vehicles — and constantly attending lectures and studying.

It seemed that we had hardly arrived than the examinations were on us. Some familiar faces left us and the survivors went on a quick leave before reporting to the Royal Military College at Mons Barracks, Aldershot. Here we mixed with officer cadets of the Line Regiments, but all our NCO instructors were from the Brigade of Guards while each platoon of our intake Company received detailed instruction from a battle-experienced Guards Officer.

We now became acquainted with Regimental Sergeant-Major Brittain of the Coldstream Guards, larger than any of those previously met. We could not believe our ears when we heard him exclaim, "I've never seen anything like it in all me life!" It was like coming home again. He was reputed to have the loudest voice in the army. Nobody ever disputed the claim and his drilling of all the companies of the whole OCTU was an unforgettable event.

"BATT—ALLEE—UN—SHUN!" would be heard all over Aldershot. Then without fail would follow, "That third man from the left, centre rank of C Company, you are idle. Take his name, Sergeant, for being idle on parade." And the unfortunate individual 'lost his name'.

We were now kept busier than ever. We did so many exercises in attack and defence that we lost count, sometimes with other troops, tanks and aircraft while each of us, in rotation, held every position in the platoon. There were constant lectures and, sometimes we headed into the country in a long line of bicycles for a tactical exercise without troops (TEWTS, as they were called), where the instructor would put a military situation to us on the landscape and seek our solutions. For the final tests we went to Capel Curig, in Wales, and each of us in turn, as platoon commander, carried out attack after attack with live ammunition across the mountains of Snowdonia.

The results came out. Some, disappointed, were returned to their units, others referred back for a second time, others accepted by the Line Regiments of their choice, while a number declined by the Guards were granted commissions in the Line Regiments. The rest of us, both elated and relieved, were accepted in the Guards and spent the last few weeks with frequent trips to Saville Row to be measured for our uniforms by the approved tailor.

One day I received a letter from home and in it was a cutting from The Times. I read the words and was stunned, stunned into complete disbelief, hoping in a subconscious way that, by reading it again, all the words would disappear. It simply could not be true, but it was true right enough. I read them again, with increasing sorrow and grief and mounting rage. I looked away and then back again at the cruel words: I knew that I had to believe them.

MITCHELL; Peter Anthony Nicholds; MC; Lieutenant, The Rifle Brigade. Killed in Action in North West Europe, April 1945.

The BASTARDS! Bloody BASTARDS! Damnation to them! They had got Pan, Pan of all people, Pan the invincible, the happy-go-lucky nut. Oh, my God! What a loss!

For the rest of the day I walked as though in a dream. It took some time to face reality and return to normal. It took longer for the sad ache to go. The memory of him never has.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.