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A Shout From The Attic: To War And Arms I Fly

...Our workshop heads were all first class warrant officers - Artificer Sergeant Majors - the most unsoldierly group of soldiers in the British Army. Dishevelled properly describes their dress and deportment when on duty.

They were not engaged for their military skill, but for their mechanical and electrical skill, and they were chock-full of knowledge and incredible abilities...

Ronnie Bray recalls a happy army posting.

To read earlier episodes of Ronnie's gloriously readable autobiography please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Every place I was posted was in the grips of ‘getting a grip’.
This did not make things any worse, but was a constant necessity in order to keep things just as bad as they were.

REME Workshops, Number Eleven, was at Sudbury, in Staffordshire, a few miles away from what had been Rolls Royce’s airfield that was commandeered during the War and neglected to be de-commandeered afterwards. That was the site of our soft skinned vehicle workshops. The camp itself was on a short but steep hillside that ran out into a level plain after about two hundred yards. It was a good place. Naturally, as we arrived they were getting a grip, but that apart, it was a good posting. Initially I worked on soft skinned, or, in military terms ‘B’ vehicles. These are non-armoured vehicles used to carry goods and personnel.

The workshop was a large shed into which perhaps as many as thirty or forty vehicles were taken for repair, or to be made ready for general service. Our workshop heads were all first class warrant officers - Artificer Sergeant Majors - the most unsoldierly group of soldiers in the British Army. Dishevelled properly describes their dress and deportment when on duty.

They were not engaged for their military skill, but for their mechanical and electrical skill, and they were chock-full of knowledge and incredible abilities. One was noted for his constant drunkenness and his ability to hand file a lathe bed when inebriated. It appeared that his habit did not interfere with his duties and so he was permitted to escape the usual penalties. They were easy to work for, because they were not soldier-hearted. Nevertheless, in tight corners they carried themselves well and demanded a high standard of work. I did my best.

There was a rumour that the REME was granted battle honours for pulling artillery out of the range of the enemy, but this is not so because the REME is not granted Battle Honours. Even so, REME personnel have been present at every major battle and campaign since 1942, including those where battle honours were presented to infantry and armoured regiments. We were regularly reminded that we were soldiers first and craftsmen afterwards. They said the same thing to bandsmen, but I don’t know if musicians believed it any more than we did.

Our shortcomings, such as they were, were most definitively highlighted when we tried to weld a new bottom into an aluminium kettle. We learned mostly through our mistakes, and these were legion.

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