Second World War: Memoirs

JOE BROWN of Peebles

IN LATE 1938 the Peeblesshire Advertiser where I worked as an apprentice compositor carried an announcement inviting young men in Peebles to see The Gap, a propaganda film seeking to show what would happen to British cities in the event of a German air attack. Organised by Colonel William Thorburn, DSO, the last of the First World War Battalion Commanders of the 8th Battalion The Royal Scots, he told us he was trying to get the War Office to re-form the 8th Royal Scots as a Territorial battalion and to support him many present signed an undertaking to join. To honour that commitment, I became a Territorial Army soldier in May 1939, aged 18 (born 22 March 1921).

Joe Brown 1939 in Dress Uniform

1939. Dress uniform. Note sling with the gas mask worn
at the back. Also, it was
compulsory to carry steel
helmets. We wore heavy boots
not shoes.

Attending training camp that year was a dreadful experience. July 1939 was a very wet month and produced a quagmire of mud throughout the large tented area which accommodated 1,500 men of the 7th/9th and 8th Royal Scots camping in several fields in Strathpeffer (a small spa town with sulphurous springs in Ross and Cromarty in the North of Scotland). Pathways had to be covered each day with fresh straw, the material you had to collect and use to fill a palliasse (an under-mattress) and this with three blankets was a soldier's bed. The abultions were in an open area and had a large wooden bench with several cold water taps and a collection of tin basins. The primitive toilets were on the edge of the camp behind canvas screens, and consisted of a wide slit trench with a single wooden pole over it and you had to keep your balance or you would end up in the mess below! The rain was incessant and the mud so intolerable that it was decided to move the whole of the camp to higher ground. There were fatigue (working) parties galore as we took down the bell tents and marquees and re-erected them in their new location.
Despite the sea of mud, you had to keep your web equipment clean by wetting it all over with a dusty green khaki blanco. After hanging it up to dry, there followed a longish period sitting on your mattress in the crushed atmosphere of a small bell tent polishing brass buckles and end-pieces whilst carefully keeping metal polish from staining your newly-cleaned webbing. It was not the simplistic webbing introduced early in the Second World War with two Bren-magazine pouches but the style used in 1914-18 with several small pockets to store point-303 ammunition, each with a fastener to be polished. It was not the easiest of jobs, but needed to be done for the next day's inspection.


Page Links ~ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20,

21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30,

31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43,

44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50 Index