The Argyll and Sutherland
Bury St. Edmunds
1956 - 1958
All photographs are the property of RHQ Argylls and may not be reproduced or copied without permission from RHQ Argylls.
It was at the end of July that Colonel Nasser announced his intention of nationalising the Suez Canal. The Advance Party moved from Berlin to Bury St. Edmunds on 22nd July under Major Gray to begin taking over Blenheim Camp. The hand-over in Berlin to 1st Bn The Royal Welch Fusiliers was dragging some-what laboriously to its end in Berlin, when orders were received that the Battalion was to be in Bury St. Edmunds by 7th August (five days earlier than planned), and was to be brought up to war strength by some 200 reservists, and would be ready at six days' notice to move to the Middle East. These orders began a period of intense activity and much uncertainty. The Battalion arrived at Harwich and was met by General MacMillan, Major General Churcher (3 Division), our new Divisional Commander, and Brigadier Grimshawe (19 Brigade), our new Brigade Commander. General MacMillan, in a short address, welcomed the Battalion, expressed his confidence in our ability to carry out with credit any tasks allotted to us, read a message from the Colonel-in-Chief, and wished us good fortune.
Blenheim Barracks was a nom de plume for the normal war-time hutted camp to which the battalion were condemned. There was no time for settling in, stores, vehicles, equipment and ammunition had to be collected from all over England. Reservists were welcomed, vaccinated, inoculated, equipped and, in general, went to the jobs they had occupied some six to eight months before. Order was just beginning to appear out of chaos when the C.O. announced that everyone could snatch five days leave.
On return from leave, activity was, if anything, intensified, and training got under way. During this time 19th Infantry Brigade had been formed from 1st Bn The Royal Scots coming south from Elgin and 1st Bn The West Yorkshire Regiment coming over from Northern Ireland. The Pipes and Drums were recalled from the Edinburgh Tattoo, and all the battalion’s vehicles left fully loaded at 3 a.m. one Monday morning for Cardiff. After the vehicles had gone a period of marching and shooting followed. Support Company were intent on showing the battalion that vehicles were unnecessary and that a 3-inch mortar was a one-man load. No sooner had we lost all our vehicles, stores, equipment, etc., when tension relaxed and a virtual stand down was sounded; short leave started, as did a further period of intensive training with weekly Battalion exercises, culminating in a test exercise set for the Battalion by Brigade. This was so skilfully executed by the Colonel and all ranks, that the enemy only escaped immediate destruction by the intervention of the Umpires.
The only break in this period was a trip to Woolwich to watch the Battalion football team defeat the King's Troop R.H.A. by 3 goals to 0 in the second round of the Army Football Cup. Support Company defeated H.Q. Company of The West Yorks in the final of the Brigade Inter-company football competition. Balaclava Day was celebrated by a full-scale Battalion Church Parade, held in the very fine Church of St. Mary. The Colours were carried by 2nd Lt. Wilson and 2nd Lt. Short. The Mayor and Corporation were invited to take sherry in the Officers' Mess afterwards. The battalion was glad of this opportunity to show our appreciation of the hospitality and friendliness extended to the whole Battalion in Bury St. Edmunds.
Then all of a sudden the six days' notice disappeared overnight, and 48 hours later found the battalion embarking on the H.T. "Dilwara" at Southampton. Captain Williams was still the master and there were also other members of the ship's company who had brought the battalion back from British Guiana only two years previously. Fine weather made the lot of everyone tolerable. We were all very crowded, 2,000 troops occupied space normally allotted to 900, but there was always something to keep us interested. A stop at Gibraltar gave us the chance of buying presents from Bum Boats. Allan Gilmour and Philip Mitford of The Seaforth were out in boats to give us a wave. Next stop was Malta, where we went into Grand Harbour to have our engine sorted. We saw H.M.S. "Eagle" with her operational load and H.M.S. “Theseus" come in with the first casualties from Port Said.
After leaving Malta secret orders were read, and Limassol in Cyprus proved to be our next port of call, where a company of Pioneers was unloaded under considerable difficulties, due to the heavy swell. The battalion arrived off Port Said at dawn on 14th November, where there was a tremendous array of Naval and Merchant vessels. It was not long before the Battalion was tumbling down scramble nets, jumping over the side and throwing baggage on to the decks of H.M.S. " Suvia," a tank landing craft. During this time the C.O. and his " 0" Group made an even more hazardous transfer into an assault landing craft and set off to find the form ashore. The Battalion disembarked in the afternoon at Port Said, got into transport, and established itself in a damaged block of flats on the western edge of the town.
Return to Bury St. Edmunds. On the 22nd of December, at about 1800 hours the battalion commenced its withdrawal from the Company positions direct to the ship. H.M.T. Asturias, which was lying in the harbour, almost opposite the statue of De Lessees. There were no particular problems about the move, and the ship sailed about 2230 hours. With the exception of short calls at Cyprus and Malta, Asturias made all possible speed for home and very nearly managed the impossible — " HOME FOR HOGMANAY." In fact, if it had not been for a heavy sea which prevented the ship from getting into Southampton, the battalion would have been able to catch a train for Scotland on the night of the 30th December. As it was. thanks to the very good arrangements made for the battalion’s arrival in Bury St. Edmunds, 24 hours after disembarking most of the Battalion were in Scotland.
On return from leave the battalion started a tremendous spring cleaning, not only in administration matters but also in our training. A series of Cadres was held which left Companies with no Officers, very few N.C.O.s, and jolly few men. However, they have all survived, and in the coming year will no doubt be glad of this intensive training period. The administrative problem was intensified by the very large number of forms which were required by higher authority. The Quartermaster's Staff, assisted by a board of officers under Captain Ritchie, worked overtime to produce this mass of paper.
On the 11th and 12th February the battalion celebrated the raising of the Regiment. On the 11th February a guest night was held in the Officers' Mess which was attended by the Colonel of the Regiment, Colonels Roper Colbeck and Snowball and Major Fanshawe. On the 12th February a parade was held in Blenheim Camp. when General MacMillan addressed the Battalion; he then took the salute at a march past on the camp square. After the parade the Battalion marched to St. Mary's Church in Bury St. Edmunds, where a service was held, on the return journey it marched past the Mayor, watched by a very large crowd of local people.
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Lt.-Col. Pearson said good-bye to the Battalion on the 28th February. A parade was held, and his farewell was conducted in the traditional manner with his car being pulled through the camp by members of the Sergeants' Mess. Lt.-Col. Pearson took over command of the Battalion in 1954, when the battalion were stationed in British Guiana, and there is no doubt that during his three years of command the Regiment experienced a most interesting and eventful period. He his place we welcome Lt.-Col. C. P. Anderson, whom there is no need to introduce, as he has been with the Battalion for the last three years. We wish him a successful period of command and hope that it may be just as eventful as his predecessor's.
At the beginning of April the battalion ran a Digging Cadre for NCOs and men from all Sections, to teach them how to dig the new atomic trenches and shelters. The digging was carried out by day and night in a nearby training area. Much good work was done by Lieut. McKay and Sgt. French, although we believe that much of Sgt. French's time was spent in chasing small children away who wanted to play " Cowboys and Indians." An Inter-Company Patrol Competition was held on 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th April. This was most excellently carried out by all Companies, and there is no doubt that training for this competition laid the foundation for our first-class patrolling in June. B Coy. (Lieut. Lorimer) won the competition, but there was very little to choose between the patrols. From 15th to 22nd April an Officers' Week was run for all Junior Officers. The course included such subjects as Infantry/Tank Co-operation, Field Artillery, T.E.W.T.S., Skeleton Exercises, etc. Coming soon after the Officers' Admin. Fortnight in March it proved extremely useful for our training in June, and, indeed, for the Cadet Camp which followed. The champion Company Competition was concluded on 18th May when the Drill Competition was held. The results were very close, and, in fact, depended on the Drill Test which H.Q.(1) Coy. won and so narrowly defeated B Coy.
A Blood Donor Unit from Cambridge visited the Battalion on 12th April, and was delighted to find that ever 170 officers, n.c.o.s and men had volunteered to give blood. One man. in fact, gave two pints — by mistake! Having given one pint, he was walking across the room to the rest centre when he was met by a nurse, who, thinking he had just arrived, put him on another bed and proceeded to extract another pint of blood.
During the whole of April the battalion shooting team had been practising for the Divisional Rifle Meeting which took place on 28th/30th April at Colchester. The results of the meeting are given elsewhere, but the whole team, and C.S.M. Mullen in particular, must be congratulated on a most excellent show. At the end of April the team did extremely well in the East Anglian District Competition and came away with most of the silver. We used this competition as a trial match for Bisley, which took place from 26th June to 6th July. The result at Bisley was not as good as expected, but at least we got in the prize lists, and, in addition, our team, especially the young soldiers, gained valuable experience for the future.
Various Photos from Bury St. Edmunds, if you have any others please e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
On 21st May the battalion received a visit from our new Divisional Commander, Major-General Gordon Lennox. There was no ceremony as he merely wished to see the Battalion carrying out their daily training. He took lunch with the Officers and left about 1500 hrs. after a very satisfactory day.
During the week 20th/27th May, an Advance Party, consisting of C Coy. and detachments from all other Companies, proceeded to Stanford to start erecting the Battalion camp. On 29th May the remainder of the Battalion proceeded to camp by march route. Bn. H.Q. led the way, and an interesting and amusing sight was CRUACHAN in his undress uniform — battle order — marching behind the pipers.
The whole of June was spent in training in the Stanford P.T.A. It would have been better to have spent more time in Section and Platoon training, but there is no doubt that the battalion was on the right lines as was proved by the efforts in the Brigade Exercise. This turned out to be 1st A. & S.H. v. 1st West Yorks, and the facts are that the battalion won by a decisive knock-out.
The exercise began on the afternoon of Sunday, 16th June, and finished the following Friday morning. It was planned to exercise ourselves and our " enemies," the 1st Bn., The West Yorkshire Regiment, in digging nuclear defensive positions, patrolling and mounting a nuclear attack on the information given by the patrols. As attachments we had one troop of 8 Royal Tanks, one troop of 37 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, a platoon of 74 Coy., R.A.S.C., and a section of 5 Field Ambulance. The exercise started with the Battalion moving out to a disused airfield at Great Massingham, about 15 miles north of Stanford P.T.A., there to await instructions from Brigade. These arrived about 2000 hrs., and a plan was drawn up to send B Coy. into a forward position at 0900 hrs. the following morning. This was the earliest hour at which we were allowed to send troops into the area. Their task was to set up a mobile base from which to send small recce patrols deep into enemy territory, at the same time providing a defensive screen against counter-patrolling. All went according to plan, and by evening all Companies were in position. B Coy. patrols had been despatched, some to stay out for 24 hours, some for 48 hours, and a mobile base close to the " cease fire" line had been set up. During the night C and D Companies began their digging, and defence stores in vast quantities were delivered by the R.A.S.C. Bn. H.Q. was established and in the Command Post there was a tense atmosphere of expectation. At last the 24 hours were up and the patrols returned, all bringing important information. Their mobile base personnel were complaining of mosquito bites, but carrying out their task, maintaining a defensive screening so efficiently that by Tuesday we had had several " enemy" prisoners through our hands. One prisoner, a West Yorkshire Subaltern, was found to be carrying a Company Nominal Roll and a map with the complete West Yorkshire positions on it!
On Wednesday evening the battle picture had altered, and C Coy., having completed one forward Company defensive position, vacated it to permit B Coy. to withdraw into it in the event of an attack. They withdrew to Bodney Lodge and started again. B Coy. had been having a large number of encounters with the enemy, all of which had proved successful, and on the information brought back by their patrols it was clear that the enemy had had to change their original positions completely. Instead of defending the area to our right front, they had moved, after starting to prepare one defensive position, over to our centre and left front. It was clear from questioning the prisoners that their morale was low and their appreciation of our positions hazy and inaccurate, while our appreciation of their positions, by Wednesday evening, had reached as far as platoon level. We considered that we had won the recce for information, none of our patrols having been captured, and this was confirmed by the arrival of a warning order from Brigade instructing us to be prepared to mount a nuclear attack on the Friday morning.
The Company defensive positions were well in hand and each brought in its share of prisoners. Fighting patrols, which in the early stages had been forbidden, were now going out from all Companies, and, succeeding in their missions, were adding to the number of prisoners already in our hands. Some of these prisoners, in particular one Subaltern, had been in our hands only one day previously and had, on being sent to Brigade H.Q., been returned to their unit. Sgt. Saunders, tired of repeatedly chasing barefooted Subalterns trying to escape, incarcerated all above the rank of Corporal in a trench which closely resembled the " Black Hole " of Calcutta. By now the " enemy " had come to show us more respect and to take more care in their patrolling, but having taken 57 prisoners we were growing rather confident and earning a reputation for ruthlessness with the " enemy." This reputation was such that one Subaltern, trying to avoid 2nd Lt. Fletcher's platoon in Tottington, jumped into a stream only to find himself quickly immersed in the murky water by six brave men of B Coy. On Thursday the Commanding Officer became a "casualty" and departed for more exalted places. Major Slessor formed his plan and orders for a nuclear attack were given out at 1700 hrs. The bomb was to be exploded close to the main enemy position, and a rapid follow up with tanks and artillery support was to be made three hours after dawn on the following day. By this ruse we hoped to catch the enemy out of their trenches having breakfast. At 0660 hrs. in the morning the bomb exploded and the attack began. There was almost disaster. One tank on which a platoon of C Coy. were riding slid off the road at a corner, and a Stuart gun tower, in trying to avoid it, went off the road on the other side and jack-knifed its 17-pounder into the back of a champ. Miraculously there were no casualties. The attack continued, but before even the first phrase had been completed it was brought to a halt by the umpire and the exercise was declared closed.
Having completed its training the battalion started immediately to erect a Cadet camp. Over 4,000 boys attended the camp and the total tentage required was 1,800—all sizes and shapes. Some of the other problems were the four Officers' Messes and two Sergeants' Messes which had to be staffed and run by the battalion. In the cookhouses we were fortunate to have the help of 150 A.C.C. cooks, but the task of getting over 2.000 boys through one cookhouse four times a day gave us plenty of headaches.
The C.C.F. contingents were divided into two main parties, Red Regiment (Major Spens) and Blue Regiment (Major Cookston), and sub-divided into four camps to each Regiment. The planning and layout of the camp. the detailed organisation for the issue of the vast quantities of stores, and the day-to-day running of the camp proved an immense task, but by general consent the most difficult job was the winding-up of the camp on 7th August. No rear parties were left behind and the majority of the contingents had left by 1000 hrs. The amount of work that went on between the early reveille and 1000 hrs. was fantastic, but somehow it worked, and the stores are all back—more or less complete. Having completed this gigantic task we would have been pleased to strike camp and silently steal away. However, the 44 Para. Bde. (T.A.) moved in almost straight away, and we are having the additional complication of having to hand over to them almost before we have completed the checking of stores taken over from the Cadets.
After sending all the Cadets home and tidying up Buckenham Tofts Camp, the Battalion then proceeded on 14 days' well-deserved leave. From the number of extremely complimentary letters subsequently received from Cadet Officers there is no doubt that the camp was a great success. On return to Bury St. Edmunds after leave the Companies had a short spell in the Stanford Training Area in preparation for Divisional Training. This period finished with a Battalion withdrawal exercise over a long distance and included a night move in M.T., all of which went very well.
On 26th September the Battalion proceeded to Salisbury Plain by R.A.S.C. transport, staying the night at Aldershot and arriving at Tidworth on 27th September. By a tremendous coincidence the battalion were billeted in Lucknow Barracks where the 1st Battalion was stationed from 1935-37. The barracks and the whole area are now very dilapidated and rather sad, especially to those who knew them in the days of Boss McKay and Jimmy Cowan. However, it was still better than tents and we all enjoyed our stay very much. The Divisional Exercise consisted of a Brigade attack on our Brigade (two Battalions only) from the West, along a fairly narrow neck of land towards Tidworth. The exercise was carried out twice, in the first place by the Guards Brigade and secondly by Brigadier Bernard Fergusson's Brigade. All ranks enjoyed it fairly well, although there was not nearly enough to do. There is no doubt, however, that the battalion acquitted itself well as it got a very good "mentions" in the post mortems. Before leaving Tidworth mention need be made of a most excellent cocktail party which was held during the break between the two exercises. It was held in the Officers' Mess (a H.Q. wing Barrack room in 1935), suitably converted by a couple of camp following wives, Padre Wright and a few willing helpers. Among those who came and enjoyed themselves were Brigadier Grimshaw, John Fanshawe, Tony Lithgow (Black Watch), lan McKillop, and Mrs. Dorothy McDonald (widow of our late Padre).
On 25th October the battalion celebrated Balaclava Day. The Battalion Parade was taken by Brigadier Graham, whom we were all very pleased to see again. During the inspection of the Battalion it was evident, from the cant of a bonnet or the setting of a sporran, he has not lost his "Adjutant's Eye.'' At the Church Service held afterwards we were most fortunate and proud to have the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Dr. George McLeod, who preached a stirring sermon on " The Thin Red Line." The celebrations continued with a football match in the afternoon, an other ranks' dance in the N.A.A.F.I., and an Officers' guest night in the evening.
The next big event was the Annual Administrative Inspection, which took place on 31st October. At 0900 hrs. Major-General Gordon Lennox and his team of Staff Officers arrived to "look" the battalion over. The inspection went on well into the afternoon, but except for the case of the fried (! !) smoked salmon there were no complaints. The Battalion has had a particular busy year with very little time for drill and other preparations for the Administrative Inspection. It is, therefore, most encouraging to find that it did well and got a very good report.
On 15th November the Battalion celebrated Lucknow Day by a parade in the morning and an Officers' ball in the evening. General Sir Gordon MacMillan took the parade, and stirred evgeryone with his kind words and his good wishes for the future. After the parade the Colonel of the Regiment visited the Corporals' and Sergeants' Messes and met all N.C.O.s in the Battalion. The Officers' ball in the evening was a most splendid success, and our grateful thanks were due to Major Spens and his very able Committee. All the guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves and the end came all too soon for everyone.
December that battalion went on block embarkation leave prior to the move to Cyprus. 7th January the battalion returned from leave to Blenheim Camp to pack kit and clean the camp ready for handover. 21st January the battalion left Bury St Edmunds for Liverpool and embarked on the HMT Devonshire for the trip to Cyprus.
Source - Thin Red Line Magazines
Cyprus 1958 - 1959
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Updated: 16 March 2015