Friday, February 24, 2006

Early Army Days, October 1942

Photo shows: Page from my AB64 showing my various 'jabs'.

The long awaited buff envelope had arrived on our doormat a fortnight before informing me that I had been called up into His Majesty's Army and that I was to report to the Beds and Herts Infantry Training Regiment at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.

The Army had thoughtfully provided a railway ticket (ominously a single, one way only) and on arriving at Bury St.Edmunds we were met at the station by a three ton lorry, our first acquaintance with this favoured form of military transport.

We got to the barrack gates, dismounted and formed up into ragged ranks for identification against a master roll on a clipboard held by a very important looking sergeant.
Allocated to various platoon numbers we then marched through the barracks to a series of catcalls coming from young men in denim uniform lining our route.
"Go home while you can you stupid b******s!" was but a mild example of what we were subjected to and it was only weeks later that we realised the troops who 'gave us the bird' on our entry into camp had only themselves been in the army for two weeks and that this was a favourite pastime every Thursday lunch time when the new intake arrived at the Depot.

On this Thursday however I was not to know about such things and found myself looking around me and absorbing like a piece of blotting paper all the atmosphere of an army camp in wartime.

We were marched around the perimeter of a large parade ground getting various items of kit on the way and were eventually broken into squads of about twenty strong and allocated to squad leaders. My particular squad leader was a sergeant, looking as tough as old nails. He marched us to our barrack hut and then gave us a short lecture based roughly on the "You play ball with me and I'll play ball with you" syndrome. He then told us to fall out and get our gear into the hut.

As luck would have it, I was the last person to file into the hut, and found my way impeded by what looked like a pair of size ten army boots worn by this imposing sergeant. "Your name's Goldstein, isn't it?" he demanded. "Jewish, aren't you?" he continued. Everything I had ever imagined concerning anti-Semitism immediately came to mind and with much misgivings I promptly replied "So what!"
"Don't be a bloody idiot," he replied, "My name's Kusevitsky!" (or some such equally Jewish sounding name).

Within seconds he had established the fact that my new comrades would soon find out that their Platoon Commander was Jewish, and therefore in order to avoid complaints of favoritism he would have to be extra tough with me during training, but that I should understand the motives behind it and ignore the harassing. When the course eventually finished we had a drink together and had some fun out of the situation.

The six weeks primary training passed in a flash, my main memories of this period being those of inoculations, usually performed three at a time and the strange diet.My new found friends soon discovered that I couldn't eat bacon and used to arrange to sit next to me in the dining hall.
Once we'd had our jabs and had learnt how to look reasonably presentable in uniform we were allowed to go into town in the evening and we used to swagger there in groups of about six strong.

We learnt very quickly that the cheapest place to get a meal off duty was at the Y.M.C.A or the Salvation Army, affectionately known as the Sally Ann and we all became heavy smokers, lung cancer not having even been heard of in those heady days.

Whilst at Bury St. Edmunds we were given various psychological tests and apparently it was discovered that I had an aptitude for reading Morse code for when the course finished and the 'postings' were put up on the camp notice board I found that I had been transferred to a Royal Artillery Driver/Wireless Operator training unit in Whitby, in Yorkshire.

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