Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Long and the Short and the Tall

The arrival in the post of my instructions to report to Norton Camp, together with a travel warrant to Worcester, sealed my fate and with much trepidation I caught the train from Peterborough but not before receiving a full family send-off from the station platform.  Only my father would have known what I was in for but apart from a few chosen words he kept his thoughts to himself.  Mother and Betty would have been emotional.

Once on the train I had a chance to prepare myself for the experience which was, after all, one of many thousands of 18 year old inductions into the armed services that day.  There must have been a few others on the same train but if there were they were similarly deep in thought with no desire for conversation.  Arrival at Worcester station was a bit of a blur but “the long and the short and the tall” were soon handed in to the back of army trucks known as TCVs (Troop Carrying Vehicles) and whipped off to the barracks to begin two weeks basic training.

Soon after arrival we were marched to the Quartermaster’s store to be fitted out with a range of kit from underpants to greatcoats, boots to bedlinen, socks, shirts, berets and steel helmets, not to mention a sewing kit (known as a housewife), eating irons (knife, fork and spoon) and a tea mug.  All this had to fit into one standard issue kit bag.  Laden with kit, after signing for it, we were directed and escorted to our billet; a wooden hut.

My memory of this camp, a Royal Engineers’ Training Camp which specialised in certain skills loosely connected with Engineering, was repeated in subsequent establishments over the next two years.  It was practice to build military camps on a standard format and layout since WW1 and many buildings dated back to that period.  Living quarters were usually built in timber, grouped around a central “ablutions block”.  It was known as a spider because it had a central core with six legs.  Operational buildings were built of brick with corrugated asbestos sheet roofing.  The focal point of all camps was the parade ground (square) surrounded by the Guard Room and Reception building, administration block, drill shed, QM stores (including the armoury) and main cook-house.  Further back were the medical block, Sergeants Mess, Officers Mess and the inevitable NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute).  Each camp would also contain a military vehicle compound “Motor Transport Depot”.  Beyond that, on the perimeter of the camp, were various open areas used for military training.

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