After two long weeks we were ready for our new postings. One contingent was shipped off to Egypt, an important base for British Forces protecting our interests in the Suez Canal and the Middle East. As for me, I had to wait another two weeks for a posting. Our group were not allowed to go outside the camp but with no more training we were instead given numerous jobs including catering, gardening and other ‘fatigues’. It felt like being in an open prison for a fortnight.
However the next time round I knew my fate – No 8 Training Regiment at Elgin, North of Scotland. We had to pack all our belongings into the kit bag, not an easy task. I discovered later the chap in the next bed had thrown some of his gear into my bag by mistake and I was piling mine on top. He must have had to fork out replacements when he got to his destination.
Dressed in best battle dress and armed with full kit and helmet, I was transported to the local railway station with a handful of other recruits to travel the 600 miles north, a trip with two connections and lasting several hours.
Elgin Camp was even more basic than Worcester with individual wooden huts and separate ablutions blocks. Approaching winter it was bitterly cold and windy due to the exposed North Sea coast. It was supposed to have its compensations because it did not have a reputation for excessive ‘bull’ associated with some other military establishments. As a centre for Field Engineering Elgin trained in harsher conditions, preparing soldiers for active service where conditions were likely to be severe. The main function of the Royal Engineers was to prepare the way for advancing armies with roads and bridges and to clear up afterwards with bomb disposal, demolitions and general mobilisation support. The Sappers were also expected to fight alongside the artillery and infantry as part of the mobile forces.
We were issued with 303mm rifles which added to the drill routines and maintenance of equipment. The rifle had to be kept meticulously clean and well-oiled. We were issued with a ‘pull-through’ and lubricating oil to keep the barrel and breach clean and free from rust, together with a bayonet kept in a sheath attached to our belts. A Sapper also had a knife, similar to a Swiss Army knife, attached to a lanyard around the waist. If any of these metal parts were rusty you would be put on a charge straight away.
I often recall a classic confrontation between an NCO and a recruit on parade when the recruit had mistakenly referred to his ‘gun’. “Remember laddie, this is your rifle, this is your gun: this is for fighting and this is for fun” he shouted, pointing at the young lad’s privates on the words 'gun' and 'fun'.
The NCO then shouted to everyone , “A soldier’s best friend is his rifle” before turning to another man and quickly asking him, “Who’s your best friend?” The reply came back, “Me mother, Corporal”.