Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A posting to Elgin, Scotland.

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”.


  1. I like the bit of humour at the end. :o)
    What terrible conditions to live in... At least, Egypt would have been warmer!

  2. I was really interested in John's comments on Elgin camp
    I went thru basic sapper training about the same time.
    We arrived in early January and had not coal for the stoves in the huts.
    To get some action from the, couldn't care, NCO's and Officers we invited the Padre over for the evening. He froze along with ourselves.
    However, this did result in our ending up with a very small coal allowance.
    Also, in the winter of 1952 we experienced a very severe storm which damaged much of the camp.
    This only added to our discomfort.
    Wednesday afternoon we regularly went into Elgin, after sports, fo a 2 hour soaking in hot water at the Public Baths, followed by bacon, egg and chips at one of the greasy spoon cafe's.
    Regardless I enjoyed the training, and the folllow up at the School of Military Survey.
    Then 2 years of drinking beer in Germany.

    Larry Tasker

    Hillsboro Beach Florida &
    Mississauga Ontario

    1. Hello Larry.
      Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Elgin here. If my father had still been with us, he would have been delighted to hear of your experiences. I read your words to my mum instead and she remembered the tales my dad used to tell her about his time there.
      I did write two more posts about my Dad's time in Elgin. I'm not sure if you read these too: Comradeship in Camp you can see mentioned on the left hand side of the page under January and another, Peeling spuds in Elgin, filed under February.
      Thank you, once again, for sharing your stories. I'm chuckling at the clever way you managed to get more coal, and a plate of egg, bacon and chips would go down a treat just now!

  3. Hi Trish

    Thx for the comments on my addition to your site.
    Couple of observations to illustrate how life and the world move in mysterious ways.
    I am a snowbird and spend my winters in Florida (what a contrast to winter in Elgin).
    One of the other owners in my complexhere has Scotish roots.
    He has a brother who lives in Elgin and spends about a month each winter visiting his brother.
    In discussions with Scotish brother, who had no knowledge of on RE camp in Elgin, I have endeavored unsuccessfully to
    locate the old camp.
    I commenced researching the camp on the internet and found your fathers reflections on his days at sapper camp.
    Do you know the title of the facility? My memory is blank on the subject.
    You mention peedling spuds, I like your father, spent a bit time in the kitchen, which was much more pleasant than some of the other chores.
    Because I could not find a "profile" that I've used "Anonymous" but my email address is:
    It was my education by the powers at the Royal Engineers which result in a lifettime in construction- thank you the British Army for a very comfortable life.
    Again good talkiing with you.

    Larry Tasker

  4. After 3 years as an army apprentice followed by Sapper Training in 1951 at Malvern I was sent off to do a JNCOs Cadre at Elgin (8 Trg Regt RE, Pinefield Camp) We were there Jun to Sep and it was VERY hot the whole time. We spent our time on Combat Engineering, PT, Drill, Watermanship and Bridging (At Findhorn), Lecturettes etc. Weekends we danced in the Drill Hall at Cooper Park, lots of Scottish Dancing, the local lassies were super and all liked soldiers! Early September, Pass out Parade, appointed Lance Corporal and back to 1 Trg Regt RE as a Training NCO.