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Memoirs of Gordie Bannerman

More Training in England

Here we were in a new country new customs, and all that went with it. The barracks were old as the devil. These barracks had been built probably almost a hundred years before, as the area around Aldershot was picked for the large tracts of land that could be used for training great numbers of troops. We had not been long in England when we were issued with 24 brand new 25 pounder guns, fresh from the manufacturer. Just before Christmas, we had a new Colonel. Our new colonel was Col. Ken Landers, who came to us from the 11th Army Field regiment. He was a very short man and had been in the permanent force. He was soon to make his presence known through his spit and polish. The regiment became Landers Lilies, a name most artillery men did not want to be tagged with. But over the years with the discipline, spit and polish, we were a terrific regiment.

The old barracks were actually filthy when you looked closely at them. Heated by tiny little coke fired fireplaces, the gunners were in the second storey of the barracks. On the ground floor, the guns were stored, and the gun tractors. A great paved parade square with barracks surrounding it. We soon found out all about the parade square, putting in many hours of both foot and gun drill. Guards were mounted here with loaded rifles.

In the barracks the gunners had a type of mattress that was in three sections. We called them biscuits. Some called them sons of biscuits. These biscuits were horrible things and dirty. The blankets had not been washed since the Boer war, causing the gunners to sleep in uniform or if they slept in their underwear it soon was coal black. Capt Floyd Brooks, on an inspection, thought the men were dirtier than pigs. But Vic McCarthy went to Capt. Brooks and said everything is so dirty the men have no choice but being filthy. Vic went on to say we have no soap, no scrub brushes, and on top of that the blankets are not fit for an animal. Capt Floyd Brooks apologized to the men. He had soap and scrub brushes issued and had the blankets washed.

Waterloo West Barracks, Aldershott.

In 1941, this was to be our second, but far from last, Christmas away from home. I think we received mail just before Christmas from home. I had already heard from my Grandmother in Scotland welcoming me to the British Isles, and my grandmother wrote my mother on my safe arrival, thankful that it was to Britain and not Hong Kong. Our Christmas dinner in the sergeants' mess was pretty good for all the shortages. One thing I remember was the amount of brussels sprouts. They were the green staple served almost on a regular basis, least it seemed so. Being young I ate everything.

Seeing I had all my relations in Scotland I was given leave before Christmas. Was I excited! I was on my way to Scotland, the birthplace of my parents. Train to London, then using the underground system to get across London, then a train to Aberdeen, arriving in the mid morning after a night's travel. What a thrill for me to finally meet real blood relatives. My mother had said goodbye to Grandma and Grandad only 22 years before as Mum and Dad left for Canada in 1919, just at the end of WWI, the war to end all wars, and here was their second oldest grandson back overseas to fight another war. I was to have many more trips to Scotland in the next two years, but I suppose non so memorable as meeting all my blood relatives for the first time.

Back in Aldershot we were very smart and soon we believed it. Our gun drill, foot drill, and walking out dress and general deportment was truly like a bunch of young strutting peacocks. Our average age was about 22 years old and most of us had never been so far away from home in our lives. Our guns were brand new 25 pounders complete with ammunition limbers and a Ford or Chev quad to pull it. The Quad was in effect the gun tractor and was a closed in vehicle that pulled the gun and trailer and seated the crew inside. The #1 was the gun sergeant and his position in travel was standing up through an open hatch exposed to the weather, not an enviable job on a rainy day, but a spot sought after by the crew when it was a nice day and they could look into the second story windows of the houses along the way. We only had the guns for a short period of time when the 24th gun in the regiment turned a corner too fast and overturned causing, a near court-martial for the Sergeant.

Gordie and his grandparents December 1941. Gordie and his Scottish cousins.

The next highlight of 1942 was the 17th Field Regiment RCA was to do the march past for their Majesties, King George and Queen Elizabeth. This was a great honour as we represented the whole division. An honour normally that would have gone to an infantry unit. This was May 24, 1942, and I had just returned from a leave to Scotland in time to borrow enough blancoed web equipment to wear on the parade. The actual march past went absolutely flawless, then the moment when their Majesties reviewed us, I was in the front rank and they passed along very close to us. The Queen stopped in front of me, but did not speak to me. I was going to wink at her, but did not have enough nerve to do so. They moved along until the end of our file, and here Her Majesty stopped and spoke to Sgt. Jack Parr and Sid Robertson. This resulted in some photos which were used in war bond drives. In fact I saw this same photo about twenty years ago on a Remembrance issue.

A 25 pounder on scheme.

England, 1942, was a year few of us in the regiment will ever forget. It brought so many changes in personnel and the high degree of training we were subjected to. It was out of this area that we operated until August, but we did many things in the interim. Sennybridge in Wales was quite an experience. Here in the Brecon hills we had live ammunition shoots. Some excellent and of course others needed more help. Here our observation officers had a good grounding observing the fall of shot as the area had so many false crests confusing even the best as it turned out when we went into action in January 1944. This training in the hills and valleys of Wales was a great benefit.

The 17th Field Regiment RCA was to do the march past in 1942 for their Majesties, King George and Queen Elizabeth.

Also Sennybridge firing ranges were under the control of the British who were going to get their roads built by anyone using the range. So all personnel were taken up into the hills and a British sergeant would step off so many paces and each man would have to excavate the grass and top soil down to the hard pan and carry this soil to the roadside. The first day, amidst quite a lot of grumbling, we dug and moved earth all day and it snowed a great deal. But we did it even though it took us all day. Drying out was important as we were back up on the hill the next day. Well Sid Robertson, a gun sergeant in E troop, said if we all work together we should dig the allotted amount in no time at all. Spirits were good and we went at the digging like crazy. How the earth just seemed to fly to the roadside. So about 1:00 p.m. we finished the allotment and over the protestations of the British we went back to camp.

Gordon, Gordie and Duke, August 1942.

Well that is not the way it is done in jolly old England. The camp commandant, a British Colonel, was furious that we had the audacity to return early in the day. Damn our ingenuity! It would be back in the hills tomorrow and not return until the proper quitting time according to the Brits. The next day we were told that no paces would be stepped off, just get your shovels and dig and dig until the until the correct quitting time. We were not going to take this lying down. We dug much slower giving the Brits fits. So here we were out all day and not as much accomplished. Again the camp commandant was furious, and our Colonel had a hard talk to us. Regardless, the Brits got their road dug and we did it our way. But our regiment did score high on the firing range which the Brits had to admit was excellent.

After a couple of weeks at Sennybridge, Wales we were told to clean all guns and equipment so they would be spotless. Well the mud of the hills of Wales was indeed the gumbo variety, stuck to everything. What a job it was to really clan them properly. On my crew I had some good thinkers, and the easy way must be the better way. Stan Gillespie and Gordie Matheson suggested we take the wheels off our gun and ammunition limber, thereby we could really get a good cleaning job. So I was the sergeant and said, “Let us do it.” We had just nicely started doing a great job when along came our Colonel Landers and the Camp commandant followed by major Bill Greenlay. Colonel Landers stopped at our scene of scrubbing guns and said, “Now Sgt that is using your head and getting things done in style.” I could feel the eyes of my fellow troop sgts. under breath saying that apple polisher and his crew.

Well we were feeling pretty good with the Colonel's kind comments. Soon as he passed Major Greenlay said, “What in hell are you trying to prove? Those wheels will fall off before we are fifteen miles down the road and I will check up on you all the way.” In other words he certainly threatened myself and my crew. The upshot was Stan and Gord and the other members said Sgt. these wheels will never fall off when we get through with putting them back on. Major Greenlay kept passing us more than once, mounted on a motor bike, checking on our wheels, also giving me the sign get up through the hatch into the driving rain. I must admit he went to a lot of trouble to prove a stupid point as the wheels stayed on. Thank goodness, as he would have liked to court-martial me if it could have been brought about. But remember, the Colonel was on my crew's side and Major Greenlay was not our major, but the 60th Battery Major. We all arrived back in Aldershot none the worse after digging roads and getting muddy in Wales.

Gordie Bannerman, Nels Humble, Stan Gillespie, Glen Cramer, Alec Clements and Gordon Matheson at Waterloo West barracks in 1942.

The winter and summer of 1942 were a steady diet of training and somewhere along here in the early part on 1942 I wrote an exam, as I had been selected as a candidate to become an officer. I did not pass the mathematics part of the exam, but I rated quite high that I could have gone for an infantry or service corps commission. Our battery major Boulter said it is up to you whether you make that choice. He then added, but we artillery officers lead a better life and you will get your chance again. Oh yes I was disappointed, but what the heck life must go on. I did write the officer exam once again and failed the math again. I stayed from day one with the unit until it disbanded. I have often thought it was my poor penmanship that caused the problem.

The regiment went from training areas and schemes all over the south of England. In August 1942 we were in an estate called Chapelwood Manor. We were here when the Dieppe raid was on. The Spitfires flew overhead towards the French coast all day. The noise of the guns and aircraft was something to remember. We did not know where or what really was going on until the next day or so when we were told the Canadian Second Division raided Dieppe. It was not long before we heard what an absolute disaster the raid was.

We were soon to hear who had taken part in the Dieppe raid. The South Saskatchewan Regiment was one of the regiments of the second Division participating. This battalion held special interest to many of us in the 17th RCA as we knew a lot of chaps in that unit. We really did not have any contact with these fellows that we knew until my birthday Sept 13, 1942. At this time Bill Davies, who had two brothers in the SSR, Orme Payne, his brother Kirk, and I were able to get a 48 hour pass to visit the SSR. On arriving at Horsham we went to the area of the SSR and located the Davies brothers and George Goldbeck. The Davies brothers certainly had some terrible stories about the raid and how they had survived through sheer will to live and being in good shape.

The 76th Battery Sergeants in Aldershot, 1942.

At Chapelwood Manor in the county of Sussex we felt much at home. We were billeted in Nissen huts scattered amongst the estate. The officers were billeted in the Manor where they had their sleeping quarters and mess. The camp also had a Sergeants’ and WOs’ mess. Many happy times were spent here. From this area we, as a Regiment, went to the salt flats at Lydd, an area where we did anti-tank shooting. Live rounds which instead of high explosive were AP, which was solid shot. It was an exhilarating experience to fire at targets being towed by cables in and out of the sand dunes. The gun sergeant observed the fall of shot and called corrections to his crew. I still feel the crack of the muzzle blast as I stood to the side of the gun. Stan Gillespie was my gun layer and I must confess I do not know how many hits we made. While at Nutley we started to do some coastal defence, and the regiment went one battery at a time to Brunswick Square in Hove right on the coast. Our turn was to come in the latter part of November.

Dagnall Dempsey was killed at Dieppe.

While at Hove, C.D. Howe, minister of National Defence Canada, was to visit the area. All Canadian units in the south east command were forming up at approximately the same time all over the area. We were lined up on one side of Brunswick Square when just over the waves came a cannon firing German plane! Those nearest the coast side saw this plane coming in so low they thought the fire from his cannon was the plane on fire. Floyd Brooks, then a Captain, said either take cover or scatter and we rushed into the doorways of our houses a spilt second before the plane roared over our heads. The cannon shells cracking into the pavement that we had just left. I have a piece of German 20mm cannon shell that I picked up from where I stood. Orme Payne was the nearest to the incoming plane and said he gave a warning yell also. The plane went up and over us and dropped a bomb a couple of streets over. None of us were hit, a miracle. Many sneaky German fighters came into the area that day. Their spies must have sent word out that troop concentrations were to take place and to get a crack at us.

Edyth Brown, Hec Beaton and Charlie Brown at Chapelwood Manor in 1984.

The aftermath of this sneak aerial attack was we counted noses and all survived. Here along the Hove Brighton waterfront is where this prairie kid enjoyed walking along the seawall especially if the waves were high and the spray flying. Nels Humble and I often walked along here at the close of day. Of course the beach and the famous pier were all closed and the beach mined and barbed wire along the seawall. Also here I was told in early December that I would be taking part in the 5th Division assault course. I started a bit of training by jogging and walking for miles along the waterfront through Brighton and on to another town east of there. Either just on our Batteries' return to Nutley, or just before, I reported to the Assault school which was held on the estate of Lord Abergavenny. This estate ran from inland right down to the coast. The Owner's insignia was a Bull's head with three links of chain marking his lane holdings.

A piece of German 20mm.

The first morning we were awakened by a terrific blast of explosive to sound reveille. Well it not only woke us up it blew down a couple of tents. The engineer sgt in charge of setting the blast got a bit carried away with the amount used. After a cold water wash and shave I went to run to breakfast and in my hurry I tripped in the blasted hole on the road ripping my hand open and filling the ripped wound with pieces of asphalt. These had to be extracted from under the tendons in my palm. Fortunately it healed nicely before the course had begun.

On arriving at the camp, all personnel newly arrived were taken by truck some six or seven miles away and unloaded. And at the starter's pistol we had to run back to where we had our tents. There were 150 of us that were on the run and some really fast moving chaps. We ran in ammunition boots shirts and gym shorts. I remember that I came in about 16th out of the 150, bloody good show I thought as it was up and down hill and quite muddy. This was just a sample what we would go through the next 20 days, and likely was the easiest. The next 20 days were something else. The B half of the group 75 of us were under Capt Mahony (winner in a couple of years of the VC in Italy at the Melfa River). In our section we had twelve or fourteen people. I did lose twenty pounds in 19 days and could run like a grey hound. I did not win the commando knife, but was written up in orders for a great showing at the assault course.

The assault course was quite an experience. Any of us artillery men especially from our unit were not going to be slackers and our attitude was out going and we certainly let everyone know that the course was not going to beat us. We tried to show the staff and all participants that the gunners were as tough, and could walk, run, and shoot and crawl through the mud filled culverts with the best of them. I must admit I was not the best at rope work like crossing a rock quarry hand over hand and feet hooked over the rope. A corporal Smith from the Westminster regiment was ahead of me on this crawl along the rope when I guess he passed out and fell face down into the rocks. This gave the rope a really hard whip and I could see that I could not continue so dropped to the ground with the instructor's voice yelling, "Move It! Get the hell going!", and I did. I did not see Smith again. He was picked up by the aid people, regained his health and returned to his unit.

Hoot Gibson and I usually paired up when it came to crawling under machine gun fire or any of the arduous tasks and we always volunteered to go first as that way we could sit and watch the other poor devils go through the hoops after us. If they were using snipers to fire as you crawled the fire lanes these snipers would get trying to see how many shots they could fire hitting sand bags along your route. Explosives, gas chamber, crawling through muddy water filled culverts, climbing up to a 20 feet height and as you went to jump over the water filled moat below you, the instructors blew it up in your face. The order was jump, and jump you did and all this stinking mud and water would come down on you. Then the order was run and run you did. Oh yes, some of it was fun alright and the groups were reduced each day with men not able to take the harassment or the actual hard work.

Another of the schemes was to take us out in a blackout truck for goodness knows how many miles, drop us off two at a time to live anyway we could and get back to our starting point without using any bus or railroad. Hoot Gibson and I teamed up and through good map reading were able to do all the points we were supposed to. A British artillery unit thought we were German spies and separated Hoot and I. They questioned Hoot and he soon proved who we were. Hoot bedded down in the officers' quarters and I in the sergeants' quarters. Both of us had been fed dinner and breakfast by this artillery unit. Good fellows. We made our way back to camp walking a fair distance and hitch-hiking the rest. We made our report out and had a good night's sleep ready for the next day of running and shooting.

I think the greatest fete that our section did was to march 43 miles in the one day, 26 miles during daylight hours and 17 miles after we had eaten that evening. We were the only section to do this and were wrote up a year later in the Toronto Star that wrote the article about Major Brady's school of hell or something. Oh yes, some of it was fun alright. My good friend Hoot Gibson won the commando knife for sheer determination and grit shown by him during the three tough weeks.

The Fifth Division Assault School was a school of hard knocks, and after the war many that took part in that school said that in actual combat they had never had to work as hard physically as when on the school. That may be so, but at least at the school you did not have the mental strain that you could be killed in the next moment. Least I did not. I had a couple of weekend passes to a place called Ewell. On the first pass I had a very bad Achilles heel tendon that was nearly crippling me. I was determined to make a good showing at the school and did not want to drop out. On the next weekend pass other ailments were put to rest and I continued the assault school to completion.

On the 43 mile march our section made, we noticed that Grouchy was limping badly. We stopped and had him take off his boot which was awash with blood. His heel looked like hamburger! What happened was the heel of his boot had come off and the long nails had come up into his heel. What a mess! The instructors suggested we leave him and send a truck for him. This was vehemently opposed by Grouchy. So with a bayonet the nails were pulled, heelless boot put back on and away we went as Grouchy said, “we all started together and we finish together.” I saw Grouchy later as a sergeant in the Hitler Line, and once again as a company quarter master Sgt on the Gothic Line. Grouchy was killed on the Gothic Line.

Blackie Rowe of the Perths who distinguished himself throughout the Italian campaign was also an assault school friend. Blackie was decorated with the DCM in Italy. A prestigious award for leading a bayonet charge.

After the assault school was over all sergeants returned to our unit. We were expected by the Colonel to pass on our newly acquired skills to the rest of the regiment. This I'm sure did not win us too many popularity votes as we were in good condition and could run and climb hills, shoot from the hip whether rifle, Tommy gun or Bren gun. Also we took troops on night map reading hikes. This was quite a good training for all. We had a time limit also. We had to pass in the dark certain check points, that Sgt Stickney and I made as good a time as any with E troop and found all the check points.

Soon it was our second Christmas away from home. Christmas 1942 was to be spent at Chapelwood Manor in Sussex. If at Christmas 1942 we could have looked in the future it would have told us that we were going to Italy in 1943 and Stickney would be wounded and the war over for him in August 1944. Our stay at Chapelwood Manor was a great place where we sergeants of 76th Battery really bonded. It was a comradeship that has lasted since then and still gives an indescribable feeling for each other. We had great humour, no jealousy, a tight knit band of friends closer than brothers.

Assault school survivors 37 years later.

The remaining time spent at Chapel wood Manor was busy. More range shooting, long schemes with various titles Spartan, Gunbuster, and digging gun pits where allowed, and the filling them in. Good practice they thought. Well all this digging certainly was our advantage when we went into action. We did not have much time to do much except move around the country, fire and movement. Just after Christmas I was in our sick bay with a high fever. Well a couple of German fighter planes skimmed overhead and I guess the pilot noted some army vehicles on the ground, or our huts whatever at the speed he was going. He fired his cannon hitting a barn down the road and killing a cow. No one hurt amongst us.

Orme Payne, Bill Stickney, Gordie Bannerman and George Cooper at the Chapelwood Manor in 1942.

Soon our Chapelwood Manor stay came to a close with the regiment being escorted through London on a very strict plan. No stopping for anything, just keep going and get through the city. It was through London and on to Norfolk to the 76th Battery destination. The village of Attleborough, a great spot, but again we were really too busy to enjoy it. The remaining time in this area went fast, many schemes, Rabbit, Hardtack, Grizzly. With a scheme called Snaffle with the Polish armoured division. Ending with the regiment moving to Windy ridge in the Winchester area.

E troop decorated a gun tractor like a horse and fitted an ammunition trailer up with a seat for Major HE Brown and his new bride, a Canadian nursing sister. They rode in style fitting for a bride and groom with an artillery regiment. 2.

Winchester area was a hutted camp called immediately Windy Ridge. This camp was in the water shed area for Winchester, so the rule was that all refuse, human and other wise, had to be burnt. Now that unenviable task of shit burning fell on a few of our people, who will remember that forever. At this site we found some edible mushrooms and I remember cooking up a great batch of these. Of course we had a few drinks to wash the mushrooms down.

During our stay at Chapelwood Manor Orme, Bob, Bill and I were to meet some really nice girls Gwen, Sadie, Daphne, and Gwendolin and another girl Chris.

August past and in September we went on a unit censorship exercise called Harlequin. Our vehicles were water proofed, so you can imagine the wild rumours that were going around. The end of it was we were marched to the dock, I believe at Southampton, saw a boat and that was it. No trip just an exercise. We had a few hours to relax and wait for transport back. When the sirens wailed and the coastal anti-aircraft guns started to fire, we could only see about two or three contrails seemingly miles in the air. After a jolly good amount of shots, we saw a small blaze away up in the sky and this looked just like someone had struck a match it was so far away. Pretty soon this faint object started to fall earthward. The guns stopped firing and around us we heard the AA gunners cheering. It took for ages for the stricken plane to fall. The next day the papers came out that a German Observation plane had been shot down from a record height of some 37,800 feet - over seven miles overhead. Never before had the Brits ever hit a plane at that height.

From Windy Ridge, we went on many firing exercises back to Sennybridge in Wales, Alfriston, and Larkhill, all firing ranges. Mainly we did a lot of digging gun pits and slit trenches. Of course we had to fill them in too. Colonel Armstrong seemed to enjoy our digging, as he ordered it. In October we moved to Heathfield, and were told we would be going to Ireland to train with the Yanks and use their equipment. Turn in our guns that we had grown to love? Oh yes a gunner loved the 25 pounder. It was a great gun. We were issued with tommy guns instead of Stenguns, and with this we were sure that we would soon hit all American equipment. On October 25th we began exercise Timberwolf, entraining for Liverpool. Here we were to take off for Ireland through the same port that we had landed almost two years before.

While in Winchester, the 17th Field Regiment staged an all ranks dance which only our regiment chaps could attend. This was a problem to keep other troops out of the dance and a few scuffles at the door and while our chaps were trying to escort the girls home.

Italy and into Action
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