Chapter 15

Men Took Second Place to Horses

Redford Barracks proved an ideal place to train in and was especially a comfortable place to live in. The food was very good, with an early 'cuppa' before roll call, porridge, bacon, rolls and tea or cocoa with a bun for supper.

As a gunner, much of my time was spent learning all about the eighteen-pounders, various kinds of ammunition and fuses, map reading, signalling by morse and flag. There were visual aid instruction on manoeuvres, gun positioning and aiming.

Gunners had to pass through the riding school. For days I could hardly sit. My bottom ached with riding bareback. I had many a tumble and knocked out both elbow joints, but in the end I could take my place with drivers on horseback. I put my heart into every duty and succeeded gaining my spurs, gun layer's certificate and full marks for drill.

Being young, I had the advantage over older men - things came easily. I noted down everything and even after long route marches over the Pentland Hills to shooting ranges, I came back fresh and relaxed. With each pass-mark my pay was increased by 3d per day. At the end of five months my pay was 16/- per week - a lot of money in those days.

As I was reasonable at arithmetic and good at reading and writing, I acted on many occasions as clerk (unpaid), but it carried with it weekend free rail vouchers, which I used to take me home.

Brand new uniforms reached the barracks. I was asked to do all the book-keeping with the issue of kit. Naturally, I had the first choice - fitted out by the quartermaster himself What a happy moment, dressed as a trained soldier should be dressed and to use my mother's words when she saw my uniform, 'My, you are a lovely boy!'

Many extra items of kit were issued, something that warned us to be ready to move. Within four days of kit issue, eighty-one other qualified gunners and I were sent to Aldershot for live ammunition practice on Salisbury Plain.

All that had gone before was child's play compared to the active service conditions, night and day, on the gunnery ranges. Without notice, we were called to limber up, gallop (six horses plus three drivers to a gun) to a position on the map, dig in, aim and fire at a target some two to three miles away. We filled hundreds of sand bags, unrolled miles (it seemed) of wire netting camouflage and stacked up hundreds of rounds of eighteen-pounder shells.

We all had our positions and as I had my gunnery certificate I fired the gun. I was youthful and keen.

After one gunnery session we were taken to the point of shell impact near the targets. To be frank I was delighted with the near hits, but felt queer when I saw a dead rabbit. Little did I know that within weeks I would see many slain soldiers, including my friends, on the battlefields of Loos and never know whether it was enemy or our own shells that had killed or maimed them.

At the end of seven weeks of intensive training we were given ten-day passes. We felt we had earned a break. Various high ranking officers had visited all the Royal Field Artillery units and to our delight their findings were read out to us - 'Horses, guns, men and material, first class, perfect for active service. Many of us grinned at the order of priorities: horses first.

One gunner enquired: 'Is this our last leave before going abroad?'

After a silence, a colonel gave a clue: 'If you are recalled during your leave, report immediately to your unit. Failure to do so will be serious.

So that was that. We were recalled two days early and by the day our passes expired we were actually en route by train for a channel port. We crossed the channel by night on the ship called City of Benares, bound for Le Havre on the French coast.

  

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.