My War Years Memories - Chapter 2 (4 of 4)

War time affects the School Curriculum

As I explained above, parade was made up of a number of platoons based on the school’s system of houses. As each house was supervised by a so-called House Captain from among the pupils (most other schools called them “prefects”), these worthies were appointed as the Non-Commissioned Officers for the purpose of the parade. When the House Captains were in School uniform they could be distinguished by the silver tassel attached to the centre button of the caps they wore. The most senior of these “captains” was known as the School Captain and, when in School uniform or “mufti”, his tassel was gold in colour. On the parade ground he bore the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. Taking its commands from the School Captain in his role of RSM, the school marched past the visiting bigwig; each time as the head or leading ranks of the platoon approached the saluting podium the NCO in charge giving the order “Eyes Right”. In total there would be a series of three or four march pasts in a variety of formations, the last (“marching past in column of half battalion”) being the most complicated since it involved a wheeling motion which if not conducted properly gave the appearance to the spectators of a disorganised rabble. In the interests of preserving the best of military discipline and decorum we always did our best to impress! But not all the activity as members of the School’s Army Cadet Force was directed at rehearsals and conduct of the annual inspection parade. We, in fact, during the course of the year worked through a whole list of activities that linked into Military basic training details of which came from the official manuals of the time. We carried out map reading on field manoeuvres, using the fields around the Mardyke at North Stifford; assistance with transportation to this site being organised by the regular Army in their 25 Tonners. We also had our own firing range in the disused chalk pit at the rear of the school off Whitehall Road (it’s now an industrial estate I believe) Here under the tuition of Weapons Instructors supplied by the regular Army we fired live 2.2 calibre rifles thus improving our marksmanship.

Two years running, during breaks in the school year, free camps away from the district were organised for those who wished to attend. The first year, the camp was at Walton-on-Naze, again the regular Army providing the transport to the tented site which was adjacent to the Martello tower. At that time during the war all public beaches were sealed by vast barriers of metal tubing festooned with masses of barbed wire as a measure against possible invasion. At Walton, just off Prince’s Esplanade, the Army removed one of these aside so that we could all bathe in the sea. I never heard anything about mine clearance but, presumably because none of us were blown up, this must have been done at the same time. The following year, the camp site was at Berechurch Hall adjacent to Colchester Barracks. Again we were accommodated under canvas and enjoyed the delights of field cooking. There were weapon demonstrations including the throwing of live hand-grenades. We also got the opportunity to ride on various tracked military vehicles ranging from Bren-gun carriers to tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Two events stick in my mind over that particular camp. The first was that one evening after dark a cine-projector was set up with an adjacent screen and it was announced that the famous film “Mutiny on the Bounty” would be screened. The trouble was that the projectionist managed to get the reels on which the film had been recorded in the wrong order and story did not make sense! The second incident concerns a V1 rocket, or “doddlebug” as they had been dubbed. Bearing in mind that we were in a tented camp, one evening as we were preparing to retire for the night, there were suddenly whistles blowing all over the place and members of the army shouting at to take cover in the various slit trenches that littered the site, when this particular device roared over our heads with its characteristic roar from its engine. It seemed to be little more than ten feet above us and I swear to this day that I felt the heat from the blast of its propulsion unit. Luckily for us it carried on flying to crash down somewhere else, where we know not.

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