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ARBORFIELD 1942 - 1946


L/Cpl. Felicity Joan Edwards, British Army, B Company, Auxiliary Territorial Service,

contributed the following article to ‘The Wartimes Memories Project’, in the ‘World War Two 1939 – 1945’. Section.  ‘The Wartime Memories Project’ is a non-profit organisation, a constituted group run by volunteers. The web site can be visited from HERE 

The subject matter of the memoir will no doubt be very familiar to those of our readers who served in Arborfield in the early years of its development.  With the future of the Arborfield Garrison in doubt, these historical musings become increasingly valuable.  Once it goes, the memories shouldn’t die with it.



ARBORFIELD 1942 - 1946


Now that I am 85, and the anniversary of the outbreak of the 2nd. World War is approaching, my thoughts return to those years that followed, and to Arborfield, and wonder how many of the men and women I served with there, are still with us today.

I joined the A.T.S. at the age of 18 in 1941 and spent the greater part of my war years at Arborfield as a Cinema Projectionist in charge of training films that were constantly shown via my two 16mm Gebescope projectors. These mainly dealt with the maintenance of the Churchill, Cromwell and Sherman tanks. There was also the Coventry, and the almost obsolete General Lee. One of the historic events that took place at Arborfield that I felt very involved in, was the construction of a long water tank with vehicle ramps at both end. This happened just prior to the invasion of Normandy. I received an American film ‘The waterproofing of vehicles’ This I showed constantly during the weeks leading up to the invasion. (Lessons had been learned from the Dieppe disaster) Not only was this film shown to those passing through the various training courses at Arborfield but also to the Canadian officers and men who were camped around us in the surrounding countryside. With their many forms of transport waiting for that significant day when they would drive onto the beaches of France, without the fear of breaking down with waterlogged engines. At one time I was taken in a waterproofed jeep, down one ramp through the water tank, and up the opposite ramp. I think I was being given a reward for the many hours I spent showing that film. I did not really enjoy it.

Those war years spent at Arborfield are very clear in my memory. I can still see Brigadier Buttonshaw taking the salute at the parade, the day that R.E.M.E. was formed, and must be now one of a very few who were there on that occasion and can still remember it. My cousin has offered to take me on a visit to Arborfield, but I doubt if I would recognise any of it now, except for the water tower, if it is still there. Army legend had it, that it would only fall when a virgin walked past.




I was posted to the Royal Army Ordnance Corp at Arborfield, Berkshire, in1942 as a Cinema Projectionist to show training films to the Officers and NCOs. who were attending one of the 29 week training courses that were being held there, and found myself showing long, and to me, tedious films on the care and maintenance of the Churchill, Sherman and Cromwell tanks, on the 25 pounder gun and on things like the planetary gear train and synchromesh transmission and on the recovery of vehicles with a Leyland breakdown lorry. Whenever I found conversation lagging in those days, the approved method of getting a Churchill tank out of a shell hole, was always something I could fall back on. I was very conversant on that subject.

I shared an office with a chap called Joe Semp, and Sergeant Major Mann. When I was not showing training films I worked with Joe amending army manuals and pamphlets with out dated text, with stickers that carried new versions. This was a tedious job which was relieved by a side-line when Joe acquired a book of blank leave passes. We had a R.A.O.C. stamp which we used on the books and pamphlets to identify them as the property of the Royal Army Ordnance Corp. Joe and I worked opposite each other at a table between two windows When Sergeant Major Mann left the office, word would get around, and one by one chaps would begin to appear at the window on my side and ask for a leave pass. Ever ready to oblige I would stamp one and pass it across to Joe who would add the necessary officer’s signature and return it to the individual concerned through his window. Joe was very good at supplying a variety of signatures. As most of our customers had to get through main line stations which were laced with Red Caps (military police) forever eager to examine leave passes, they wanted unobtrusive signatures like Captain Simpson or Lieutenant Jones. Others who preferred to live dangerously requested the signature of Field Marshal Montgomery, General Wavel, or even Mickey Mouse. Most of us who lived in London managed to avoid the Red Caps who patrolled the mainline station at Waterloo, by jumping off the train one stop earlier at Vauxhall.

The permanent staff of this R.A.O.C. training establishment had been recruited from a variety of different regiments, as well as from the County regiments with all their proud history. It was not a happy day for Arborfield’s personnel when it was decided that a new regiment was to be formed encompassing the whole establishment.

We were to become the Number 1 Training Establishment of the R.E.M.E. and the birth of this new regiment was to take place in the October of that year 1942. This meant that all the well-polished cap badges so proudly worn of the former regiments were to be handed in to the stores and exchanged for a very brassy looking new R.E.M.E. badge which was not looked upon kindly. All regimental flashes had to be cut from uniforms. All this created a lot of disenchantment in the camp, and that was not diminished when it was learned that the new regimental march would be a mixture of the well-known ‘Lillibulero and the theme music from Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the seven Dwarfs’ (Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go) That for some was the last straw. We members of B. Company. A.T.S. could only look on and sympathise, while also wearing our new R.E.M.E. badge above the left hand uniform tunic pocket. We were now attached to this new regiment. These are the trivialities that I remember to the run up to the day when the whole camp was assembled on the large parade ground to celebrate the formation of our new regiment, by which time badges looked a little less brassy, and there was confidence and pride in being part of this new elite military establishment, the R.E.M.E. I remember so well marching on to that parade ground to the new regimental march which was being played for the first time. No one dared to catch any one else’s eye when the ‘Hi ho, Hi Ho’, bit came in. We were inspected by the very top brass, and watched the R.E.M.E. flag hoisted to the top of the mast head for the very first time. It was a day to remember.

I was at Arborfield towards the end of the war, after a short posting to Derbyshire, and remember those early evenings when we stood and watched while squadron after squadron of ‘flying fortresses’ filled the skies, to take their part in the carpet bombing of Germany. It was the sound of war at its deadliest. The whole camp stood in silence and watched, and not even one small voice asked “What the hell are we doing?” We remembered the defenceless city of Warsaw, our cities like Coventry and Portsmouth. There were many like myself who had endured the relentless bombing of London during the Blitz, and no one said “Has Bomber Harris gone mad?” With the distance of years; and with hindsight it is easy to make moral judgements and to campaign to take down the statue of Bomber Harris erected to honour him and Bomber Command. You really need to have stood where we were standing in our time to understand what the reality of our day was really like. My heart will always go out and embrace the men who served in Bomber Command. Ethics are the luxury for those who have come after us. If there is anyone out there who remembers Arborfield during the war, and who perhaps remembers me as Lance Corporal, F.J. Edwards. A.T.S. please contact me.

Felicity Medland


Copyright © belongs to Felicity Medland and ‘The Wartime Memories Project’



Listen to the first version of the R.E.M.E. March ‘Liliburlero’, including the ‘March of the Dwarfs’.




First Published: 15th June 2011.

Latest Update: 1st January 2016.











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