ARBORFIELD 1942 - 1946
L/Cpl. Felicity Joan Edwards, British Army, B Company,
Auxiliary Territorial Service,
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
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
ARBORFIELD 1942 - 1946
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
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
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.
THE BIRTH OF THE’ROYAL ELECTRICAL
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.