English trains seemed very strange to us. The trains were so much smaller than those in Canada – the passenger compartments were very different – the box cars were tiny – and the train whistle was more of a “peep-peep” than the bull-throated roar of the train whistles in Canada. However, they got us to our destinations all right.
There were many different barracks and many different types of accommodation. We were in Mons Barracks. The huts were one- story, permanent, stucco buildings. The entrance was in the middle of one side – there were two rooms (one at each end) that would take care of somewhere around 30 men each (as I recall) – with an NCO’s room by the entrance along with the lavatory, shower rooms and wash basins. Each of the two large rooms had one small (very small, actually) stove in the middle and the NCO’s room had a very small fireplace. They looked much better than we had been used to – but, oh boy, were they ever cold in the winter time! Coal was rationed, of course, and in the dead of winter the ration was one very small pail of coal per stove or fireplace per 24 hour period. (If we wanted to get really warm, we would have had to use up the day’s ration in about 30 minutes.)
There were proper buildings for offices – for stores – for garages – for workshops, etc. It was the first (and, incidentally, the only) proper military camp we were to have during the war. Mons Barracks was a fairly large-sized establishment. In addition to space for our entire unit, it housed the OCTU (Officer Cadet Training unit) of the British Army’s Brigade of Guards. All five Guards Regiments were represented – the Grenadiers, the Coldstreams, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh.
As we were getting settled, the PMC (President of the Mess Committee) of the Guards OCTU’s Sergeant’s Mess very kindly extended to us an invitation to use their Mess facilities until such time as our full unit arrived and we set up a mess of our own. It was quite an experience – the Guards, of course, are some of the elite of the British Army – their Sergeants and Warrant Officers were all in the regular army – not “hostilities only” types such as we were. Unfortunately, this caused a few problems as time went by.
I think the first thing they did that was very irritating was to refer to us always as “you ZZXXing Colonials.”That phrase started more than one donnybrook.
Their Regimental Sgt. Major was Ron Brittain – he was with the Grenadier Guards and was the second most senior RSM in the entire British Army. And, oh boy, did he know it!! He lived with his family in married quarters and went to and from the barracks on an army issue bicycle – the only man I ever knew who rode a bicycle sitting stiffly at attention. Some of our Dispatch Riders (who were a wild bunch at the best of times) no doubt had a bit too much to drink one day and ran along side of him on his bicycle – throwing their hats in the air and shouting “Ride ‘Em Cowboy!!” He marched them all to the Guard House and threatened to throw away the key.
It was quite a sight to behold on the day after a Passing Out Parade at the OCTU, a class of cadets had just graduated and were now commissioned as Second Lieutenants. After the ceremony was over, two of them strolled across the parade square – one of them smoking a cigarette. Suddenly, there was a bellow that rattled the shingles on the buildings. It was RSM Brittain. Now, one thing you must remember is that the Parade Square belongs to the RSM – it is his domain – and he is king. You don’t stroll across the RSM’s parade square – you march properly! And smoking on the parade square – that almost calls for a firing squad! These two 2nd Lieutenants were Commissioned Officers (for the past half hour or so) and the RSM was a Warrant Officer, so he was obliged to be proper and respectful toward them. I have never in my life seen two people bawled out like the RSM‘s session with these two. He was respectful – he ended every sentence with “sir” – but, by the time he finished telling them how officers should behave on his Parade Square, they looked like they wished the ground would open up and swallow them.
Even in the Sgt’s Mess, the treatment of their RSM is really “stuffy.” When the RSM enters the Mess in the evening, everyone jumps up and stands to attention and the senior Warrant Officer rushes up to the bar and buys the RSM his favorite drink. Not so in our unit. Off duty and in the mess, the RSM is relaxed and one of the boys. You don’t exactly throw a pie in his face or anything, but no strict regimental protocol is called for. This, unfortunately, got us into trouble with the Guards.
There were seven or eight senior NCO’s in our Advance Party, our main unit not having arrived as yet. Everybody was feeling a mite homesick. We were in the Guards’ Mess having a drink. We decided ‘to heck with this war, let’s get it over with and go home.’ Somebody had a corncob pipe – so we decided a pipe of peace was called for and we sat around in a circle on the floor – lit up the pipe – and passed it around with appropriate Indian expressions. It just happened to be my turn to get the pipe when the door opened and in came the RSM and his wife. All the Guard’s personnel jumped up and stood at attention and the Scots Guards Company Sgt. Major rushed up to the bar to get them a drink. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to us, so I took my drag on the pipe, held up my hand as a sign of peace, uttered a loud “Ugh” and passed the pipe along to the man beside me. In about a half hour, the Scots Guards CSM finished being talked at by the RSM and came over to us. In a very embarrassed manner, he gave me a message from RSM Brittain – “Since we obviously did not know how to behave in a Sgts Mess, they would have to withdraw their invitation to share the facilities of their mess and please make our own arrangements effective immediately.” They threw us out!
Actually, it wasn’t as drastic as it sounds. We made arrangements for a place where the Sergeants could have their own dining area – we ate the same meal as was prepared for everybody and I thought it was somewhat better than the Guards Sergeants ate! We had our normal three meals a day – instead of the Guards’ English breakfast, lunch, tea (at four o’clock) and high tea (at eight o’clock). Another good point about setting up our own messing arrangements was that our rations were a bit more in line with Canadian appetites. All the members of their Mess – with the one exception of their RSM were most friendly toward us and, whenever RSM Brittain was away, we were invited in for social gatherings. This was very nice, as they had a couple of pool tables in their Mess. After our full unit arrived, our mess members were given a standing invitation to use their mess facilities any time we wished.
Our cooks in Canada had packed several bags of dried apples for us to take along with us, figuring we could have them made into apple pies in England. They never had the chance. We were always feeling hungry after English rations and discovered that the best way to get rid of that hungry feeling was to eat a couple of handfuls of dried apples and then drink several glasses of water.
There were a couple of other items that we needed to get used to. We arrived in England in the middle of summer and had a few of the hot days that they are allotted each year. Whenever we had nothing specific to do, our officers would call another route march, aimed at keeping us in good physical condition. A good idea – but somewhat uncomfortable since we had turned in our summer drill before leaving Canada and only had our serge battle dress and flannel shirts to wear in England.
The other thing was the English money – their pounds, shillings, pence and their half crowns and ha’pennies – It was common practice for us to pull some money out of our pockets and invite the clerk to take whatever we owed. I have a suspicion that many of the clerks, pub owners and bar maids did very well financially, with drafts of troops who were new to English money constantly arriving.
Not too long after we arrived in England, there was a scarcity of Junior Commissioned Officers. Several of our people were given the opportunity of returning to Canada to go to OCTU for an officers training course. Jack Bridges (the RQMS) went back – and I was given his job. Don Thomson (the RSM) went and my buddy, Fin Dempsey was promoted from SSM to RSM. It was a busy time for me for a while, taking over responsibility for battalion stores. With Jack leaving and my promotion to RQMS we had vacancies in our troop. Bill Conway was promoted to SQMS, Don MacNiel to MT Sergeant and Jonesie to Corporal. On receiving a promotion, it is traditional to ‘Wet your Stripes.’ In addition to buying drinks for the entire Sergeant’s Mess, we reserved one of the bar rooms in a local pub, got passes for all the boys in our troop and arranged transportation via a 3-ton truck. We had a good party – an “open bar,” and stayed until closing time. We settled our bill and returned to camp accompanied by some of the loudest (and worst) singing imaginable. It cost more than we could afford – but was well worth it in esprit de corps.
One of the nicer chaps that I met was Bill Ware – he was the RQMS of the Guards OCTU. He wasn’t a Guardsman himself -he was a permanent soldier from a Scottish Regiment – the KOSB (Kings Own Scottish Borderers) He was married and lived with his wife in married quarters. He invited me over for dinner several times and it made a most enjoyable change. I always managed to take over some goodies that they couldn’t get – sugar, canned milk, tea, coffee, etc. It was a strange Hostess Gift but in those days, a few pounds of tea was worth its weight in gold.
We still had our Gassy Tuesday drill every Tuesday morning. One Tuesday the idea of donning a respirator for an hour was wearing very thin, so I gathered up three friends and we went into our Squadron Stores Room, locked the door and got out a deck of cards. Either the RSM saw us or somebody squealed but the RSM came pounding on our door and demanded that we open up. We put up with it as long as we could – finally gave up – put on our respirators and opened the door. He accused us of not wearing our respirators. We protested our innocence but four cigarettes burning in the ash tray gave us away.
The Guards OCTU had a COs inspection and parade every Friday morning at 8:00 o’clock. As an extra incentive, the man who was judged the best “turned out guardsman” on parade was rewarded with a weekend pass, effective from immediately after the parade until Reveille on Monday morning. The competition was fierce! Each Company would pick out one man to try for the pass for that Company. Everybody helped – his hair was cut – his boots polished until they looked like glass – his web was blancoed – his brass shined, etc. Then, to get ready for the parade, the man would stand erect and his friends would dress him so there would be no creases in his uniform. He was carried to the parade square on a 6′ folding table, arriving with no dust on his boots or creases in his trousers. Really silly – but I had to hand it to them – they certainly worked like a team!
Shortly after the rest of our battalion arrived at Mons Barracks, we had a visit from an Inspection Team from the Ordnance Corps – checking all our technical stores, weapons, vehicles, etc. One part of this inspection gave me a few worrisome moments. When we left Canada, we turned in all of our vehicles and would be issued with others in England. One item was a problem – RSM Fin Dempsey’s motorcycle. His issue motorcycle was a Harley Davidson (a beautiful machine) and he knew that, in England, he would get a small Norton or an Enfield. It took a great deal of finagling but we managed to crate up Fin’s Harley and sent it to England with some of our other equipment. It arrived with no problem – but then came this unexpected Ordnance Inspection. We didn’t dare let these people find out we had brought a Harley from Canada. The only place we could think of to store it was in a grease pit in one of the garages, with planks covering the pit.
Along came the Inspection Team and I accompanied them with my fingers crossed. During the inspection of the garage, I stood on the planks over the pit that housed the Harley. I glanced down – and nearly had a heart attack – there was a gap between the planks and the Harley appeared to be in plain sight! I tried to get the inspection party to move on, but, no luck. They stood over the pit for what seemed like an hour! Finally, I was able to entice them to the cook house for a cup of coffee. and my blood pressure slowly returned to normal.
About that time, two of my SQMS’s shared an NCO’s room in one of the barracks. They were both good at their jobs – but were very sloppy in there personal habits – their kit, their uniform and their room left much to be desired. They got away with it, since their quarters were not subject to regular weekly inspections. One day, however, shortly before he returned to Canada for OCTU, Don Thomson, the RSM, happened to spot their pig sty of a room. He blew a fuse, sent for the men and gave them a direct order to clean their room. He would inspect it again in 48 hours. The men made an effort to clean up, but when the RSM checked it two days later, it was not sufficiently improved. He laid two charges against them – one for not obeying a direct order and a second for conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.
This was a frightening situation. Not only could they be reduced to the rank of private, but they could be sentenced to serve time in a military prison, as well. They were very concerned and so was I – they were good at their jobs and we had no suitable replacements.
It happened that the RSM was a man absolutely devoid of a sense of humor. He seldom smiled and never had a joke to tell. I’m sure that the Colonel knew this very well. I suggested they admit to the whole thing but imply to the Colonel that they did not realize that the RSM was serious about it. “He has quite a sense of humor” they were to say. “He is always joking and telling stories in the Mess. I’m afraid we didn’t take him seriously. We thought it was another of his practical jokes. We do apologize to you, sir, and to the RSM and, now we realize he is not joking, we will certainly make our room an example of good order and military standards.” I’m sure the Colonel knew what was going on, but he kept a straight face and dismissed the case. The RSM surely was a bit put out. However he survived to go back to Canada and attend OCTU and become a Lieutenant.
I saw him once again after he came back from his Course. He dropped in to our unit to say hello and came to my office with a long list of clothing and equipment that he needed. I called a Storeman – told him to give Lieutenant Thomson whatever he wanted – and to write up a Form 513 for it. He thanked me for the things he got – but asked about the special 513 that he had signed as a receipt. I told him it was a Repayment Form – I’m sure he was aware that commissioned officers were required to pay for their kit. This Form would be forwarded through our Paymaster to his unit and the charges would be deducted from his pay. With a shocked look on his face, he shouted that I never charged other officers for their kit. I advised him not to make statements he couldn’t prove and, if he would excuse me, I had a couple of SQ’s I had to see – I’m sure he knew them – Yates and Jorgenson. He went off mumbling in his beard. After he left, I tore up the Repayment 513 Form – he never did get charged for anything, but I think he got the point.
One thing we had a lot of fun with was our Divisional Patches. These were worn on the sleeve of our battledress up by the shoulder. The color indicated the Division – and other insignia indicated the branch of the service, etc. Our patch, for the 4th Armoured Division, was forest green and mounted on it was a piece of blue felt with the initials RCCS in white – this, of course, stood for the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. But the answers we gave when asked covered a wide, wide range. At first, we said we were the Royal Canadian Civil Servants – we looked after the election of officers and stuff like that. Later on, we got more imaginative – the one I liked best was that we were basically reconnaissance troops – we were trained to prowl silently behind enemy lines and report on what they were doing – and that the initials RCCS actually stood for the Royal Camel Corps of the Sudan. We didn’t have much to do at the moment as we were still waiting for our beasties to arrive from home.
One small corner of the Mons Barracks area was used by the British Army School of Physical Training. Included in their area was an Assault Course – and, of course, some of our people could not sit still until they got everybody out on the course. Before it came to my turn, I made a point of surveying the course closely to see what was causing the most trouble. There were ditches to crawl through – walls to climb over – barbed wire to crawl under – all the usual obstacles. The one thing that seemed to be consuming a great deal of extra time was a sort of water hazard. There was a pond of the worst looking stagnant water imaginable – about 20 to 25 feet across. Stretched across it – about one foot above the water – was a steel cable – pulled very tightly. About 5 feet above the cable, was a rope – also tightly drawn. I watched the instructors as they ran out and jumped with both feet on the wire so that the wire was under the instep of their boots, their heels holding it in place.They held onto the rope with both hands and slid across. Alternatively you could step on the wire carefully and inch your way across – but your timing would be terrible.
Possibly the men scoring very slow times would have to do it again – so I opted to try the running approach. Something didn’t go quite right – my boots slipped off the wire – my feet went up in the air – and I landed on my back in three feet of stagnant water. Thank heavens I had the job I had – it would have taken a month of Sundays to get my uniform, boots, webbing, etc. cleaned, dried and smelling decently again. I threw everything in the dump and got all new gear.
I wish I could remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time we received a draft of reinforcements – and, much to my surprise, my brother, Bob, was in the draft. He was qualified as a wireless operator and posted to No. 3 Squadron, attached to the 11th Infantry Brigade. It was really terrific seeing him and catching up on the news from Canada – so much had happened in the couple of years since I had left the Signals Armouries in Toronto..
It was particularly nice taking him to visit our Aunt and Uncle in Sussex. I had been down to see them a couple of times – after I finally found their house. I had trouble getting used to the houses having names instead of streets and numbers. Their address, for instance, was ‘Sidney Collett, South Lodge, East Gate, Lewes, Sussex.’ The first time I visited them, I took a train to Lewes, and got a cab that was driven by a chap who had lived in Lewes for many years. He knew exactly where to find them. They had a beautiful, two-story, fieldstone house with a stone fence around it. Behind it was the Ajax Iron Works – where Uncle Sid was the Manager. The house, itself, had been in Aunt Effie’s family for a couple of generations.
The first time I went there, I received a strange greeting. I could see the curtains twitching in the front window but received no answer to my knock. After a few attempts, I went around and knocked at the back door. Very slowly, it opened and very faintly, a lady’s voice asked me who I was and what I wanted. It was my aunt Effie. When I introduced myself, the door swung open and I was made most welcome. She explained that a battalion of Canadian troops had just left after being billeted in the town – and they had certainly done their best to give Canadians a bad name. The battalion was the Van Doos (the nickname for the Royal 22nd Regiment from Montreal – part of the 1st Canadian Division). I guess they were all right as fighting troops – but fight is all they did with anybody and everybody. They were the first unit recruited in Montreal at the outbreak of war and the majority of them were the unemployed – the welfare cases – the ex-jail types – men who couldn’t (or wouldn’t’t) get a job and work for a living. They made a terrible reputation for themselves (and, unfortunately, all Canadians) in the town of Lewes. Drunkenness – fighting – vandalism – no wonder Aunt Effie didn’t answer the door. One thing that was particularly annoying was that the men of the Van Doos got into a local pub that was highly thought of in the town – it being well over 150 years old – and they wrecked the place in a drunken brawl. Among other things, there were some very, very old hand-carved coat hangers along the entrance hall – and these drunken bums broke them off the wall, smashed them to pieces and fed them to the open fire in the fireplace. It took a bit of time to prove that all Canadians were not the same.
Aunt Effie was most gracious and made me feel at home. Her husband, Sid, was my father’s brother – and there was no mistaking the resemblance – same height – same nose – same voice – and identical bushy eyebrows. They had one son and one daughter – the son was serving in the RAF out East somewhere (I never did meet him and can’t even recall his name). Their daughter, Joan, was living at home – she was married to a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who was stationed at the Admiralty in London and got home on weekends.
One thing I did appreciate about their son; any time I stayed at their home overnight, I slept in his bedroom – a full-sized bed – with down-filled mattress – wonderfully soft pillows and sheets, a couple of blankets and a down-filled comforter. Pure heaven after sleeping in the army-supplied accommodation. One other thing that was quite special about visits to Lewes: Aunt Effie had a friend who had some chickens. In all the time I spent in England, the only time I had honest-to-goodness eggs – fried, boiled or poached was at her house. In appreciation, I made a point of helping out her rations with things she couldn’t get – tea, coffee, sugar, etc.
Any time I stayed with Uncle Sid and Aunt Effie for a weekend, Uncle Sid would take me for a walk on Sunday morning. We would walk along and enter the back door of one of the many hundred-year-old pubs in the town. By law, they were not allowed to open on Sunday mornings – hence the back door entry. Uncle Sid never drank much of anything – maybe a half-pint of bitters at a time but he introduced me to many of the pub owners in town. He had a regular routine for Saturday evenings, too. He would go to his club for an hour – and return in time for high tea (about 8 o’clock) bringing a half-pint bottle of Stout in his coat pocket for Effie. A couple of times, he invited me to accompany him to his club – the Ancient Order of Druids. He introduced me around – and I became an honorary member. (I guess I’m a Druid, still!) We would have a beer or two – play a couple of games of snooker – and go home with Effie’s stout. It was fun. I was on first name basis with a lot of the members. Later on, I discovered that four of the chaps I was playing snooker with were the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the Fire Chief and the Town Clerk – all “fellow-Druids”.
My Aunt and Uncle were always glad to see and welcome me. One Sunday afternoon – we were in billets in a village about 40 miles away – A lovely day – nothing much to do- so several of us in the Sgts Mess decided we needed another training class in motorcycle riding. About twenty of us went out on the “Instruction Ride.” Just in case, I stopped off in the Men’s mess and got the cook to give me some tea – sugar – white bread and butter. Sure enough, we went through Lewes – I steered the class over to my Uncle’s house. We parked the motorcycles in front of the house – and spent a lovely hour in their back yard drinking tea and eating sandwiches. Effie enjoyed it – and I made sure she had lots of tea and sugar and butter left over to augment their wartime rations. Sometimes, I wonder just what their neighbors thought – so many motorcycles parked in front of one’s house on a quiet Sunday afternoon – it must have been noisy enough to interrupt a few siestas, for sure.
My brother and I tried our best to get them to change the arrangements for heating water for the bath. They had a natural gas hot water heater installed in the upstairs bath room. When we wanted a bath, we went up to the bathroom and plugged some coins into the box attached to the heater.The gas would come on for a pre-determined time and heat the water. Downstairs in the living room was a big fireplace that was lit every day of the year and burned all day. We measured and found that there was a space of two to three feet behind the fireplace. They could install a copper tank, connect it to the water supply and to the hot water taps in the bathroom – and have a continual supply of hot water – always on hand – without having to plug in shillings. Sid went over the plans – had his foreman go over them – and thought it was a marvelous idea. A few months later, I asked Sid how the hot water plan worked out and Sid’s reply was typically English – “Well, we didn’t do anything about it. The idea looks very good, but the way it is now was good enough for Effie’s father and his father before him – so I guess it should be good enough for us.”
One visit Bob and I made to them was a bit different. Another of my dad’s brothers was visiting Sid at the same time. He was a watchmaker and jeweler from Birmingham. He had never married and lived a very quiet and sober life in Birmingham. He had a small jewelry store with living quarters behind the shop – and, according to Sid, his drinking habits consisted of a small glass of sherry every Christmas Eve. He was an awfully nice chap – but I’m afraid Bob and I ended up giving him a somewhat different life style.
That evening, we went around on a bit of a Pub Crawl – and we all had a very enjoyable evening. Aunt Effie, however, was at a loss to understand what was going on when, about ten o’clock that evening, the four of us (the Uncle, Sid, Bob and myself) arrived back for our 8.00 o’clock High Tea – strolling down the middle of the road with our very quiet and solemn uncle from Birmingham walking down the white line in the middle of the road – laughing fit to be tied and singing “Roll Me Over in the Clover” at the top of his voice.
We got him into the house and persuaded him to have some of the food Effie had prepared. Then Effie went to the kitchen to make some more tea and, when she returned, she found the four of us on our hands and knees in front of the fireplace – Bob and I were teaching them how to shoot Craps. Sure sounded strange – these very English – very formal – voices calling out things like “C’mon, Little Joe” and “Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes” and “Darn it – Snake Eyes”, etc. Later on, we heard from Sid and Effie that he had changed. He now enjoyed an evening out with some friends – and was even thinking of taking dancing lessons!
One other time I dropped in to see them, there were some English Troops in town, housed in billets in private homes. Sid and Effie had an English Officer billeted with them. I was introduced to him and we had a nice chat for an hour or two. After the war, I was reading a book about the English Troops and came upon a picture of him. He was Lord Lovat – a Major in charge of one of the British Commandos. He won the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the Invasion of Normandy.
I often wonder where Joan and her ex-naval husband are now. During the war, their great ambition was to buy and run one of the hundred-year-old country pubs that are scattered around the countryside.
My brother and I got away on leave a few times in addition to our visits to Lewes. We had a couple of weekends together in London – and had a ten-day leave when we went up to Scotland – mainly to Edinburgh.
Our first day in Edinburgh gave us a real liking for the Scottish people. We were walking along the main street (I think it was called Princess Street) and passed a small shop with some Scottish souvenirs on display. We decided to go in and get something to send home – Bob to his wife and myself to mother. The shop was owned by a very lovely older Scottish lady who, when she saw our Canada flashes, couldn’t do enough for us. She took the time to show us everything in the shop we thought we might be interested in – and, to give us time to make up our minds, she invited us into the back of the shop for afternoon tea with scones and strawberry jam. It sounded something like “taa-hee” scones – I found out afterwards they were Potato Scones – and they just melted in your mouth. After chatting for an hour (and eating too many of her scones, I’m afraid) she found out that both Bob and I played a bit of golf – so she phoned the private Golf Club she belonged to – and arranged with the Pro for us to have the use of the club – any green fees or cost of renting clubs or buying golf balls were to be added to her tab. Under no circumstances was he to accept any money from us. We never did take advantage of her offer -but it was so terribly nice of her to set it up for us. We each bought a tea cozy and mailed them off in the same mail- the one I bought for Mother arrived OK – the one Bob bought for Sheila never did show up!
There was one other very busy day we spent in Edinburgh that I’ll find it hard to forget. We saw an advertisement somewhere for a play that was being staged that evening entitled “The Belle of New York.” We both thought that would be worth seeing, so we bought tickets for the performance that evening at 8:00 o’clock with nice reserved seats. As I recall, the weather that day was wonderful, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to take a short bus trip to see the Firth of Forth Naval establishment that we had heard about. During wartime, this is a highly restricted area – for obvious reasons, since it is where a major portion of the might of the British Navy is concentrated. We arrived in nice time – had a snack in a pub – and wandered around to see what we could see. One thing that was very well advertised was that it was strictly against the law to have, or to use, a camera in the area. I had a small folding camera tucked into my battle dress blouse, but I felt sure no one would notice the slight bulge. We wandered around admiring the ships and then came a sight that really was too much to let go. I’m not sure exactly what was to be seen, but it seems to me that there was a bridge and a huge ship (probably a battle ship) and an aircraft carrier sailing by the bridge with a couple of smaller ships (destroyers or corvettes?) right along side of them. I looked around very, very carefully – not a soul to be seen anywhere near us – so I just had to sneak my camera out of my jacket and line up a good picture. Suddenly, we heard pounding feet and the shriek of a whistle – and a couple of hundred yards away a helmeted policeman in full flight raced towards us. It didn’t seem like the right time to be brave and to stand and argue with the law. We took off at full gallop. Fortunately, we were younger and in better shape than the Bobby and we managed to out-run him. We thought it the better part of valor to make ourselves scarce around the Firth of Forth area as soon as possible. I can’t remember what happened – maybe we took the wrong bus or something – but we arrived back in Edinburgh – without having had time to eat – just in time to rush to the theater for the first curtain.
The first act was quite good – in spite of our hunger pangs – then came the first intermission. We found a sign over a door saying “Buffet.” To us, that meant food – so we fought our way through the mob of people and found that there was no food – it was a bar. It was one of the few bars we had seen in war time England that had more to offer than just beer – so, in the absence of food, we each ordered a Queen Anne’s Scotch with a Bass’s Ale for a chaser. It was so very good that we ordered another round which we had to drink rather quickly to get back to our seats for the second act. We had thought that the first act was quite good – but we both agreed that the second act was even better. Along came the second intermission – and we repeated the Queen Anne’s Scotch and Bass’s ale. And we both found that the third act was the most enjoyable act we had ever had the privilege of seeing in live theater. (I think we may have been fortunate that we were not asked to leave, and that there was no fourth act.)
After the show, we were wandering through the darkened streets when we heard the sound of dance music, and stumbled on a place called the Palaise de Dance. There were lots of lovely Scottish girls there and we spent the next little while on the dance floor. I remember dancing with one very lovely little girl with a delightful Scottish accent. After a few dances, she started to say goodnight. She had to leave early as she was on duty that evening on Fire Watch on the roof of the building where she worked during the day . I thought it was a bad thing – a lovely little girl like this walking alone through the darkened streets – so I insisted on escorting her to the building where she was on duty. We found it and I suggested I should come up with her to ensure that there was nobody else on the roof where she had to spend the next four hours alone. However, there was a guard on the building and he wouldn’t’t let me in. So, away she went and I took off to find Bob and the dance hall.
It still bothered me and as I started off, I noticed a fire escape down the outside wall of the building, which was about six or seven stories high. To heck with the guard on the door – I jumped up and caught the bottom of the fire escape and laboriously climbed up to the roof, only to find I had crossed the street and was on the wrong building. I called goodnight to the little Scottish girl and climbed back down all those stairs!
I finally found the Palaise de Dance again – but it was closed and there was not a soul around. Having no idea where I was or where we were booked in for the night, I wandered around, looking for something familiar. I ended up bumping into Bob who was trying to find where I had disappeared to. He remembered where we had reserved a room and, eventually, we found it and got to bed after a long, long day.
Before returning to Camp, we spent another day touring Edinburgh Castle – and a most interesting place it was, too. There was another spot they called the Cyclorama – I wish I could recall more details of it – the place seemed to be on the side of a hill – and through some sort of a rotating lens, it showed faint pictures on the walls – actually reflected pictures of what was happening in the city at the time.
Another time, we were in a Pub having a drink – the pub was very crowded with English, Scotch, American, Australian and Canadian troops. We had a beer-drinking game in our Sergeants’ Mess that was called Cardinal Puff. We had to drink a fair amount of beer and go through an involved routine within a time limit in order to get our names inscribed on the Cardinal Puff Scroll. We were sitting at a table with some Scottish troops who had heard of the game but never seen it and, since I was a well qualified Cardinal myself, I proceeded to show them the game. At the end of the game, part of the routine was to turn the empty beer glass upside down on the table. As I put the glass on the table, the lads we were sitting with looked very uncomfortable and asked me what the heck I was doing. They told me that, in this pub, it was a way of bragging that “you could whip any man in the house”. I looked up – and saw two of the biggest, ugliest, fiercest looking Australian chaps staring at me and getting up to head in my direction. Again, discretion being the better part of valor, I wasted no time getting out of there!