and Platoon Training:
Guillemont Barracks - September to December 1940
The Calgary Highlanders had arrived in the UK at the height of the Battle of
Britain; the German attempt to gain mastery over the Royal Air Force as a prelude to
invasion. When off duty, the Highlanders were witnesses to the great air battles;
German bombers were visible by day flying to London, and at night searchlights and flames
were in evidence. Those lucky enough to go into London itself could see the effects
of the bombing. The air battles were a distraction to training, and the Highlanders
found themselves standing to for long hours during air raids, and confined to barracks for
long periods of time.
after arrival in England, the Highlanders were moved from the 6th to the 5th Infantry
Brigade, a change made permanent in November. Training at this time was on a small
scale, usually with borrowed equipment and consisted of such activities as platoon drill,
route marches by night and day, map and compass work, small arms training and support
weapon training with the Bren, Boys, and Thompson guns. Deficiencies in
transport were a problem (and would remain so into 1941) and the Calgary Highlanders had
only two motorcycles, 34 motor vehicles, and 35 bicycles; which still represented the most
lavish distribution of transport to the battalion up to that point in time. As
transport began to trickle in, the battalion began to practice moves, the first coming on
16 September and followed by others.
Towards the end of September, the danger of invasion was seen to wane, and five-day
landing leaves began to be granted to the men, 80 man parties leaving every day. On
1 October a German bomb damaged the battalion's cookhouse and killed a soldier from the
Lorne Scots. The battalion's first fatality occurred when Private F.E. Brown collided
into a truck while riding a motorcycle. Sundays allowed for 100 man parties from the
battalion to go to Windsor Castle for church parade, and several men of the battalion were
spoken to by the King and Queen whilst on the grounds.
Company and Battalion Training
- Talavera Barracks - December to January 1940
On 16 December 1940, the Highlanders moved to
Talavera Barracks, near Aldershot to the south of London. Tactical exercises were
conducted, simulating conditions in the field, and involving the concepts of fire and
movement, as well as practice in patrolling. The companies began to exercise as
companies, and battalion sized exercises were also conducted. A brigade exercise
allowed the Highlanders to practice moving in concert with the Black Watch and Le Regiment
The first marriage of a Highlander to an
English girl occurred on 15 December; the first of many such unions.
Coastal Defence - Portsdale -
January - February 1941
The six Canadian infantry brigades in the UK in early 1941 were rotated through coastal
positions, and the Highlanders relieved the Essex Scottish in positions near Brighton on
the 19th and 20th of January. Their area of responsibility stretched from
Shoreham-by-the-Sea to Hove. The weather was either foggy or rainy, and always cold.
No training was conducted during this period, but the battalion did much work in
Divisional Training - Talavera
Barracks - February 1941
The Highlanders returned to Talavara barracks
on 15 February 1941. The first battalion set-piece attack was conducted on 23
February 1941; in support were the 5th Field Regiment, RCA, a troop of anti-tank guns from
the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, two platoons of medium machineguns, and a section of the 7th
Field Company, RCE. The battalion was complimented for its conduct in this exercise.
The 2nd Division began to test its own
ability to move. Exercise Dog, on 26 February 1941, was disappointing.
The 5th Brigade was to defend a line from Chichester
to Arundel against a fictional German landing between Bognor Regis and Lillehampton.
The battalion moved between 5 pm and 8:45 pm on the 26th and bedded down in the open with
Battalion HQ at Holland's Heath Farm.
The next morning, the Calgary
Highlanders led a brigade column across the River Rother, and formed for an attack in
driving rain, with "C" and "D" Companies leading. "A"
and "B" Companies stayed in reserve with the battalion headquarters at Littleton
Farm. The battalion had to fight its way to the start line, however, as the entire
brigade had to move its transport through three miles of a single road. Poor
communications and poor weather finally led to the cancellation of the attack.
"B" Company had to wait a fair amount of time for their vehicles to arrive and
retrieve them; "D" Company made its own way back to Talavera Barracks.
Another Brigade exercise was held on 3 March
1941, and improved communications allowed the Highlanders to cross their start line only
five minutes late. The exercise, near the Half Moon Inn, took place in good weather,
though the battalion had to march back to camp some 10 miles in driving rain at the
conclusion of the scheme.
The first fatality attributable to enemy action
occurred when Private D.A. Stewart was killed in an air raid in Glasgow on the 13th of
March. He would be one of only two Calgary Highlanders to die due to enemy action
until the battalion came ashore in Normandy over three years later. While the Battle
of Britain was officially over, enemy aircraft continued to make their presence
felt. A crash landed German aircraft had to be guarded by Calgary Highlanders as
The King and Queen visited the battalion
while training at Hornley Common on 27 March. Individual companies as well as the
carrier platoon put on demonstrations. The Pipe Band played as the Royal Couple
April Fool's Day (1 April) brought a false
start to Exercise Benito, which was cancelled abruptly after the battalion moved to an
assembly area near Southwater in the rain. The exercise began for real on 16
April, and was a four day long advance-to-contact scheme conducted on foot.
At the end of April a brigade night maneuver
went not at all well; the Officers' Mess benefited from Lieutenant Wynn Lasher running
down a rabbit with his motorcyle as he attempted to get the convoy into order.
In June, Waterloo tested the ability of the
British and Canadians to defend the south coast against enemy invasion. Confusion
once more was the order of the day.
Second Canadian Division Carriers on maneuvers; June 1941. The carriers at left
with the unit sign "62" belong to the Calgary Highlanders. These carriers
are no doubt mustered for the camera; in actual combat conditions they would not be
deployed so close together The Carrier Platoon was detached during this period to
Hill Force and Farran's history notes that they became "lax in discipline" at
this time. They returned to the Highlanders in August 1941, beginning a "drive
for greater smartness and the lavish use of blanco throughout the unit."
CLICK TO ENLARGE
The South Coast
June, the 2nd Canadian Division as a whole moved to the south coast of England in order
to "exchange roles for approximately a month with 55 (British) Division."
The Division had been in barracks in Aldershot since their arrival in the UK the previous
year. The Division moved under the operational control of IV Corps while the
British division came under Canadian operational control in the Aldershot area.
July saw the Calgary Highlanders again moved to the
south coast; on the 3rd they moved into positions around Bexhill-on-Sea. Farran's
history describes the move to Bexhill as a happy one, for relations with the local
populace were very warm. Platoons were billeted in houses along the sea-front and
close contact was kept with the local Home Guard troops. A secondary preoccupation
for the troops was the care of the many flower gardens among their billets. The
locals held parties and dances for all ranks in private homes and clubs such as the De La
Warr Pavillion, an impressive structure built in 1935 able to seat 1500 patrons and also
providing a 200 seat seaside restaurant.
Bexhill's De La Warr Pavillion today.
The Division moved during the week ending 5
July 1941. The move of the 5th Brigade was observed by the Commander of I Canadian
Corps, the GOC of the 2nd Divisions, and the Minister of National Defence (Air), C.G.
Power as well as Ian MacKenzie, at that time Minister of Pensions and National Health.
The move was to achieve several aims; to alleviate boredom among the Canadians, but also to give the division experience in
coastal defence operations. The move was popular among officers of the Division,
according to a contemporary CMHQ report, and also "brought the men the opportunity of
bathing in the sea."
The Divisional reconnaissance battalion did
not make the move with the Division - and the move was not publicized for security
reasons. Divisional Headquarters was located at Heathfield Park, approximately 15
miles north of Eastbourne. The Division eventually held a total frontage of 46 miles
of coast, from the west edge of Peacehaven to a point three miles east of Rye Harbour and
encompassing four topographical sectors. From a a CMHQ report:
(a) From PEACEHAVEN
to EASTBOURNE the eastern end of the great ridge of the
DOWNS lies close to the coast, and in the vicinity of BEACHY
HEAD forms steep cliffs which are regarded as impassable from the sea and on which
therefore there are no company localities.
(b) From EASTBOURNE eastward to the vicinity of
BEXHILL the coast is completely flat and landings on the open beach would be possible.
(c) From BEXHILL to the vicinity of PETT (314325)
the high ground sometimes called BATTLE RIDGE intersects the coast and provides another
range of high cliffs between HASTINGS and FAIRLIGHT. On these again there are no company
(d) From PETT eastward the coast is
again very low, with tidal flats on either side of the mouth of the ROTHER.
The Division was flanked by 38
Division (also of IV Corps) on its right, and 56 Division (of XII Corps) on its left.
The port of Newhaven was considered to be a
natural objective for enemy forces, as it was the only decent harbour in the divisional
area, located at the mouth of the Ouse. Good roads led from Newhaven, Eastbourne,
and Hastings towards London. The nine infantry battalions of the division were
predominantly located in beach-defence positions, with only one of these battalions placed
in a reserve position. With the battalions placing three companies each in line
positions and keeping one in reserve, the line was still very thinly held given the length
of the line being held. These positions were constructed by the 55th Division and
the 2nd Canadian Division made no attempt to alter them, concentrating instead on
strengthening defence works already begun. LCol Guy Simonds - at that time a General
Staff Officer of the Division but later to command the entire II Canadian Corps in
Normandy - objected to the lack of depth of the positions, and also the fact that no
provision had been made to counter enemy air landing of troops to seize the northern edge
of the Downs. Ironically, this was a "German" tactic in Exercise WATERLOO
from the month before.
To the rear of the Division was a triangular
sector of Home Guard units, also under command of the 2nd Canadian Division,
responsible for the area Plashett Park-Turnbridge Wells-Bodiam.
Divisional positions - as shown on the map
above - are described in the CMHQ reports as follows, from west to east:
||Lewes, divisional reserve
|Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada
|South Saskatchewan Regiment
|Black Watch (RHR) of Canada
|Le Regiment de Maisonneuve
|Royal Hamilton Light Infantry
|Royal Regiment of Canada
|Essex Scottish Regiment
The Canadian Army historian
reporting on this deployment noted that
The fact that a French Canadian battalion
should be holding the region where William the Conqueror landed in 1066, with its
headquarters on the grounds of a Norman castle whose outer works are partly Roman, and
some of its posts in Martello Towers built to guard against invasion by Napoleon, is a
matter of some historical interest.
The extreme left of the divisional positions
were located at Broomhill, where "A" Company of the Essex Scottish Regiment
located its headquarters. Divisional artillery and the Toronto Scottish Regiment
(divisional machine gun battalion) deployed across the entire front in a close supporting
role, with the Toronto Scottish adding an additional company from personnel of 1 Canadian
Machine Gun Holding Unit before moving to the coast.
The beaches on this front were mined and wired
heavily. Use of concrete pillboxes and even the ancient Martello towers were
incorporated into the defensive positions. Extra Vickers guns were also emplaced in
addition to the Toronto Scottish's weapons. Coastal artillery was also in place to
supplement the divisional artillery, with guns ranging from 13-pounders to 6-inch guns.
Finally, flame-throwing apparatus were installed along the Essex Scottish front.
The Division manned these positions, and
returned to Aldershot in the second week of August, returning not to their former barracks
but to billets or tented camps.
July 1941 - A Typical
Month in England
July began with the Dominion Day holiday being observed
throughout the Canadian Corps, with a Sunday routine following. The battalion moved to the Bexhill area on the
3rd of July, taking over billets and defensive positions.
Friday, 4 July to Sunday 6
July: "settling in"
7 July - training and
8 July - short route march of the companies to enable
men to see points of local interest, six men detached to assist local farmer with haying
9 July - company commanders meeting; one point
discussed was control of civilian beach area in Bexhill, which opened to the public on 6
10 July - "C" Company on field firing range,
with MMG and mortar support.
11 July - "D" Company on field firing range.
12 July - one platoon of "B" Company on
field firing range. The War Diary notes this is the first time the battalion
operated with supporting fire from MMGs and mortars.
14 July - "Action Stations" drills practiced
by platoons, then companies. Vickers MG training started under the instruction of
the Toronto Scottish.
15 July - "normal training" in morning,
followed by Battalion eliminations for Brigade Sports meet on the 17th, under Sports
Officer Major Lockwood.
16 July - normal training
17 July - Brigade Sports day held at Polegrove Field,
|100 yd. dash
||Second - M10650 Sgt. Eden, C.
Third - M10547 Cpl. Lenox, E. L.
|880 yd. dash
||First - Lt. Munro, D
|1 Mile Run
||Second - M1108 Sgt. Baker, A. J.
|440 yd. relay
||Lt. Munro, D., Sgt. Eden, C., Cpl. Lenox, E. L., Pte.
DeBow, J. W.
|Running High Jump
||First - Pte. DeBow, J. W.
|Running Broad Jump
||Second - Pte. DeBow, J. W.
|Hop Skip Jump
||First - Sgt. Eden, C.
Second - Pte. Powers, W. B.
||Second - Lt. W. B. McQueen.
Third - Cpl. Lenox, E. L.
|Tug of War
||Second - Maj. J. M. Taylor, Capt. T. M. Insinger, Lt. V.
Stott, C.S.M. Jones, G.V., Cpl. McLaren, K.R.,
Cpl. Smith, M., L/Cpl. Siemens, D., Pte. Scott, A., Pte. Ferguson, J., Pte. Wilderman, A.
Coach - C.S.M. MacMillan, K.
The Black Watch won the day with, in
the words of the Calgary Highlanders' War Diary, "a fine display of athletics and sportsmanship." The Battalion awarded prizes for Calgary Highlanders on the
following basis: First Prize any Event - 10 Shillings. Second Prize any Event - 7/6 Shillings. Third Prize any Event - 5 Shillings.
18 July - Brigadier Whitehead visited the
Battalion Area, had lunch at the Officers Mess and inspected HQ Area, 'A' Company Area and
'B' Company Area, mainly for billets and administrative details. Tests of Elementary
Training (TOETs) were carried out on men throughout the battalion by a group of officers
from 2nd Canadian Division, under Major Moak of Division Headquarters. The
Pipes and Drums played in front of the Mayors house in Bexhill at 1830 hrs. and played
retreat at 1900 hrs in conjunction with a visit by some of the battalion's officers to the
19 July - In the evening, the Rotary Club of Bexhill
entertained a large number of all ranks at a Dance at the De La Warr Pavillion. The
Regimental Orchestra played, and the Pipe Band was in attendance, playing for some time.
Highland Dancing was done by Pipe Major Stoker. The event was a great success and
apparently much appreciated by the members of the battalion.
20 July - Church Parades were held in HQ. and 'C' Company areas
by the Padre, Capt. V. Ottiwell. 'B' Company and the Regimental School (N.C.O.'s) attended
local Churches. Lt. Col. Scott attended a meeting with the Hon. Ian McKenzie at
Eastbourne during the afternoon.
21 July - "Motor Transport holiday" in which only
ration trucks and Quartermaster necessary vehicles moved during the day. Lt. Col. Scott and Maj. F. H. Johnson inspected 'C' and 'A'
Companies respectively, to check on condition of web equipment and administrative matters.
22 July - The 2nd Regimental "Smartening up School"
for employed personnel was begun.
23 July - An Orders Group was held regarding a practice Motor
Transport move for the battalion to take place Aug 1 to practice in sudden deployment and
action from a moving column.
Exercise "EDWARD", a signal scheme began also during the
evening with a Brigade Orders Group. A Spitfire - no.W.3427, crashed in the
"D" Company area and a guard arranged for the aircraft; the pilot had been
escorted away by soldiers of a nearby artillery battery. A concert party was arranged for battalion HQ. and HQ Company by Mr.
Gamble of the Y.M.C.A. Auxiliary Forces.
24 July - Exercise EDWARD was carried out. The battalion HQ was established in the morning and an attack on a two
company front was made, the Highlanders being the only forward battalion in the Brigade.
The Umpires created several situations regarding enemy action and strength and equipment,
which were intended to and which did, teach much about the information which should be
sent back. By noon, it was conceded that the battalion had gained their
objective and the Black Watch passed through to carry on the attack.
25 July - Exercise BIRD was conducted,
being a practice stand-to and action stations held by the battalion under
Brigade instructions. A paratroops situation was developed during the
exercise to test the mobility and usefulness
of the reserve Company. 'C' Company was dispatched in trucks to clean up approximately 50
paratroops with light machine guns.
26 July - BIRD exercise for
the entire Brigade Group to start with
a stand to at 0800 hrs. was cancelled at 0810 hrs. by "NEGATIVE BIRD'", presumably
due to rainy weather.
- Church Parades.
July - Another Motor Transport Holiday; only one ration and
one water truck were allowed. A party of approximately 80 men under Maj. R. D. Bryan paraded in a
Salvage Drive Campaign in Bexhill along with other local units, to publicize the Salvage
29 July - Maj. Gen. V. W. Odlum visited the battalion area,
starting in HQ Company area at 0930 hrs. and inspecting billets and Administrative details
in particular. 'C', 'B' & 'D' Company areas were all inspected in turn. In some of the
billets and kitchens, minor defects were commented on, but the G.O.C. seemed pleased with
July - Divisional Sports held in Polegrove
field, with a good turnout of both Services and Civilians. M11246 Pte. DeBow, J. W. of 'A'
company, was winner of the high jump event. Rain, which started about 1600 hrs., stopped
the meet just before its conclusion and spoiled the expected crowds at the Brigade
Headquarters Marquee tent set up for refreshments.
A successful Concert Party was held at the De La Warr Pavilion in
Bexhill. Maj. Johnson acted as Compere and also put on a very
good turn of sleight of hand trick. Lt. E. W. Lasher, Lt. S. O. Robinson, Cpl. K.R.
McLaren and Pte. Walker, T., sang various solos and quartet numbers. The costumes of the
orchestra, which were of real foothill cowboy style, made quite an impression. The Pipe
Band played several selections, and on the whole, the Concert Party was very well
- Lt. Col. J. F. Scott, Company Commanders and Q.M.
went to Bde. HQ. at 1400 hrs. for a conference at which details of the move back to
Aldershot Area and quarters to be taken over were discussed.
The battalion took up positions around
Bexhill between St. Leonards-on-Sea and the Pevensey Marshes, with "A" Company
on the left, "B" on the right, "D" in the centre and "C" in
During the month, TOETs
(Test of Elementary Training) showed the Calgary Highlanders to be excelling in training;
the battalion scored 10 percent higher than any other unit in the Second Division.
Several small schemes for subunits were carried out; "Edward" was an internal
signals exercise on the 24th, with "Bird" testing the reserve company the next
day; "C" Company round up 50 "enemy" parachutists before the exercise
was stopped on account of rain.
Many inspections and sports meets also helped
pass the time for the battalion during this period on the south coast.
July also brought homesickness as memories
of the annual Stampede came to the fore, heightened by the cover of that month's Glen; a
cartoon by CSM Sam Nickle showing a Calgary Highlander dreaming of home, cowboys, and the
rodeo. Charlie Yule, the manager of the Exhibition and Stampede, sent a letter to
the battalion that was reprinted in that issue.
Some Calgary Highlanders got
to help out local farmers with the harvest; six lucky troops got to visit the Duke of Connaught
at Bagshot. On 1 August, a transport move, and an attack exercise, were conducted
with local Home Guard units near Eastbourne.
The nice sojourn in Bexhill ended on 12
August when the battalion moved back to camp 49B at Aldershot. After the luxury of
Bexhill, with its gardens and clubs, the Highlanders were now greeted with dirt and gravel
roads, tents, and mud. Practice in river crossings now began; on 21 August the Royal
Canadian Engineers provided 11 small water craft and crossings were practiced on Hawley
Lake. A mock crossing was held at Tweedledown Race Track on the 28th, with table
tops being used to simulate boats.
The battalion celebrated their one year
anniversary of being in England with steak and onions, potatoes, beer, ice cream and
cake. A third night crossing exercise was held at Hawley Lake on the 11th, and on
the 20th Exercise "Malcolm" brought an evening move to the Godalming area.
The Calgary Highlanders engaged several "enemy" forces in this period, then
moved to an assembly area near Cowfold in Sussex.
On 25 September 1941, the Calgary Highlanders
joined a sizable force in an exercise once again simulating a German invasion of
England. The battalion received the compliments of one British Umpire, and Bercuson
tells us that the majority of movement difficulties that arose during the exercise
"were the result of failures at higher levels or in the other battalions."
In the first week of October, the Highlanders
moved back to the Aldershot area. It was at this time that training would take a
dramatic new turn.
Calgary Highlanders on
exercise in the UK.
Calgary Highlanders Regimental Museum and Archives Photo
Two photos of an Echelon Supply Point.
Photos originally published in The Glen and scanned from
a copy belonging to Private E. A. Kellar, provided courtesy of Bob Weir
Photos originally published in The Glen and scanned from
a copy belonging to Private E. A. Kellar, provided courtesy of Bob Weir.