JOINED TERRITORIAL ARMY
1935 - 1939
My new employers, Ever Ready, Canal Works, were located to the east of Wolverhampton, which was within two miles from Old Fallings Lane. I was again able to cycle to and fro from work, passing through Heath Town. On arriving at work the first morning, I was required to report to Mr Taylor, head of the efficiency department. He was a youngish executive, not more than 30 years of age, wore a dark blue suit, slightly humped back but with a sly smile from time to time. I too, was wearing a dark blue suit, white collar and polished shoes, my trousers were creased down the middle, for I placed them under my pillow each night. Mr Taylor told me that I would be taken round the works and then we would see Mr Terry at 11 o clock.
I was conducted round Canal Works by Stan Weaver, a member of the efficiency department. We followed the flow of material, first the goods inward, then the machine and annealing shop, through the polishing and plating shop, thence to the components stores. It was here that I saw the components being allocated to the various assembly bands in the assembly shop. We finally reached the despatch stores, which received the assembled battery lamps from the assembly bands. I was most impressed with the orderly flow of work. Everyone seemed fully occupied and apart from the odd glare, they were too busy to notice us.
At 11 o clock, we were taken into Mr Terry's office by his secretary. I was greeted by Mr Terry and introduced to a Mr Cook, in a white coat, the charge hand responsible for the components stores. He had a protruding chin, clean faced with a severe look about him. Mr Terry then explained I would have a month to study his stores and to make recommendations for changes where necessary. It was a brief session, my terms of reference were clear and on returning to Mr Taylor's office I was allocated a desk.
Mr Taylor advised me to get acquainted with the current articles being produced. There was a friendly atmosphere in the office, which was conveyed to me by Stan Weaver, who conducted me round the factory. It was the role of the staff in this office to carry out costing rate fixing and work study on the assembly bands. There was a staff canteen where I got to know members of the drawing and order departments. There seemed to be a team spirit with everyone on the same side.
In tackling my task, I failed to win the storekeeper's interest, which in hindsight, should have been my first objective. After all, no one else was in a better position to know what changes were required to improve his stores. This period of a month passed quickly, many of the workers thinking I was spying for Mr Terry.
I became knowledgeable on the products being produced, cycle lamps, torches, pocket lamps, bijou and special hand-built inspection lamps. I was also to learn that Mr Cook played a very important role for the production department in ensuring the assembly bands were not kept waiting for the allocation of components. One single component out of the set not in stock could cause a whole band of 20 or more assemblers to be idle. Looking back on this assignment, I never remember discussing any aspect of his work with him. I do remember Mr Cook giving me looks. With hindsight and experience I should have approached this task very differently - but one learns the hard way.
My procedure in this task was to examine the location of where components were stored in relation to other components making up the same article. Now this was my first work study report. Not having had any training in the presentation of such reports, I adopted a standard introduction, viz; "After a critical analysis of etc etc, the following recommendations are made." I do not remember that I discussed or altered this report in any way with Mr Taylor, all I know was the report was favourably received, although I felt Mr Cook would not have supported my findings.
I now became involved with rate fixing. Armed with stop-watch and board with details of the job, tool and hand press, I reported to the press shop foreman, who took me to my first operator to be timed. I asked this young operator her name to record on the time sheet. I told her that she should prepare a hundred components for timing.
While this was taking place, the other operators close by were glancing across. I was to learn that the younger the operator, the more concerned they were to give a fast time. This would annoy older operators, for they too would have to work to the rate set. It was important that personal needs were added on to the time recorded. When the rate had been finalised, this was then forwarded to Mr Terry to sign his approval. Should this operation replace a former operation, any savings or increased cost would have to be submitted at the signing of the new rate. Needless to state, there was seldom that an increased cost was shown.
There was a good social side to this firm. Once a week, the Heath Town swimming pool was hired for the firm's employees. Outings were arranged and an annual dance was held, near Christmas at the Victoria Hotel. Always at this time, if Ever Ready had had a good trading year, a generous bonus was paid out to all employees. This was the case when I joined the firm. Another benefit I received was being taught the card game of bridge at dinner times. This was an interest to stay with me for my lifetime. Of course, the bidding systems, like Culbertson, have since been replaced by such systems as Acol.
As we entered into 1936, papers were full of another world aggressor, Mussolini, with his Italian Fascist Party, who declared war on Abysinnia late in 1935. They had now captured Addis Ababa. This was followed with news that civil war had broken out in Spain and that Franco's Fascist Party were receiving help from both Germany and Italy against the republic. This became an opportunity for Hitler's war machine to be tried out and improved. The Prince of Wales became King, only to abdicate less than a year later over the Mrs Simpson affair. Edward VIII was made Duke of Windsor. His brother, Duke of York, was then crowned King George VI in December.
As was the case when working at Yale, I had a young lady as a cycling companion. This was Edna Walker, a rather shy girl, who lived close to Old Fallings Lane and worked in the order department at Ever Ready. She often spoke of her elder sister, Gladys and thought she would suit me. I was very inexperienced even though I was 20 years of age.
It was some time before I was to meet her. Edna told me that her father kept a close watch on his brood of two sons and three daughters plus a baby girl. Alan, the youngest son, eventually emigrated to Australia under the assisted scheme to provide young labour for the farmers down under. It was when I was pushing mother round the block in her wheelchair, I was to cast eyes on Gladys. I left mother to speak to Edna, who was in the front garden at this time. She at once told me to see Gladys in the house. She took me to the front door and shouted out "Alan is here". Immediately, Gladys appeared with bucket and scrubbing brush, no shoes on, with her hair in disarray. It was the most natural appearance one could wish for - no make up, just the genuine article! She might have been a gypsy. I disappeared quickly, for mother had been left in her wheelchair on the footpath. I had now been smitten with this unpretentious young lady.
I was to widen my circle of friends at work, and in doing so, I became much more of knowledgeable about their work. Ernie Proffitt was part of the drawing office team, designing complicated press tools, such as follow-on tools, which carried out several drawing operations on the same tool. Much experience was required to know how far metal could be stretched. Another work colleague was Graham Blackmore, assistant chemist, whose role was to check that the nickel and chrome vats were of the correct temperature and density. It was while I was there that the chief chemist introduced a bright chrome process. This eliminated the need to pre-nickel and polish before chroming. Immediately, around 20 operators were displaced and space retrieved by removing nickel vats and polishing machines!
My work in the efficiency department now embraced setting rates on the assembly bands. The key was to identify the slowest operation on the assembly band. When this had been established, using time and motion study, one either reduced the time with tool improvements or by combining the operation with that of another of much less time and doubling the number of operators.
Towards the end of 1937, I was sent for by Mr Terry and told that the head of production had to retire on health grounds, with a nervous breakdown and I had been chosen to take over. I had just reached the age of 22 and had no idea that I would be asked to become production controller.
I was overwhelmed with this promotion and thanked Mr Terry. He told me that the production staff had been informed and that a notice to this effect would be posted on the works notice board during the day. I was instructed to become fully acquainted with the functions of the production department prior to the weekly production meeting, held each Thursday morning at 9.30, at which the heads of workshop departments were present, as well as the Heads of the despatch and ordering departments. It was now Monday. It is said ignorance is bliss, and in this case there was a lot of truth in it. If I had known the enormity of the task, I might have fallen off the chair after Mr Terry had told me of this sudden promotion.
The production office was located near Mr Terry's office on the far side, with the efficiency department on the near side when entering the main office block corridor. There had been no occasion for us to visit the production office and it could be said I was completely green at this point in time, on its involvement.
I now returned to my former office and was congratulated on this promotion by Mr Taylor and his staff. I thanked them for their support and informed them that I would collect my belongings later. On entering my new office, I formally introduced myself to two middle aged ladies, who explained their role of works ordering clerks. Their names were Joy and Pam, who I had met previously in the staff canteen. There were smiles on their faces and I had the feeling that they looked on me as the next candidate for a nervous breakdown. A chart room adjacent to my office was staffed by an attractive young lady, who introduced herself as Rita. I now returned to my works order clerks, for them to explain their task. I was shown the annual forecast production schedule, from which the monthly schedule was derived and which was the authority document for the issuing of sets of component orders to enable the monthly quota of assembled articles to be completed. It was when I examined the quantities involved, that I started to take in the nature of my new job. On the yearly schedule were shown quantities exceeding a million for certain articles such as cycle and bijou lamps and when broken down to daily production, this would amount to 20,000.
Returning to the chart room, Rita explained that the Gantt charts were prepared from the monthly schedule, with each component listed on the far left hand side of each chart. Above the charts was a curtain rail which enabled a vertical moving plumb line to be moved each day to represent the date line from returns forwarded from strategically placed control stations. Any item on horizontal line not blacked out on the left side of the date line was a visual indication that the item's production was not up to schedule. Now Rita confided in me that there was at least half a day's time lag in recording. In practice, the storekeeper and the head of the assembly shop liaised together to avoid unnecessary waiting time on the assembly bands, where up to 20 assemblers could be idle at any one time. Perhaps the production office should have been sited in the components stores. Like at Yale, the information received from the workshop was too late to avoid delays in the assembly shop. The knowledge I was gaining was that, again, the tail was wagging the head.
I thanked Rita for the information and said I would discuss resiting the production office in the components stores when next I was with Mr Terry. I was to learn from Joy and Pam that this waiting time in the assembly shop was totalled for each week and for which the production controller, me, was required to explain the resultant percentage loss of production at the weekly production meeting. I was now feeling punch drunk!
As I gained experience in the role of production controller, I found that provided a close eye was kept on those components which were behind schedule on the Gantt charts, the factory inertia, combined with the close assembly and stores liaison, production was always assured.
I stayed in this post until my
services were sent for by King George VI, at the time war broke out in September 1939. I had a good relationship with Mr
Terry until I was called up during the Munich crisis to join my TA Regiment. My action in not seeking Mr Terry's
advice before joining up was indefensible and was a measure of my immaturity.
a measure of my immaturity.
My friend, Sam wrote, telling me that his cotton firm had folded up and he was now out of work, could I help him? As stated, I had good relations with my boss, especially at that time I received this letter. I spoke to Mr Terry about my friend, an ex-Manchester grammar schoolboy and thought he would find a niche in his organisation. Sam was interviewed and taken on in the training pool of the efficiency department. He was, at a later date, to take charge of this department. He commuted home at the weekends, staying at Mrs Morris' house, the grandmother of Edna, my cycling companion, in Park Village during the week. This was a small suburb half way between Wolverhampton and Bushbury.
I had now become very friendly with Gladys after I met her at the Heath Town Baths. Her natural beauty was there to be seen, having shapely legs, thin waist and full bust. When she smiled, she displayed a row of pearly teeth. Cycling home from the baths, she revealed that she had a boyfriend, another Alan, but he had now left the area. He was a building surveyor and his work in Wolverhampton had finished and she ceased to see him. We became fond of each other and I was now visiting her family in Leason Lane, to the rear of Old Fallings Lane.
There were plenty of local country lanes to wander. I would make her laugh when I tried to sing Cole Porter's 'Night and Day'. All was going fine in this direction when, to my surprise, Gladys mentioned that the other Alan had turned up again. That did it. I told her she was to make up her mind as to which Alan she wanted. With that I said farewell for the present.
About this period, early in 1938, when playing bridge in the work's canteen at dinner time with Graham, the assistant chemist, we arranged to visit the anti- aircraft display at the TA drill hall the next night. We met up by St Peter's Parish Church and made our way by foot along Darlington Street towards Chapel Ash, where a former riding school building had now been converted into the TA drill hall.
Graham, who lived opposite the Ever Ready works and whose father was the manager of the British Oxygen depot at Wolverhampton, was lean and lanky, very pale looking. One would question whether his weak physical condition would be acceptable to the army.
We reached the drill hall and on entering, noticed that there was a small crowd milling around a gun and technical equipment. Among these people were a few officers, all dressed in their officers' mess uniforms, cavorting and socialising. There was some embarrassment that an electrical fault had delayed the display. Nevertheless, we were able to have the control equipment, consisting of the predictor and height finder explained to us.
It was the role of two operators to follow the target through the eyepieces on the predictor, which provided gun dial information for the gun crews. A three dimensional cam in the predictor calculated a future position for the guns to aim at, which would have taken into account the plane's speed and shell time to arrive at its target.
The delay in the 'ack ack' display provided an opportunity for a Colonel Wood to address the assembly and stated that it was considered that Germany would be ready for a major war by September 1939. This surprised me, for Germany was about to seize Austria and no doubt other countries soon afterwards.
Finally the display got underway, when we could observe the movement of the gun-laying dials information fed from the predictor. The three inch guns had been adapted from a naval version and could now be used in a mobile role. I had no desire to be conscripted into the infantry. If I had to join, I reasoned, I would prefer to be involved with some remote technical equipment. I knew Graham was of a like mind. We were ready for picking when the question was directed to us, "Will you serve your King and country?" The officer who addressed us, in his smart uniform with broad red stripes down the sides of his trousers had a youngish face. He thought his was a happy battery, known as the 209 Heavy Anti-Aircraft of the 73 Royal Artillery Regiment.
Before the night was out, with our hands on the Bible, we had both been sworn into the territorial army. The staff instructor, a regular army instructor seconded to this unit, then took over and informed us that we would be required to attend drills at the weekends and on Wednesdays. The first one we must attend was the next Sunday morning, when the quartermaster sergeant would fit us out with our uniform. When we left the drill hall, both Graham and I had much to contemplate on the effects of our action, as regards our jobs and on the domestic scene.
My father was resigned to me making my own decisions, after all he himself joined the army in the First World War and I am sure, like most of us, he thought war was inevitable. It was a question of obeying one's own conscience. Now the situation regarding Graham was quite the reverse. I do not know what took place at his home, but I do know efforts were made to obtain his discharge on health grounds. Sadly, he died from an illness that doctors failed to diagnose, tuberculosis. He died before the outbreak of war.
The first occasion when I reported for parade on this Sunday morning, I learned never to please the sergeant if he was requiring someone to ride a bicycle. When asked this question, I was the first to respond. "Fall out Gunner Rayment and report to quartermaster's stores", the sergeant bellowed. For this action of volunteering, I was to spend the rest of the morning fetching and carrying different size uniforms for the stores officer to fit out the new recruits. I was the last to be fitted out. Well, one has to learn the hard way. Since then, I have avoided volunteering where sergeants are concerned.
I wore the uniform to go home in without either of the tunic buttons being polished or my boots. It saved carrying them. That afternoon, I was showing my parents my new outfit, which included gaiters and a side cap. To my surprise, at this moment, there was a knock on the door. On opening it, there was a smiling Gladys, who had come to tell me I was the one for her.
It took me a little time to recover from this news, I really thought she had gone for good. I felt a bit of a cad when later I learned that the other Alan had showered presents on her. I saw Gladys staring at my uniform, I decided I would play a little game with her. "My dear, I thought my bird had flown away for good and I decided that there was no point in living here anymore so I have joined the army!" I exclaimed .
She immediately replied,
"Then I shall come with you." I
was asking myself, does she really mean this?
I need not have doubted this, for in the not too distant future,
this really did happen. "Please come
in," I said, "I have a job for you, I want all these brass buttons taken off the
tunic so that I can take them to work and have them polished and sprayed with clear
lacquer". "Is that not cheating?" she remarked. "Oh no, the army welcome new ideas." I replied. As you sow, so you shall reap, that
comes true every now and then and it did so in this case when I was at firing camp later
in the year. I decided to be truthful
for she had passed her test. I exclaimed,
"I am not a proper soldier. I have
joined the local TA battery." It was
time to normalise our relations.
"Oh no, the army welcome new ideas." I replied. As you sow, so you shall reap, that comes true every now and then and it did so in this case when I was at firing camp later in the year. I decided to be truthful for she had passed her test. I exclaimed, "I am not a proper soldier. I have joined the local TA battery." It was time to normalise our relations.
I had now settled in the production controller's seat and ensuring all items likely to be raised at the weekly production progress meeting had been fully investigated prior to the meeting. The component stores keeper, Mr Cook, whom I seemed to have treated shabbily when I first arrived, was very helpful and without his co-operation, my task in keeping the assembly shop fully occupied with resultant minimum waiting time would have been difficult to achieve. However, I was not really happy, due to the time lag in receiving the manual components movement information from the control stations. It would be many years before computer systems could provide the answer to this problem.
I ensured that my TA obligations did not interfere with my work and had allocated my annual leave to cover the TA firing practice at Manobier, South Wales at the beginning of September. All the gunners in my TA Unit had now been allocated to one of four troops. I was in B troop. We had also been given our action position, I and Laurie Green were assigned to operate the predictor which fed the gun laying information to four 3-inch mobile guns. This was the fire power for each troop. My troop sergeant was not of the traditional type, he never claimed to be standing on your hair, respected you as a person and took great pride in his role. It came as surprise to learn that his girlfriend was Rita, in the chart room, Ever Ready. I made sure she was well supported in her job!
The news on the continent during 1938 was becoming more serious with Austria now occupied by Germany and with Czechoslovakia's German minority leader, Kurt Henlein seeking also to be annexed by Germany. Churchill was attacking Chamberlain, the Prime Minister for not opposing Hitler's plans. It was with this international tension background that we made our practice firing camp at Manobier.
On arrival, our first task was to erect bell tents that had been thrown in line from a lorry by a contingent of the Royal Marines, who were also taking part in the firing practice. We watched with amazement how quickly the marines erected their tents. When we had settled down in our tents, we went on parade and were addressed by the camp firing officer. He gave us the dos and don'ts and the firing practice schedule. There would be a turn-out inspection each morning, any gunner improperly dressed would have to do extra guard duty. All boots will be expected to be boned and polished up to the guards' standard.
I now had a funny feeling. Would the clear lacquer be thick enough on my brass buttons to resist the sea air? Each morning, sergeant major carried out this inspection. On the third morning my brass buttons had definitely tarnished and it was no surprise when the sergeant major told me to report to Sergeant Mills after parade with my buttons polished. This I did, and when I explained I could not get the buttons to shine he took the tunic off me. I was horrified when he took out his button stick and applied metal polish. The buttons were now almost black and the sergeant was not laughing. I, of course, expressed amazement and suggested the metal must be faulty. I was forbidden to attend further parades until further notice. I was to get replacement buttons as soon as possible. Unknown to Sergeant Mills, when on a trip to Tenby that night, I obtained a bottle of white spirit. When applied on the buttons it worked magic. Hey Presto, my buttons were now shiny.
When on parade the next day, to sergeant's surprise I explained I had done a deal with another soldier who had two tunics. It was the last of my sharp practices to defeat the system of keeping men in uniform busy polishing buttons and boots to keep them out of mischief. My mind went back to the time when I was nearly persuaded to join the guards in my early teens. I simply could not have come to terms with the spit and polish life.
When taking part in the firing practice, a drogue towed by a light aircraft, known as the queen bee, was used as the target. Gun crews used shells set to fire short of the drogue. On one of these practice runs, I suddenly realised that I was directing the guns onto the plane and not the drogue. The permanent staff, checking the fire drill procedure did not make reference to this serious blunder in their report and I am glad the queen bee pilot was alive when our practice runs had finished.
We were permitted to go to Tenby at night if not on guard duty. A party of four of us, one of whom had a car, David, who drove us along a coastal track into Tenby on the third day. We wanted to know if David was very fond of his drink - we were soon to discover this information. The three passengers were now wondering about the wisdom of returning with David. We felt we had to chance it. On this precarious coastal track I felt certain we would fall into the sea on several occasions. When we finally completed this nightmare of a trip on reaching the camp site, David was so drunk he was unable to walk unaided back to his tent. I said a prayer to the one looking after me. It was a trip on which I felt I had died many times, and will always remember.
It was a matter of days after we returned that a National State of Emergency was declared by the Government. This involved my TA unit being called out and being posted to Coventry. I received my call up by phone at night, and so had no way of giving advance notice to Mr Terry, a situation that I had hoped to avoid. We departed the following morning to our allotted site at Sandy Lane, Coventry. I had managed to call round to say 'Hullo' and 'Good-bye' to Gladys the night before. In this State of Emergency, our role was to provide an anti-aircraft defence for Coventry. We were billeted in the canteen of a local factory for accommodation and food. Now, in siting the guns centrally in a large open field, the troop commander had created an unnecessary security problem at night. Two guard posts had to be sited diagonally opposite one another, which would not have occurred if the four gun had been located on one side of the field to the left of the field entrance. The outcome of the present positioning of the guns was soon to be revealed late at night.
It was a fear of mine, when on guard, to fall asleep, for I had heard stories about the First World War, that soldiers found asleep on watch had been shot at dawn. It was my misfortune to be on sentry duty the first night, when the visiting duty officer was challenged, "Halt. Who goes there?". He replied, "The duty officer". I immediately called out, "Turn out the guard, guard turn out!" There was no movement in the guard tent, so I rushed inside. They were fast asleep. In no time, I had roused them and shouting again, "Guard turn out!" Eventually the duty officer had a guard to inspect. He took the bombardier in charge of the guard aside afterwards and had a private word or two with him. We did not find out what was said to him, but we were pleased there was no firing squad at dawn the following morning.
A few days later, there was shouting at night on the gunsite. A very nervous sentry heard noises on the gunsite and called out "Halt. Who goes there?" The noise continued and was challenged again. Now, the guard on the opposite side joined in the challenge. Both guards were now in the process of challenging each other. Fortunately, no shots were fired for the 'villain' making the noise was a stray cow from the adjoining field.
It was a great relief when Chamberlain returned from seeing Hitler with a piece of paper in his hand and said "Peace in our time".
Returning to work after the emergency standdown, it was anything other than peace in our time. My presence was immediately required by Mr Terry to explain my absence. In my innocence, I thought my action to defend my country would have pleased my boss. When he explained that I was one of his key men, I felt both flattered and ashamed. What I had not realised was that had war broken out, my job would have classified as a reserved occupation. This now left him with no alternative but to find a replacement for my post.
The outcome of my brief encounter with my boss did not change my position as production controller. This was to Mr Terry's credit and when a final replacement arrived in a Mr Johns, he was referred to as my assistant. As I was aware that I could be called up any time, with the war clouds gathering over the whole of Europe, I therefore gave every help to assist Mr Johns in his quest to fit himself to take over after my inevitable call up papers had arrived.
Our courtship was blossoming, as might be expected when a couple 23 years old are attracted to each other. During August 1939, we went on our summer holidays to Bournemouth, staying at a boarding house, where females shared bedrooms and men theirs likewise. We both can claim we not only arrived as virgins, but we also returned home unbreached. This was not an age of a free-for- all attitude. Moral standards still played a part in our lives. I would not have liked letting her father down for he was a strict disciplinarian, both at home and at school, where he was a woodwork master. My father gave me a serious talk before setting off on this trip that I should not get too involved with sex until I had established a career. Once children appear on the scene it is very difficult to carry on further studies. Gladys was, at this period, suggesting looking at the new housing estates being built locally. Somehow I changed the subject by referring to the possibility of war breaking out at any time.
In spite of the piece of paper that Chamberlain brought back with "Peace in our time", Hitler still dismembered Czechoslovakia and was turning eyes towards Poland and the free port of Danzig. Chamberlain was urged to sign a pact with Poland and this took place in London on 25th May 1939. This was the end of appeasing Hitler by Chamberlain's government. Britain was now increasing its fighting power, with the doubling of the territorial army and the introduction of conscription for all men between 20 and 21. On 23rd August 1939, a non- aggression pact was signed between Stalin and Russia. We were now left with one major ally - France.
It was thought that should war break out, air raids would start immediately and the civilians would be the first casualties. Sir John Anderson, Chief in Charge of air raid defence developed an air raid shelter, named after him. They were being produced at the rate of 80,000 a week. An evacuation plan was prepared for 2,500,000 children from towns and cities. There were also plans to remove the sick, of which my mother was included, when the fateful day arrived. A gas mask Sunday had been held on 25th September 1938, when half of 38 million were collected. Across the country, the public were instructed on air raid precautions such as blacking out at night, covering homes, cars, shops and all premises. The day after the Hitler and Stalin pact, Britain went onto a full scale war footing. Around the country, search lights were wheeled into place.
On 1st September, Germany attacked Poland and immediately the evacuation plans went into action, with 1,500,000 children being moved out of the cities and towns. My mother was taken by special ambulance to Dysert, North Wales on this Friday, 1st, but before she left I had reported at the TA drill hall.
Mr Johns, I felt sure would successfully take over the production control post, where up to a thousand people were employed in the factory at Ever Ready.
On this Friday 1st September, when each TA member responded to his call up notice, Sergeant Major Smith with his highly polished boots and buttons and drill stick tucked under his arm, stood at the entrance to the drill hall and greeted them with "Get signed in and report to your troop sergeant right away" In the battery office, as I was signing in, I noticed the troop officers talking together. I caught Lieutenant Colin Elwell's eye and gave a smile in response. I went in search of Sergeant Mills, who I found with a group of gunners from B troop in the main drill hall.
Sergeant Mills spotted me and called out, "Come and join the party, I am just giving them the low down. During the morning you are to draw from the stores your eating utensils, gas mask and steel helmet, not forgetting your billy can. In the afternoon you will be having a medical inspection. That is enough for starters."
The stores had not started to issue items, so three of us left this group, went into the courtyard and stood near the iron rail defence. Laurie Green, my predictor co-partner and a chap called Vasey made up the three of us. The main subject of discussion was how our lives were going to be affected once war broke out. Then Vasey, who had made it known that he had recently got married and that his new bride would be very upset should he be sent away. He added that the only good thing about being married was that they would receive marriage allowance. "Are you married, Alan?" asked Vasey. I replied, "I became engaged during the summer". He said, "You want to get cracking, you could be away a long time. You have to get permission from the commanding officer first, now you are in uniform." I went quiet and realised that I could get out of a full-blown church wedding if we got married by special licence at a registrar. "Get cracking" I was told. I left this small group, and went to sort out Colin Elwell. When I found him, I said, "May I have permission to marry Gladys Walker, and permission to arrange the wedding for Monday morning next, 4th September?"
He was shaken by this request, probably the first that he had ever been asked. After giving this request some thought, he replied, "This can be granted, provided that you are here on Sunday morning by 9.30 am and that you are here on Monday by midday. Good luck and kiss the bride for me." I was sure Gladys would be both surprised and delighted when I 'phoned her later in the day. This turned out to be the case, and a plan of action was necessary to attend to all the wedding arrangements the following day, Saturday 2nd September.
My mother had now been evacuated to Wales, and could not be present. My father was spellbound with the news when I 'phoned him on Friday night and he said that, regretfully, his business commitments on Monday morning prevented him attending.
My best friend, Sam Irwin, had returned to Urmston for the weekend and all I could do to inform him of our wedding was to leave a note at his digs for Mrs Morris, for when he returned on Sunday night. Mrs Morris was Gladys' grandmother. Unknown to me, Gladys' mum and dad, with Edna and two younger children were on holiday at Wallasey. This I was to learn on Saturday. We spent the whole of Saturday fixing the special wedding licence for 10 am, in obtaining the wedding ring, ordering the bouquet and arranging the photographs to be taken. Gladys had managed to contact her parents at Wallasey, I am not sure what they said, all I know is that they returned in time to be present at the wedding.
Once back at the drill hall on Sunday morning, I reported to Sergeant Mills, who was busy marshalling B troop for the battery church parade. It was the first time I had seen the full turn out of my unit. Our Major Slater led the parade with Captain Sharpe following, and then came Sergeant Major Smith. The troop officers led their respective troop. This was no ordinary parade, for each man knew from the morning wireless news before setting out that Britain had given Germany an ultimatum to withdraw from Poland, demanding a reply by 11am the same morning.
The service at St Peter's Wolverhampton Parish Church was interrupted around 11.20, when a message was handed to the vicar, who was delivering his sermon. The vicar read from his note, " Chamberlain announced on the radio at 11.15 this morning, the following; 'A final ultimatum to Germany sent at 9 am had expired at 11 and that the country was at war." The service came abruptly to an end with the singing of the national anthem.
On our return march back to the drill hall, I noticed that Captain Sharpe was crying. I was not very impressed. Personally I was glad that Hitler would now be checked and that everyone's lives could soon return to normal. Once back in the drill hall, before falling out of the parade, the Major read out from a note passed to him. "All members of the TA are now embodied in the army and will have to comply with army regulations forthwith. All troops to be prepared to move out tomorrow, 4th September at midday.
During the afternoon, many sweethearts and wives came seeking their other half at the drill hall. Gladys arrived with the news that her family were returning and would be at the wedding. She said; "I have a carnation for your button hole to match my bouquet."
I thanked her and said; "I am now a regular grade A soldier, having passed my medical. See you tomorrow at day break." Then I kissed her goodbye. There was much to sleep on, for tomorrow would be divided between our wedding and the King's army.
After Gladys' departure, I had time to reflect on what could go wrong on the morrow. For instance, would Sam return and read my note giving details of the wedding and that he was to be my best man? I had to collect my button hole carnation from Gladys. But I am told the bridegroom is not supposed to see the bride until they meet at the wedding.
All this added up to the need for me to obtain permission to be absent tonight, before the black-out started. Fortunately, I was on good terms with Colin Elwell, my troop officer, who smiled when I approached him on the subject of leave. He said, "I shall expect full details of this unique wedding way of starting World War II, not forgetting details of the honeymoon afterwards. We shall be keeping our fingers crossed for your timely return, prior to our departure at midday." I gratefully responded; "I never knew that wars could be so stressful, but then you have the thrill of being victorious. This means, in my case, I have won a wife to say a prayer for my safe-keeping each night." I made sure that I departed the drill hall well before the black-out. There had been plenty of warnings not to go out after dusk, the public had not had time to train their eyes to see in the dark like cats.
My first port of call was at Sam's digs, Mrs Morris, Park Village, being about a mile from Old Fallings Lane. When I called, around 7 pm, Sam had not yet returned from Urmston on his Norton motorbike. This gave me time to chat to Gladys' grandma, who told me that she had been invited to our wedding by Gladys the previous day. This high speed wedding was new to her and she said, "We shall have to see what happens." Mrs Morris was well into her 80's, with very white hair and generally dressed in black with a white apron tied around her waist.
A noisy motorbike in the back garden had heralded Sam's return. As he entered the room, he gave me a surprised expression when he saw I was dressed in khaki. He gave me an even greater surprised look when I told him that he was to be my best man at 10 am the following morning.
Before the evening was over, I had been invited to stay overnight, with the condition that Sam took me to Old Fallings Lane tomorrow at 8 am on the back of his motorbike. He was also required to call on Gladys at Leason Lane and ask for a button-hole carnation for both of us. I would hide behind a bush so that she could not see me. We had much to talk about, Ella and things back in Urmston.
On retiring to bed, I thanked my company and asked if I could be excused and then uttered, "Tomorrow I have ordered a taxi to take us to the big event at 9.30am. I have much to sleep on, for tomorrow will be divided between our wedding and fighting for King and country.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 14, 2001