As a bolt from the blue, the even tenor of a comparatively peaceful yet strenuous life somewhere in England, was rudely shattered by the news of the Battalion’s immediate departure to France.
Taking a leaf out of the Duchess of Richmond’s book, the officers decided to hold a farewell dance, if not a ball. It was a great success and the Regiment, the Battalion and its friends were well represented.
We did not in fact move until three weeks later and the journey across was uneventful. A few hours after arrival, we entrained into luxurious cattle trucks covered with lime. Casting off one company en route, which went on detachment, we reached our destination just as darkness set in.
The camp was situated amidst the most glorious scenery for which Normandy is famous. The first days of settling in leave no vivid impressions except for the torrential rain, which for two nights drove us out of our tents into nearby barns.
After that, the weather changed and we had almost unbroken sunshine for the remainder of our stay.
We were kept well occupied humping, draining and guarding and if these duties did not seem very militant, we were assured that they were essential. Under these circumstances, it was only possible for one company at a time to continue training. In the meantime, the company on detachment was carrying out similar duties. The only high spot, apart from parachutist flaps, that this company enjoyed was the Heath Robinson shower baths, whose ingenious conception was praised by the Divisional General himself.
Came the invasion of the Low Countries! This was very soon followed by the “bulge,” the “gap” and the break through of the Allied line. It was because of this that the Division was ordered forward to take up positions farther north to check the enemy advance. Alas! the Battalion did not get that far.
We entrained at midnight and after many halts, one of which was well occupied in breakfasting, we reached the outskirts of Amiens. Although we did not then know the term “Marshalling Yard,” we are quite familiar with it now.
It was a beautiful afternoon and the subsequent hell that was let loose could not have been more sudden. Some of us had seen planes dodging in and out of white clouds, but they were too high to distinguish if friend or foe. The next thing we knew was that we were being dive-bombed and machine-gunned. The subsequent two hours forms a grim story of the removal of the dead and wounded - among the former being our Quartermaster, Lieut. Blackwell. The extensive damage inflicted on the engine and train made it impossible for us to continue our journey and the Battalion rallied in a wood well clear of the permanent way.
That night and the following day were spent in and in the vicinity of the wood. In the short time available prior to the attack by German mechanized units and planes, we took up defensive positions. Of what followed, few returned to tell the tale. It was a great tragedy and many stories of sacrifice and heroism could be told.
The remnants of the Battalion eventually reached England, where they were re-formed.