Tweedsmuir Camp 1942-1947 (3 of 5)

Education

Education was taken very seriously by Canadian Army superiors. It was tailored to meet the specific needs of not only PE staff but also, and in particular, transient personnel. The syllabus was supervised by the 'Canadian Educational Services' branch of CMHQ. The branch had a Director of Education, Lieutenant-Colonel Grace, and a small staff who endeavoured to provide a meaningful schooling for serving Canadian troops. Grace travelled the length and breadth of the UK during WWII, visiting Canadian military camps and offering advice. On 4 August 1944 he, together with Major Rellitt and Captain Price, visited Tweedsmuir Camp, reporting that they "were greatly impressed by the educational set up" there.

A large percentage of the transit ordinary rankers in the Canadian Army was drawn from the farming industry or a trade background (see last sentence in the first paragraph under 'Camp Routine' above). For these soldiers, education, comprising conventional lessons, informative visits and lectures of interest, was an opportunity to expand their knowledge.

On 6 January 1944, two officers and ten other ranks visited Cunnungton's Shoe Factory in the East End of London. The party "saw shoes being made from start to finish and a lunch and beverage was served in the factory canteen." Five days later, while the unit Medical Officer started "a series of ten 'First Aid' lectures", a group of PE staff accompanied transient personnel on a visit to the Tower of London. One particular historical location, Winchester Cathedral, appears to have been of popular interest because both PE and transient personnel visited it on several occasions.

Not all visits were that far afield. In the afternoon of Sunday, 14 May 1944, Colonel Keene led a group of four officers and forty ordinary ranks on an outing to St. Michael's Abbey, Farnborough in Hampshire. The Colonel acted as education officer, pointing out the abbey's history "in a very interesting and instructional manner."

On rare occasions camp personnel's education was augmented by a special guest who was invited to lecture on a subject of mutual interest. For example, an entry in the 1 NETD War Diary for 2 May 1944 reads,

"A very interesting lecture was given in the gym today on the underground movement in Europe. The lecturer was Mr Camille Henig, formerly a newspaper editor in Warsaw, who was once intimately connected with the underground movement. The gym was packed with PE and transit personnel."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1944 - The National Archives (PRO)}

(Presumably Henig had links with Poland's Armia Krajowa or 'AK'. The 'AK' was an underground army and an integral part of the Polish Armed Forces, which fought against Nazi Germany during WWII. Translated into English, Armia Krajowa means Home Army.)

Visits and lectures were only two of the many educational components offered to Canadian soldiers. On 1 August 1944, for instance, the "Education Branch of the unit [...] announced day classes for transient personnel, comprising Mathematics, English and Citizenship."

(1 August was also the day that the 'AK' attacked German garrisons in Warsaw under the command of General Bor-Komorowski; an event that became known as the Warsaw uprising. It ended unsuccessfully on 3 October with 24,000 'AK' casualties, 200,000 civilian dead, and Warsaw reduced to rubble.)

Links with the Surrounding Civilian Communities

The 1 NETD War Diaries report many instances of the Lorne Scots Unit in Tweedsmuir Camp forging links with the neighbouring communities of Thursley, Churt, Bowlhead Green, Pitch Place and Cockhill; (Coc khill now forms part of Elstead's southern boundary). Mention has already been made that on 24 March 1943 the ladies of Thursley village agreed to make curtains for the camp's reading and quiet room. Other links included providing assistance to fight local fires, helping organise garden parties or fetes, and preparing high tea functions for local dignitaries. But arguably the most delightful diary accounts are of the annual children's Christmas parties held in the Tweedsmuir Camp NAAFI to which their parents were also invited. Although two or three of these have already been mentioned (see 'Chronology of Noteworthy Events' section of this website), it is worthwhile reiterating the occasions here.

Children's Christmas parties at Tweedsmuir were organised by the camp's officers. Around £80 (sterling), a large amount of money in the 1940s, was usually allocated to the purchase of gifts, sweets and other delights that children enjoy. Although the number of children attending the parties varied, approximately fifty was the average for most years. They were shown cartoon films ('Mickey Mouse', 'Popeye' and the like), and on one occasion a Punch and Judy show, before settling down to a meal "of good things dear to the heart of children." Following the meal, "Santa Claus in the person of" either Captain Ferris or Major KM Johnson, both of whom were of the "appropriate shape and size", distributed the gifts. A bag of sweets was given to each child as they left for home with their parents. Christmas parties were always described as joyful occasions and the children as being "delighted with the whole affair."

On 26 June 1943 a "Prisoners of War fete was held at Dye House", which was opened, and attended, by Field Marshal Lord Ironside who also "inspected the Guard of Honour sent from 5 CIRU." This is an especially important event to mention because Lord Edmond Ironside met John Buchan, later Lord Tweedsmuir after whom Tweedsmuir Camp was named, during WWI. Buchan was the author of many literary works. In his book The Thirty Nine Steps Buchan's main character, Richard Hannay, is reputed to have been based on a young Edmund Ironside. Moreover, in 1940 Ironside was instrumental in devising the General Headquarters Anti-tank Line that became known as the GHQ Stop Line. The GHQ Stop Line ran through Elstead. When in 1941 Tweedsmuir Camp was being constructed by Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE), a plan was devised for sections of the RCE Battalions to man the Stop Line in the event of an enemy invasion (see 'Construction of Tweedsmuir Camp' section of this website).

Two other events are also worth referring to, albeit briefly. The first occurred in the week ending 30 May 1943 when Sir Bruce Thomas wrote a short letter to Colonel Lent (CO, Tweedsmuir Camp at the time), expressing his appreciation for Lent's assistance in the "Wings for Victory Week" and for providing an "operator and projector for the cinema shows." The second occasion was reported on 18 October 1945, mentioning a piano being "loaned to the Thursley Girls' Youth Club for their dance" which took place that evening.

Operations 'Jubilee' and 'Overlord'

The attack on Dieppe (Operation 'Jubilee') has often been described by many eminent historians as the precursor to the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches of France (Operation 'Overlord'). Needless to say both were significant World War Two episodes and as such had a direct bearing on events in Tweedsmuir Camp.

Although the Dieppe offensive was brief, many thousands of British and Canadian soldiers were taken prisoner, injured or killed on that fateful day of 19 August 1942. Notwithstanding the gravity of this occasion, only a brief mention is made in the 1 NETD Diaries of the assault. It reads,

"Due to the large scale raid on France several hospitals called to ask that they had to evacuate all Category 'E' personnel. We could only accommodate a few of them. There were AGD personnel coming in all day. The Records Office worked late into the night making nominal rolls for their draft."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1942 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Some fifty of the Canadian soldiers killed at Dieppe were brought back to the UK for burial at the prestigious Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. The Surrey 'Advertiser and County Times' carried a brief but poignant report of the service.

The troops who landed on the Normandy coast on 6 June 1944 started their training in earnest one year before the assault. Concurrently, numerous high level meetings during, and particularly towards the end of, 1943 galvanised the plans for D-Day. By the end of March 1944 one of the many directives that originated from the meetings instructed officers commanding military camps in the UK to put into place, and without exception, detailed security arrangements.

In Tweedsmuir Camp, on Tuesday, 4 April 1944, all ranks

"were informed [...] that privilege leave and 48 hour passes had been suspended indefinitely. This news (was) taken philosophically by the men and much speculation voiced as to how soon the Second Front would be in operation."

The following day the old air defence protection provisions were "cancelled" and in their place

"a system of Rescue Parties instituted."

Additionally,

"all surplus maps in possession of PE personnel were called in by the Orderly Room."

On Friday, 7 April 1944,

"warnings regarding blackouts (were) strongly emphasised in Part 1 Orders (from CMHQ) and personnel reminded of the danger from marauding enemy aircraft on their way back to their bases after early morning raids on important inland targets."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1944 - The National Archives (PRO)}

The security arrangements in preparation for D-Day intensified with the passage of time. "All PE and attached personnel paraded in the square (on 12 May 1944) for arms inspection. The QM (saw) to it that any one (sic) deficient in fire-arms (would) be issued with one immediately." Later, every soldier in the camp was informed "that in future only their regimental number, rank and name would appear on the cover of all correspondence emanating from them." And on Saturday, 6 April, senior NCOs were "warned" to clear their diaries for the following Monday and Tuesday when they were required "to report to the 30 yard range for the purpose of firing rifle practices." (sic)

Preparations for limiting damage as a result of enemy action were wide ranging and included the acquisition of specific skills such as putting out fires caused by incendiary bombs. So on 11 April 1944 Tweedsmuir command invited "a fire fighting squad from No. 1 CARU" to demonstrate the correct procedures for dealing with such incidents. All PE, attached and transient personnel had to attend. "ARP Wardens from Thursley village were also permitted to witness this demonstration."

Training for Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots included the use of a revolver for protection if brought down by enemy action. To this end the RAF took advantage of the many firing ranges that were at their disposal up and down the UK, including the indoor range at Tweedsmuir Camp. On 1 and 10 May, and 2 June 1944, RAF platoons were transported (presumably from Dunsfold Aerodrome, a few miles east of Godalming) to Tweedsmuir for "small arms practice". And on Tuesday, 23 May about 1,000 RAF personnel "paraded into the camp [...] and attended a lecture in the gym nasium." The theme of the lecture, however, is not disclosed in the 1 NETD Diary.

The RAF were not the only units to use Tweedsmuir Camp's facilities. On 21 May 1944 "a detachment of Churt Home Guards fired on the 30 yard range. The SCO i/c was Mr Lloyd George's gardener." (Lloyd George was Britain's prime minister from 1916 to 1922. Following his resignation Lloyd George lived in Bron-y-de, Churt with his second wife, Frances Stevenson, until September 1944 when they moved to Ty Newydd near Llanystumdwy, Wales.)

Historical facts about D-Day assert that the objectives surrounding the invasion had to be kept top secret. Yet the safeguards seemed to have served little purpose in Tweedsmuir Camp as the various developments in the area (such as tank manoeuvres on Thursley Common on 31 May 1944) gave troops reason to speculate that these were "part of a much larger scheme that (would) merge into the opening of the Second Front."

When, on 6 June 1944, the Second Front did materialise, it caused "great excitement" in Tweedsmuir Camp with PE staff taking "turns to bring [...] the latest news from the radio." Two days later camp personnel were concerned that the weather was not helping the troops engaged in Normandy because there was "little encouragement from 'old Sol'." The weather was "cold and squally with nil visibility" hence no aeroplanes were heard that day.

Over the next few days the enemy reciprocated the Allied action of 6 June by directing V-1s {1} and bombing raids on London. "Despatch Riders from CMHQ and Acton (both in London) appear(ed) tired and worn out", and several explosions were heard in the vicinity of the camp. But Operation 'Overlord' progressed regardless. By 8 July the
"Orderly Room (had) a good sized map of Europe and it (was) intended to keep pace with the Allied advance in France. So far the Caen Bridgehead (had) been disappointing but 'armchair strategists' (pointed) out that Montgomery (was) preparing for something much bigger than the capture of Caen and its environs. However, the map (provided) an outlet for us 'chair borne' troops."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1944 - The National Archives (PRO)}

Interestingly, the penultimate sentence in the above quotation illustrates that despite assuming in May that a Second Front was about to open, the troops in Tweedsmuir Camp knew very little about its overall objective, namely a concerted Allied effort to move as rapidly as possible towards Berlin. It is quite feasible to assume that the "chair borne" troops' speculative strategies had been coloured by the narrower ambitions of Operation 'Jubilee' two years earlier.

The pursuance of 'Overlord' had an adverse affect on the Canadian repatriation programme due to "the restrictions on shipping." Many of the drafts had to be sent back to their UK Repatriation Units, and personnel became "very much disgruntled" with having to remain in the UK for a while longer. However, by the end of July as "more shipping" became "available, drafts (were) beginning to be more frequent."

In August 1944, two months after the launch of D-Day, some of the restrictions imposed on Tweedsmuir Camp before 6 June were lifted. For example, the diarist disclosed that,

"notification of the reinstatement of privilege leave was received to become effective on 8 August 44. The Orderly Room staff were busy answering enquiries from personnel regarding the new instructions. All departments were making up their 'priority lists' as personnel who had not had leave for the longest period were entitled to first chance."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1944 - The National Archives (PRO)}

As the atmosphere in the camp was now starting to become more relaxed, the Lorne Scots Unit renewed its links with the local community. On 5 August, for example,
"a garden party including sports and a flower show was held at the village under the auspices of the Thursley Horticultural Society, which was highly successful. The weather was 'made to order' for an event of this type and many personnel from this unit attended."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1944 - The National Archives (PRO)}

And (as mentioned earlier) on Sunday, 20 August the "CO and officers of NETD entertained at a 'Garden Tea Dance' during the afternoon and evening. [...] Owing to the inclement weather, dancing was enjoyed in the Mess [...] to music being provided by Major Thompson and his orchestra of No.1 RCA Bramshott. Tea was served in the marquee on the lawn." Over one hundred prominent guests were in attendance, including high ranking military personnel and important civilian dignitaries. Among those present were Major-General JH Roberts, Brigadiers Shields and MacDonald, Sir Bruce Thomas, Vice-Admiral and Mrs Hamilton, and Mr J Lomax, Chief Treasury Officer.

Despite the easing of 'war conditions' in Tweedsmuir Camp, personnel remained understandably anxious as there was no official statement that WWII operations were close to ending. Continual air activity, with "heavy and medium bombers" as well as "transport planes" (Dacotas) flying over the camp, resulted in rumours spreading of a possible "new invasion." Soon after, however, with greater numbers of Dacotas flying over the camp, "strategists" became convinced that the aeroplanes were more likely than not "flying supplies to France [...] and the Western Front." Their convictions were confirmed when on 7 September newspapers announced a partial suspension of blackouts in the UK. Five days later, on 12 September 1944, further newspaper reports declared that the Americans were "5 miles inside the border of Germany at a point north of Trier." Both pieces of news brought with them a sense of relief that the immediate dangers of war were finally dissolving at a rapid pace.

On the last day of 1944, as camp personnel's thoughts were firmly focused on home and fellow colleagues who may not have survived the consequences of war, "the camp had an air of quiet as the old year drew to a close."

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For the first three months of 1945 1 NETD War Diaries reported routine matters, mentioning the state of the weather, the number of personnel in transit and the appearance of the grounds. By 17 April orders were

"received from HQ to withdraw all rifles, Stens and 0.380 pistols from PE and attached personnel, with the exception of RCAPC (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps). Needless to say the order was joyfully received by the staff, as visions of no more rifle cleaning and inspection floated before their eyes."

Arguably, these orders carried with them a more significant message; that the war in Europe was finally progressing in favour of the Allied Forces. Then on 8 May, which was designated 'Victory in Europe Day' (VE Day), the diarist recorded the following:

"Today and tomorrow have been declared official holidays, set aside as days of rejoicing and relaxation after 5 years and 8 months of war. All but those who could not be spared from duties have taken the day off. By 1500 hrs all had quit to listen to the Prime Minister speak on the radio."

And on 9 May, in the knowledge that the end was in sight, he wrote,

"There is a kind of a hushed expectancy in the air today, as if 'now that it's all over I wonder what next?' Most of the staff are availing themselves of the opportunity to take a holiday, possibly fully realising that now the war is over Repat. Depots will have a pretty busy time with lots of hard work for the next few months."

{1 Canadian Non-Effective Transit Depot / Lorne Scots War Diary / January to December 1945 - The National Archives (PRO)}

But as it transpired, "the next few months" amounted to nearly two years before the last Canadian soldier would leave Tweedsmuir for home and when the "hard work" would cease.