TA for anniversary memories of troops

As men from the Ipswich Territorial Army prepare to embark on a six-month deployment to Iraq, one Suffolk man, living in quiet retirement in Rushmere, has told DAVE KINDRED of his brave missions during the Second World War as the TA celebrates its centenary year.

David Kindred

As men from the Ipswich Territorial Army prepare to embark on a six-month deployment to Iraq, one Suffolk man, living in quiet retirement in Rushmere, has told DAVE KINDRED of his brave missions during the Second World War as the TA celebrates its centenary year.

MANY little boys dream of becoming a soldier. The reality can be very different once in battle.

For one Ipswich man, experience of life as a soldier began when he was just seven. A few years later, when he was an apprentice carpenter, he lied about his age to formally join the Royal Army Medical Corps of the Territorial Army in Ipswich. What followed sounds like a story from a member of the SAS.

It was 100 years ago this year that the Territorial Army was formed and 87-year-old Charles “Sonny” Wright has told me his memories of the Territorial Army going back to his childhood.

As a seven-year-old he attended his first army camp at Bromeswell with his father.

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Charles said: “I was there for a week. We slept in a bell tent with about a dozen men who were grooms for the horses used by the officers and transport. I travelled back to Ipswich with the quarter-master's stores.

“After unloading at the Woodbridge Road, Ipswich, drill hall, my father returned the horses and wagon to Alfred Cooper's corn merchants, who had a barn in Crown Street near the corner with High Street.

“I joined the TA in March 1936 as a 15-year-old, although I had to claim I was 17. My pay at camp was two shillings per day. My first camp was near Worthing.

“We had a seven-hour train ride followed by a four-mile march to camp. Everybody was given sixpence, which could be exchanged for a pint of beer and five cigarettes.

“Every year, just before Christmas, we had a dinner at the Crown and Anchor Hotel, Ipswich. Again we were all given sixpence for beer and cigarettes.

“Weekend camps before the Second World War were at Sproughton. We had to march from the Woodbridge Road Drill Hall with full kit bags.

“We had hand carts to carry tents and equipment. Our evenings were spent at the Wild Man public house.

“As the Second World War loomed we were mobilised on Friday, September 1, 1939, at Renwyke Lodge, Palmerstone Road, Ipswich. On the Saturday we were 'billeted out'. I was at 18 Argyle Street. The next day I was moved to the Manor House, St Margaret's Green. The first week we filled sand bags to form ballast walls for the building. The cook house was on the bowling green.

“All the other rooms were used for mess room, as a barber's shop etc. The guard room was on the corner of Cobbold Street. Marching and field training was in Christchurch Park. This was my home until early 1940 when I was transferred to Northumberland.

“One day I was enjoying an evening in a local pub when I was told to report to the commanding officer immediately. Wondering what I had done wrong, I entered his office. 'How old are you?' he asked. I remembered to add two years and said I was 20. 'You look rather young', he said.

“He told me a special secret mission was being formed with only a slight chance of

survival. I could volunteer.

“I accepted and was sent for training with other members of the unit. We were told we had to learn to steal and kill. If we had doubts we could leave. I had one day's training with a rifle.

“The next two days we were equipped with special socks, boots, snow shoes, sleeping bags, survival rations, etc from Selfridges. We were told our destination was behind enemy lines and we were to destroy railways and bridges.

“Within a week we set sail and were landed in Norway. We were on a Norwegian harpoon whaler. Our skipper, plied with rum, made his way through the fjords breaking ice all the way.

“We then made our way through Norway by bus and were machine gunned by a German aircraft. Our driver from Essex was killed and six others were wounded. From then on we destroyed all bridges and were constantly attacked by aircraft. On our return trip we met up with the Scotch and Irish Guards and blew up installations for about 150 miles. When we got back to the port after about a month it was a scene of complete devastation. There were two Royal Navy destroyers there.

“We ran through fire to jump on board. I fell asleep below, when I awoke we were travelling at full speed and later landed on the Lofoten Islands. Eventually we were taken by ship with members of the Norwegian Royal Family to Greenock, Scotland. I was given a 72-hour pass and the journey to Ipswich took over 25 hours! My next trip was to Portsmouth where I was told I would be going back into action. I was loaded into a small open boat with stores and made for the Isle of Wight. Overhead, two RAF Hurricanes shot down a German Dornier bomber flying low over the sea. It crashed about 200 yards away from us.

“On the Isle of Wight I was billeted in a grand mansion next to Osborne House. From there I went to Kent to prepare for the expected invasion. At Dungeness we were constantly attacked by aircraft. We shot down two with small arms. The first was an RAF Hurricane with a Polish pilot. The pilot survived. We were congratulated for this good work, but in future make sure they were the enemy!

“We shot down another aircraft, again one of our own! After that all friendly planes kept clear of us! In 1940 part of the unit was sent to Malta on board the Empire Song. My colleague Mac Hudson, from Saffron Waldon, Essex, and I were the only two with small arms experience and we manned a pair of Lewis guns on the deck.

“The Ipswich unit served on Malta during the siege of 1940 to 1943. Later, many of the unit were captured in Kos and Leros in the Greek Islands in 1943. I spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Austria. In May 1945, I was released along with the other prisoners and we were told to make our own way home. We used every means we could to get back, including stolen vehicles.

“I got part of the way on board a Dakota aircraft and made it back to Ipswich within one week. After years away I was keen to get home. I stayed with the TA until 1967.” Charles' full-time career was as a carpenter and builder.

There is a reunion at Norwich TA centre to celebrate the centenary on November 1. If you would like to attend contact Ken Taylor on 01473 742185