How I Went To War - 3
Months of drills passed by until in July 1939 we were all mustered and taken by train to Bude in Cornwall for our first practice camp where we would be firing at ‘drogues’ (tubes of fabric like the wind socks at airfields) being towed behind slow flying aircraft.
Though the object of the practice was to hit the drogue, few Units ever did and all our actions were monitored by the resident staff of Gun Control Officers and NCO’s.
The camp site was located on the cliff top a few miles out of town and we were accommodated in bell tents with gun crews together in some tents and the Command Post crew in others, the idea being to foster a team spirit in each group.
The anti-aircraft gunnery range at RAF Cleave near Bude, showing the grass airfield, the gun batteries on the clifftop (to the left) and the circular base for the steam catapult launcher.
English Heritage (NMR) RAF Photography: CPE/UK/1793/3045
Most of the gun crews apparently slept in their underwear but some of us in the command post wore our normal pyjamas, much to the amusement of some of the gun numbers who chased us around the camp with intentions of debagging us.
The weather was fine and we enjoyed the swimming in Bude, also the excellent cider which was inexpensive.
We found that the 3 inch guns made a sharp crack uncomfortable on the ears but later in the month we received our 3.7 inch mobile guns which were less stressful. After our debut at Bude we took part in mobile exercises around the Whipsnade area with the powerful Leyland Bull Terrier towing vehicles and we camped in the vehicles close to the zoo. At night we listened to the howling of the wolves until they settled down and we got some sleep.
During August 1939 we were mobilised at the Drill Hall and transported to
our first operational gun site on the Isle of Grain at the mouth of the river
Medway in Kent.
[APB Comment: Probably the Grain Wing Battery]
Location of the Grain Wing Battery.
Map courtesy of Google Maps.
Nearby was an important oil refinery and across the river was Sheerness with its deep water harbour and Royal Navy base. Sometimes their ships would anchor in the Medway not far from our gun site and on the odd occasion some of us were allowed aboard one of the ships. When the tide was out there was a large expanse of muddy sand exposed which was alright for beach games but when the tide came in could be a danger due to strong currents. The weather was really warm all the time.
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