A Brief History to 50th Divisional Signals in WW2

Discussion in 'Royal Signals' started by Drew5233, Oct 14, 2010.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, TA

    23rd Divisional Signals, TA

    With the reorganization of the Army after the South African War the Northumbrian Divisional Telegraph (Later Signal) Company, RE TF was formed in 1908 out of previously existing Volunteer units. During the First World War the unit served on the Western Front from 1915 until the end, when in common with most other Territorial units it was disbanded. On the formation of the Territorial Army the unit was re-formed in 1921 as 50th (Northumbrian) Divisional Signals TA. with its Headquarters at Gateshead upon Tyne. Subsequently its Headquarters removed to Hull and shortly after to Darlington, where it is now situated (1955) together with No.1 Squadron, No.2 Squadron being at Middlesborough and No.3 Squadron at Gateshead upon Tyne. In 1939 it raised the 23rd Divisional Signals, TA as its duplicate.

    Early in 1940 50th Divisional Signals joined the British Expeditionary Force in France and was eventually evacuated through Dunkirk to the United Kingdom. In 1942 the unit accompanied its division to the Middle East, where is saw service in Syria and the Western Desert. After taking part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943 it returned to the United Kingdom, where it was allocated to 21 Army Group in readiness for the opening of the Second Front. In the Normandy Landings the Division was in the spearhead of the assault and was engaged in the North-West Campaign.

    When the 23rd Division was sent to France in 1940 to carry out work in preparation of the defences its divisional signals did not accompany it, but in June was converted into a training unit for non-comissioned officers, located at Harrogate. It continued in this role until the end of the war, when it was disbanded.

    On the reconstruction of the Territorial Army in 1947 elements of both units were re-informed as the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment, TA.

    WW2 Commanding Officers
    50th (Northumbrian) Divisional Signals, TA

    1939 Lt-Col. TTJ Sheffield OBE TD
    1941 Lt-Col. R Stevenson-Wight TD
    1942 Lt-Col. AB De Lisle
    1943 Lt-Col. GB Stevenson
    1944 Lt-Col. CL Ommanney OBE

    23rd Divisional Signals TA

    1939 Lt-Col. R Stevenson-Wight
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    January 1940

    Bampton - Jan 8 0800hrs - Capt. H.M. Kirkaldy and Sergt. Justice proceed BEF for attachment 2 Div. Sigs.

    Jan 14 0800hrs - Major R.M. Percival, Lieut. K.A. Waugh and 8 OR's with 6 M/Cs. and two trucks proceed as Recce Party for move over-seas.

    Jan 16 0800hrs - 1st Road Party consisting of Capt. Bower, Lieut. Wight, 2 Lieuts. Bowman and Garbutt and 139 ORs. proceed to Port of Embarkation.

    Jan 18 0800hrs - Capt. H.M. Kirkaldy and Sergt. Justice arrived Evron (Mayenne) France, having completed attachment.

    Evron - Jan 19 - Recce Party arrived Evron.

    Bampton - Jan 20 0800hrs - Capt. W.A. Lee and 27 ORs. proceeded to Port of Embarkation as 2nd Road Party.

    Jan 22 0500hrs - Main Body proceeded to Port of Embarkation.

    Evron - Jan 22 0500hrs - 1st Road Party arrived Evron

    Jan 23 0500hrs - 1st Road Party arrived Evron.

    Jan 24 1200hrs - Main Body arrived Evron.

    Bampton - Jan 28 1800hrs - Lieut.-Colonel T.T.J. Sheffield and 10 ORs., also Rear Party consisting of 2/Lieut. J.M. Hewett and 5 ORs. proceeded to Port of Embarkation.

    Evron - Jan 30 1800hrs - Above arrived.

    Jan 30 1800hrs - 2/Lieut. Baker, 2/Lieut. Pain and 10 ORs. (1st Re-Inforcements) proceeded to base.
  3. As told to me by 2582883 Signalman Wallace:

    Thanks to Drew for bringing back some memories - by the way in July 1941 we landed at Tewfik after 6 weeks at sea via Freetown and Durban. travelled up the Canal and were in Cyprus for September (where I celebrated my 21st with a bottle of rum on the beach!) December saw us in Iraq up near Kirkuk where the oil oozed onto the roads and froze solid in the cold desert nights making driving a hazardous job! Then we went to Syria.
    To add my memories to the 1940 diary entries:
    In November 1939 we took the train down to Bampton and were billeted on the good people of that small Oxfordshire village. Here we took delivery of brand new Bedford trucks, delivered by ATS girls. Four 30cwt's were assigned to HQ section (one was mine), and the 15cwts(?four/five?) were split between B section (Cable) and M section (Motor).
    I was drawn out of a hat for 7 days leave at Xmas (last at home for 5 years as it turned out)

    January 1940 I drove with HQ section, equipment and Co. stores to ?Dover?, where the vehicles were loaded onto a ship by crane. We embarked on The Lady of Mann (I think).
    It was dark and bitterly cold when we landed in France and picked up the trucks. We drove them onto railway flat cars and accompanied them to ?Evron? where I had the tricky job of unloading them in reverse down planks of timber.
    We spent time in an Estaminet drinkin hot rum before returning to our billet - a large barn. The discovery that we were sharing home with an army of large rats sent me to my truck, where I spent a sleepless night wrapped in my blanket trying to keep warm.

    Most of the NCO's we had were old regulars that were nearing the end of their service and had been assigned to TA units to give us some experience. These included Sgts White, Boots, Marshall, Rhett and Lightfoot (who lost a leg later in the withdrawal). Most left us after Dunkirk.

    Of those named in the diary Lt Waugh (B sect) led our small party off at Bray Dunes.
    Capt Lee, later to be knighted, was adjutant to our immediate CO Capt Minor.
    It was Wally Lee who played a part in one of our DR's, 'Dixie' Dean receiving the M.M.
    (but that was later..)

    Thanks again Drew for your hard work.
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Brilliant !

    Part two coming up :D
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I thought there maybe some names on here for your Dad.
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    February 1940

    Evron - Feb 4 0800hrs Left Evron for Montagne

    Feb 4 1500hrs Arrived Montagne

    Montagne - Feb 5 0800hrs Left Montagne

    Feb 5 1630hrs Arrived Vaux-sur-Eure

    Feb 18 0715hrs Left Vaux

    Arrived Fresnoy-au-Val
  7. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    Mel, your Dad's recollection of the vehicles involved during the 1940 campaign seems to be very clear. I wonder if it would be possible to trouble him with a couple of questions relating to the 'Arm of Service' markings ?

    50th Division in 1940 were one of the newly instituted 'Motor' divisions and it appears that no definite record has survived of their markings at that time.

    Divisional Signals in a conventional infantry battalion carried the Arm of Service marking '11' on a black background alongside the divisional formation sign. Did 50th Divisional signals use the same marking alongside the 'TT' ?

    50th Division had a 'motorcycle' battalion attached - 4th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers who were equipped principally with Norton sidecar outfits. Normally speaking, as they were directly responsible to divisional headquarters, they could have been expected to display their '18' on a black background but some authors have suggested that red was used and this seems more likely based on photographs of them entering Belgium on 10th May 1940.


    It's a bit of a long shot, but does your dad remember these reconnaissance sidecars and might he possibly recall what colour that square on the front was ? This is something of a hot topic amongst owners of these machines and a definitive answer would settle a lot.

    Your Dad might find this thread on a military motorcycle forum interesting. We put quite a lot of effort into researching the photographs of the battalion crossing the border. However, I believe that the bikes are incorrect with a black background. Any comments would be appreciated.


    Thanks in advance. Rich
  8. Hi Rich,

    Just spoke over the 'phone to Dad;

    As he remembers they had the "Signals dark blue/light blue diamond affair". "White numbering on the bonnet" (Hope this means something to you)
    The TT markings were not given untill after Dunkirk as they were designated BEF in France in 1940.

    Motor cycles...sorry... but will print off your pic and see if it jogs some memories.

    Sometimes it takes a while, will get back to you.

    Mel (jnr)
  9. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    Hello Mel, thanks for your efforts. No hurry. This one has run and run !

    I'm a little puzzled by the dark blue / light blue diamond. I shall have to research further. The bikes of the Motorcycle battalion clearly have the 50 Div TT on. I assumed that all units from the battalion did (but assumptions are a little unsafe with markings from this period).

  10. "Just to set the record straight (Oops got it wrong...mel jnr)I had the rank of Driver untill late 1940 when on completion of a mechanics course I received promotion to Signalman with 3d per day extra pay!

    Wireless courses - at the start (1939) we had nothing - the operators trained using the backs of spoons! As I had a licence I was sent to be our ambulance driver, only we didn't have an ambulance! The first vehicles we had were 15cwt Ford cabs with 'gin palaces' on the back. These were little green boxes with a door at the back.
    Sgt Milne was a good cook I remember, he was still with us in the Middle East.

    France was very cold, frosty and iced up in those early months. Everytime we parked up the radiators had to be drained! We were billeted in a church hall in Fresnoy or possibly Poix.

    Two of us were assigned th Q-stores taking orders from our Quarter-bloke to Divisional stores. Once I remember the roads were so iced up that we reversed up a hill with rope wrapped around the tyres, courtesy of a French farmer.

    Most of our time now and later was spent going on 'Schemes' interspersed with football matches and boxing competitions."

    I have written this from talking with Dad and hope the first person use is ok. I must thank Drew personally for his hard work as most of these recollections I have not heard before.

    Mel (jnr)
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    March 1940

    Fresnoy - Mar. 1 7 Reinforcements arrived from base.

    Mar. 6 5 Reinforcements arrived from base.

    Mar. 27 1100hrs Mian body left Fresnoy

    Loos - Mar. 27 1830hrs Main body arrived Loos
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  13. Hi Rich,

    No more on the motor cycle markings.

    The diamond was actually a square split into two triangles of dark and light blue.
    These were on the rear of the truck and front mudguard.
    He says no markings on the door as he remembers.
    Again he cannot remember TT on the vehicles.
    Their shoulder flashes were BEF, with the TT flashes in place before they embarked to M.East.
  14. "Loos. We were billeted in a school, ecole.. a two storey affair, not like the ones back home that were all on one level.
    The weather had improved and the holiday atmosphere continued. We would spend time off on Sunday with beers down by the canal watching the barges. There were also route-marches on a new design concrete road near Loos. Our Div QM Norcross, who had risen through the ranks, took some of us to visit Vimy. I remember the long chalk tunnels. Later there was 'hell on' when the Germans started shelling the monument there. It was said we had an O.P. on it. We visited Great War cemeteries and other battlefields around Arras with one of the NCO's. Saw some Cheshires headstones, my father had been in the Cheshires but never talked about it.

    Around the time we were in Loos I took one of two trucks down south to Nantes. Cpl Smith was in charge and we spent a few days there billeted in a disused factory. We must have been collecting stores because Cpl Smith was with QM. Only memories of the trip are that we got to know the meat we were eating in the cafe was horse, not bad really, and two of us went shopping in Woolworths!

    When they talk about the Phony War they are quite correct, and to us young lads it was all a bit of a holiday. That changed soon enough though"
  15. From conversations with dad it is has become clear that May 1940 is not a comfortable topic. Most of what follows took a long time to get down on paper and I apologise in advance for any mistakes.

    How they could have moved around for two plus weeks without orders baffles me.
    It would be great if someone could verify or correct the MM story.

    “When it all started we were ordered up into Belgium. Three trucks were detailed to collect all our sick and walking wounded and follow-on. I think HQ was to be set up near Tournai. We never reached HQ. Tournai was being attacked by aircraft. We were in a narrow street I remember. Someone shouted that the Duke of Gloucester had been wounded in the attack up the road.
    After this point everything was organised chaos! Don’t ask me about dates and places, we moved about through the roads as best we could with all the civilians trying to get away. I read about people who kept diaries and can remember everything, but we were told not to keep them.
    We would have had operators with out-sections all over the place and cable section but we had no contact with HQ that I knew. I was just driving where I was told. The O.C. was Norman Norcross. There were no NCO’s with us, three QM trucks with no wireless sets. We moved in and out of Belgium and sometime in the first few days? arrived back at the school in Loos where we re-fueled. But I cannot remember when this was, where we stopped or what day it was!
    Utter chaos... we would get into a position and camouflage the vehicles only to have infantry lads fall back through saying the Germans were up the road. We got out a lot quicker than we went in I can tell you.
    No idea where Norcross was getting our orders from – at one point we had spent the night near a road junction and in the morning were ordered up to the crossroads, lay in the ditches and give rapid fire into near-by woods. Nothing happened. We waited nervously and finally some French troops arrived along the road with an artillery piece and we withdrew to the trucks. One of them told us their orders were to hold and not withdraw.
    At one point we met Captain Williamson of our medical section at a dressing station who had been ordered to stay behind with some wounded men in a copse. I wished him all the best. (It was his non-existent ambulance I was posted to drive at the Drill-Hall in Darlington). I drove him to Oxford once to visit his university college.
    The roads were so impassable and dangerous because of aircraft that we took to tracks across country where we could cover more ground.
    We ended up in a big open space near a stream and were told to put the vehicles out of action. I put two through the sump, pulled out the choke, revved her up and drove her into the stream.
    We got separated on the roads and by this time were down to a group of about ten.
    I’ve been reminded to mention one of our D R’s ‘Dixie’ Dean. We heard this story later and I have always believed it was true, maybe someone can check this. Capt Lee was our Ak section O.C. Somewhere he was in a small village where he put some codes in an upright piano for safe-keeping. They then had to get out pretty sharpish and the Germans were already moving in when Dean rode in bold as brass and retrieved the papers. It was said he got an M.M.
    We carried a Boys anti-tank rifle with us until someone mentioned we had no ammunition for it!
    When we got to La Panne the only defences I remember were some Bofors on the top of the beach, it was here by some cottages we saw Lord Gort.
    Out at sea were big ships, with smaller ones as you came further in. The beach was full of men wandering towards Bray. There were no lines out into the sea here, just general confusion and milling around. We got separated from our officer here and walked on to Bray Dunes where we joined the zig-zag lines running down the beach and into the sea.
    After scattering a few times when we were bombed and straffed I decided to take my chances further back the way we had come. If it came down to it I was going to get in the drink and swim for it.
    I threw away my big pack, took off my gaiters and the cloth bandoleers of ammunition and buried them under a rotting boat up the beach. I kept hold of my rifle and tin hat. It was just about now that I came across Signalman Gowland, batman to Norcross. Gowland was with Capt Waugh of our Cable section with his Sgt, Olson, Storeman Hornby and two others whos names I cannot recall.
    We were detailed to carry boxes of food , We soon found out the crates contained ammo for Bofors.
    A paddle steamer which had been picking up from the lines I had left was hit around about now by dive-bombers. Keith Oxley who we had picked up from Loos hospital was on board Gracie Fields. He had pneumonia and went below decks. Arthur Ridley stayed on deck to dry his clothing. Keith’s name is on the Dunkirk Memorial to the missing, Arthur survived. That’s just the way it was... Luck.
    Its strange but very little was said between us ones that got away, we didn’t talk much about Dunkirk.
    We lost Bill Raw, operator with an out-section. Another operator called Barker, a big tall lad who it was said was only sixteen and had lied about his age to join up. Cpl Hickman from Cable section also.
    Time? I think we were two?days on the beach. At some point on an afternoon? we moved out into the water after spotting a small boat. It was a flat bottomed boat about ten foot long and two sailors were in it. They were both drunk as lords and jumped off once we got alongside and swam away. There was only one oar and Capt Waugh asked if anyone could scull. I’d grown up in South Shields and my uncles had taught me so I took us out to a paddle steamer. It was called Golden Eagle.
    The crew were shouting that they couldn’t wait as they were grounding on sand. We came up to them and they threw a net down. I held it so the others could climb, but when it came to my turn my strength had just about gone and I was hanging in the net when a big sailor’s arm heaved me onto the deck!
    The captain was shouting at troops on deck to move across from one side to the other to get us off the sand. We stayed on deck filling magazines for Lewis? guns that were on the bridge and then sat by the stern too exhausted to sleep.
    Back in England we came down the gang-plank and onto the quayside. It was dark. Here I exchanged my rifle and pouch ammunition for a big cup of tea and a sandwich. It seemed that we boarded a train straight after this.
    First we went to Wigston Barracks in Leicester where it was just mixed up units. Sgt Olson stayed with us rather than join the NCOs. We stayed for a few days. I remember an officer trying to organising a route march. By the time he reached the top of the road there was no one following him! At some point we were issued with clean uniforms, I can’t remember when. We kept our tin hats.
    From here we were sent to Nutsford in Cheshire. We were in big bell-tents by a lake in the grounds of a country house. We were given a 48 hour pass and a travel warrant. We spent about a week there before travelling by rail and ‘shanks pony’ to Blanford.
    Here we were re-inforced re-equiped and trained. Our duties included deployment along the south coast to counter the expected invasion.
    We were under canvas just outside the town and at first had commandeered vehicles. What a rag-bag lot we must have looked! We had old cars with ‘gate-change’ gears and three Craven A vans as wireless trucks! I ripped the sump out of a little old Austin on a stump by the gate of our field!
    Then when we moved to Bridgewater and got new vehicles, 3ton Fords and 15 & 30cwt Bedfords. We kept these until we left for the Middle East.
    All the old NCO’s had gone and replaced by reinforcements. Our new RSM was ‘Tara’ Tompkins. Nearly all the officers remained.
    It was in Bridgewater that I completed the mechanics course and was promoted to Signalman.”
    stolpi likes this.
  16. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Signalman G E Dean MM, 50th Divisional Signals, Royal Corps of Signals.

    Awarded Military Medal.

    Sgnm Dean continually showed great coolness in carrying messages under air bombardment and shell fire and on one occassion near Adinkerke in carrying a Line Man on the pillion of his M.C. to repair a line. This occurred on 31 May 1940.

    Gazetted 11 July 1940

    The National Archives | DocumentsOnline | Image Details

    I'll get the rest of the 1940 diary typed up today for you and I'll go through the names your father mentioned and see what I can add.

    Standy By, Out !
  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    April 1940

    Loos April 11

    1445hrs Received Code Word 'Birch'.

    1500hrs Issued Signal Instructionrelating to Plan D (Appendices referred to therein extracted from 2 Corps Signal Instruction No.36)

    1700hrs Detachments for Route Regulation reported to R.R. Commander.

    Loos April 18

    0900hrs Major J. McConville arrived on attachment from 18th Divisional Signals.

    Loos April 22

    1900hrs Received orders cancelling 'Birch'. All troops to stand down.

    Loos April 23

    0800hrs Detachments from Route Regulation returned to station.

    1400hrs 13 reinforcements arrived from base.

    Loos April 24

    1st Leave period started: quota 3 men daily plus 1 man extra on alternate days.

    2100hrs Lt-Col. T.T.J. Sheffield proceeded on leave from BEF.

    Loos April 27

    2100hrs Captain B. Minor proceeded on leave from BEF.
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  20. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    Mel, please thank your dad very much for taking the time to go through that. As Andy says, a fascinating read and full of detail especially as he says he generally didn't know where he was.

    I think it's true that few of the veterans of the 1940 campaign liked to talk about it much and that is just what makes this account so interesting. By doing so, he's helping to ensure that his comrades who didn't make it back will not be forgotten.

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