An Officer I would be . . . and the Route

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by Joe Brown, Mar 13, 2015.

  1. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    WHEN first embodied to serve until the War was over and began the strange life as a soldier, I longed to be back working in my local newspaper office and to having a normal life shared with my teenage pals enjoying every moment as young men preparing for a future with a career and marriage.

    However, that changed when I qualified as an infantry signaller. I found signalling and its range of interests in wireless and field telephonic links began to absorb me. There was a kind of similarity in providing communication with the technical job of providing newspaper readers with their news, both were an activity that placed you at the centre of things that were happening.

    I found that by late 1941, life in the Army had become an established and settled way of life and I enjoyed being Signals Corporal with its responsibilities for organisation, training and being a junior leader. Of course I realised I might one day become Signals Platoon Sergeant. However, advancement in rank was not in my mind. So it came as a surprise – indeed, a shock – to be challenged by the Battalion Signals Officer as he told me about a letter sent to all company commanders asking them to submit the name of anyone considered suitable to go to an Officers Selection Board. He said he would like to put my name forward, kindly saying he believed I would be a good officer.

    Such a thought had never occurred to me. It seemed miles above what I could ever aspire to, however after he had mentioned the possibility my mind raced forward excitedly at the idea and later replied that I would be agreeable. However, before being called to the Officers Selection Board I was selected by the Adjutant to go with a small cadre being seconded to the Royal Air Force for the training of what proved to be the first echelons of the RAF Regiment. This followed a decision by Winston Churchill in June 1941, after the fall of Crete, that Air Force ground personnel at aerodromes should have to undergo "sharp, effective and severe military training in the use of their weapons and in all manouvres necessary for the defence of the aerodromes." I went as a corporal with an officer and two sergeants to train the ground staff at Waterbeach Airfield near Cambridge, a part of Bomber Command.

    The idea of this assignment was to give me a chance to gain more experience as an instructor in basic weapon training and field tactics before appearing in front of the Officers Selection Board. It was just what I needed as most of my experience lay in signalling, and shows how well the Army plans things; clearly the 8th Royal Scots wanted me to succeed and my success would reflect on them. However, the assignment and the 'first step' on the road to becoming an officer also proved to be dangerous. One day whilst assisting the training of senior RAF warrant officers to throw Mills 36 grenades, one Warrant Officer whilst aiming at the target let his grenade leave his hand sideways which struck me on the side of the head. In the underground RAF Hospital where I regained consciousness, I remember looking up into the RAF Medical Officer’s face peering into mine, and heard him say: ‘Oh! This Brown job is going to live’!

    I attended the No. 2 War Office Selection Board on 8th July 1942 and took part in the usual tests of leadership. One of the tests set for the group was to cross a ravine using a length of rope and several planks of wood. I thought of that test when some 2 years 4 months later was returning from a reconnaissance patrol and actually using planks of wood to get across a gap in the sea wall where fast flowing tidal water was rushing back from the landward area of Walcheren Island into the Scheldt Estuary. The Brigade Senior Liaison Officer and myself had been briefed by the Brigade Commander to find a route through a deeply flooded, heavily mined area that had overhead explosive devices, and were returning back from the patrol to Brigade Headquarters in Flushing. Our Buffalo had become stuck on a submerged bridge during our return and we then had to resort to wading our way back through the flood water. To get back to Flushing we had to find a crossing point near to the where the sea wall was breeched and were helped by two Members of the Dutch Resistance as they knew a possible way. It was a precarious crossing using planks of wood to ‘bridge’ out to areas of partially submerged ground and then re-using these planks to reach another point. Half-way across the gap were we rested at one point for a moment as the four of us stood clutching each other as fast-flowing tide water rushed past; if one had slipped we would all have been swept into the Estuary.

    Having passed the Selection Board, was duly posted two months later on the 22nd September 1942 to 148 Training Brigade for pre-OCTU for six weeks hard preparatory training. There for the first time met up with officer candidates from various infantry regiments, lived in Nissen huts, and bonded together as we inevitably did regular ‘death valley’ assault course training; and two days every week from first light to dusk you had to run whenever you put a foot out of the hut, whether on training, going to the dining room, latrines or canteen. We were trained and were tested in the use and deployment of infantry weapons; also, had to prepare and deliver lectures on a varied range of infantry subjects to your fellow-cadets. Cannot now remember whether we touched on military law, but I feel sure we did. It was there we began to experience the ‘weeding-out’ process of ‘Return to Unit’; but I survived.

    I then reported to 163 OCTU on the 9th December 1942 which was located at Heysham Camp near Morecombe. It was a former Holiday Camp and we were allocated to chalets, two cadets to a room. In the next room was a Yorkshire man and we became close friends almost straightaway, our friendship lasting well over sixty years. We did whatever we could as partners during training; he contributing his knowledge of map reading and ability to record and sketch topography (he had worked with the Yorkshire Electrical Company and had previously sketched plans of electric cable routes) whilst I contributed my communications knowledge and three years infantry experience and together we formed a good team.

    As officer cadets we discarded former badges of rank and wore a broad white ribbon on our epaulettes (shoulder straps) and around our hats. The training concentrated on the duties and responsibilities of an infantry officer and involved field tactics and command. We would take it in turn during the various field exercises to command either the company or one of the three platoons or even be one of the nine section commanders or just be a rifleman or the machine-gunner and do as you were told. Whilst commanding, you had a training officer at your side and he would question you about your thinking and about anticipatory orders you might have to give for deployment, say, whilst advancing to contact the enemy. It was good coaching.

    As we neared the end of our training we were involved in a series of major exercises in the Lake District; the weather was usually appalling as it was February and March. These major exercises tested leadership and tactical ability whilst under the stress of physical and mental endurance. I remember after a hard gruelling day and being ordered to dig in, being briefed as to the enemy situation and then hours later being challenged that you had not listened and had completely misread the situation and had deployed my Platoon in all the wrong positions. However, this was a test, and to over react when being ‘dressed down’ as a fool, was not a leader under control of himself.

    I survived, but out of the 70 Officers Cadets in my intake to ‘D’ Company, 163 OCTU, there were 45 men ‘Returned to Unit’ as unsuitable and only 25 were ultimately listed in the Royal Gazette and Commissioned as officers on the 9th April 1945 and they are photographed above.

    Joe Brown
    Buteman, Deacs, CL1 and 4 others like this.
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    I too was asked to become an officer - to which I agreed and went through much extra training - then the selection board

    in front of a Brigadier - two full Colonels and two half Colonels and an M.C. in the shape of a little fat Major - whose first

    question to me was "Canning - can you spell the word Reconnaissance…? "

    I was thinking about the order of nn's and ss's when I heard him say to the Brigadier - " Sir - this chap won't do !'

    and the Brig agreeing with him…so I was out on my ear…

    The answer of course was "Yes or No SIR " without thinking…!

    Fortunately for me as out of the six - four became Officers and three died leading their platoons the other served for a whole

    week at Cassino as a junior officer rising to Major owing to casualties, taking the colours home with the Colonel and 7 OR's

    survivors of the Battalion never leaving the UK again. The other OR who failed was killed at the Gothic lIne.

    Met the Major while waiting for Demob - and had a few laughs…

    Owen, Joe Brown and Guy Hudson like this.
  3. Lotus7

    Lotus7 Well-Known Member

    Thank you Joe and Tom for sharing your stories, they are always interesting
  4. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Great read Joe, thanks for posting it.
    And Tom, many thanks too for your recollections.
  5. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Many thanks to both of you.

    All the best

  6. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day joe brown,ww2 officer i would be and the route.thank you joe brown for a great part of your army life,it is always interesting and i realy enjoy the history of it all.stay well regards bernard85.
  7. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Tom Canning:

    Great story, Tom. You should have replied, I only use the official abbreviation 'recce' . . . spelt, r e c c e !

    Cannot remember much about the interview, except there were no trick questions. I was more concerned with the 'table manners' bit where we sat for lunch with one of the WOSB team presiding over a round table and it was alleged they took note of your conduct at the dining table! For the last couple of years I had been eating either from dixies or where your food was generally slung at you as you passed along a serving bench and quickly gobbled down!

    My Signals Officer had thoughtfully arranged for me to visit the 8RS Officers Mess (via the back door!) to let the Mess Sergeant show me the layout being prepared for that night's Officers Dinner where they were entertaining guests. I sat at a place setting and he kindly ran through the procedures and explained the use of the arrayed cutlery and glass. It was my introduction to fine dining!

    Tom, it is always good to hear from you. I hope you are well and coping with the vagaries of age . . . I am, although find it takes longer to throw off a cold these days.

    Tricky Dicky and CL1 like this.
  8. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Lotus 7, Mike L, Andreas, and Bernard 56:

    Thanks for your kind comments. I have edited the post as I thought it was too long, and believe it reads better now.

    Sending best wishes and regards,

  9. Lotus7

    Lotus7 Well-Known Member

    Joe, always enjoy your posts may they long continue.
    I just wish my Father could have told me more of his exploits.


  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Never got that far as a stickler for spelling - I could only think about the whole word but - as you say - the little fat major

    sounded like a lawyer to me was full of trick questions but he did save my life for all that - and any promotion was rejected

    and I stayed a Trooper - and had the last laugh, on the exit interview I was asked what the Army could offer to ease my way back

    into civvy life……as I had been scheduled for St Andrews prior to call up, I asked for a University course…..The Major nearly

    fell off his chair laughing - and offered a six week course in Boot and Shoe repairing- which I rejected..much later I spent six

    years at University ending up with an MBA - and Managing Directors job for years - snag with that was that my son did the same

    thing in four years ….must have done something right as my Daughter is also an M.D……youngest son is a Genetic Research scientist

    I also avoid colds etc as I now have C.O.P.D. and colds tend to finish anyone off…

  11. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Tom. Well done. Rest on your laurels . . .

  12. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Joe thank you for posting

  13. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    Ref #7
    Hi Joe
    Well that confirms it.
    We were always told that if you could use a Knife and Fork in a Jock Regiment they made you an Officer. :)
    Only kidding I salute you :salut:
  14. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria.

    Brilliant once again Joe thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Regards Mike.
  15. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day joe brown, thank you for your reply.iam bernard85 not 56.although i would like to be(56),stay well regards bernard85
  16. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran



    Sorry about the slip. I am misled by your regular contributions to the Forum; although from a WW2 Veteran they portray the thoughts and sprightliness of a '56' !

    Be assured, Bernard, that your kindly, and as I say thoughtful observations to the various threads raised on the Forum are always greatly appreciated.

  17. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    My father said the "trick question" in his interview was:

    "Are you prepared to fight the Germans" "Yes Sir." "But are you prepared to fight the Japanese?" Believe it or not, some said words to the effect of "No fear!"

    Dad said "My reply was "I would fight anyone I was ordered to, Sir"

    (With mental fingers crossed, as his elder brother was fighting with the Chindits in Burma; he was 12 stone when he left India - he wasn't wounded, he wasn't a POW - he was eight and a half when he came back..)
  18. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day joe brown.ww2 veteran.yesterday.11:56am.joe no offence taken,my comment was suppose to be humourous.thank you for your kind remarks.stay well take your pills.regards bernard85(feel like 56)

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