Extracts from 23rd Field Regiment War Diary written by Lieu. Lawrence Smith. The original file is too large to post here. Thanks to Cheryl England for sending it to me. If it is OK I will post it in sections. Cheers Kevin The History of the 23rd Cnd Field Regiment ( SP ) RCA Introduction Part I – CANADA – A REGIMENT IS BORN Chapter 1 Petawawa – The Raw Material Chapter 2 Sussex - Melting and Moulding Part II – ENGLAND – THE FINISHING PROCESS Chapter 1 Chobham Camp Chapter 2 Eastbourne Chapter 3 Larkhill Chapter 4 Redesdale Chapter 5 Exercise Jing Chapter 6 Pippingford Park Chapter 7 Into the field Part III – NORTH WEST EUROPE – THE FINAL PRODUCT Chapter 1 Across the Channel Chapter 2 Easing into Action Chapter 3 Caen to Falaise Chapter 4 The Mad Dash Chapter 5 Holding the Leopold Chapter 6 North from Antwerp Chapter 7 Winter in Holland Chapter 8 Sweeping the Rhine Chapter 9 Over the Rhine Chapter 10 Cease Fire Appendix 1 Commanding Officers Appendix 2 Where and When Appendix 3 Casualties in Action Appendix 4 Honours and Awards Appendix 5 Facts and Figures Appendix 6 Where they Went Introduction One hot black July night in 1944 a long column of vehicles which, to any onlooker must have resembled great prehistoric monsters, lumbered through the road junction at Wych Cross Sussex and rolled up the highway to London. After being confined to camp for several days awaiting the anticipated order, the 23rd Field Regiment (SP) RCA was on its way. . . . . Destination - Normandy ! . That broad London was the first leg of the long "Green Up” route which those SP’s followed throughout the ten months, a route which took the clanking tracks over the dusty, dirt-laden roads of Normandy, the tree lined cobblestones of Belgium and Holland, and the muddy, crateredpeat-bog trails of northern Germany. It has been a long trail - sometimes difficult, other times easy and pleasant-and this is the story of the men and machines of the 23rd who followed the trail till the job was done. This is the tale of the guns and the men who fought the guns,the men who provided the artillery fire so necessary to modern warfare. It makes no claim to completeness, for to be complete every man would have to write his own story. But within the limits of human remembrance and official records, this is the true story of this group of men with “23RCA” on their shoulders, whose motto is “Ubique quo fas et gloria ducunt”, and who, in addition, proudly claim:- “We’re SP” CHAPTER 1 PETAWAWATHE RAW MATERIAL The little tent camp at the southwest end of Petawawa Camp was the real birthplace of the 23rd Cdn Field Regiment RCA. Of course the paper work which initiated the formation of the regiment has been done long before. The order had gone out that a new regiment of artillery was to be created and the work of mobilizing three batteries had commenced early in the spring of 1942. But it was on the hot sandv plot that the fusion of three separate sub-units, coming from various parts of Ontario into an efficient fighting team was f i r s t started. During May, June and July the men - the raw material for any regiment - kept coming in. Some arrived from the artillery training centres; veterans of six months to a year in battledress. Others, few in number had spent several years in England and were looked upon with just a touch of awe by many of the others. But the vas t majority were new to the army and half doffed their soot suits with neat pleats in answer to the energetic recruiting campaign carried on in the districts where the three batteries were mobilized. The "senior" battery, the 31st, had-formed part of the 7th (Toronto) Field Regiment (Reserve) and most of its members came from the “big city”. Initially the battery was commanded by Major A L Skaith but in June he became second-in-command of the regiment and Major Alan Harper, back from overseas, took over the battery. Many of the men who joined the 31st were sent for basic training to Brantford where under the guidance of Capt John White - more familiarly known as “Uncle John" - they were initiated into the manifold mysteries of the army. After the basic training period they arrived at Petawawa to join the rest of the regiment. Simultaneously, a battery was being mobilized in Cobourg Ontario a little town which claims t o have turned out one of the highest per capita number of gunners in the province. Commanded by Major H K Walker, back from England, the 36th Battery originally contained a high proportion of Cobourg Officers and most, of the men came from the area of Cobourg, Port Hope and Peterborough. However, it was found to be impossible to raise another complete battery from that district and ,several months later a large draft from the 26th Field Regiment , a Toronto unit, arrived to fill out the ranks of the 38th. The rest of the regiment had barely heard of Cobourg, referring to it jokingly as the village where the Toronto train stopped only on being flagged, but the little band of men from the lakeshore have always given the 36th a definite "Cobourg flavour” and have made the name of their hometown widely known. Nor have the Port Hope men been very silent! The junior battery was the 83rd formed largely out of the. 8th Field Brigade (reserve) which was the reserve army formation covering Hamilton, Brantford and St Catharines:Recruiting was carried on in these three cities under direction of Major R A Hainsworth who had come back from overseas to form the Battery. In St Catharines and the Niagara district Capt W B C Burgoyne, one of the few original Officers with the regiment at "Cease Fire”, did the recruiting. The 83rd was then and always has been a real Niagara district battery. Sussex Christmas 1942 Christmas was fast approaching, bringing with it the time when most of the regiment would be entitled to a two-week furlough. It was decided to send half of the regiment over Christmas this group to include the married men, with the other half going over New Year. Those left behind on each occasion managed to celebrate the holiday quite adequately, although the season was somewhat marred by the news that the Commanding Officer was leaving the regiment. Command was given to Lt. Col. G.W. Wishart who arrived several days before Christmas but did not actually take over until January 9th when Lt. Col. Robertson left. At the Christmas dinner when the Officers and Sergeants served the men their turkey and cranberry sauce, “Jamie” introduced the new C.O. to the regiment. Lt. Col. Wishart, who had been chief instructor at A-2 Petawawa, introduced some sweeping changes in the regiment. Within the next few months all three Battery Commanders left the regiment because their age would probably prevented them from going overseas again, and a number of the junior officers also left. Major Hainsworth went to Petawawa to take over a training battery and Capt. J. Maxwell was promoted to Major to assume command of the 83rd. He had been the original quartermaster and had subsequently been Battery Captain of the 31st when Capt. Glenn- Murphy became RQM. The adjutant, Capt. Peter Chipswick, was promoted and took over the 36th Battery in place of Major H. K. Walker. In April Major Harper left and the 31st was taken over by Major E. M. D. Smith, also from A-2. Most startling was the order that all ranks would “whiten” their Canada badges forthwith, using white ink or whatever solution Canadian ingenuity could devise. It didn’t take Canadian ingenuity long! The perfect whitening process was soon found – after some hideous experimentation – to be white ink to which, when dried , was applied a solution of clear nail polish. This helped prevent smudging and also rendered it water-proof! Early in the new year the one announcement was made which was to effect the future of the regiment more than any other. Along with the 19th Field Regiment, the 23rd was to be converted to a self – propelled artillery regiment and would be re-equipped with the 25 – pounder on a Ram tank chassis. The mounts, already in production, were expected to arrive at any time and the training of the regiment was to a degree channelled into lines which would prepare it for taking the new equipment into use. The driver problem was to be the biggest one facing the regiment. With a bit of training anyone could drive a gun tractor. A tank was a different matter, however, and there was no one in the regiment who knew a bogie from a turret. In late February a large number of drivers and several officers were sent to Camp Borden, the armoured training centre, for a long course in tank driving and maintenance. One of the officers was Capt. Roger Murphy who later became technical adjutant, a new appointment in the regiment as a result of the revised war establishment. Other changes in establishment was substitution of drivers tank for drivers wheeled and a substantial increase in number of driver operators, for each mount was equipped with radio and it was thought R/T would play a large part in the deployment of self – propelled equipment. At the same time G P O P A came into being and called a convention to decide what their fate was to be in the new order of things. The initials stand for Gun Position Offlicers Protective Association, and the main topic of discussion was the type of vehicle the GPO and CPO were to use. With all this talk of bullet-swept deployment areas and the aggresslvedeployment of SP’s which had lots of protection, the sub - alterns displayed a rather marked hesitancy about roaming around in universal carrlers, l5-cwt trucks or any other thin skinned vehicle. After considerable discussion it was agreed that some type of armoured vehicle was needed probably along the lines of an SP mount minus the gun and with built in artillery board and other equipment needed to operate a command post. In a request from. NDHQ our ideas on the subject were forwarded in the spring of 1943. The thing was almost forgotten, except for a brief moment in England, when one was on display, until March, 1945, in Tilburg, Holland, when a phone call from Div Arty instructed us to pickup six GPO command vehicles.Lo and behold, they were practically the same thing that had been asked for in Sussex twoyears earlier! The conversion to self-propelled also involved a change in name The official new name given the regiment was 23rd Field Regiment (SP) RCA. Those two initials in brackets caused a good deal of trouble at first, and a number of letters from fond families were addressed to the 23rd Special Police Regiment! March 1943 The first SP mount was finally delivered .early in April but before then a new oommanding officer arrived. He was L t Col K N Lander who arrived one afternoon' late in March wearing the maroon patch of -the 5th Cdn Armoured Division. He had commanded the 17th Field Regiment in England. . An excellent disciplinarian and training officer, Lt. Col Lander gave the regiment a thorough look-over before he commenced any changes. When they came some of them were considered very startling and, in fact, caused some discussion among the men but on looking back it is realized that his work was largely responsible for bringing the regiment to a stage whereit was fitto go into action. First tangible change to emanate fmio the new C0 ' s office was theorder to whiten not only Canada badges but alsostripes and badges of any kind. And further, he pointed out,the white paint was not to be just smeared on the stripes,but each tiny herrlngbone thread was to be whitened individually.The language in the sergeantsmess was unfit for human earsfor a short while., but when the sergeants appeared in public they were a beautiful sight . Howls and whistles followed them down the street and at night you could dlstinguish a 23rd NCO while he was still two blocks away! By the time a man had white on his Canada badge, his gun and his rank stripes he had quite an armful. The CO’s Batman, (also L/Bdr and Sgt at various stages of his turbulent career ) Hogan, was the most whitened up man in the regiment, especially when he first got a stripe, and he fully earned the title which Lt Col Lander bestowed on him of the "walking Christmas-Tree". Somehow he had earned a fancy MT badge and several good conduct stripes so that hisarm looked like New York’s “Great White Way”. The officers were all ordered to wear red a r t i l l e r y wedge caps and many were the barely-suppressed smiles whlch greeted them when the came on parade the first day after that order was issued! The space between the officers lines and line of office huts was turned into a parade ground, and once again the trucks were busy hauling crushed gravel. Great emphasis was placed upon foot drill but with a few new quirks such as lifting the foot high and stamping it down on the turns and halts. Every drill move was done to the count with everyone counting aloud until they could do it together. The parade ground and drill hall were scenes of pandemonium with several squads simultaneously shouting out “Hup-two-three” as they right turned or about turned or halted. Regimental route marches and parades were instituted as a weekly feature and within a short time every foot in the regiment stamped down as one on the order “Halt”, setting up a crack that echoed as far as Moncton. Every Saturday morning was devoted to a regimental inspection in full battle order, each Battery stood rigidly at attention while it was being lnspected, and when the CO passed on to the next it stood rigidly at ease. On a hot day an average of about five men rand officers) would keel over. It was considered tough but it gave the regiment a smartness and discipline and a life-long hate for Blanco and Silvo which had previously been lacking.