7 Field Company RE  1941-1943

The Company demonstrated bridging equipment to the divisional infantry Pioneers who were impressed with what they saw.

During exercise No 4, a Class 9 bridge was built over the Thames at Moulsford covering 160’ wet gap and 50yds of marsh on the far bank. Because of the marsh the job needed some improvisation on the far bank. The ‘Beetle and Wedge’ pub was situated on the approach to the bridge on the near side, and the OC treated the whole Company to a beer. The pub was almost dry at the close of business.

At Crawley Court the company built a sports field, cutting the grass and levelling off bumps and dips. Competitive rugby and football was played regularly. Inspections by the Director of Economy and the Inspector General RE were followed by mobilisation, which was completed accept that 50% of the rifles and the Boyes A/T rifles needed zeroing and a range test. A demolition exercise was carried out along the river line at Romsey and other towns. Umpires inspected the sites to see how effective the work had been. The Home Guard came along and took great interest in the demolitions involving craters blown. ‘Monty’ ordered exercise No 5 to prove that 3 and 4 Divisions were ready to take on the Germans anywhere at anytime.  The exercise took place at Bovington Camp.  1 section was captured on the last night of the week long exercise.
Lt Clarke was promoted to be 2i/c of the 59TH 
Howbery Park near Wallingford in Oxfordshire
The Shiny 7 attended Bridge Camps here in 1940/41

The grounds of Howbery Park is a 65 acre site, illustrated in this aerial view between the top line of hedge and the bottom line of hedge. Troops were billeted in Nissen huts, which were located in different parts of the estate. My guess is that the bridging took place in the lower half of the camp as the top half has rows of trees close together, which would have been there at the time the REs had their bridging camps. The lower half now belongs to a farmer
A Nissen hut and water tower are two of very few remains of military structures left in Howbery Park
A Pill Box sits on the bank of the River Thames in Howberry Park
These photos were taken sometime in the late 1950s or early 60s. The Nissen huts are no longer there. Construction of one of the many new buildings in the park can be seen above
Howberry Manor Park was used by the military in WW2. The Royal Engineers ran Bridge Camps in the grounds
April. The Company officers were: OC , Major J C Walkey, 2i/c, A/Capt p l Bradfer-Lawrence. Sections: 1, Lt Rees, 2, Lt H W B Stephens, 3, Lt J R Barron.
On 27th April ‘Monty’ took command of XII Corps SE Command the most threatened area of Britain. Lt-General Schreiber now became GOC VCorps.  
May. Shiny 7th went to the tented ‘bridge’ camp at Wallingford from 9-18th of May, to train with pontoons using the ‘Inglis’ bridge, a WW1 bridge. The GOC of the Division inspected the ‘7’ drawn up on the sports field in battle-dress order. He was highly satisfied so everyone could relax a little. The 7th were at their best and he singled out one OR for special praise.
June. The 7th were selected to give further bridge and assault crossing demonstrations to the SOS and the Scots Guards Training Bn. 2 and 3 Sections gave demos on Bangalore Torpedos  cutting through thick barbed wire obstacles
July. Due to developments of events, airfield security was a major concern. Infantry and the RA needed to be housed nearby.  Sections began working on quarters and services for defence forces guarding airfields. The main locations were Langstock, Chilbolton and Danebury. Roads, drains, services and 20 Nissen huts were built by the end of August. This did not stop training, which concentrated on booby traps, gapping minefields and tank hunting. Many methods were used to gap minefields. At this time there were no mine detectors. The job had to be done by hand. There were experiments involving fastening bangalores. They also tried winding Cortex nets on a light axel and firing across the mine field with an empty mortar. This had possibilities but caused some problems for the mortar operator. Corps HQ put a stop to the experimentations.
Three weeks were spent using the new ‘Inglis’ Assault bridge, which was a scaled up version of the bridge designed by Major (professor) Inglis, OBE, FRS. The bridge was not easy to assemble and there were also problems with other components making it difficult to handle and manoeuvre. As a result of a report handed in by the 7th the ‘Inglis’ Assault bridge was discarded.

13 August.
Major Walkey was posted to SME Ripon, Capt Bradfer-Lawrence became OC until Major M C Richardson arrived to take command on 25th August.

September. The local WVS set up a good canteen in the village, which was very popular in off duty hours. Each Sunday when in camp the 7th attended the village church for morning service. At harvest time a large number of volunteers helped bring in the harvest. Darts matches and sports helped break down a sense of isolation. Small plots in sheltered areas around the camp produced good crops for their owners. Exercises followed one another quickly. ‘Locust’, ‘Stampede’ and mighty ‘Bumper’ on 27th September lasting eight days apart from the days of preparation. it covered many counties in southern England. The 7th toured from the south coast to Anwell north of London. The exercise was reported as being the biggest ever held in the UK. The Corps band made a visit to Crawley Court and played at an RE Divisional ‘Sports Day’ held at Northwood Park. The 7th provided three challenge cups bring two back home, losing the cup in the tug-of-war event. The band then attended an all ranks dance held in Winchester attended by the GOC 4 DIV, Brigadier Coxwell-Rogers CE V Corps and Brigadier Briggs.  This was a great change from normal routine. 76 Nissen huts were completed on the airfield camps by the end of the month.

14 September. The OC and the CRE attended a demonstration of the ‘Bailey Bridge’ by 17 Fd Coy RE. The first Bailey Bridge equipment was issued to RE Field Companies for training in October 1941. The bridge was popular with the Sappers due to the ease of construction and its great versatility, which was exploited to the limit. Many bridges were built while under fire, an example being the ‘Amazon Bridge’ over the Rapido at Cassino, which is the subject of a painting by Terence Cuneo. It is appropriate that Donald Bailey the inventor of the bridge was knighted for his contribution to this outstanding ‘War Winner’, produced from scratch in record time.

October. Mobilisation orders were issued ‘M’ Day was November 18th. Weapons were fired, samples of explosives tested. Reinforcements arrived, medical and dental inspections were carried out. Half of the Company at a time went on embarkation leave. 565 Coy RE, prepared to take over work on the airfield camps. There were strong rumours that the Company may be going to Russia. The Cabinet were discussing sending 2 Divisions to Russia.
November. It was now a case of ‘Flap Off’, and of course all the bets. The Division would move to Aldershot Command in the role of mobile reserve for SE Command, of which, ‘Monty’ was GOC in C. At the same time it would form part of the ‘110 Amphibious Force’. Combined operation training began. The Shiny 7’s introduction to combined ops training was an exercise on land somewhere on Salisbury Plain due to a shortage of landing craft. Parties were attached to the infantry to supervise BTs being blown to cut gaps in heavy barbed wire.
02 December. ‘225’ took over the AA scheme at Winchester and at 1100 hrs the 7th moved out of Crawley Court  for Elles married quarters  at Cove. The new billets were private quarters  in a high state of maintenance. The OC told the Company that the Army had now moved on to the offensive and training would be organised accordingly. Hawley Common nearby and its pond was used for field engineering and bridging. The 7th continued in support of 10 Bde and partnered 2 DCLI demonstrating a combined assault on A/T defences. No mechanical means were available to dig the A/T ditch so a series of over-lapping craters were blown. Lt Stephens was posted to the War Office, and 2nd Lt Hodgart arrived from 51 Highland DIV as OC 2 Section. Parties went to lock Fyne, Inveraray for combined Ops training. Christmas was celebrated in the traditional style.

Mobilisation orders were issued ‘M’ Day was November 18th. Weapons were fired, samples of explosives tested. Reinforcements arrived, medical and dental inspections were carried out. Half of the Company at a time went on embarkation leave. 565 Coy RE, prepared to take over work on the airfield camps. There were strong rumours that the Company may be going to Russia. The Cabinet were discussing sending 2 Divisions to Russia.

It was now a case of ‘Flap Off’, and of course all the bets. The Division would move to Aldershot Command in the role of mobile reserve for SE Command, of which, ‘Monty’ was GOC in C. At the same time it would form part of the ‘110 Amphibious Force’. Combined operation training began. The Shiny 7’s introduction to combined ops training was an exercise on land somewhere on Salisbury Plain due to a shortage of landing craft. Parties were attached to the infantry to supervise BTs being blown to cut gaps in heavy barbed wire.

2 December.
‘225’ took over the AA scheme at Winchester and at 1100 hrs the 7th moved out of Crawley Court  for Elles married quarters  at Cove. The new billets were private quarters  in a high state of maintenance. The OC told the Company that the Army had now moved on to the offensive and training would be organised accordingly. Hawley Common nearby and its pond was used for field engineering and bridging. The 7th continued in support of 10 Bde and partnered 2 DCLI demonstrating a combined assault on A/T defences. No mechanical means were available to dig the A/T ditch so a series of over-lapping craters were blown. Lt Stephens was posted to the War Office, and 2nd Lt Hodgart arrived from 51 Highland DIV as OC 2 Section. Parties went to lock Fyne, Inveraray for combined Ops training. Christmas was celebrated in the traditional style.

The original Beetle & Wedge pub where the Shiny 7 almost drank dry in February 1941. It is now a private house. The old boat house next door was converted to the current 'Beetle & Wedge' restaurant  and hotel
Somewhere behind where I'm standing to as far as you can see was the site where the Shiny 7 built their Class 9 bridge in February 1941
In 1941 'Shiny7' built a Class 9 Bridge on this stretch of the river Thames. When completed the OC bought the whole Company a beer in the pub,
'The Beetle & Wedge' The pub almost ran out of beer that evening.
Shiny 7 war diary 1943

January. Embarkation leave was granted, and authority be given for relatives to be told that the Shiny 7 were going to the Middle East. Cooks were instructed in the culinary art of making hot dishes!
Current works were handed over to 804 Construction Coy RE. Divisional and tactical signs were erased from uniforms and vehicles, and a large 2’ yellow star within a circle was painted on bonnets of vehicles. Sections concentrated on mine warfare in all weather conditions. A lecture on the methods used at El Alamein for gapping minefields gave food for thought and led to much discussion. The MT embarked at ports on the west coast in the last week of February.
05 March. ‘A’ Section commanded by Lt Venning lined lined the route with elements of other units to be to be inspected by the King accompanied by the CIGS General Sir Alan Brooke in an open car in bright, clear weather.
12 March. At 0400 hrs the ‘7’ entrained at Kershopefoot Halt, arriving at Gourock at 1300 hrs, where they embarked on HMT Ormond, a large ship.
13 March. The Shiny 7 were at sea aboard ‘Ormond’, joining ships from ports down the coast to Liverpool to form a convoy of twenty six transport ships and a naval escort of a squadron of destroyers. At sea they settled down to a routine of meals, boat stations, lectures and PT. The physical training was supervised by PTI Busby. The bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation claiming a number of victims, not helped by learning ‘Nelson’ was always sea sick when he went to sea.
21 March. On or about this date the convoy split up. Nine ships including Ormond passed through the straits of Gibralter during the hours of darkness. Now it was clear the shiny 7 were steaming to join the 1st Army. British, French and American forces were already there fighting since November 6th from the ‘Operation Torch’ landings at Oran and Algiers. The 7th landed in time for the third and final phase, a crushing attack by the 18th Army Group Commanded by General Alexander.
23 March. During the night two torpedo attacks were made on the convoy. Action stations were sounded. Troops sleeping on the open deck were sent down to their mess decks. In the attack HMT Windsor Castle was torpedoed and some vehicles were lost belonging to units other than 4 DIV. At Algiers the first port of call a number of the Company were disembarked as reinforcements to go to a transit camp.
25 March Thursday. ‘HMT Ormonde’ docked at Bone at 1500 hrs. Units quickly disembarked in case of air attacks. Eventually the 7th dressed in marching order, marched four miles to No 4 Transit Camp arriving there in the early hours the following morning. They soon settled down in the large tents used as accommodation. The Company strength read:
OC, Major M C Richardson. 2i/c, Capt J R B Barron. Sections:  A Lt J D V Venning. B, Lt G C Hodgart. C, Lt W L Taylor. Recce Lt D  Foster-Anderson. ORs 283. Total: 289.
A busy day followed breakfast: Ships baggage and Arabs arrived.
27 March. Sections assisted the Camp commandant building Nissen huts. Training, collecting vehicles, route marches  made a very quiet start to the 7th joining up with the 1st Army. One reason being it took 21 Tank Bde some time to prepare tanks after the sea journey as the floors of all vehicles were lined with sandbags to minimise injuries in the event of a vehicle hitting a mine.

4 April.
The first contingent of the 7th left to attend a mine warfare course for training in the methods used by 8th Army when gapping minefields. Eight yard safe lanes were to be made initially then widened to 16 yards as soon as possible afterwards. Mine detection was either with a mine detector or prodding with bayonets. The 7th were to be employed as a specialist minefield gapping force in support of the Bde’s Tanks. The only armour provided was one scout car for the OC. Each Section was issued with a supply of mine equipment, detectors, lamps green and amber, lane markers, white painted mine hats for marking mines when detected, rolls of tracing tape, angle iron pickets and nails were the main items.
12 April. At 0900 hrs the 7th left Bone for a location near Be Ja. Each vehicle had its aircraft spotters sitting on top of the vehicle and vehicles were spaced at 300 yds  as air attacks were expected.  The convoy drove through some wide open country onto the narrow roads of the Merjerda Mountains through ‘bomb ally’ arriving at a copse on flat high ground approximately 1 km from Beja at 2230 hrs, unmolested from the air. The unit was dispersed under low trees.  Malaria precautions were strictly enforced, shirts buttoned and sleeves rolled down in the evening. Anti-mosquito cream, mosquito nets and mecaprin  tablets were issued. After a long time very few of the Shiny 7 were affected by malaria but the  yellow mecaprin tablets did give everyone a yellow look.
13 April. Sections worked on gapping drills in a live British A/T minefield on the edge of a copse overlooking wide open flat country. In the evening the 7th stood to, ready dressed in the support of an attack being made by 10 and 12 Bde on the road to Mateur through hunt’s gap. In this attack one of the first 70 ton  ‘tiger’ tanks to fall into allied hands was captured at Sidi Neir about 20 miles NE of Beja. The enemy troops facing the Division were the Barenthian Regiment  who were pushed back in a successful attack. The advance was made not without problems as the area was liberally sown with mines and booby traps.
14 April. In the early hours Sections were stood down. They moved four miles north of Beja  to two farms. A collection of mines, grenades and switches of both Allied and Axis origin were collected for individual handling. Experiments were made for a quick passage of A/P mined areas with ‘S’ mine particularly in mind, which when activated jumped about 4’ above ground level before exploding. A quick reliable method of gapping A/P mines was a priority.
15 April. The OC was ordered to form and train an MTF (minefield task force) cadre. Advance parties of infantry, CMP and Signals made up the cadre. Sections trained individually. Next day C and B Sections demonstrated in a minefield pushing through 16 yard gaps. A  Signals vehicle blew up on a mine as it went through one of the lanes. Luckily there were no casualties.
19 April. The 7th moved to another location near Medjez el Bab arriving at 0200 hrs the next morning.
21 April. Thursday.  0600 hrs the 7th stood down. Sections each left a Sub Section on patrol. No contact had been made at any time though small arms fire could be heard to the north. The enemy attack had been halted then driven back. ‘A’ Section went to DIV HQ AT 1000 hrs to complete the POW cage.  Signs of the battle was all around. Churchill tanks of 21 Tank Bde were forging their way up the hill as the ‘Hermans’ were withdrawing. The final result was that V Corps attack was not held up and the enemy had lost 450 POWs and 33 of their tanks knocked out. At this time the Allies could sense that they had superiority in the air- guns- tanks and that ‘Operation Vulcan’ would sweep the Axis forces out of Africa.

23 April Good Friday.   Late in the evening the 7th moved off. Three hours later  the convoy was halted due to a bombing attack close by.  One of the DRs went to the side to tend to nature. With the help of flares and other illuminations from the air activity he noticed a sign; ‘Mines Keep Out’ they were in a minefield. Driver C Bailey driving a section compressor was hit in the leg with shrapnel. His wound was dressed and he was put in an ambulance travelling in the opposite direction. Finally in a lull the convoy moved off again arriving on the reverse slopes at the extreme south eastern end of a ridge known as banana ridge (Djebel Jaffa) because of its shape. Two nights earlier it was completely surrounded. The opposite side of the valley floor, burnt out German half tracks could be seen. The 7th arrived at midnight dispersed and settled down for the night in the midst of a firework display, flares, AA fire, falling bombs and burning vehicles lighting up the sky.
25 April Easter Sunday.  Lt Foster- Anderson and Spr W Turp rode off on a M/C to recce the Oud Hamar bridges on the Tunis road. ‘A’ Section would follow up with the object of being to capture at least one bridge intact. The M/C was ditched about 500 yards from the bridges. Lt Foster-Anderson covered by Spr Turp went to one bridge and in spite of enemy fire disconnected the circuit, then proceeded to remove detonators from charges on the bridge. He carried on until the bridge could not be blown by the enemy who by this time was furious with what was going on under their nose. Eventually he withdrew returning with Spr Turp on the pillion. The only casualty was the M/C, which was drilled with bullet holes through the top of the petrol tank but was still serviceable and used until the end of the campaign. ‘225’ took on the task of clearing the bridges to make them safe. Booby traps blew charges on each bridge causing some casualties. A diversion was made across the Oued Hamar. Newspapers at home carried accounts of this incident and there is a short account in the Corps History Volume VIII. At 1715 hrs an MTF was ordered for the attack on Sidi Mediene, B and C Sections to do the job with A Section in reserve. 2330 hrs Zero Hour, B and C Sections were out of their vehicles following 6 Black Watch who made the attack in the traditional manner with their pipes playing. The objective was captured after very bitter fighting lasting 3 hours, and the repulsion of a counter- attack. It turned out that the position was held by 90 well armed Herman Goering paratrooper s in deep trenches.
26 April. Operational contact was lost with B and C Sections. ‘A’ Section was about to be deployed to do the job but was cancelled. B Section made a 16 yard wide lane through the minefield of Mk 2 Tellermines. The first tank blew up near the entrance and C Section were ordered to clear and extend the entrance. The enemy reacted to the tanks by bringing down stonks of Nebelwerfers, six barrel, electronically operated rocket mortars. They could fire their 80lb bombs up to four miles. These became nicknamed ‘Moaning Minnies’. Support weapons and tanks passed through the minefield gap on to the objective before dawn to assist the 6 Black Watch fight off a second counter-attack. The MTF returned to Banana Ridge unscathed. Orders were received to support an attack that night by 1 RWK, a silent attack would be made by ‘A’ Company on Sidi Salem Point 112 and ‘B’ Coy on Sidi Abdallah point 137. Their objectives were on the line of hills NE from Sidi Mediene overlooking and guarding the Tunis road. The 7th would have No1 Troop Scorpion flail tanks, RTR in support. A and C Section would make one lane each 16 yards wide through a minefield in front of Sidi Abdallah from the direction of the Tunis road. Sectionswould be prepared to clear the gaps by hand if for any reason the Scorpions were unable to do so. B Section was in reserve and in the afternoon they trained with the Scorpions at Banana Ridge. The MTF left at 2330 hrs arriving at the RV on the Tunis road near Peter’s corner on the slope running down to the ‘Foster-Anderson’ bridge, timed as midnight.
27 April. The night was dry and clear. For three and a half hours the MTF sat in their vehicles looking at the battlefield on their right. ‘A’ Coy, 1 RWK captured Sidi Salem after a hard fight. The enemy came in with a strong attack on Sidi Mediene with flame throwers and was beaten off by the Black Watch. The whole area was lit by flares, tracer, explosions from grenades and mortars. By 0330 hrs time was short if the lanes were to be completed by dawn. The mines in front of Sidi Abdallah had upset B Coy’s attack in an unexpected manner, the Coy’s compasses were affected, direction lost and the OC decided to halt and wait for day before making the attack. The 7th would therefore be going into uncharted country not for the first time. A and C Sections prepared to clear the gaps by hand because the ‘Scorpions’ were unable to cross the Oud Hamar diversion. It is odd that every conceivable type of vehicle could cross exept the ‘Scorpions’. One explanation at the time was that they must not be seen in daylight. Lt Foster-Anderson went forward and recced the minefield and the location of the points were the gaps were going through. The MTF facing the objective with A Section on the left and C Section on the right, some 200/300 yards apart. The Sections went forward to make the lanes, A Section using detectors and C Section using bayonets. The minefield consisted of four rows of Mk2 Tellermines running parallel to the line of hills. Dawn was breaking and the mist lifting up the slopes of Sidi Abdallah, and nearby MGs (spandaus) were beating out a message with a stream of fire close by from left to right across the 7th’s front. Work was speeded up and risks taken to complete the task. The work was completed in record time  and the Sections returned to Banana Ridge none the worse for wear. ‘A’ Squadron 12 RTR drove their ‘Churchill’ tanks through the gaps made by the Shiny 7 in support of 1 RWK. The tanks reached their objective Sidi Abdallah, however the infantry were held back by fierce MG fire. The tanks held on reinforced by A Coy 6 Black Watch, the force was pushed back by a counter- attack with ‘Tiger’ tanks. In the next few days Sidi Abdallah changed hands eight times. Each time the infantry and support weapons took the objective they were not strong enough to hold on.
January. The GOC of the Division led in the new year with inspecting, personnel, billets and the MT. At Inveraray Sections lived on board HMT ‘Etterick’ with other units of the Bde working as a team. ‘R’ boats were used to land infantry and recce parties and MLCs, TLCs for vehicles and guns. Sappers quickly learned to shin up and down rope ladders and drop on the deck of landing craft. There were various lectures and films attended onshore. At Cove there was a two week exercise mainly working in the evenings, an exercise that bore the ’Monty’ stamp. One day in freezing weather a party cleared snow from Farnborough airfield and ice hockey was played on Hawley Common. Each day, irrespective of the weather, the day started with PT in the open.

23 March.
The Shiny 7 would now support 11 Bde Commanded by Brigadier Cass. The infantry were no strangers, 1 E Surrys, 2 LF and 5 Northants. The company was to move to Hoddam Castle in Scottish command. 

4 April.
Easter Saturday at 0545 hrs ‘7’ left Cove in convoy less 2 Section who were on leave.
6 April. Easter Monday. After night halts at Lutterworth and Doncaster race course the 7th arrived at a POW Compound at Catterick Camp. Two days later at 0800 hrs, 3 Section marched off through Richmond heading towards a farm 3 miles east of Bowes on the A66. Exercise Bruce had begun, which involved low flying aircraft attacking the Section.
12 April. The Company arrived at Hoddam Castle at 1215 hrs. 3 Section were detached to Langholm to build a camp for the 2 LF and 5 Northants mainly constructing Nissen huts. The Section lived in tents by the river flowing down to Langholm. After exercise ‘Percy’, 1 Section built a sewage system with filter beds, roads then later, tank standings at Hoddam Castle. From 6th to the 30th April, 2 Section worked at Inveraray under CTC as a demonstration party for engineering beach work. Regular marches on Scottish hills with infantry using live ammunition were a feature, the slogan ‘Brains saves sweat and sweat saves blood’ was learned to the full.

The Division became one of the first to be reorganised as a ‘model’ into a mixed division of two infantry Bdes, 10 and 12 and one Tank Bde, 21ST. 11 Bde left the Division to join the 78 DIV. ‘Shiny 7’ would support 21 Tank Bde. The tank units were 12 and 48 Bns RTR and 145 RAC. The Bde was equipped with ‘Churchill’ tanks weighing 40 tons, Class 40. Bridges were recced to ensure they could take the weight of a tank.
30 May. Shiny 7 left Hoddam Castle for an abortive exercise ‘Schuyt III’ and then went to a new location, Kershopefoot Camp arriving at 1900 hrs. This was a small railway halt on the England-Scotland border. It was ideally situated with more than adequate accommodation and had a sports field. Kershopefoot burn ran alongside the camp and had plenty of Salmon adding to the fare.  The local people could not have been more hospitable and a number of the 7th married local girls.

Thirteen truck loads of Bailey bridge arrived at the station. A few days later 1 and 2 Sections built a 110’ DS on a dry training gap in camp, and a 140’ TS on a virgin site using the whole of the equipment. It would be a long time before ‘7’ built a longer Bailey bridge.
12 June. Kingholm Quay, Dumfries, a disused dock with a gap of 70’ was used for an inter Section competition between 1 and 2 Sections. 1 Section won building their 80’ DS in two hours eighteen minutes. 2 Section took a few minutes over three and a half hours and considering their bridge over-balanced into the gap this was a very fast time. The Company wireless operators were attached to 21 Tank Bde in readiness for the arrival of the company’s first wireless sets.

13 July.
An endurance test began in the morning. Dress was marching order and one blanket. The walk across country 70 miles to Coldstream taking only three days rations. MT would lift the Sections five days later, no buying, begging or theft of food was permitted. Wild game and fish could be caught.
31July. The 7th moved out for ex ‘Dry Shod’ aptly named as it poured down the eight days.  A rum ration was issued at the end of the exercise.

By this time the allies had decided on ‘Gymnast’ later called ‘Torch’, the attack on NW Africa. ‘110 Force’ would take part in the assault. During one week the GOC General Alexander went to the Middle East. ‘Monty’ became GOC only to take command of the 8th Army. ‘110 Force’ became 1st Army commanded by Lt-General Anderson.
In the desert at the end of the month, the 8th Army stopped Rommel’s last bid to take Egypt.

1 September.
The Company moved to Halton bridge camp on the river Lune. Within days the river flooded requiring great care ferrying Churchill tanks across the river.
3 September. At 0900 hrs a voluntary church parade was held on a day of National Prayer. Britain’s war situation had plummeted, with a catalogue of failures against the Germans and the Japanese in the Far East. This did not affect the morale of the 7th which was, and had been at a high pitch for a long time.
15 September.
The Company returned to Kershopefoot.

Topical lectures, visits by high ranking officers, and the arrival of No 21 wireless sets indicated that something was afoot. The sets were quickly installed in the Section PU’s and two in the HQ vehicles, and put to test on exercises ‘Flaxman’ and ‘Moss Trooper’. Sections were detached along Loch Fyne. Lt Wake RN was attached to advise on suitable landing places. Troopships came into the loch disgorging American troops in a rehearsal for ‘Torch’. Sections were employed improving landing areas. On October 24th the Company left Ardno arriving the next morning at Kershopefoot not without casualties. A 30cwt CDF left a moor road in open country. Cpl Scott and Spr Spelman were injured and evacuated to Moffat Cottage Hospital. Spr Spelman sustained a fractured skull. Next morning the hospital advised both were comfortable. For the first time in ‘Corps’ history Sections were now being lettered, A, B, C. Numbers were discarded. This was to bring it in line with the infantry and tank units. The 8th Army won the battle of El Alamein on November 4th after twelve days of heavy fighting. A curtain raiser to the ‘Torch’ landings. After a short stay, Lt R P Hutshinson was posted to the 59th.

B and C Sections went to Ripon for a wet bridging course lasting two weeks. On return to Kershopefoot B Section made successful experiments for the passage of Churchill tanks over boggy country using 2” tubular matting. An ‘All Ranks Dance’ was held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was off duty. The New Year was celebrated in typical Scottish fashion the 7th being the guests of the local people.

German anti tank Tellermine
German  anti personnel  'S' Mine
28 April. During the morning No1 Sub A Section cleared mines from the FUP for an attack by 1 RWK on Point 133 to the left of Cactus Farm. The remainder of A Section cleared a minefield at Point 103 Sidi Mediene under observation lifting 200 Tellermines and 10 S Mines. The enemy had sown S Mines around knocked out ‘Churchill’ tanks, and took great exception to the mine clearing near the tanks bringing down a number of stonks. There was no cover, the ground was open and flat. Visibility could not have been better.
29 April Thursday. C Section put through two 16 yards lanes for the RWK attack on Point 133. One sapper was wounded by shrapnel and evacuated. During the successful attack, the poet Sydney Keyes a PL Commander in the RWK whilst advancing to the objective described ‘S’ Mines to Pte J Lucas, one of his Pl telling him, that they should keep their foot on any mine activated as it would be better for them to have a serious leg injury than to have a number of the platoon badly wounded or worse. The enemy came in with a fierce counter-attack and regained the lost ground when Sydney Keyes was killed. The objective changed hands twice leaving the enemy in possession. B Section were in support of an attack by 2 RF on Sidi Abdallah and Cactus Farm. Their task was to ensure that the lanes cleared by A and C Sections on April 27th were clear and to push another lane through the minefield for tanks. They had completed the task by 6am, when the attack began. Two sappers were slightly wounded. Despite extreme gallantry the attacks were not strong enough to hold gains made. 2 DCLI 10 Bde were brought up to recapture Pt 133, C Section were in support making a lane for tanks by 0230 hrs the next morning.
30 April Friday. In the attack the enemy were alerted about midnight lighting the sky with flares. ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys took the ridge PT 133, were repulsed by a counter-attack, then took the ridge again. Tanks moved through the marked lane and were stopped by 88mm guns. At 1100 hrs the force was ordered to withdraw. Only 68 all ranks of A and D Coys reported back to 2 DCLI Bn HQ. This was the last attack by the Division on the positions around Peter’s Corner. One official report comments that in some of the most fierce fighting of the war a few miles advance had been made.
The news was sadly received that Lt Foster-Anderson had been killed the day before by an S Mine at Sidi Mediene whilst attached to the’225’. There is no doubt that his recces of the last 10 days had saved a number of casualties.
Tiger tank in Tunis North Africa
Alexander made this clear years later in his Basil Hicks lecture at Sheffield. ‘Monty’ described the 1st Army attack, as a “Partridge shoot” forgetting that 8th Army fared no better once they reached the Tunisian mountains at enfidaville. The  Allied plan was that Africa must be cleared by mid May so that ‘Huskey’ the assault on Scicily could go ahead. The huge superiority of the Allies on the sea, in the air, and on the ground ensured that the fate of the axis forces was sealed and this force was about to be concentrated in a crushing attack planned by General Alexander called ‘Strike’. 4th Indian and 7th Armoured DIVS and 201 Guards Bde of 8th Army were moved to the Medjez sector. They with 4 DIV and 6 Armoured DIV would form IX Corps commanded by Lt-General Crocker. He was unfortunately wounded demonstrating a PIAT, a new infantry A/T Weapon. Lt-General Horrocks took command of IX Corps. Lt-General Allfrey’s V Corps would hold the outer ring demonstrating and would take the last heights known as the ‘Bou’ with 1 Div north of Medjez.

2 May Sunday. It was something to go to a mobile shower bath unit and clean up in readiness for the issue of KD the next day. NCOs appeared with chevrons on the right arm only held in place by the elastic band from a pair of eye shields. The yellow vehicles of 8th Army began to appear at Medjez amongst the camouflaged trucks of 1st Army. Generals down to the grass roots of 8th Army had their condescending say at the time and when writing of the period later. The 7th for their part whilst officially resting, were busy looking for a solution to the problem of blowing positions for the infantry once an objective had been taken and before a counter-attack could be mounted. Digging was a non-starter due to the rocky nature of the terrain. Sections found the best method was to use ‘Beehives’ to blow holes and then made up charges in ‘Jam’ tins were placed in the holes blown by the ‘Beehives’ and ‘Foxholes’ could be very quickly made. After trials this method was adopted.  After a flight of ‘Focke-Wulf’ aircraft attacked the Medjes area. It was reported that Spr E Mann assisted in bringing one of the aircraft down on Banana Ridge with his Bren gun from his swivel seat on a 15cwt truck. This was one of the very few day-light attacks made, and from this time onwards air attacks were made at night.
03 May Monday. At 0630 hrs B Section went to assist ‘225’ camouflaging 4 DIV GOC’s battle HQ for the forthcoming attack ‘Operation Strike’. This was placed in front of the leading infantry 1 RWK guarding the start line of 3000 yards to be used in the attack by the Division and 4 Indian DIV. A Sub Section of ‘A’ Section went to assist a US Army Signals Unit, and cleared a mine infested area in Medjez el Bab of A/Tm and A/Pm. The mines were British, American and German dug into the ground, attached to telegraph poles and fences, some with a number of trip wires (necklace). The job was safely completed during the afternoon in time to join C Section in a night exercise with ‘Scorpions’ bringing to a high pitch the team work of gapping minefields. The use of ‘SLUG’ had made the ‘Scorpion’ a 100% mine clearer its flails dealt with the A/Tm and ‘SLUG’ A/Pm.
04 May.  The ‘Scorpions’ left to join 4 Indian DIV not to be seen again during the war by the 7th, more to the point ‘SLUG’ disappeared from the scene for good. The day was spend ‘Make and Mend’, checking equipment, preparing jam tin charges, tuning detectors ready for last-light.
05 May. At 0710 hrs ‘Shiny 7 left their rocky patch on Banana Ridge and moved NE of the Tunis-Medjes road in open rolling country. In the late afternoon ‘O’ Groups were held. The 7th were in support of 12 Bde. Operation ‘STRIKE’ would commence with 600 guns firing at 0300 hrs May 6 the next morning. B Section would clear the FAA on the start line held by 1 RWK. C Section would support and blow 6 Black Watch into position on their objective Point 161 Arg el Hadjar. ‘A’ Section would support 1 RWK blowing them into position on the Division’s last objective Frendje. C Section left at 1545 hrs to join 6 Black Watch, Spr Bevin was injured when a piece of flying rock struck his head whilst C Section were experimenting blowing fox holes. He was not evacuated but out of the battle.

06 May Thursday. At 0130 hrs B Section moved off to the FAA to complete their task. C Section moved off with 6 Black Watch at 0230 hrs to their start line. 6 Black Watch history mentions that a Section from‘225’were in support of the Bn, no doubt a slip of the pen. At 0300 hrs the barrage opened crashing out a harsh message to the enemy from one gun a yard of front, 16000 rounds falling on 4th Division front alone. B Section were on the start line clearing the FAA when the battle began around them and Sapper Gibbon was killed. The Section returned in time to move to a new location with Coy Tac HQ at 0600 hrs as reserve Section. C Section crossed the start line at 0345 hrs walking in four high corn. It was found that progress could only be made along a track, and the Section became intermingled with the Black Watch and 2 DCLI moving to another objective - 10 Bde sector with tanks of 48 RTR. Due to this C Coy 6 Black Watch attacked Pt 161 supported by C Squadron 12 RTR and a squadron of 48 RTR who were in fact in support of 2 DCLI. Pt 161 was clear of the enemy. C Section began at once to blow fox holes for 6 Black Watch to consolidate their position. L/Cpl J McNight went forward in a Bren carrier to distribute the explosive. Elements of the section moved forward under the cover of ‘Churchill’ tanks. The enemy opened up with MGs firing tracer at the ‘Churchills’ as a direction finder for their 88mm A/T guns which engaged the tanks. In this fire Spr Card was killed, Cpl Corner mortally wounded, and eighteen of the Section was wounded, this number included Sprs Atkinson, F Daly, D Fairgrave, Powell, Russel and wheeler. L/Cpl H Morris and Spr Hallam assisted the wounded, the majority of whom were flown home to the UK. Spr Coomber was saved by his belt buckle which took the full force of a piece of shrapnel. The recce party were in a PU the Section’s wireless truck the only soft skinned vehicle in a column of armoured vehicles mainly Bren carriers. The following is the eye witness account of what happened: “ Les Mitchum was driving, I was in the passenger seat, and Wally Edwards was on set. As the only soft skinned vehicle in the column we felt uncomfortable listening to MG bullets whistling by. Later Lt W L Taylor was shot in the hand by a bullet from an A/T rifle situated under a tree half a mile away. I very plainly saw the shot fired, and as we had an Artillery 00 on hand it was promptly dealt with.” Lt Taylor was evacuated and returned to the UK. The Section depleted as they were, having lost close to 50% of their Sapper strength completed the job of blowing the Black Watch into position before returning to Tac HQ at 0930 hrs. ‘A’ Section moved off in semi darkness to join 1 RWK amid a dust storm thrown up by a column of 6 armoured DIV tanks advancing on the same route. At 0730 hrs the armour was ordered to pass through the infantry. ‘A’ Section advanced on foot with 1 RWK towards Frendj at 1630 hrs. Frendj was a prominent feature overlooking almost featureless country and in the distance the road to Tunis. The infantry and Sappers advanced in extended order. Each few yards the ground was pock marked by shell fire like a gigantic chess board. The terrain was rocky scrub, devoid of cover. Unknown to the rank and file the enemy had fled from the immediate battlefield earlier in the day. At the objective Lt Venning distributed beehives and explosive to blow positions. A number of 88mm guns were captured with their breech blocks missing and prepared for demolition. The charges were stripped and the guns turned in the direction of the enemy ready should the breech blocks be found. Two Sappers, one believed to be Spr A  Awcock, were ordered to go down into a large underground room and clear it of mines etc. They went down and found two tall clean looking Germans who surrendered to the sappers much to their surprise. These were the first prisoners taken by Shiny 7 in WW2. The infantry took charge of the prisoners and the sappers went back down the cellar to carry on the good work. By 2030 hrs a party of B Section sent out to destroy a gun, which was successfully dealt with, returned to HQ at the same time as A Section. The attack was a complete success and went exactly as planned. Until May 6th the 7th had been very lucky in regard to casualties, now it had gone the other way. 4 Indian Division found that the ‘Scorpions’ were mechanically unsound and therefore could not be used.

07 May.
News came through that Tunis had Fallen.
09 May. B Section sent a sub section with a party from 48 RTR to recover knocked out tanks and the bodies in them. The job was made difficult as the enemy had planted A/P mines around the tanks, however the job was done without any further casualties.
10 May. There was no let up as the 1st Army pressed on to finish the job. 12 Bde headed for Korba, and 6 Armoured DIV quickly cut across the base of Cap Bon to Hammament. This movement cut the Axis forces into three pockets, north, south and Cap Bon. 6 Armoured DIV turned south and met up with the 8th Army at Enfidaville. About 50,000 enemy were in Cap Bon, well-armed and quite capable of putting up a fight in ideal country for that purpose. 12 Bde were directed up the eastern coastline of Cap Bon and 10 Bde Group up the Western coastline. They were ordered not to stop until they met. Twenty four hours later both Bdes met at Menzel Heur. Cap Bon was encircled. The enemy had been given no time to organise a defence and they began to surrender in large numbers. The 7th moved at 1400 hrs.

11 May.  The convoy finally arrived near Soliman on a main road at 0100 hrs. by 0600 hrs Sections were hard at work A and B Sections constructing diversions and C Section clearing a route through Soliman. Lorry loads of German POWs without guards began to appear in convoy. They were headed to a POW Camp. A band, officers in a staff car and an 88mm gun with crew made up one convoy. it was similar to people heading off for a bank holiday break.
12 May. Capt Barron left for an airfield recce in Cap Bon.

13 May
Thursday. Dvr J James the DR of Captain Barron’s party reported to the OC at 0900 hrs that the party had been ambushed. Capt Barron had been killed, Cpl Snowden mortally wounded and died in an Italian hospital to which he, and Spr A Walker the other member of the party (also wounded) were taken. Dvr James had been taken prisoner, then released the next morning (13 May). Capt Barron’s body was found and buried by Lt Hodgart. His description of the incident goes on: “As Capt Barron had been at Company HQ for almost the whole of the campaign it was decided by the OC to give him a break. He left in a captured German Volkswagon with Cpl Snowden as a driver, his Batman Spr Walker, and a DR, Dvr James. They were shot up by a large party of German paratroopers, probably Herman Goering. Along the road where John’s body lay both sides of the road were occupied by about a company and a half of these paras all armed to the teeth. I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous. However, they did not interfere or help. We decided to bury him there taking careful map reference. I am convinced that what saved us and didn’t for John was the fact that he was in a captured vehicle, and they resented that. I am sure they realised that the war was over for them. We being in a British vehicle escaped by the skin of our teeth. Even Nobby Clark admitted to being apprehensive”
Field Marshal Kesselring the German  GOC in C stated that: “ All Axis forces in the north, which included Cap Bon laid down their arms on May 12th, and that the final surrender was in the ‘South’ on May 13th, and that he was in touch with his forces right to the end”. It would appear that the Field Marshal didn’t know what his forces were doing.
At 1415 hrs General Alexander reported to the prime minister:
“it is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores”.
Church bells were rung at home to herald the most overwhelming victory ever won by a British Commander with tremendous support from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. No other battle had been so decisive, and the enemy so completely destroyed. The enemy were holding formidable positions, which they intended to hold at all costs. Within one week the enemy agreed to unconditional surrender, and a quarter of a million men laid down their arms. Only 663 of the enemy escaped by air. There was no Dunkirk and shoals of small ships. The Booty was enormous but the victory in Tunisia had been won at a price. The casualties in the final battle were light for the campaign. They were:
1st Army                                             25,742
US Army                                            18,221
French Forces                                  19,439
8th Army from entry into Tunisia 12,348 
The 7th made a short journey to Bir Drasson, a sandy fly blown location in cane groves, arriving at 1530 hrs. Late in the evening  a dishevelled German soldier gave himself up to the 7th and was put at ease with a meal.

28 May. An accident occurred A Section’s location.  L/Cpl Harris being killed and Spr F Shoesmith injured and evacuated. The cause was a mortar bomb of the type used by German paratroopers. It was thought that these had been made safe and not armed. The next day after a court of enquiry orders were issued that these bombs should be destroyed ‘insitu’. The last of the Herman Goering paras were captured hiding near the coast without a fight by Cpl H Lambert’s Sub Section. They surrounded the paras giving them no option other than to surrender their arms. These troops had held Cactus Farm against the Division and still hoped to escape. There had been cases of Section vehicles being fired at, usually at night fall.

2 June.
Shiny 7 paraded lining the Grombalia road for the Prime Minister and the CIGS General Brooke.
Work continued in the area setting up water points and mine lifting. Lt Roberts was posted from the ‘59’.
18 June Friday. At midday the 7th lined a road in the area for inspection by the King who as always looked very smart and fit. Dress was KD Shorts (the 7th were in the process of getting ‘their knees brown’) and side arms. Training got underway again, bridging schemes, water points, and general engineering using all equipment, lashings etc. A sign that another operation was pending. Lt Mckay was posted in from the ‘225’

30 June. Preparations were made for a move near to Bougie the next day. Tents were struck. One of the priorities of the last few weeks was to salvage sufficient enemy tents to ensure that the whole unit was under canvas. Eventually all captured MT and weapons was handed in.
The Tunisian campaign was over and 1st Army ceased to exist. General Anderson was ordered to the UK to command 2nd Army forming for the 2nd front.

1 July Thursday.
At 0600 hrs Shiny 7 started a convoy run of 456 miles to Bougie. The purpose of the move was to train for an attack  code named ‘Goblet’ on the ‘Toe’ of Italy near Crotone to secure two airfields essential to cover any sea landing further up the leg of Italy.
4 July. Shiny 7 arrived at Bougie and pitched their tents on the beach. There was time for a game of cricket.
5 July. Four officers and 14 ORs arrived as reinforcements but the 7th was still 40 ORs under strength. ‘A’ Section started work on a Divisional Rest Camp at Djidjelli. A 48 hour leave pass was granted at the Rest Camp which was most welcome.
10 July. 2nd / Lts Blewitt, Bocker and Marks were posted to the 7th. Intensive training of all kinds was underway as well as inter unit cricket. Swimming, shooting and engineer competitions.
18 July. Lt Corry returned to the 7TH, and Lts Mckay and Venning were posted to other units. Lt-Colonel Moberley was posted as CRE, Major Griffen became OC as Major Richardson was posted as Commandant of the SME at Bone.  A training project of interest was to find a solution to building  BB bridges on restricted sites in mountainous country. The first idea was to build a one bay, dual carriage-way gantry with BB, then to launch as light a launching nose as possible to reach the far bank. This was not successful. An attempt was made to launch a single truss through the gantry controlled by ropes and came to grief when four or five panels collapsed. Two of B Section in the gantry luckily were unscathed. At a discussion group of officers and NCOs about the problem one of the Sgts said “put a tank on the back”. There were howls of laughter, but a scheme was put forward and this was the answer. Basically a heavy tank would drive onto the first bay built with sufficient rollers to take the weight of the tank and bridge. The tank moved the bridge forward with its tracks as the bridge was built. Nothing further was heard about this until the 7th were in Egypt early in 1944. Operation ‘Goblet’ was cancelled. 

3 August.
The 7th moved to a wet bridging camp near Bone.
10 August. Lt Roberts was attached to 21 Tank Bde to give instruction on the ‘Snake’. It was a development of the man-powered pushing of BTs through minefields from Crawley days 1941. Tanks instead of Sappers did the pushing. There appeared to be no other development of Armoured Assault Vehicles at that time which were sorely needed.

1 November.
The OC, Major Griffin was posted. It was doubtful if the 7th would ever get a taller OC. He was 6’ 9” and towered over everyone.

5 December.
Warm clothes at last. Battle dress was issued, and the next day Major Low arrived to take command as OC. He was a mountaineer and ex commando. Lt Smart aided by a few willing assistants and a battered piano as the only musical instrument available began to produce a Christmas pantomime ‘Muscatela’. A small party volunteered for a seven day leave in Algiers, no sooner had they arrived when they were recalled back to the unit. Shiny 7 were on the move again.
13 December. There was no question of leaving the pigs they were fattening up. They were killed for Christmas Dinner followed by a party. ‘Muscatela’ was not ready to put on, but the Company enjoyed an impromptu concert. Apart from personal kit and one or two boxes of tools, everything else would be left on a park at Algiers, and another set of vehicles and equipment would be taken over. This system saved shipping space and also ensured that personnel and units lost their captured equipment such as tents. When units moved to a new theatre of operations they went virtually in what they stood up in and what they could carry by hand. Beds, tents etc usually ended up in the base areas.
15 December. At 0700 hrs the advance party left for Algiers the main body following shortly afterwards. The convoy stopped on the dockside. After dismounting the Company formed up in Sections. At 2100 hrs the OC appeared with orders to embark on ‘HMT Llangibby Castle’ with 2 DCLI, old friends. C Section were detached embarking on another ship.
21 December. One of the three destroyers escorting the convoy ‘HMS Jarvis’ came along side to give seasonal greetings and an extraordinary meeting took place. Sapper T Lawson exchanged greetings across 50 yards of sea with his cousin Alex Bowman serving on the ‘Jarvis’, they had not met for a long time and would not see each other again until after the war. ‘Jarvis’ then set course for Alexandria. The convoy made for Port Said and the ‘Llangibby Castle’ dropped anchor in the main basin.
24 December Friday. The 7th disembarked the ship leaving it in much better shape than they found it. After a typical transit ‘wait’, the 7th eventually entrained for a 90 mile journey to the southern end of the canal on a comfortable but slow troop train. At 2300 hrs the Shiny 7 detrained at Ataka station, formed up and marched off. The OC halted the marching column precisely at midnight, turned the Company towards him and wished them a ‘Merry Christmas’ and then continued to march. The 7th found their tented camps and settled down. Great secrecy surrounded this move to Egypt. All units there continued to use their old address the 7th s address was BNAF. The 7th would now support 28 Bde. The Division would mount an assault on the island of Rhodes code named ‘Hercules’. 10 Indian DIV would follow up after the capture to relieve the Division for duty in Italy.
Boxing Day Sunday. At 0700 hrs the 7th moved the odd mile nearer to mount Ataka (aptly named) next door to ‘225’.
A Sapper of 8 Fd Sqn RE lifting a mine on the Thala-Kasserine road in 24 Feb 1943
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