What's For Dinner!

These lads have lost their identities. They are only "bodies", for it is not until later, when they have passed the MO and been examined by the dental officer that they get their AB 64 (pay-book) and find their regimental number--and discover that they have neither credits nor debits. That's a happy state of affairs for any soldier.

Sleeping quarters for my squad were two-tier beds, and each man had a locker. Then we trudged off to the dining hall, after knife, fork and spoon had been drawn, and to my amazement they had dinner to music---the D.L.I. band played popular music while the diners sat and polished off their meal. Dinner consisted of a liberal supply of minced meat, potatoes and beans, and for the sweet, stewed apricots and custard. It was wholesome enough, but the only improvement I could see here from the old days was that you got a plate given you, whereas we took our mess tin. I could still improve the dinner service arrangements, but my proposal might turn the Army Council hairless. There are approximately 20 at a table. Instead of everyone lining up for their meal, why not hot food containers at every second table and plates handed round with the men sitting? But, perhaps, that is asking too much even in these enlightened days of a "brighter barrack room."

No Bullying

It was not until after they had passed the medical examination that two suits of Service dress and one of Denim serge was dished out. There is a method in this. If the at MO turns the boy down, he is sent home and only his underclothing and small kit has to be withdrawn. Today clothing is "sized" quite differently from the old days and unless he has exceptionally long arms for his build he is easy to size up as he enters the SD room.

The biggest trouble is the greatcoat. No matter what his size our recruit's greatcoat must reach to 14 inches from the ground, so that, looking along the line they are all the same, to get "dress" neatness. And so our recruit's Army career
has begun. His squad sergeant and corporal take him right through the six weeks of initial training. By the end of that time it has been decided whether the recruit should go to a corps, the RA, or infantry.

But what I want to impress upon mothers and fathers is that their sons have a fair crack of the whip and are looked upon with a kindly interest. At Brancepeth, Colonel McBain is a strict soldier for discipline, but he has a deep interest
in youths. He showed that when he commanded the 70th DLI, the youths' battalion. And any NCO adopting a bullying
attitude is out--he's for the long jump straightaway. Colonel McBain won't have it at any price.

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Brancepeth DLI group photo

The photograph above was taken by a Willington, Co Durham photographer and is of a group of DLI soldiers based at the nearby Brancepeth Camp. The various campaign medals and mix of headgear (some men are wearing the old ‘fore and aft’ field service cap, others the new beret, suggest that the photo was taken in 1944-45. The NCO sitting at third from left front has been identified, by his son, Tom Armstrong, as Sergeant Major W T Armstrong. Tom also tells me that his father was a former miner who volunteered for war service. He was on the permanent training staff at Brancepeth in 1944-45. Can anyone put names to any of the other faces? For an informal May 1945 snap of W T Armstrong and an unidentified friend, click here.

A Group of DLI Soldiers at Brancepeth in 1944-45