Diaries Dog tag

The Lost Six Years 1939-1945

Derek Hunnisett

Practical Training at Seaford

On the 11th of December we packed our kit and moved out, our destination was Seaford in Sussex for final training of a more practical nature.

Seaford suited me fine as it was situated just over the Sussex Downs from my home and I was able to get away nearly every weekend, with or without a pass. Arriving at Seaford we were split up into Platoons and marched to our billets which were empty private houses. Each Platoon consisted of about twenty four men. The cookhouse and mess were in one large building where we had to march in Platoon order and assemble each morning.

It was bitterly cold that winter and the billets weren’t all that comfortable. We did get some fuel sometimes, for a fire in the evenings, but spent most evenings in a pub.

I got leave for Christmas and it was great visiting my old mates, attending parties etc. I was made very welcome wherever I went but little did I know it would be my last for five years.

On the 31st of December we went to Steyning on a firing course. It was a grand week - like a holiday – with no drilling or parades, just firing on the range with the rifle, bren gun and anti tank gun. There was good food and concerts were arranged on a couple of evenings. My total score was 164 out of 200, so I was quite happy. I wasn’t so keen on firing the anti tank gun though as it had a terrific kick on it. However, it was a very enjoyable week and we were sorry to go back.

My platoon at Steyning
My Platoon when we went on the firing course at Steyning
(Hugh Holford is the 3rd from left, the top row, me 5th from left, middle row)

Back at Seaford it was pretty rough. Up at 06:00 hrs, out into the cold (and it was COLD) , doing P.T. before breakfast, route marches, going all over the Downs on manoeuvres, bayonet practice and crawling through mud and ditches come snow or rain. There were humorous times as well. One awkward chap threw a hand grenade and it landed at his feet. The Officer in charge yelled “Lay down you stupid !******! you’re dead!”. Another time, whilst on exercise, we were guarding a post. Someone was approaching and was challenged, “Who goes there”. Back came the reply, “Me”. The Lance Corporal burst out laughing, “Come in Harrold you stupid !******!”. It was a good job the Officer wasn’t there. I and my mate thought we would be clever on one of the cross country runs. They were always over the same route depending which way we started, so we knew which way they would return. We tailed off the group and then hid in a barn until they came back. Unfortunately an N.C.O. at the back saw us rejoin the runners and we were put on extra fatigues all week. We didn’t think it funny at the time and didn’t try it again.

On the 15th of February I was picked to join a firing party at a funeral of one chap who had died. (Not through the war).

On the 13th of March I was transferred to the Holding Battalion, still in Seaford but in a much bigger house. The Holding Battalion was the final stage before going overseas. Hugh Holford was still with me and had been since we joined up. The training still carried on but with a more definite object in mind. The training was pretty tough. We did lots of route marches with full kit, took part in exercises all over the Downs and practised making use of available cover when attacking gun positions. Mock battles took place, attacking enemy positions and defending our own. I suppose it had to be strenuous  in order to toughen us up. It did that alright and I’ve never felt so fit. I really did enjoy it. On the whole the chaps I was with were a good lot but I did lose things from my kit, they just disappeared. We didn’t get any sympathy from the N.C.O.S and Officers if any of our kit was missing and were told to replace it somehow which we did by “borrowing” from someone else! I think the Army teaches you to be a good thief but we never pinched anything from our own mates.

One day my brother Syd came over on his motor bike to visit us. He treated Hugh and me to a drink in a pub and then we took him back to our billet. During that day we had both been on cookhouse fatigue and we had brought back dozens of cold sausages, so we all three had a good tuck in of bangers that evening. I don’t think Syd was very impressed with our sleeping quarters though.

On the 29th of March we were supposed to have gone on draft, but it was cancelled. Then on the 13th of April we had a kit inspection. After packing all our spare kit into our kitbags we stowed them in the store and at 12 noon went home on embarkation leave. That was on a Saturday. It wasn’t a very long leave - it went much too quickly – but I had a great time. It was hard saying goodbye to everyone and I was beginning to realise more now of what might be in store for me. Up until now I had enjoyed it all, but saying goodbye, and knowing I was going overseas, it wasn’t so good anymore. It was particularly hard saying farewell to my mother, who came to see me off at the station. She was trying hard not to cry but I know she was very near to it. That was the last time I ever saw her, standing waving at the station.

Text © Copyright Derek Hunnisett 1983
The moral right of Derek Hunnisett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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