Dedicated to the memory of my mother and all those who hold the forever young of war in their hearts.
Chapter 6 43rd Reconnaissance – the end of the beginning
Dick joined the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment on 13th July 1942.
He was initially stationed in Dover, Kent.
On 13th July 1942 Dick swopped his Airborne Pegasus badge for the Wyvern (a legendary golden dragon) of the 43rd(Wessex) Division. The army of King Alfred the Great had fought under the banner of the Wyvern against the invading Danes in the 9th century and the soldiers of the Division were predominately from the area of his ancient kingdom. The Reconnaissance regiment Dick joined was also known as the Glosters having been formed from the 5th battalion of the old Gloucestershire regiment in 1941.
Reconnaissance was an elite corps of the British army, taking the place of the Light Cavalry of past eras. Each Regiment took the number of its relevant Division but from June 1942 used the cavalry names of ‘squadrons’ and ‘troops’ instead of usual infantry descriptions.
They evolved into “swift, adaptable, and superlatively mobile fighting units with fast vehicles capable of taking heavy punishment, high concentrated firing-power and a complicated but efficient wireless network designed to convey, under the most trying conditions imaginable, accurate and balanced information to the general’s battle map”.
'Their task was to solve an eternal problem of war, to discover “what is happening on
the other side of the hill” – that is, inside the enemy lines.'
Reconnaissance personnel had to be of a high standard of intelligence for both the deduction and transmission of information and, although their ultimate objective was not
fighting, they needed to be tough and speedy fighters, able to work at the front of the enemy lines and survive to tell their tale.
They had to find out - by stealth, by drawing fire or by fighting – where the enemy was concealed, to explore his strength and movement and to maintain constant touch with him, relaying accurate information back quickly and continuously. They were specially trained to be constantly on the alert and to use initiative, cunning and any resources available.
Only those who came out top in the IQ test were considered for Recce. “Recce men had to be tough with cold scientific brains behind their brawn.”
(From “The Reconnaissance Journal”, Memorial Number, Summer 1950 – article by Arthur Bryant; Recce Regt record WO 170/433 5 at the National Archive, Kew; “Only the Enemy in Front – The Recce Corps at War 1940-1946” by Richard Doherty 1994; “This Band of Brothers” by Jeremy Taylor 1947; and “Record of a Reconnaissance regiment – History of the 43rd” by A. Scott, Cole Packer and J. Groves with Jeremy Taylor 1950 and other 43rd Recce papers examined courtesy of the Archive & reference Library, the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset. The assistance of members of WW2 Talk Forum with my research is also much appreciated.)
However, after 3 months training, Dick was no longer in the later famous 1st Air Landing Reconnaissance Squadron,
featured in the film “A Bridge to Far” for their role in Market Garden (September 1944).
16th July 1942 – in Paris 9,000 police under the orders of René Bousquet, the French secretary-general of police, seized 13,00 Jews, including children and sent them to Nazi death camps in the east. In the course of the war at least 50,000 Parisian Jews were deported and murdered. (From ‘The Second World War’ by Antony Beevor, published by Weidenfield and Nicolson 2012 and ‘Paris’, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.)
Letter posted Friday 17th July 1942
Tpr 5731671 Williams R
43rd Recce Regt, Recce Corps, Home Forces
My Darling Chotie,
As you will see from above address much water has flowed under the old bridge since I last saw you on Saturday. About half the old squadron were transferred to this regiment which is in the same corps but non-airborne.
I can’t tell you where I am – but I can tell you I’m in the county of my humble origin*.
At present I’m feeling very groggy, having just had a couple of inoculations –which always set me back a bit.
I managed to get back in time on Saturday last. There was a devil of a crowd at the bus station and at least three fights with Red-caps**, but I managed to get on a bus and arrived back just before midnight.
Well, Precious I’m afraid I can’t write any more, as I feel like Death warmed-up.
I think the leave works out all right here, so I shall probably get my next 9 days on time. I can’t see any chance of getting down before then.
Goodnight, my Darling
God bless you
*Dick was born in Orpington in Kent. This letter was from Dover.
** Military police
© Chotie Darling
On 20th July 1942 Major A.W.E. Crawford joined 43rd Reconnaissance, taking over command from Lieutenant-Colonel D.Ward on 24th July. At the beginning of the month 43rd Recce had received orders to mobilise for service overseas, less 1st line Reinforcements, and preparation for this mobilisation (medical inspections, overhaul of documents and receipts of personnel), to be completed by 2nd August, filled much of their time. All squadrons also carried out shooting practice.
(From the War Diary of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment held by the Archive and Reference Library, the Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset.)
21st July 1942 - 16,000 Japanese landed at Buna on the north cost of Papua New Guinea ready to advance on Port Moresby, the capital, along the mountainous Kokoda Trail. Courageous Australian defenders fighting in apalling conditions stopped them from reaching their destination and in September they withdrew.