This Battalion was embodied on 3rd September 1939 with Battalion HQ and HQ Company at Chapelfield Drill Hall, Norwich, A and D Companies at Great Yarmouth, B Company with detachments at Wymondham, Attleborough, Thetford and Watton, C Company with detachments at Diss, Harleston and Long Stratton.
The first months of the War were spent in guarding Aerodromes and other vulnerable points. In late September, Battalion HQ and HQ Company moved to Yarmouth and in late October to Gorleston where they remained until September 1940.
For one year the Battalion was in the Yarmouth area on Coast Defence but in September 1940 it moved under canvas to Langley Park. In the beginning of October companies went into billets in various villages nearby and Battalion HQ moved to Brooke Hall. In November 1940, however, the whole Battalion moved to Cambridge. In December it received the order to mobilise and in order to do that and complete Brigade and Divisional training, it moved in early January 1941 to Scotland where it remained until April when it moved to Blackburn. In July it moved to Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire.In October, His Majesty The King, inspected the Battalion and Lt Col J H Jewson MC TD relinquished the command he had held since February 1939 on being promoted. He was succeeded by Lt Col A E Knights MC MM TD with Major J N Packard as Second in Command.The Battalion sailed from Liverpool on 29th October 1941 and joined a convoy just north of the Clyde. Half way across the Atlantic the British escort handed over to an American escort consisting of one battleship, one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and several destroyers. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Battalion was transhipped to the USS 'Wakefield'. It then called at Trinidad and Capetown and landed at Bombay on 29th December and went into camp at Ahmednagar.On 19th January 1942 it re-embarked at Bombay and landed at Keppel Harbour, Singapore on 29th January which at this time was being raided day and night by enemy aircraft. The Battalion was given a sector to defend in the north east of the island until the Japanese made a landing on the north west coast when it was taken from the 54th Brigade and formed part of 'Tom Force' under Lt Col Thomas, Northumberland Fusiliers. This Force consisting of 4th Royal Norfolk Regiment, Sherwood Foresters and the Divisional Reconnaissance Battalion moved to Bukit Timah, some 5 miles west of Singapore Town. On 11th February it went into action west of the racecourse and met a strong Japanese attack on Singapore from the north west. Heavy fighting ensued with no air support whilst the Japanese had plenty of aircraft which harried our troops continually. A move was then made to Adam Road which was in the perimeter defences of Singapore City. Most of the food dumps had to be abandoned together with the stores of water and ammunition and by 15th February supplies of all kinds were running short. On that date the order to surrender was received.Two days later, the Battalion was moved into the crowded area at Changi. During the next 3_ years practically all the men were made to work on the railway in Thailand and at other camps. Conditions in Thailand were terrible and over 124 men died from disease and starvation. When the Japanese surrendered only 88 men of the Battalion were found on Singapore Island, the rest having been dispersed over Thailand and the surrounding country. Throughout the battle for Singapore and the long period in captivity, all ranks maintained that dignity and spirit common to all men in the Regiment and lived with the knowledge that, in the end, the Japanese would be defeated.
From September 1939 to October 1941
(Editor's Note: This account of the 4th Bn has been compiled by Lt Col E C Knights MC MM TD)
It was probably with mixed feelings that the order for the embodiment of the 4th Bn, in common with all other units of the Territorial Army was received. Memories of 1914-1918 were still in the minds of many, the War to end War had failed to achieve its object and the prospect of a further drawn out struggle lay before us, but it was what we had been training for for years. That was the general spirit which prevailed. The early days had a spirit of excitement and thrill of impending adventure although the actual role of the Battalion was not altogether consistent with this.Generally speaking, companies remained at their home stations viz:- Bn HQ and HQ Coy at Chapelfield Drill Hall, Norwich, A and D Coys at Great Yarmouth, B Coy at Thetford, Attleborough, Wymondham and Watton, C Coy at Diss, Harleston and Long Stratton. Reference to the embodiment would not be complete without enumerating the officers serving with the Battalion at that time. They were:-
Platoon and Company Training was carried out, as far as possible, although the need for the provision of guards on vulnerable points and aerodromes made this somewhat difficult. All ranks were in excellent spirits and took both the training and the rather uninspiring tasks they had to carry out very seriously. All company localities were put in a state of defence. Gas-proof Headquarters were constructed; in fact, the company drill halls were virtually defended keeps. The sand-bagging of the Attleborough Drill Hall will probably live in the memories of the members of B Coy for many years.
The Specialist Platoons started training in earnest; in fact, everybody was keen and anxious to get on with the job. The first break from company stations took place at the end of September when Bn HQ and HQ Coy moved to Great Yarmouth.
An Officers' Mess was established at the Central Hotel, York Road. Other ranks were billeted in the town. Shortly afterwards the whole of the Battalion was concentrated in the Yarmouth and Gorleston areas. The Commanding Officer's eye for country was very much in evidence in the selection of the Gorleston Holiday Camp for Bn HQ Officers and accommodation for HQ Coy and two other companies. It was ideal with Elmhurst as a mess and sleeping accommodation for officers, the spacious dining hall and kitchen being utilised for other ranks. The Dance Hall provided facilities for indoor training in addition to its normal function, roller skating and concerts etc. Lastly, the chalets were used for housing other ranks. We were indeed fortunate. The need for sports activities was, to a large extent, catered for by the existing football ground, tennis courts and the famous hockey pitch where many a battle was fought between officers and other ranks.
In addition to the Gorleston Holiday Camp the Great Yarmouth Racecourse was requisitioned, one company being stationed there. Although perhaps not so comfortable, it was very good for training purposes. The company in this locality was changed at intervals with a company at the Holiday Camp. D Coy remained at its home station Great Yarmouth with HQ at the York Road Drill Hall. Training now began in earnest, particular attention being paid to T.O.E.T. At this time we were fortunate in having drafted to us a party of excellent NCOs and ORs from the 2nd Bn. Included in this party was CSM Lunn who, afterwards, became our RSM and later, we deeply regret, killed in action at Singapore. Also in the party were Cpls F E Brown, later to become RSM, W Nelson, a CSM and A Sell, a CQMS. We were greatly helped by these valuable additions to the Battalion. We then received a draft from the Depot of the Wiltshire Regt amongst whom were some very useful men and they soon became 'one of us'.
In July 1940 the Battalion received its first intake of men enlisted under the Conscription Act. Plans for their training had been carefully prepared and Capt W L Faux and CSM Rice were entrusted with this interesting and responsible work. The results were extraordinarily good. The material proved to be above average and all the men took a keen interest in this preliminary training. The course lasted 3 weeks. At the end of each week the Commanding Officer held an inspection and examination at which the best squad was chosen. It was generally difficult to make a decision owing to the high standard of each squad.
Although some defensive positions to meet the threat of invasion were prepared, it was not until the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk that things really moved in this respect. Then there were amazing scenes of activity. The beaches were wired, dugouts and strong points constructed and manned day and night, minefields laid, a tank ditch was dug from East to West at both the Northern (Caister) and Southern (Hopton) boundaries of the Battalion sector. Every advantage was taken of natural obstacles such as railway embankments. Road blocks, consisting of herring barrels filled with sand and lashed with timber, were constructed all round the perimeter of Yarmouth and Gorleston. Floodlights were arranged to light up the beaches at night and a gap was blown in Britannia Pier to render it useless as a landing point. The actual role of the Battalion was the defence of Great Yarmouth (including Gorleston) against an enemy attack by land or sea or both. As the Battalion perimeter was 22 miles in circumference, this was a difficult undertaking but with the help of a company of a Pioneer Battalion, the co-operation of the Yarmouth detachment of the 8th Bn Royal Norfolk Regiment, the Home Guard Bn commanded by Lt Col F B B Howard OBE and last, but not by any means least, a detachment of Naval ratings from HMS Watchful, HQ of the Flag Officer in charge Naval Base, Great Yarmouth, by permission of Rear Admiral Sir Eric Fullerton, it was as far as possible carried out. The essential beach and certain of the inland perimeter defence were constantly manned by the 4th Bn and the Pioneer Coy whilst arrangements were made for the inner defences to be manned by the remainder of the Force should a landing on the coast be imminent.
The task of putting the area in an adequate state of defence was naturally not without sad, difficult and humorous situations. It was then that the Battalion suffered its first casualties, two men of A Coy being killed whilst laying beach mines in front of the racecourse. In view of the urgency of the work, the normal channels of requisitioning rather broke down. Local Commanders were obliged to show initiative with the result that even until the time the Battalion went abroad, bills for barrels etc accompanied by terse remarks from higher command such as 'Who authorised this expenditure?' followed the Battalion in its subsequent travels through England and Scotland.
The tank ditch which traversed the Great Yarmouth Golf Course was not altogether pleasing to members of the Golf Club nor was the fact that the course provided rather a good section and platoon training ground. The Corporation Transport Manager was greatly perturbed by the fact that his buses took about 10 minutes to negotiate the gap on the Battalion road blocks.
One of the greatest attractions was the blowing of a gap in the Britannia Pier. The event was well advertised and a record crowd gathered to watch the display from a safe distance. Unfortunately the windows of the houses on Marine Parade suffered rather severe casualties. The actual explosion was, however, quite impressive. It was then that one very important local person said to another very important local person (who happened to be one of the principal pier shareholders) "Well Tom, that's the first time you've seen so much of your money go up in smoke." The FOIC didn't think a real good job had been made of it and ordered a few torpedo warheads to be installed at the seaward end of the pier with an electrical firing connection so that if enemy troops landed at the pier-head it, and they, could be blown sky high. The idea was undoubtedly good but the switch for making the necessary electrical connection was installed by the side of the switch which operated the beach floodlights. It was always a tense moment when orders were received to test the flood lights in case the NCO in charge of the post closed the wrong switch.
Great ingenuity was shown by young officers, NCOs and men in installing cunningly prepared trip wires, klaxon horn and bell alarms in the vicinity of section posts. These caused great inconvenience to senior officers, unaware of their existence, when visiting posts at night. Occasionally, the Battalion area was subject to bombing by enemy aircraft. Although some posts had near misses, no casualties were suffered by the troops although civilians lost their lives as a result of direct hits on houses.
On one occasion 3 bombs were dropped in the yard and garden of houses in a densely populated area. They did not explode and it was imperative that they should be removed. The inhabitants of the neighbouring houses were quickly evacuated. The Bomb Disposal Squad was not a very well known unit at that time; in fact, the local Commander had never heard of them. There was, however, a detachment of the 260 Field Coy RE attached to the Yarmouth garrison commanded by Lt Pringle and to this bold band was entrusted the dangerous task of getting the bombs out of the ground and removing them to a place of safety. The detachment certainly deserve full marks for the way in which it carried out the job.
During the Battalion's occupation of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston defences, visits were received from several very important persons and the racecourse company's post on the east side of Caister Road became generally known as Generals' Corner. Chief among the visitors was HM King George VI who inspected the Gorleston detachment of the Battalion at the Gorleston Holiday Camp, afterwards honouring the Mess with his company. Other notabilities included Prince Henry, General Sir Edmund (now Field Marshall Lord Ironside), then CIGS, the Rt Hon Neville Chamberlain, Mr Anthony Eden and General Sir Alan Brooke (now Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke).
Training and manning of defences in the Yarmouth area continued until September 1940 when the Battalion was relieved by the 4th Suffolk Regiment and moved to Langley Park where platoon company and battalion training was carried out. It was here that the code word indicating that an invasion was imminent was received. The Battalion stood-to and gas masks were donned and worn for a considerable length of time. Subsequently notification was received that eye shields only need be worn. After a tense period of about 15 hours orders were received to stand down. The reason for this alarm was never discovered. Our stay in Langley Park was of short duration for in October 1940 the Battalion moved into company area billets at Acle, Belton and Haddiscoe. Bn HQ was at Brooke Hall.
In November 1940 the Battalion moved to Cambridge where further training was carried out. The Gog Magog hills, associated with night operations, will live forever in our memory. A very enjoyable Christmas was spent at Cambridge. Cadre classes were run for NCOs and potential NCOs.
Our stay in this sphere of learning was not to be prolonged for in January 1941 orders were received to proceed to Hawick, Scotland. What a journey it was. The Transport Officer undoubtedly had a very difficult job with the transport. The roads were either like ice or deep with snow. It was extremely cold and driving conditions generally were appalling. However, with little exception everything went according to plan. Accommodation was at Stobbs Camp, about 4 or 5 miles from Hawick itself. This was a prisoner of war relic from the last war. Were coming events, even then, casting their shadows before? It was cold. Deep snow covered everywhere making roads practically impassable and the surrounding country very difficult for training purposes. The CO, however, was never one to be deterred and training, hard training, was certainly carried out despite the weather. A love of winter sports, the CO introduced skiing into the training rather to the amazement of visiting Generals. In spite of the rigorous conditions, the camp was a very happy one and the Battalion really became tough as it was dry, cold and consequently exhilarating. Huts were warmed by means of tortoise stoves. From a heat point of view they were excellent but they had a nasty habit of back-firing and smothering everything with soot.
Then great excitement. Rumour had it that we were for overseas. In fact, it looked pretty certain for we were fitted out with tropical kit and sent off on embarkation leave. For some time this excitement reigned and speculations as to where we were going were many and various. However, things gradually quietened down and we heard no more.
Brigade and Divisional training now became the order of the day, embussing and debussing, the battles of the Tweed and Teviot, Coldstream etc, the spirited attack directed against the De Guise in Edinburgh, which failed due to the insane decisions of the umpires (they really had to work according to plan), in the area of Peebles. How dog tired we were at the end of a 3 day scheme. What a lot of administrative details there were to remember in order to answer such pertinent questions as - "When were your men fed last?" "Do you know where the nearest petrol point is?"
"Where are the ADS and MDS?" It was good training. Units got to know each other better. We had closely liaison with our gunners, RASC, RAMC and all that goes to making an efficient brigade group. However, the order of the day was apparently based on Pickford's 'keep moving' and in April 1941 the Battalion bade farewell to the rugged grandeur of Scotland and moved to Blackburn.
Accommodation was chiefly in disused mills, relics of the town's past prosperity. Blackburn was a most hospitable town and the inhabitants did everything possible to make the troops welcome and happy. Training was practically on a Brigade and Divisional basis founded on possible roles in the event of invasion. The moors provided good training grounds and some excellent battle practices, using live grenades and ammunition, were carried out. It was on one of these that the CO nearly became one of our first casualties, a 2in mortar bomb exploding about 10 yards away from where he was standing. The area of Bolton Abbey was the scene of many a hard-fought fight with daring river crossings and, on one occasion, the capture of an enemy headquarters in the middle of a sumptuous breakfast. To the north west there was the Moorcock, again the scene of our training battles, where the Battalion, as usual, ruthlessly advanced despite all attempts to stop it. Speed was the order and under energetic directorate, speed there certainly was. Against the Battalion the massed hoards of umpires were absolutely hopeless. An interesting feature of the Battalion's stay in Blackburn was the close liaison with the local Battalion of the Home Guard. Special officers were detailed to run courses and assist in training schemes. It was a pleasure to be associated with this very able and keen body of men.
On Whit Monday 1941, a sports meeting was organised by the Municipal Authorities in which the Battalion participated. It was proceeded by a march past of all the local organisations connected with the war effort in addition to the Battalion. Brig E H W Backhouse commanding 54th Brigade and the Mayor of Blackburn, took the salute. It was an enjoyable and memorable day.
The story of Blackburn would not be complete without reference to those long and often weary bus treks both by day and night southwards to Ludlow, Much Wenlock, Leominster etc. (how it rained that night!) in connection with our southern tactical role. The jams, both traffic and otherwise, we experienced. Still it was interesting and instructive, especially the subsequent conferences from which it usually transpired that we were not quite so good as we thought we were, although that was, of course, a matter of opinion.
Time marches on. In July 1941, we parted company with the hospitable people of Blackburn and proceeded to Ross-on-Wye. The training area here did not afford such good scope as those we had previously been accustomed to but every advantage was taken of the beautiful Wye Valley. The river itself provided a great chance for river crossing schemes. As the flow was quite fast, these schemes were usually productive of an element of excitement and on one occasion it was feared that the crew of an assault boat had been swept down to sea but after a considerable amount of hailing and shouting, which wasn't in strict accordance with the silence usually associated with night operations, the boat was located some way downstream. On another occasion, an officers' conference took place in mid-stream with rushing, swirling water waist high.
By this time the Battalion, especially the specialised units, had achieved a fairly high training proficiency and there was a distinct feeling for really active service experience. Rumours had previously been rife but in September a spate of getting everything up to establishment raised fresh hopes and in the latter part of that month, it was reasonably certain that the Battalion would shortly proceed overseas. Things reached a climax in the middle of October. The transport lines were a hive of activity preparing vehicles for shipment. Reinforcements to replace men considered unfit for service abroad and to make up the Battalion to War Establishment arrived almost daily. Speculations regarding ultimate destination were numerous and varied.
At this stage it was with mixed feelings of regret and pleasure that the Battalion lost the services of its most able Commanding Officer, Lt Col J H Jewson MC TD; regret by reason of missing his unfailing loyalty and personal examples to all ranks of the Battalion whether at work or play, pleasure at the thought that he had been selected for well-deserved promotion. Undoubtedly the Battalion owed a great debt of gratitude to him. He was succeeded by the Second in Command, Lt Col A E Knights MC MM TD.
In October the Battalion was inspected by HM King George VI. It was an informal inspection consisting of lining both sides of a country lane down which HM's car was scheduled to travel. Contrary to expectations, HM alighted from the car. Lt Col A E Knights was presented to His Majesty. In the course of conversation, the Brigade Commander mentioned that Lt Col Knights' Territorial decoration had been received the previous day. His Majesty asked for the medal and presented it.
The transport having previously been despatched for shipment, the Battalion entrained on the night of 28th October for Liverpool, embarking on HMT Andes on the morning of 29th and sailing on that day for an unknown destination. Ships containing other units of the division were picked up off the Firth of Clyde and the convoy, escorted by destroyers, proceeded in the usual zig-zag fashion round the north of Ireland. The weather was not bad and there was comparatively little sea-sickness.
Andes was a fine ship, practically new, and had never been on a peace time trip. Accommodation was good, the troops sleeping in hammocks which was rather strange but had the advantage that when stowed away, clear deck space was available. Food was excellent and well served. The organisation of meals was a bit difficult but after the first day, this was satisfactorily arranged by an efficient messing officer and staff. Everything was hush-hush and no indication was given of the ship's daily position but it was gathered that we were primarily making for the southern tip of Iceland. Open deck space was limited but a programme was drawn up whereby each unit was enabled to carry out a period of PT each day. In addition, lectures and talks were arranged in various parts of the ship for both officers and other ranks.
The voyage was uneventful until one morning in November, at daybreak, aircraft bearing the markings of the United States of America came swooping over the convoy diving down until they practically touched the masthead. A dropped message contained a welcome from the US Navy. Then over the horizon, steaming towards the convoy, appeared what seemed to be a veritable armada. As the two fleets drew near, it was observed that the strangers flew the stars and stripes and it was realised that the convoy was being taken over by the United States Navy. This new escort consisted of one battleship, one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and several destroyers. It was an extraordinary sight to see the little destroyers which had been the guardians of the convoy up to this stage, after paying compliments to their relief, steam through the convoy, turn round and with their crews waving a kindly farewell, head back towards England. Another job well and truly done by the little ships of the British Navy.