Archie Easton 30th Battalion DCLI

 

Courtesy Hugo Whit and DCLI Museum Bodmin

THE 7TH (HOME SERVICE) BATTALION, LATER TO BECOME THE 30TH BATTALION

 

 

The 7th (Home Service) Battalion consisted in the main of elderly reservists and volunteers who, although medically down-graded for front line service, were retained for the purpose of carrying out static guard duties. Its origins are interesting in that they show how far from simple was the organisation of some of these home defence units.

 

A Company was formed at Truro shortly before the outbreak of war on 24th August 1939. Although in effect DCLI, it formed part of the 10th (Home Service) Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, in which it was designated the 1st Cornish Company. It performed static guard duties at vulnerable points across Cornwall. E Company, 10th Devons was formed at Liskeard on 1st January 1940. The 5th Battalion was then temporarily stationed at Liskeard, so E Company immediately took over all that Battalion's static guard duties in the area. In May the Company moved to Falmouth, where it relieved a battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles and took on guard duties around the docks and at St Eval airfield. In the same month H Company, 10th Devons was also formed at Falmouth. E and H Companies provided invaluable support for the disembarkation and administration of the 17,500 officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force who passed through Falmouth, having been evacuated from Cherbourg just before the fall of France. Major Cannings, commanding the two-company group, found himself showered with gifts from the grateful returning units. Consumables, which could be eaten or drunk by his men in their billets, caused no problems, but two buckshee Bren guns and a 30 cwt lorry (none of which was on issue to Home Defence battalions) proved more difficult to account for, and were quickly confiscated by higher authority. The two companies also provided guards for a valuable consignment of industrial diamonds passing through the port. They also stood by in case it became necessary to use force to take over a French warship lying in the docks. A fourth company was also raised in Cornwall, but as this was allocated to the 70th (Home Defence) Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment and as it was quickly posted out of the County, its story need not concern us here.

 

In July 1940 E and H Companies left Falmouth, being bombed as they departed. E Company went into a tented camp at Marsh Mills, while H Company was allotted billets in Wembury (both places just outside Plymouth). There they were allotted tasks guarding Plymouth gas works, oil tanks and bridges.

 

By this time the 10th Devons had grown to an unwieldy size, so it was decided to split the Battalion and return the three Cornish companies to their county of origin. Accordingly, on 14th October 1940, A, E and H Companies became A, B and D Companies of the newly designated 7th (Home Service) Battalion DCLI. A fourth company, C Company, was formed by crossposting a number of men from the existing companies. Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Liddell, MM was appointed to command the new Battalion, in which his men now wore the DCLI cap badge. The Headquarters moved from Plymouth to Camborne, with the companies dispersed across the whole of Cornwall, carrying out guard duties at vulnerable points.

 

In August 1941 Battalion Headquarters moved to Falmouth, and shortly afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. Mulock, MC took over command. At that time A Company was based at Land's End, B Company at Fowey, C Company at Falmouth and D Company on the Lizard. At the end of August about 150 men from the Pioneer Corps were posted in, which enabled a fifth company to be formed. This was based at Falmouth where the largest part of the workload was centred.

 

 

The 30th (Home Service) Battalion

 

Guard duties & counter-attack training in Cornwall

 

 

The whims of the War Office were always unpredictable, so it was with no great surprise that the officers and men of the 7th (Home Service) Battalion DCLI woke up one morning in September 1941 to learn that they now belonged to the 30th (Home Service) Battalion DCLI. The role and tasks of this newly designated battalion remained precisely as before.

 

To relieve the boredom of continuous guard duties, exercises were occasionally carried out. One such exercise, known as Operation ‘Pilchard', involved an attack on Falmouth by the 11th Devons, stoutly resisted by the 30th DCLI. In January 1942 orders were received that the Battalion was to relieve the 30th West Yorkshire Regiment on the Isles of Scilly. In the event, only B, D and E Companies together with Battalion Headquarters moved to the islands; A and C Companies remained on the mainland at Porthcurno, with a rear headquarters established under Major C.A.G.S. Sim at Penzance. However, not long after this, Major Sim was posted to Predannack airfield as Defence Officer, his place being taken by Major W.I. Pool - a man, born and bred in Penzance. The appointment of Defence Officer is interesting. In the early years of the war, the task of guarding RAF airfields had fallen on Home Defence battalions of the army. Later however, it had been decided that soldiers were not being best used tied down to static guard duties, but should be trained in a mobile counter-attack role. The RAF were therefore instructed to make airmen available to guard their own airfields. The RAF replied that, while they could produce the airmen, they had no officers with military experience who could organise and train such a force. Accordingly, every airfield was allotted an army officer for this purpose. It is likely to have been a fairly relaxed posting. Later, the Royal Air Force Regiment was established, with its own RAFR officers.

 

On 6th May 1942 His Majesty the King visited Falmouth and inspected representative detachments of troops located in the South West. Lieutenant-Colonel Mulock took part in the parade with 2 officers and 37 soldiers. This was his last parade with the Battalion for on 13th June he was posted to the staff, and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel H.F. Joslen. It will be remembered that he had commanded the 2nd Battalion during the evacuation from Dunkirk after Lieutenant-Colonel E. R. Rushton had been killed.

 

On 15th August a change of role raised hopes that the long days of guard duties might be nearing an end, and that the Battalion might go overseas. The 30th Battalion now became a counter-attack unit. 233 soldiers were drafted in from the 30th Somerset Light Infantry, and with the Battalion now well up to establishment, hard mobile training began. All ranks thoroughly enjoyed this new work, and it was good to see how the men, most of whom were medically downgraded, rose to the challenge.

 

Alas, this period was short-lived, and expectations were dashed when in October the Battalion reverted to its old role of static guard duties around Cornwall. Despondency was further reinforced in February 1943 by an order that every officer and soldier who was eligible for overseas service should be posted out of the 30th Battalion, and posted to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and to the 1st, 4th and 5th Battalions DCLI. To compensate for this loss, drafts of medically downgraded men were received from the Wiltshire Regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, the King's Regiment, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, the Queen's Regiment and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. What had once been a battalion of Cornishmen guarding Cornish soil was now a motley crew from all over the British Isles. It is to the enduring credit of Lieutenant-Colonel Joslen and his Regimental Serjeant-Major that this diverse group of men was quickly welded into a happy and efficient battalion.

 

At the end of April 1943, while the Battalion was involved in a change of companies between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland, an order was suddenly received to relieve the 30th Devons, then carrying out guard duties in East Cornwall and Devon. To complicate an already far from simple relief, yet more officers were posted away to other battalions of the Regiment. Scarcely had this move been effected than further orders were received on 17th June that the 30th was to mobilise for overseas service in a tropical climate. Mobilization was to be complete by 5th July. When one considers all that had to be achieved in eighteen days - medical inoculations, issue and fitting of tropical kit, handing in to Ordnance of vehicles, weapons and stores, packing of unit stores for a sea voyage, plus the entitlement of ten days’ embarkation leave for every officer and soldier - one marvels at what was expected of a battalion in those days. Thankfully, the deadline was extended a further twenty days.

 

The 30th Battalion now became part of the 42nd Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier P.H. Cadoux-Hudson, MC, late the Hampshire Regiment. The other battalions in the brigade were: 30th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, 30th Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, 30th Royal Norfolk Regiment, 30th Green Howards and 31st Suffolk Regiment.

 

 

Algeria, August 1943-March 1944

 

 

On 13th August 1943 the Battalion left Falmouth for Glasgow in two troop trains. The trains arrived at the docks early the following morning, and the Battalion immediately embarked in HMT Ormonde. This ship, a pre-war luxury liner, now offered few comforts for the four infantry battalions and ancillary units packed into every available space. The Ormonde lay at anchor in the Clyde for three days while the convoy was assembled. At last, on the evening of 16th August, the ships put to sea, and skirting the north coast of Ireland, steamed west into the open Atlantic. Several destroyers and two aircraft carriers kept watch.

 

At first light on 23rd August the convoy passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and at 6 p.m. the following day docked at Algiers. The 30th Battalion disembarked and moved by motor transport some twenty miles to a tented camp known only by the title 'Z Camp', as desolate a spot as one could ever imagine, situated in the desert near the malodorous village of Ben Zirga. All water had to be carried in bowsers from wells many miles away, and arrived warm and smelling of chlorine. In spite of the intense heat, this precious commodity was strictly rationed. Flies appeared by magic in their millions, and the hot Sirocco wind blew sand and dust into every nook and cranny. Many who had yearned for overseas service were already looking back at their days of soldiering in Cornwall with nostalgia.

 

The companies were widely distributed across the area, carrying out guard duties that included the Divisional workshops at Hussein Dey and a prisoner of war camp holding Italian prisoners. In September the Battalion was delighted to bid farewell to Z Camp, and move to Y Camp near Fort de L'Eau, eight miles from Algiers. Here, as the name suggests, there was adequate fresh water, and the tents were more sheltered from the dust-laden wind. At about this time Lieutenant-Colonel Joslen was admitted to hospital and his place taken by the Second-in-Command, Major H. Cantan. Lieutenant-Colonel Cantan (as he soon became) was a son of the Regiment, who had served with both the 1st and 2nd Battalions in many outlandish stations. He fully realised that however desolate the company detachments might be, it was vital that officers and men had a firm base which offered every facility for comfort, relaxation and recreation that ingenuity could devise. Winter was approaching, and the heat of the desert summer would soon give way to rain and cold. A number of Nissen huts were scrounged, which replaced the tents used as dining-rooms and canteens. A theatre, complete with stage and lighting, was built in one of these huts, and decorated by some artistically gifted Italian prisoners of war. Perhaps most importantly, Lieutenant-Colonel Cantan visited the company detachments frequently, making them feel that they were not forgotten. By these and other means, the morale of the 30th Battalion, employed as it was on dull and tedious duties in the most uncongenial surroundings, was kept up.

 

During March 1944 certain of the DCLI duties were taken over by the 30th Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, giving Lieutenant-Colonel Cantan an opportunity to plan a training programme, by which each of the rifle companies would be pulled back in turn and given a refresher course in weapon training, fieldcraft and minor tactics. A Company was the first to be put through this training, but half way through it the Battalion received orders to move.

 

 

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