Joining the Army


By J Anderson

Every fourteen days some youth in his nineteenth year receives his notice calling him for service in the Army. One can well imagine his feelings! What will it be like? Do they remember at the Infantry Training Centre that the change from civilian to Army life is a violent one and is consideration given to that? These are some of the things that cross the mind.

The mother begins to worry about what sort of reception her boy will get. The father, if he is an old soldier of Great War One, will say to himself: "They will either make him or break him." Well, the father is wrong and the mother has nothing to worry herself about. I can assure them and the intakes of the next batch of call-ups, that the "bad old days" have gone and that today specially selected officers and specially selected NCOs "nurse" these boys into Army life by gradual stages.

A Study in Faces

I watched some hundreds of the new recruits go through the opening phases of their entry into Army life at the Depot of the DLI and Duke of Wellington's Regiment at Brancepeth. As I watched the organisation and the care with which the Squad Sergeant took his 30 lads and shepherded them through the various stages of entry, and the kindly way he handled them, my mind went back to 1914 at Woolwich. Then, in a very few minutes we were lined up and a Lance-Jack, transferred from the Guards, now in the guise of an RSM and obviously of less intelligence than the majority of the recruits to Kitchener's Army, addressed us thus as he stalked along, stick underarm: "Some of you may know me. others of you may not, but you won't be ------ well long here before you all know me!" And we did.

No, there was none of that. A batch of nearly a hundred youths tramped down the road from the station to Brancepeth Castle with its ancient towers and Norman architecture. They carried an assortment of cases and had come from the Sunderland and Tyneside areas. Some of their faces were a study. Some laughingly chatting with a new found companion; others gravely viewing the scene as they approached the gates, and perhaps wondering what lay beyond.

I saw squads on the parade ground who were just finishing their initial training period. I could well imagine that they arrived looking just as I saw these new boys looking as they reached the castle gates; but the change was most marked. They had already acquired that soldierly bearing. There was no slouching gait; they moved with precision to the quick light infantry step, came to the halt with a snap at the word of command. They were half-made soldiers and the difference in six weeks was remarkable.

Busy ATS

I followed my new squad round. The specially selected and specially trained sergeant and corporal take them over as soon as the documents have been completed for each man in the large hall of the castle. ATS clerks get through this formula at the rate of about 30 an hour each, and every detail must be correctly given, for those documents finally find their way to Officer-in-Charge Regimental Records.

That completed, our recruit is passed on to another table, where he hands in identity card, ration cards, and clothing coupons--if any. Then for underclothing, kit bag, three shirts, two vests, two pairs of underpants, four pairs of socks, pullover, and two towels. Next, two pairs of boots and a pair of gym shoes. You state the size, you get them, try them on, and receive the warning: "Now see they are a good fit, son, because you have to wear them." That over, they can pass on for the steel helmet, gas mask, eye shield, etc., and they are ready to move off to quarters in camp.

NEXT: Article Continued


A Reporter Goes to Brancepeth

Sunderland Echo reporter J Anderson visited Brancepeth in early 1945 and wrote the excellent article at left for the April 9th 1945 edition of the newspaper. The training routine had changed since late 1941 in that the recruits now did six weeks of primary training before being selected for either the infantry or for other branches of the service, but otherwise the process of induction into Army life was exactly as before. Courtesy of the Sunderland Echo. The small photograph below is of some of the permanent staff at Brancepeth in 1944-45.. It is reproduced at a larger size on the next page.
Click to enlarge, Brancepeth DLI group photo