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  RAF/RCAF Digby : Recollections of Sgt Charles Carmichael, RAF Regiment

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Updated: 10 Jan 09

from "RAF Regiment — Sgt Charles Carmichael — Part 1by Chick42-46" by Charles "Chick" Carmichael, ID: A9033419

31 January 2006

I have been piecing together my grandfather’s war service with the RAF Regiment from his Form 543A and from the Operations Record Books for the two squadrons he served with — 2777 squadron and 2742 squadron.

The ORBs for 2777 squadron contain very little detail but those for 2742 are a great source, the Squadron Leader (Flying Officer A. Raine) obviously took a great interest in what his squadron were doing. Not being an officer, my grandfather is mentioned only once but I thought it might be of interest to people to have an idea what the life of an RAF Regiment gunner appears to have been like so I have given some detail below.

2777 Sqn : Jul 1942 -

Call up and initial training

"Chick", as my grandfather was known, was called up for service with the RAF Volunteer Reserve in July 1942. He had to present himself at No. 3 Recruit Centre, Padgate on Wednesday 29 July 1942. He was mustered on entry as a gunner, untrained, and as a driver and classified as Aircraftsman 2nd Class. It’s not clear how long he was at Padgate or what he did there but he then moved to another Recruit Centre until 2 September 1942, when he was sent to No.3 RAF Regiment School, Douglas, Isle of Man. He was there until 28 October 1942, when he was posted to 2777 Squadron, RAF Regiment as a gunner.

The ORBs for 2777 Squadron seem to start only from 6 September 1942 and are very brief. The CO recorded the bare minimum. I haven’t checked the appendices to the ORBs so there may be more there.

The squadron was at Gosport from September 1942 until 26 June 1943 (apart from a brief move to the RAF Regiment Depot at Grantham for January 1943). Training at Gosport consisted of driving training (including night driving), firing at Browndown Ranges, route marches, practice on dummy landing craft, agility training at HMS Collingwood, and practice embarking and disembarking from landing craft at Stokes Bay.

On 24 June 1943, the squadron was inspected by Major General Liardet, CB, DSO, TD, commandant of the RAF Regiment, and other top brass, who watched the squadron in practice embarkation and disembarkation on LCTs and moving to transit and assembly areas.

On 26 June 1943 the squadron moved to Castle Toward in Scotland for what I gather was combined operations training at the Commando Training Centre in preparation for the invasion of Europe. At Castle Toward, the squadron witnessed landing craft demonstrations at Inverary and took part on various training exercises (exercise PRUNE I, exercise PRUNE II and exercise Straddle).

Chick was promoted to Aircraftsman 1st Class on 1 July 1943.

The squadron went back to Gosport after two weeks at Castle Toward, but didn’t stay there long before moving first to Exbury, then to Boxgrove Park and then Rye Common camp at Odiham, taking part in more exercises.

Chick went to No. 8 School of Technical Training (Weeton, Blackpool) on 18 August 1943. This was for a MT refresher course. He was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman on 1 September 1943 and rejoined the squadron at Rye Common on 12 September.

The pace of training seems to have intensified over summer 1943 and into early 1944. 2777 squadron went to Fighter Command Battle School, Great Sampford, from 8 November 1943 to 1 December 1943, which included Exercise Vanguard at “ADGB” Battle School. I think ADGB may mean Air Defence Great Britain. The squadron moved to Catterick from 4 December 1943 to 1 February 1944, then at RAF Eshott until 23 March 1944, then North Weald from 24 March to 31 March 1943 (with the squadron having 9 days’ leave from 27 March).

At some point during March (the dates are unclear), Chick was on another training course. His Form 543A has “Selected by 2 A.C.S.B. for A/G … 7.3.44”. I do not know what all this means but it has been suggested that “ACSB” is probably Air Crew Selection Board and that “A/G” is probably Air Gunner. Which would mean that Chick was considered for air crew. Nothing seems to have come of this, however, and neither my grandmother nor anyone else in the family seems to know about it.

The squadron next went to 130 Airfield (wherever that was) from 1 May to 30 June 1944, then Aston Down from 1 July to 20 August 1944 but Chick had left by that point, being transferred to 2742 squadron at the beginning of August 1944.

2742 squadron : Aug 1944

The ORBs for 2777 squadron give no clue what was going on but those for 2742 fill in the gaps. That squadron was also at Aston Down in August 1944. The entry for 1st August reads “News received that RAF Regiment is being re-organised. Existing squadrons being reformed into armoured and rifle squadrons. 2742 is not on priority in this reshuffle and has to provide Squadron of higher priority with their requirements.”

On 2nd August, “F/O Parker and complete armoured flight attached to 2777 squadron. F/O Huggins attached to 2757 squadron." On 4th August, Acting Squadron Leader Raine recorded that “Two mortar teams together with guns, ammunition and equipment attached to 2713 squadron. Information received that we are to be made into an AFV squadron in due course and that we are to be prepared to move to RAF Digby for training.”

On 5th August, “F/O Joels (137882) and one complete rifle flight attached to us from 2777 squadron. Our squadron personnel now consists of 4 rifle flights complete, the remains of Special flight and the whole of HQ personnel less one Corporal (cook) (Cpl Alger) who has been posted.” This must transfer must have included my grandfather.

It seems amazing that, so soon after D-Day (in which several RAF Regiment squadrons were involved) there was such a wholesale reorganisation of the RAF Regiment. This must have caused a great deal of uncertainty and, presumably, administrative chaos.

A/S/L Raine reported on 11th August 1944 that "Conditions at RAF Digby are definitely bad. Something in the neighbourhood of 2000 men have been given one field in which to pitch canvas. Tents are crammed guy rope to guy rope throughout the field. Facilities of all kinds are poor and the men will not be very happy unless considerable improvements are made. Bathing facilities inadequate. Cinema is only available one afternoon per week from 1600 to 1800 hours."

On 12th August, “Day spent settling in. Latrines erected, sites for various departments fixed. The men have no NAAFI at the moment, as they are barred from the station NAAFI and the Salvation Army Wagons. This last facility was thought to be a service to all members of HMF this appears to be an error. A tented NAAFI is being erected and it is hoped it will be open early in the week.”

The officers didn’t seem to have it any easier than the men. “Officers of the RAF Regiment have been ordered not to use the Officer’s mess. No amendment to King’s Regulations and ACIs rendering such an order valid has been seen by this unit”!

Good weather and the commencement of training seems to have helped morale. 14th August 1944: "The excellent weather continues and the squadron is enjoying the training in the brilliant sunshine. Great interest is being shown by the men in the R/T procedure and elementary 19 set working. There is an equal interest in the driving instruction under F/O Joels. Driving instruction is being conducted on an empty aerodrome nearby."

The reorganisation of the RAF Regiment seems to have caused further disruption. Despite the earlier transfers of men to other squadrons, there was more to come. On 19th August, it is recorded "It has been learnt that this squadron without headquarters will move to RAF Regiment Depot, Grantham, on 26 August. Actually, the flights will not leave here complete as only the drivers can be absorbed into the new 2742 squadron. Strength will be made up by RAF Regiment Grantham. The news of the breaking of the squadron is causing much unhappiness amongst the men."

I don’t know what my grandfather would have though about all this but I don’t imagine he was very happy!

On 24th August 1944, “The men of the squadron who are surplus to establishment and others not being retained because they are not drivers have been told their fate. They are going in parties to Nos. 2179, 2724 and 2843 squadrons.” Less than half the squadron went to Grantham.

Despite all this, the squadron was organised into 4 armoured car flights (A, B C and D) together with a headquarters flight by 1st September. I do not know which flight my grandfather was with other than that I know he was with “B” flight for some of the time — from a leather wallet he carried and from an entry in the squadron ORBs from March 1945.
"A" flight finished training first and was sent to Belgium along with 2804 squadron in advance of the rest of 2742 squadron. They arrived at Arromanches on 19th September 1944.

Training continued for the remaining flights at Grantham, the flights returning to RAF Digby in October to rejoin the headquarters flight.

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