Infantry Battalion’s Signals Platoon  
THE 8th BATTALION THE ROYAL SCOTS was reformed as a Territorial battalion in the Spring of 1939. When it was mobilised for War service our uniform and webbing equipment during the first weeks was virtually the same worn by my father during the Great War. The newly-mobilised Battalion had just three vans for transport, men had rifles and anti-gas respirators and each rifle company had only three light machine guns. Starting from these early beginnings, this 'second-line' Battalion prepared for War service by reorganising its manpower resources and having establishing a Headquarters Company quickly formed a Signals Platoon. Thirty-five men were selected and I was fortunate to be one of them. 

We were trained to pass the examinations set by Royal Signals Officers and NCOs, and qualified as signallers on 29th April 1940 able to read morse code at 10 words per minute on line and wireless transmissions, and eight words a minute using a signal lamp. I was entitled to wear crossed signal flags on my lower left arm. It was the beginning of a War-time career in which 'signals' played a significant part, terminating in Germany in 1945 when as 7th/9th Royal Scots Signals Officer handing over the Battalion's telephone lines to my Russian equivalent when the Battalion left Madgeburg as it was to be part of the Russian Zone of Occupation.

 

The Signals Platoon were required to be trained and equipped for the challenging job crucial to the Battalion's operations. They had to provide the Battalion Commander with the means of communication to his officers commanding the four rifle companies and specialist platoon commanders in Support Company in charge of the Carriers, Mortars, Anti-tank Guns, Pioneers to order their operational deployment and with HQ Company and the Quartermaster to direct their administrative efforts to support the Battalion.

The Signals Platoon also had responsiblity for maintaining all the Battalion's communications equipment. As well as being able to use this equipment and maintain its operation in battle, signallers had to be ready to act as riflemen.

However, it was the responsibility of the Royal Signals to provided the communication links from brigade headquarters to the infantry battalion, whilst the Royal Artillery Battery in support of the Battalion linked to us by telephone line and would 'net' their radio to the battalion's wireless group on every occasion possible.

Amongst the very early postings into the Battalion of regular and reservist Royal Scots was a very experienced Signal Sergeant. Of medium stature and heavily tanned as a result of his long service in the Far East, he quickly imposed his authority on the potential signallers he had to train. Our first meeting was in the Headquarters Company mess hall when queuing for lunch and we heard the order that all the members of the Signal Platoon had to report to him at the end of the diningroom. As we lined up we took stock of each other. He a heavily tanned, wrinkled and with a scruffy appearance clearly left us in no doubt he thought the lot of us were a crowd of Border tramps. Examining our outstretched hands and inspecting our fingers brought forth a further derogatory comment that our fat, podgy fingers would never be able to send morse!

He then added that as well as being a Signals Sergeant he was renowned as a bayonet instructor and ordered us to be down at the local Rugby field at 2 o'clock for bayonet practice. To the amusement of the rest of HQ company he ran us up and down the field thrusting our bayonets into straw bags littering the ground, with the added instruction to get down on our hands and knees and gouge out the enemy's eyes!

We were shaken to the core by the severity of this sergeant, so totally unlike the territorial sergeants whose first names we regularly used having grown up with them. We felt forlorn at the prospect that this extraordinary sergeant was now in charge of us. However, the first sessions on using morse code, which he alone in the Battalion could send and read, quickly showed us another and more humorous side to a most able instructor and within a very few months brought us up to the standard that successfully met the criteria required by The Royal Signals.

We were trained to operate as telephone cable layers, telephonists taking messages by speech and morse, to send and read visual signals from lamps and flags, operate wireless sets, train as switchboard operators and maintain all our signals equipment. Several signallers trained as motor-cycle dispatch riders. However, our most able Signals Sergeant made sure we benefitted from his bayonet expertise and smile as I remember him urging us forward with the cry 'Sidi Barrani fell to bayonet!' [British captured Sid Barrani in the Western desert in December 1940]. Three years later when I was a subaltern, briefly met him when he was a major and second-in-command of a P.o.W. Camp in the UK. A great character and a very good example of the fine quality of Senior NCOs in the The Royal Scots prior to 1939.

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