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England 1943 Part 5

On the whole November 1943 was a relatively quiet month. However, at the end of the month something odd occurred, 20 Valentine tanks which like the Ram tanks were actually built in Canada, were issued to the Regiment. This was a rather small tank with a 57mm gun and a rather inefficient 3-person crew. The men felt this was a step backwards from the Shermans they had just received. Nevertheless, all tank crews were required to become familiar with their operation. What the men did not know was that training on these vehicles was to prepare them for further training on the very secret “Duplex Drive swimming tanks”. On the 28th of November, C Squadron crews participated in exercise “Vidi” which was a full-scale Amphibious landing by the 3rd Canadian Division. Unfortunately, the weather, foreshadowing the conditions of the actual D-Day landings was quite rough and following several hours at sea the crews were quite sick by the time they landed.

On December 6th the men of A and B Squadrons selected for “Special training” left for two weeks of “Most Secret” training at Great Yarmouth. There will be more on that later. For the remainder of the Regiment, December consisted mainly of routine classroom training, vehicle maintenance, small arms training, etc. The Ram tanks which had done stalwart duty as training vehicles for the past two years were cleaned and put into tip top condition in preparation for trading them in for more battle worthy Shermans. On several Saturday afternoons that month the soldiers were treated to, and greatly enjoyed, a peculiarly English pastime of “Beagle Hunts” laid on by the local sportsmen club.

The beagle hunt

Christmas of 1943 saw the men of the Regiment pull out all the stops in their determination to make the best possible Christmas for the youngsters in the area. Much of the men’s free time was consumed in the preparation for upcoming children’s Christmas parties. Each Squadron hosted at least 50 children between the ages of 5 and 11. Each child was personally escorted by a soldier of the regiment. Tea and ice cream were served and music provided by the band. Other entertainment took the form of a film show, a clown, and a magician. Perhaps the biggest highlight was Father Christmas (Cpl. Hall) arriving on a decorated Ram tank. Demonstrating the Magic of Santa Claus each child was called forward by name to receive a toy along with a bag of candy, chocolate, and peanuts along with a Canadian coin. Many of the toys came from Canada but, many more were either manufactured or repaired by the soldiers themselves under the supervision Squadron Sergeant Major C. Smith and with the aid of Corporal A Lewis the Regimental carpenter. It was difficult to determine who had the better time, the men of the Regiment or the children. At one point these big, strong soldiers were brought near to tears when the children surprised them by singing O Canada. In all the year ended on a very high note.

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