1941, My Year as a Young Soldier
Written by Mark Tapping
We read the newspapers and listened to the radio so we knew there was a war on, but it meant little to us at Prune Farm, Edgcott: until the introduction of food and fuel rationing, that is. The hostilities seemed far away from us until a German pilot jettisoned his bombs into a field near our farmhouse.
It was then that my father decided to build an air raid shelter. He cleared out the henhouse and built a hayrick around it, leaving a small entrance for us to get in and out of the shelter. I doubt that he ever realised that red hot bomb fragments could set the rick alight – but, luckily, it was never used and soon collapsed in upon itself. At that time I was working as a very junior clerk in Barclays Bank at Aylesbury. I cycled to Waddesdon, left my bicycle at a friend’s house and then caught the bus.
In 1940 I joined the local Anthony Eden’s broadcast appeal. We paraded in school grounds and did guard duties at Kingswood crossroads, having been issued with one ancient rifle and a handful of blank rounds. One night when I was on duty alone I fired off one of the blanks and was astonished by the noise it made – and also by the fact that nobody queried what had happened. No lights came on in the surrounding houses, no windows opened and it seemed that nobody cared (or perhaps everyone within earshot thought it more prudent to stay in bed)., putting my name down the day after
As winter approached I moved into lodgings in Aylesbury: first in Highbridge Walk, later in Manor Park; and transferred to Aylesbury Home Guard. When on duty we slept in an empty house along Bierton Road and went on guard down Bicester Road to guard the factories there, in particular the one making radio parts.
Then I learned that some infantry regiments had been authorised to raise Young Soldiers Battalions (all numbered the 70th). These battalions were designed to accept and train volunteers who were too young to be posted to normal field regiments. In the meantime they could be used for aerodrome defence. The incentive to join up as a Young Soldier was the agreement that after one year’s service we could nominate the service in which we wished to serve and escaped conscription, which would give us no option. I heard that the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry had been allocated one of these new battalions and were busy recruiting in.
So what could be more patriotic or adventurous than to join up as a Young Soldier? Almost anything would be better than the day-in-day-out routine of working in a bank. In those days everything was done by hand and old fashioned brain power. There were no calculators or posting machines and the office did not even have a typewriter: all letters had to be hand written and then copied in a cumbersome hand press. And all the time one was expected to prepare for banking examinations.