Saturday, 6 November 2010

6th to 21st February - Thildonk in Belgium

On February 6th having handed over the position to a battalion of the H. L, I. we began to move.

A few days previously we had been visited by 8 Corps Commander - Lt General Barker, CB, CBE, DSO, MC, and the acting Divisional Commander Major General Galloway, CBE, DSO, MC. Both had toured the Battalion area and wished us well during the coming period of rest and revival in the back areas. But neither can have guessed at the difficulty involved in drawing out.

The sudden thaw and the heavy loads imposed upon them, had caused the roads to break up altogether. Overnight impassable craters appeared in the road and generally bogged two or three vehicles at once, effectively blocking the road for several hours.

We spent most of 6th February dragging ourselves clear of the forward areas and not until 1930 hrs were we lined up in TCVs on the Horst-Venray road, with the whole Battalion transport complete, except for a few hopelessly bogged stragglers, and ready to move. Even then our troubles were not at an end.

The Venray - Deurne road was now proclaimed impassable, and after being held up for three hours in Venray we then diverted ten miles before reaching Deurne to continue our journey. We finally reached our destination at 1300 hrs on 7th February.

The new Battalion area lay astride the main road from Louvain to Malines. 'A' 'B' and 'D' Companies were stretched out along the road itself, 'C' Company some half a mile from the main road on the West side, while Battalion Headquarters, 'S' Company and A and B Echelons were established in Thildonk, a peaceful little Belgian village about a mile to the Fast of the main road.

Accommodation proved to be the best that the Battalion as a whole had found since the campaign began. Most of the men were in private billets, and, assisted by the overwhelming hospitality of the Belgian people, they were not slow to relax and enjoy it.

Not since the days of Hacqueville near the Seine had we lived so remote from the battlefield, or been so delighted with the spectacle of a normal, happy, friendly community.

From most points of view, it was a vast improvement upon Haqueville. Billets were substituted for barns and farmhouses, and when the delights of the billet were temporarily exhausted, Brussels, Malines and Louvain all lay within twenty miles. Two most successful Regimental Dances were held at Malines at which it was a pleasure to see local units of WAAF and ATS well represented.

Once more the Battalion Pipers, under Pipe Major Doyle were able to renew the success and popularity they had enjoyed previously in Belgium. Daily parties of sixty visited Brussels, while rest clubs, cinemas, and ENSA shows attracted many to Louvain. Perhaps the supreme pleasure was one that could be experienced on the spot - the facility to drop into a cafe at any time, and drink a pint of beer.

For the Battalion as a whole this rest was tremendously beneficial. A winter of static warfare had inevitably induced a staleness and blunted the keen edge of high morale and first class state of training.

Thildonk was a complete answer to this state of affairs. Much valuable physical and weapon training was undertaken, cadre courses for Junior and Senior NCOs were put in hand, and although when the time came to move, by no means all training schemes had reached fruition, yet the Commanding Officer was satisfied that the best possible use had been made of the time at our disposal and that the Battalion when called upon to fight again would do so with renewed vigour and resolution.

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