PRESTONPANS TERRITORIALS - William Bing Davie
51ST HEAVY REGIMENT R. A. 1939-45
The regiment was embodied along with the rest of the Territorial
Army on 24 August 1939. On the outbreak of war. about 120 men
including some from Gullane and Haddington gathered at the Drill
Hall. now the Labour Club. but alas only a mere dozen of us are
left and on 14 September all personnel entrained for Salisbury'
We occupied the tented camp at Fargo and on arrival, we were told
we would be going overseas as a heavy regiment under command of
I Corps. With this in mind our numbers were increased by a large
intake ofcx soldiers, or 'D' reservists, some with ten years service.
So we now became the 51st Heavy R. A. with 9.2" guns.
On 24 October, we left Larkhill to join the BEF and after Ianding
at Dunkirk we were sent to Douvrain and Haisnes. small villages
near La Basse. We stayed there during that dreadful winter until
20 March 1940 when we moved to Hauburdin. a suburb of Lille, where
the entire regiment reconstructed their main battle positions
which meant not much time was left for training exercises.
Early morning on 10 Mav the German attack was launched on Belgium
and so the BEF moved up. After ten days we were ordered to Wormhout.
some ten miles south of Dunkirk, then the order was changed and
we were ordered to Rexpoede owing to a threat from German tanks
and there was much confusion partly through evacuees leaving Cassci
due to Luftwaffe dive bombers. Finally, on Saturday 24 May. Brigadier
Stavely got orders we were to destroy our guns and armour and
concentrate at Houten within Dunkirk perimeter. These orders were
duly carried out and on the Sunday morning we marched to Rosendael.
east of Dunkirk, and awaited further orders which were that we
would make for the coast and be picked up by the Navy. This we
started to do and reached about a mile from the sea only to be
halted by the French garrison who had not received correct orders
about the evacuation. We had to turn around for a while and so
didn't reach the coast until just before dawn on Monday 27 May.
We remained on shore till the Thursday when we embarked on H.M.S.
Scimitar and then arrived at Dover where according to the cheers,
one would have thought we had already won the war!
On arrival, all our small arms were taken from us and we arrived
back again at Larkhill with no arms or equipment. After a short
period of rest we first moved to The Dell at Southampton to guard
German political prisoners and while there, some of us were detailed
to assist in digging out an unexploded bomb on Lord Mountbatten's
estate at Broadlands..
The regiment then split for a while to take up positions around
the Devon coast, this time on 4" naval guns so that our battery
was split between sites at Dawlish and Salcombe and continued
till November 1940 when we were withdrawn from coast defence and
concentrated at Paignton until March 1941. Then we were sent to
take over 9.2" howitzers in Suffolk and were billeted at
Hurts Hall. Saxmundham. This period lasted till October 1942 when
the bigger guns were withdrawn and re-equipped with 7.2"
guns on old 6" gun carriages and we left the Suffolk coast
for Chadacre. near Bury St Edmunds and a new formation, known
as an AGRA or Army Group R.A., which finally became a formation
consisting of I Field Regiment, L. Medium Regiments and I Heavy
From here we took part in Exercise Spartan, spread over a large
party of EngIand and finishing at Woburn Park. Oxford. Ten days
after returning to Chadacre we were re-equipped with vehicles
and sent to Dundee. Thus the period from April to July 1943 was
spent among the forests and hills of Perthshire so gaining much
experience which was of great value later.
During August 1943 we then moved to Womersley, nr Doncaster and
told we were now under command of I Corps and would be one of
the two heavy' regiments selected for the initial assault over
the French beaches.
In the beginning of May '44 we moved to the concentration camp
at Bucks Green, near Horsham from where a small RHQ reconnaissance
party Ianded in Normandy on DF3 to reconnoitre battery positions
in advance. Our first wave. consisting of minimum personnel and
equipment to man the guns for a fortnight, Ianded three days later
and deployed in the Douvres area and covered the 3rd British,
3rd Canadian, 2nd & 3rd Canadians. 49, 51, and 6 Airborne
On 15 August, as the German defence south of Caen broke, we moved
forward to support the 7th Armoured and 51st HighIand Divisions
towards the Seine up to 30 August when we reached Cavoebec. From
now on until the end of October, we took part in all operations
involved in clearing the Channel ports and the opening of the
port of Antwerp. The first half of September, having then supported
49 & 51 Divisions in the reduction of Lc Havre. Next came
the clearance of the Schelds peninsula of South BeveIand and Walcheren.
After the fall of Walcheren we helped to clear part of the HolIandisch
Dicp near Moedyjk. Throughout November the regiment supported
the clearance of
the Venio pocket west of Mans and then in December we moved to
the Roer area near Giclenkirchen with two of our batteries actually
in German territory' for the first time.
Come February' we moved north again to support the assault on
Reichswold and clear the Siegfried Line. Taking positions on the
Maas at Gennep and crossing to Goch then finishing the operation
at Sonsbeck on the banks of the Rhine and Wessel.
Operation 'Plunder' or really the crossing of the Rhine opened
with a tremendous bombardment during the night of the 23/24 March.
For this operation our 7.2s on the old carriages had been replaced
by new types with Americal split trails which made work much easier
for the gunners in the crossings at Rees. Emmerich and Amhem.
At Rees we actually fired over 300 rounds in 36 hours.
Having completed these crossings we moved through eastern HolIand
into Germany and supported the river crossings at Leer by the
3rd Canadian Divisions and just before V E Day we were bombarding
During all these operations we fired some 67.000 rounds of ammunition.
In spite of difficulties this regiment alone of all the heavies
in the BLA fired charge 4 on the old carriage giving us an extra
3.000 yards in range.
Territorial Drill Hall. Kirk Street, now the Labour Club.