RMB Memories Pt.II (mostly Burford 1946-48)
Page. 1 2 3 4

In July 1946 we were sent on leave from Howstrake for the last time, with orders to report back afterwards to our new camp at the totally unsuitable location of Broadwell, near Burford in Oxfordshire. However, the redeeming aspect of the move meant that for the first time since the start of the war both the junior and senior wings were reunited in the one place. And what a place!....... Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, almost exactly half-way between Cheltenham and Oxford it was about as far from that salty, wet stuff that our regimental march told us our life was on - as it was possible to get in Britain! I have often wondered since, what the 'powers that be' in Whitehall, controllers of our destiny in those days, might have managed to achieve had they ever been sober! Nevertheless, we lowly, aspiring musical mortals had no choice in the matter, so it was to Burford that we returned from our leave. If Howstrake had been something akin to a Siberian Gulag in winter, the accommodation at Burford Camp was quite a few steps up from that. But it too was bitterly cold in winter.

Burford Barrack room! (A U.S. Hospital Ward in an earlier incarnation) Note the old-fashioned stoves. By adding tins of Brasso (usually someone else's) to the fires, competitions were held to see how far up the metal chimney we could turn it red hot!

We had been placed in what had been built as a D-Day Base Hospital for the American Forces. Long, pre-fabricated concrete huts, previously used as wards, now housed 'Beds, metal, Band Boys for the use of'. At one end of each 'ward' were a number of smaller rooms and also a kitchenette complete with a large, stainless-steel oven. Evidently all meals had been cooked in a central kitchen and then pre-heated in these ovens before being served to the patients. The ovens still worked extremely well and we used them to dry our washing when the weather wasn't too good outside.

(A Digression) One Sunday an (adult) Musician came into our accommodation block saying that he had just received a sudden posting and would be leaving next morning. He was looking for someone to urgently dhobi (wash) some tropical shirts for him. He wanted to know if anyone wanted to earn a few bob? Tusky Hall (90 squad) offered to do the job for him and, taking the shirts, promised to have them ready by that evening. As it was a wet day, after washing he did the usual thing and spread the shirts out onto sheets of newspaper and turned the oven on.

That evening 'Winnie' Winstanley (a large, double-bass player) arrived to collect his shirts and walked up to Tusky's bed. As soon as he saw him Tusky went white. "I'll go and get them" he gulped and scampered off down the room. The shirts had been completely forgotten and left in the oven all day. You've guessed it! The inevitable had happened. After a short while Tusky sidled back into the barrack room. "Where are my shirts"? asked Winnie, reasonably enough. "Here", giggled Tusky, holding up the charred cuffs - all that remained of the precious tropical shirts. Winnie's face was a study. His jaw dropped and his face darkened, but Tusky's precious gift saved him from damage. After a few moments, he too grinned and then burst out laughing and soon the whole roomful of us were collapsing all over the place in near hysterics. Tusky could and did get away with near murder - just by using his infectious grin.

I last saw Tusky marching with the Royal Australian Air Force band down the main street in Melbourne around 1970. I understand that after a stint in N.Z. he eventually retired to Brisbane, and was sorry to hear that he died last year. (Back to Burford Camp). Until the latter part of the war, the site of the camp had been open fields. With the approach of the invasion of Europe, our somewhat late-arriving American allies wanted to site a hospital close to a large airfield. Their choice fell on the beautiful Cotswold village of Burford. Care of their troops was and still is a high priority for the Americans (much more so than for the British establishment, who have traditionally considered their armed forces as so much cannon fodder and infinitely expendable. And that is when they really need them. Throughout history and many wars, Britain's servicemen who managed to survive the carnage of the battlefields were then treated with disdain and ignored - until the next time.)

But back in 1944, the Yanks started from scratch and built a complete hospital a mile or so outside the village and only a few miles from Brize Norton air base. In their inimical and enviable way with logistics, the hospital was completely self-contained with everything prefabricated, from the wards, kitchens, recreation facilities, operating theatres to - at one end - separate hutments for recuperating men to live in, each furnished as a separate flat. (Note: This area in more recent years became a pleasant Caravan Club Camping Site. I stayed there in 1990 during a 'motor-homing' visit to the UK and Europe. A lot of ghosts were around! Most of the camp's 'temporary' buildings were still there, 50 years later.)

The idea was that when their troops were wounded on the battlefield, they would be patched up on the spot and then rushed back to the nearest air strip behind the front lines, from where they would be flown directly to Brize Norton. After landing they could be in the hospital within minutes. Possibly from receiving the wound, to the hospital in under one hour. One got the impression that they probably kept a supply of these hospitals in store, to be issued and erected as required. Probably had the doctors and nurses in there as well! At the end of the war all these facilities immediately became surplus to requirements - and immovable. And they were certainly surplus to the requirements of the British Government who (as mentioned above) wouldn't have molly-coddled their men like that anyway. Canvas hospital tents had been good enough for the Crimean, Boer and two world wars!

Previous | Home | Next
Richard Valentine - 1996 - 2005 © - All rights reserved