His Story, His Words Part Three

Army Training etc.

Durham Light Infantry Pace was 140 paces to the minute, all Light Infantry was like that, there were five light infantries, The Duke of Cornwall, The Coilies, The Ox and Bucks, Somerset and The King Shropshire Light Infantry, they were the original light infantries. Sir John Moore started the light infantries.

The 140 paces were only short steps, all of the men were around five feet four to five feet ten. It was difficult for a tall man to march at the light infantry pace because he had to take short steps. When we marched with other regiments, for example the guards who I think marched at 110 paces to the minute, if we were behind them marching we would have to mark time to stop us taking over them. I did not have much trouble with the pace, it became automatic, all the lads were the same. It was important to march and drill because we were supposed to be skirmishers, it was discipline we had to do it and if you made a mistake you would do it again and again and again until you were fed up.

We had bayonet training, we used to go charging bags and shouting as if you were in action, that was all part of the life. We used to charge bags that were hanging up, shove your bayonet in then bring it out, the bag would then be on the floor you had to stick your bayonet in and put your foot on it as though it was somebody's chest, we were taught to kill. We used to bayonet fence with long sticks and fight each other.

When learning how to use our rifles we had to load our rifle, there were five rounds in a clip, we were shown how to take a sight, that is a fore sight and a back site, how to put the rifle on your shoulder properly and how to hold the rifle properly. We had to pull the bolt back and put a blank in the breach, press the trigger slowly, find the target and shoot. To learn to shoot we went to Ponteland up in Northumberland to an area where there were targets. We went on the range and there was where we first started to fire live ammunition. Some of the lads were on the ground, you had to lie flat on your belly, the ones that were standing when they fired appeared to go back about three feet, so I put some stockings on my shoulder and padded my shoulder. if you did not hold the rifle properly there was a big kick, you had to hold it in to your shoulder but we got used to it.


Left To Right: James Miller, Syd Walt and Topper Brown. Fenham Barracks 1931


The lad in the middle of the above photograph is Pte Sydney Walt 4449017 also of the 2nd battalion DLI.  Sydney Walt was also born in Sunderland in 1913, he was the son of Thomas William Walt, and of Florence Beatrice Walt( nee Younger), the family moved to Hutton Magna, Yorkshire after Syds enlistment.  Pte Syd Walt was killed on the 29th May 1940 during the actions around St Venant .

He is pictured below with Jim Miller at Fenham Barracks in 1931.  The second photograph shows his grave where he lies at peace in Plot 3.  Row A.  Grave 20 of St Venant Communal Cemetery.  He was 26 when he died.

 

Information from Durham Light Infantry 1920 - 1946.  Click link >>>HERE<<< for info and look at bottom of page.

My army records show that I was a first class marksman, I was also a machine gunner. To be a good shot you have to have good eyes, even now I can read small print, my mom and dad gave me good eyes. You had to get the fore sight right on the ring on the target. Some of the training we used to do would start at five hundred yards and you lay flat at the target and then you keep advancing one hundred yards, for the last one or two hundred yards you had to put a gas mask on, we would fire a shot kneeling, fire a shot standing up which was the last shot and with the gas mask on it used to steam up and you would be puffing and blowing, some of those shots went astray.

We used to do speed training, rapid fire starting with five blanks with the rifle still at the shoulder.

The route marches they used to kill me, pack on your back, full kit. We used to march up hills especially at Ponteland, there were a lot there but you got used to it, we would march three mile, have a rest then march. This marching came in handy when we were in France and Belgium because we marched forty mile from the River Dyle. It toughened us up, there was PT as well using wall bars and ropes and jumping over the horses, if you could not get over The PT instructors chucked you over.

I had a lot of muscles, I used to box, that was a thing at the depots in them days, even in your own squad, you had to meet somebody at the same weight as you and box, fight each other, it might be your best mate, if he hurt you you had to hit him back.

There was a boxer called Jack Casey Of Sunderland, he was known as Cast Iron Casey, he was a newspaper lad , he was one of my mates and he became a champion boxer, he fought for the middleweight championship of Britain, I used to use the same stance as he did. I boxed for the company in India, I knocked a chap out for the first time in my life.

I used to do map reading which came under the education part of training. I still have my certificates after all these years, second and third class army certificates of education, I could have sat for the first class certificate, If I would have passed which I would have done I could have gone to the rank of Warrant Officer, you could not get that rank without the first class certificate. When you passed the second class certificate you got sixpence a day extra on top of your pay. The second class included map reading, English, geography. A lot of the men had to wait until they got to the battalion before they could go for their certificates. I did mine at the depot and that sixpence a day I did not get paid straight away, I had to wait until I joined the battalion to get back all of the sixpences.

We were taught about the history of the regiment but I have forgotten a lot of it. We had more battalions in the first world war than any other regiment, thirty five battalions I think, including The Bantams, they were little men. We were proud of the regiments history, "Nothing Like The Durhams", if any other regiment said anything against us there would be fisty cuffs, we took a lot of pride in being a Durham Light Infantry man, it was fantastic, even now at my age.

The food was rough, in them days it was rough, there was spud bashing which you were detailed for, there would be four of you peeling spuds for the men at the depot, a great big pile of spuds and some of them were only half peeled. We used to get lumps of meat in a bowl and cabbage. In the morning there was a pot of cocoa and a biscuit, sometimes we used to have Scottish kippers, it was rough food, there was nothing dainty about it, I also had porridge. There was always plenty of food.

We had barrack room inspections of the kit, we had to lay kit for the commanding officer of the depot, Captain Weihe was his name, he was a lovely man, his name was like a Dutch name. We had to lay all of our kit out on the beds, they were iron beds and you had to push them out and slide them in, you put a grey blanket on the bed then laid your kit on in order, your overcoat was at the back, folded up nine by four I think, there was a board inside it and the buttons were polished. You had to polish the studs on your boots, it was strict and the lace holes had to be polished, everything was spick and span including your knife, fork and spoon and all your shaving gear, all laid at the foot of the bed, all your uniform and equipment was laid out and your rifle had to be polished, it was really tough. Your boots had to be polished with spit and polish, the toecaps were like patent leather and the boots that they gave you were thick of grease when you first joined up. We wore putties (Cloth strips wound around the bottom of the legs over the trousers) they had to go round five times and they finished just underneath your knee with a lace, your trousers were folded over the width of a cigarette packet.

The kit was laid and Sergeant Flannagan came round first to see if everything was alright before the CO came in, he looked at my kit, he asked me to take the two corners of the blanket near the window end, he took the other two corners and he tipped the lot up because it was not quite right for him, he chucked it on the floor and I had to race and get it all done again. I could not see anything wrong with the kit I had laid, I thought it was good.

While I was at the depot waiting to go into Inkerman squad I used to do a lot of jobs for Captain Weihe, he had a house in Newcastle and I used to do odd jobs for him, like a little bit of gardening. I believe he became a colonel, I did not know much about him after but he was a lovely man. One day I went to his house with some of the the artillery from Fenham Barracks, also at Fenham Barracks were the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, actually Fenham Barracks was the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers barracks, the Durhams did not have a barracks, when we were training if we were both out, they would march at their pace and we would march at ours, there was yelling and shouting and you might get out of step.

James Miller At Fenham Barracks. Top Row, 4th From Right



Meal Time At Fenham Barracks June 1931

I took something to Captain Weihe's house and on the way back I was with two lads on a limber with a team of horses and the driver spotted a couple of girls on the other side of the road, he took his eyes what was in front and he did notice a car had stopped in front of us and the shaft went right through the back window of the car, there were two old ladies sitting in the car, it is a winder they were not killed, there was hell let loose, I had to go as a witness, I don't know what the poor lads got a hundred and eighty days or something in the clink.

When tidying up the barrack room it had to be scrubbed with scrubbing brushes and there was a thing called a bumper to polish the floor. Here is a story, we (the squad) went on a run to Jesmond Dene, Newcastle in our PT kit, after covering the distance we stopped for a rest, a friend of mine called Charlie Potter (he used to come to my mothers house and his dad had a pub in Seaham Harbour) saw two girls which he knew, he went over to them then he called me over to talk to them. After talking we lined up again in fours because we used to march in formed fours and four deep. Me and Charlie were on the back row with Sergeant Flannagan and Corporal Birch behind us, as we were trotting back to the depot I heard Flannagan say "I'll have them two" when we get back. When we got back to the depot and in the barrack room Corporal Birch said "Sergeant Flannagan wants to see you two", we went in to see him and his face was red with anger, he said "you two ought to be ashamed of yourselves being in PT kit and talking to two girls, so you Miller you can scrub the barrack room floor with a toothbrush and you Potter can polish all the boots in the squad" and that was our punishment. I had to do it with cold water as well, it was silly, I could not polish all the barrack room with a toothbrush and after a while he said "that's enough". If you were having to polish the barrack room floor then sometimes the Sergeant would scrape the heel of his boot along the floor and he would scrape it where the floor was nice and clean. They were really tough.

If we were going on leave for the weekend we used to go to the guard room to report before we went home, they were very strict again, you would stand there and the sergeant would inspect you and he might say "now get back to your barracks and get that cleaned up properly". We used to wear white belts in them days and put white blanco on them, it had a DLI badge on the front. You would go back to the barracks, don't do anything then go back again to the guard room, stand there and he would say "now that is better isn't it".

Another funny thing when you see the Union Jack you had to salute it, so I was walking down the barrack road, I don't know what was on that day but there were a lot of Union Jacks flying, being a young recruit and this being my first weekend home I saluted all of these flags, I don't know what people thought of me. When I got to Sunderland it started to rain, I was crossing Fawcett Street, the blocks were wet and I slipped and fell on my back and an old lady came running over and helped me to my feet. we used to walk with a cane and on the nub of your cane was a DLI badge, the cane was to keep your hands out of your pockets. There was a cane drill, to salute an officer you had to put the cane under the left arm and salute, sometimes if you could not salute you just moved your head be it left or right. When I got home I was a right mess and my mother had to wash my clothes.

When we were just cadets we were allowed out in the evening after six but we had to be back by a certain time or you would be on charge. If I went to a pub for a drink I used to drink Shandies, I would go with my mates, some of the lads drunk, there were some right boozers among them, they would knock two or three pints back if they had the money because it was only fourteen shillings a week. I made my mother an allotment out of my earnings, my mother had ninepence a day out of me and that leads to another story about the means test.

Means Test

In those days they wanted to know how much you were worth, like for people living in council houses and paying the rent. The means test was horrible. My mother got ninepence a day all through my army service for seven years, I did not have much left out of fourteen shilling, I had to buy my blanco and polish and other things like dentistry. When I came home in 1937 I went to my mothers house, I was still in the army because you had six weeks before you left. Two days after I got home there was a knock on the door, my mother came running to me and said "Oh Jimmy the means test man is here" and I said well what is a means test. Well the idea was to find out how much income was coming into the house. This tall fellow came in, he was a bit of a posh lad and he said "I want to talk to you" he said "are you stopping at your mothers" this was only two days after getting home, I don't know how they found out about it, then he said "how much are you paying your mother" and I said "well that is my business". He said "how much money have you got in the POSB" which was the post office savings bank, I said "again that is my business" "well I want to know" he said and he said "if you don't tell me you will be in trouble", I said "I am still in the army if you want to know what I have got then write to my commanding officer". When he went he said "you will hear more about this".

Three days passed, my mother was upset, I got a letter to go in front of a committee in Sunderland. Outside the committee room there were very old and poor people sitting down. This fellow came out and he said "Miller", so I sat there, "Miller is Miller hear", I still sat, he said "who are you" I said "I am Private James Miller out of the Durham Light Infantry, Why" and he said "don't be so damned insulting". I went in front of the committee, there were about six chaps sitting round a bench and they were asking all kinds of questions my money and what I had, so I told them to "get stuffed" and I left. After that I left home to go to Walsall because my mother told them about the money I was giving her and they took it off the money she was allowed so all that money was lost, if I had not of given her the allowance she would of got the same money so they took the money off her, there were some horrible things in them days.


Part Four