The April meeting started with the Society's Annual General Meeting, there being enough members present to form a quorum. In the absence of our Chairlady overseas, the Deputy President, Mr "Flip" Hoorweg took the Chair and read the Chairman's Report on her behalf. 2004 has been a good year for the Society with a new branch being opened in the Eastern Cape and a general increase in membership. Sadly we had lost George Barrell and "Ossie" Baker, both of whom were staunch supporters of the Society and very active members. The Society is financially sound and the meetings are well supported. Major John Keene, the Director of the Museum, took the Chair for the election of the committee and thanked the Society for its efforts and support for the Museum. With the exception of Mr John Murray who had to stand down because of pressure of business, the Committee was re-elected en bloc with Mr John Parkinson as the new member replacing Mr Murray. Any member wanting copies of the reports and/or AGM minutes please contact Joan Marsh at the Society's address: P.O. Box 59227, Kengray, 2100 Johannesburg or fax 011 648 2085 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The George Barrell Memorial Prize for the best curtain raiser went to Prof Deon Fourie for his talk on "Smuts the Soldier" and the Felix Machanik Memorial Prize went to Mr Colin Dean for his lecture entitled "1421 - The Year The Chinese Discovered The World". The AGM was then closed and Mr Bob Smith gave details of the Society's forthcoming visit to places of historical importance in Pretoria.
The Deputy Chairman then introduced Mr Frank Bullen, our speaker for the evening. Mr Bullen's talk was entitled "No Scarlet, No Bearskin", which title referred to his wartime career in khaki uniform with the Scots Guards.
The Scots Guards seemed a logical regiment in which to enlist for a youngster born in London, only a few miles away from their regimental depot, or so it seemed to 18-year-old Frank Bullen. However, in his first encounter with the military mind, Frank received not a bus ticket to the Depot but a rail voucher to a Royal Army Service Corps camp deep in the Welsh countryside. There he underwent a medical examination and was kitted out with various uniforms. After two weeks of miserable "hanging around" he was transferred to the Scots Guards Depot Barracks at Catterham.
This depot consisted of several ugly Victorian three-storey buildings built out of yellow brick and a number of temporary wooden huts. Here he underwent yet another medical and had to return all the uniforms he had only recently been issued with! He was then reissued with another set of uniforms, but with no scarlet tunic or bearskin Busby. The barracks were sited next door to a lunatic asylum and there was many a time during his training in 1943 when Frank wondered whether he were in the right building! After this initial orientation Frank was then moved to Pirbright Camp, which adjoins the famous Bisley rifle ranges and where, for the first five months of 1944, he was kept frantically busy doing basic training. From Pirbright Frank was posted to a battle school located in amongst sand dunes in the vicinity of Caernafon before qualifying for a short leave. His group reassembled at Wellington Barracks early on Sunday morning, 18 June 1944, to entrain for Scotland. About thirty minutes after they left London a V1 "doodlebug" slammed in to the chapel at Wellington Barracks killing about 120 people.
On detraining at Hawick in Scotland, Frank found himself with the Second Battalion Scots Guards. Here the new replacements were merged with the veterans of North Africa and Italy until, after a few months, the battalion had become a smoothly working motorised infantry division and crossed the Channel to join XXX Corps in the advance to the Rhine. After doing some final preparations in Belgium and Holland, they crossed into Germany near Nijmegen, to relieve the 3rd Battalion Irish Guards who had taken heavy casualties. The Germans opposing them were now fighting on their own soil and putting up a heavy resistance.
The battalion was now based in the badly damaged town of Hommersum and it was here that Frank came under fire for the first time when he and a friend stumbled across a German patrol on the edge of the village. A sharp firefight ensued, Frank and his buddy were reinforced and the Germans surrendered. As soldiers always do when they are idle, Frank and his mates began to get in to mischief. On one occasion Frank, who was now a despatch rider with his own motorcycle, and a pal by the name of Johnnie liberated a few chickens at a farm in nearby Hassum. Although the operation was successful, it was not appreciated by the Germans, and the two of them, plus an armful of chickens, came under quite a heavy mortar attack as they made their getaway.
No further advance could take place until the Germans opposing them were forced out of the Reichswald, a large wooded area at the northern limit of the Siegfried line. The Scots Guards were ordered to participate in the clearing of this wood and in the subsequent advance Frank's motorcycle was hit in the gearbox by a piece of shrapnel, thus reducing him to the job of infantryman. The assault was preceded by an intense artillery barrage before the infantry went in to the attack. The battle was a tough one. The German artillery had registered various strategic points and shelled them continuously. Working with fixed bayonets, the British slowly cleared the wood. German resistance was fierce, the trees close together and this, combined with thick low cloud and constant noise, made conditions very difficult, with the Scots Guards taking heavy casualties.
Eventually they reached the village of Bonninghardt in darkness and rain and bivouacked there, two miles from the Rhine. No sooner had they started "brewing up" than they came under heavy mortar fire. Just before daybreak the battalion moved out and after taking a bridge across the Romer they arrived in the farmlands bordering the Rhine and halted there. Here they were once again mortared and subjected to heavy machine gun fire. Between them and the Rhine lay flat ground covered by heavy German fire from an embankment. This was eventually cleared by the 5th Coldstream Guards in a frontal attack which forced the Germans to blow the local bridges and to fall back on to the town of Wesel. After a series of skirmishes the Scots Guards were pulled out of the line and sent for rest and re-supply to Heumen on the Maas. During this period a Bailey bridge was constructed and thrown across the Rhine at Reese, and moving across it and into a Dutch enclave the battalion liberated the town of Enschede, amidst scenes of great celebration. Pushing on towards Hamburg Frank and his fellows came under fire from the famed 88mm antitank gun and suffered strafing from ME 262's. A nighttime collision with an armoured car whilst on his motorbike resulted in Frank's motorcycle once again being written off and a stay in hospital for him. He was then sent home on sick leave and by the time he rejoined his battalion in Wippenfurth, near Cologne, the war was over.
The Scots Guards were then involved in occupational policing. Frank was part of this until a freak accident whilst on leave in Brussels put paid to his military career. In 1946 he reported to Olympia for demobilisation and a return to civvy street, very lucky to still be alive after all his close shaves but never having worn a scarlet tunic or bearskin!
Mr Bullen was thanked for an excellent and well-illustrated lecture by Mr John Murray, an ex Guardsman himself.
Thank you to Bob Smith for organising a most enjoyable day trip to Pretoria, and to Mrs Felicia Fourie for her enthusiastic and knowledgeable coverage of an important aspect of Boer War history.
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