RMITC / CTCRM - LYMPSTONE
Depot Exton officially became RM Depot Lympstone on 5 September 1941, although
the first 'G & L' reference to the new name came with the February 1944 edition
and war diaries mention it as early as May two years previously, yet the camp
continued its dual nomenclature for at least another year, whilst in one edition
of the Corps Journal we find three separate contributors referring to the same
place as 'Depot (D), 'Exton' and 'Lympstone'...but certainly well before the war's
end, 'Exton' had been dropped by all except the locals and its early inmates who
continued to cherish the title as one boasts of membership to some exclusive club!
In Part 1 I left you mid 1942 with a completed camp just as its near neighbour Dalditch was rising out of the heathland, and according to a letter sent by Brig N K Jolly to the Adjutant General, Devon council had widened the road in front of the Depot, laid a pathway from Wood bury Road station (Exton), and the camp had taken on a very pleasing appearance.' This letter also inferred that the field opposite the main gate was again 'tented' in March 1941, this time to accommodate the 1st Engineering Coy RM.
Cpl A P Thompson was now firmly installed as Warden of the 500 yards Straight Point Range, after faithfully reporting Lympstone's first two years of 'growing pains' in the Corps Journal, whilst other firing ranges in use locally by the trainees during this period were at Starcross, Merrivale and Scorrington. By the time Lympstone established its own 30 yards range in May 1944, Pat Thompson was back there again sending in his despatches once more, informing us that the RM tradesmen who constructed it, using materials from Exmouth blitzed sites, at the same time built a mini-steeple and a vestry for the camp church.
the Raids Came
On most evenings throughout 1941-2 the drone of enemy aircraft could be heard surging inland to bomb other cities, but although Exmouth received a few incendiary bombs on its outskirts earlier, it was on 18 January 1941 that this town took its first major battering in the densely built-up area bounded by Chapel, Church and Rolle Streets, and this flattened site remained vacant until 1978 when under a redevelopment scheme, the RMA Branch unfortunately lost their Gibraltar Club premises that stood on the fringe. Later on in 1942 and into the next year the Luftwaffe changed their tactics and went in for daylight 'hit and run' raids, often using just a single aircraft, but then eight came in on the final raid of 26 February 1943 when the worst casualties occurred, and by the last 'All clear' the sirens had sounded 469 times.
Many troops were employed in rescue and clearance work within the district, including 'Royals' and I doubt if anyone from 10 PM Bn serving at Dalditch will forget the night of 25-26 April 1942 when, having carried out this debris clearing only the week before, they were now engaged as 'Nazi Parachutists' for 'Exercise Raleigh' into which Army and Home Guard units were also drawn; their purpose to create confusion on the road to Exeter during a pretended bombing raid...well the 'confusion' developed all right as they got caught up in a real raid!
On the training side, recruit squads passed with regularity to Dalditch for Phase 2 of their 'upbringing', occasionally interspersed with 'special guests' such as the RAF NCOs classes commencing February 1943 in five groups of half a dozen at a time. Since these forerunners of the RAF Regiment set off from here we have now come full circle in having at least one member of that force back on the training staff. During the war the two local RAF stations were at Beer and Branscombe, and there was also Exeter Airport site of course.
The Phase 1 syllabus was increased from 6 to 8 weeks with EX 583 Squad in May 1943, whilst Phase 2 training at RMITC Dalditch which originally stood at only 8 weeks had risen to 14 weeks by November 1945, 16 the following January, and 17 by the end of that year when Dalditch closed and RMITC moved into Lympstone.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Phase 1 included kitting up, lectures (including Corps history), PT, drill, bayonet fighting, basic small arms and Bren Gun drills...and the receiving of gratuitous issues of jabs! With the assault course, advanced weapon training, range work, night firing and fieldcraft (involving cooking and survival) coming into phase 2, the last week of which was usually spent under canvas near Ottery St Mary during the latter stages of the Dalditch era at least.
The Elusive Provost (RM Police)
Their 'Globe & Laurel' reports gave nothing away except a vague location somewhere in the Exmouth area (it was in sporting fixtures that units invariably gave some clues to vicinities!) and mentioned only Clarks Hill for motor-cycle training ground...the fact that nobody I interviewed in the area had ever heard of the place nor could it be found on the Ordnance Survey Map only serves to illustrate just how elusive this branch was!
A subsequent clue to the location of Clarks Hill and the Provost HQ was revealed by Lt Col F F Clark RM, who gave this report. "I was appointed DPM RM (Deputy Provost Marshall) on 26 October 1944 and had my headquarters at the Imperial Hotel in Exmouth until 25 February 1946 when the RM Provost Depot then closed. The Imperial and two private hotels on The Beacon accommodated staff and trainee Provost. The Officers' Mess was a corner house not far from the Imperial, whilst stores etc., were kept in two terraced houses about a quarter mile away. Some of the motorcycle training was carried out on Black Hill, Lympstone Common (which is on the map, and no doubt renamed by the men after their CO!), where additional hazards 'The Snake' and 'The Camel' etc, were constructed."
"When I arrived at Exmouth the unit was commanded by Maj Frank Little who later took a Provost unit to the Far East. Trained Provost were drafted to RM Units in the UK and Europe, and there was a London Unit of approximately 60 housed in Chelsea Barracks."
"The Exmouth Provost Depot had close contacts with the US Naval Police and Devon Police. We were called out to assist the latter on an incident that nearly became the 'Battle of Okehampton'. Due to trouble at a local dance hall between a Polish unit and a British Army Unit, both sides had raided their respective guard-rooms and were advancing into town with rifles and ball ammunition. An RM Provost Unit (and men of 28 RM Battalion) also armed with rifles was hurried from Exmouth, but luckily both groups were diverted."
Another nearby hotel, up on the hill (The Beacon) was also a dormitory for the men, whilst one garage in town was converted into a Mess Hall and a second one used for storage of vehicles and motor cycles. When 35 RM Provost formed up in the latter stages of the War for Far East service, the house of Lady Byron, also on The Beacon (next to that of Lady Nelson) also provided accommodation. Earlier, about 30 men of RMTG(D) Provost Coy were at Lympstone Grange and became RM Division Provost Coy on 1 Nov 1943 before moving into Exmouth HQ.
The RM Provost wore the distinctive 'Red Cap' cover over khaki or blue caps, and other than the corps badge looked identical to their Army equivalents who taught the original instructors all the tricks of their trade at the Corps of Military Police, Mytchett Depot near Aldershot.
Other than lurking around the local pubs at closing time to harass poor unsuspecting Bootnecks enjoying a quiet evening out, these men did much useful work in security and convoy control etc, both at home and abroad!
C J Mahoney, who had a short period in both London and Naples as the Naval Provost Marshall, testified to the excellent work discharged by the Royal Marine 'Redcaps'; policing in Naples and running the Naval Courts for merchant seamen was no sinecure. He recalls that the main body of the Provost were in Exmouth's Imperial Hotel, by the late summer of 1945, and all basic training was done there and in the nearby countryside. Lt Col F H Nicholson, a distinguished First Drill in pre-war days, and King Badgeman, was Naval Provost Marshall for North West Europe.
By November 1945 Chatham RM Provost Detachment had closed down, Portsmouth and Plymouth followed likewise a month later, London, RMTG (Wales) and MT School Detachments disappeared by the following March leaving only HQ RMTG(D) operational within the UK. No 3 RM Provost were meanwhile heavily committed in occupied Europe, whilst 35 RM Provost with HQ in Ceylon (Colombo) spread themselves around the Far Eastern theatre of war in such places as Bombay, Rangoon, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore; and from this latter detachment Corporals Isaacs and O'Reilly, as bodyguards to the C-in-C, were amongst the first to reach and relieve the notorious Changi POW camp.
Remnants of the HQ Provost moved out of Exmouth to Dalditch Camp in February 1946, and then in June the last Red Cap cover went into mothballs as those not due for demobilisation were split up into other units. Thus, when the overseas representatives returned the following year and dispersed, the 'Corps' own 'Military Police' ceased to function in that specific form, the disciplinary duties then being undertaken by each unit's temporary 'Regimental Police' until a new branch with MP 1 qualifications was introduced in the 1960s, again receiving a guiding hand from their Army cousins of the Royal Military Police now at the Chichester Depot.
The Social Scene
buildings in Exmouth were commandeered by HM Forces during the war, particularly
hotels, and other than the Palm Court, now renamed Seacrest House as private flats,
and Harbour View Café - both on the seafront) the most notable was the
Imperial, then privately owned. It housed RN and RM personnel and was then considerably
larger than at present, one wing having been destroyed by fire in 1974.
In addition there were one or two servicemen's canteens, and rather late in the day NAAFI opened a branch in January 1946 that has since closed. Royal Marines did not have the monopoly of this town then, as they do now, for whilst the Navy and RAF presence was felt in perhaps small doses, there was a very considerable Army contingent of British, American and Polish troops.
For a short period after the war, as the Grange was vacated, Lower Nutwell Farmhouse, adjacent to the camp, was taken on as the Commandant's quarters, but is now back in private use again.
Social life within the camp went on much as usual throughout the remaining war years, with the weekly band concerts sometimes augmented by RMITCs band, fortnightly dances in addition to the Film and occasional ENSA shows, Boxing Matches and other sporting events. (By 1946 there were four Royal Marines from Lympstone in the Exeter City Football Club). The fourth annual Depot Horticultural Show reached a new peak in 1944 when 750 visitors on 19 August raised £70 - 10s towards the Exton POW Fund, which in less than a year had realised £1300 for the despatch of 'Food and Comforts' parcels to Ex-Lympstone men held in Prisoner of War camps by the enemy. Lt Col F W Dewhurst, on his second tour of duty here as CO officiated at the prize-giving inside the theatre whilst outside WO w smith entertained those taking tea on the lawn with his 25 piece band, and the side-shows continued to rake in the pennies! It was a small crowd however compared to the 3082 who were later to flood through the gates for the first official Open Day to the general public 24 September 1947.
In August 1944 our old friend Cpl Thompson wrote his 'Farewell' message in the G & L when departing for Plymouth, where at Stonehouse Barracks he was a very popular man next year raising the Demob Chits until suddenly he found his own before him, which he duly signed himself, leaving the Corps finally on 12 September 1945 after a total 27 years service to settle in his Bristol home city where in 1986 he attained his 88th year! At the beginning of the year Lt Col F W Dewhurst also left, handing over to Lt Col S G B Paine OBE coming from 116 RM Infantry Brigade, who in turn was to hand over to Lt Col R W Sankey DSO DSC only six months later.
Door closes another opens
On 18 August 1946 the Pre-OCTU (Preparatory course for young officer candidates) closed its doors at Lympstone with HO 44 Course, whilst the Depot had taken on a new role the previous Spring with the training of RME (engineer) recruit entries. The biggest change however was to come at the end of 1946 with the closure of Dalditch and subsequent transfer of RM Infantry Training to RM Depot Lympstone, under it's new title ITCRM (as distinct from RMITC at Dalditch).
It was a most emotional and chaotic time for the camp, as old friends were taking their leave, including the WRNS unit, and a continual convoy of road transport milled around between the two camps transferring 'lock stock and barrel' all the necessary equipment and furnishings for the new set-up...and rather appropriately, I feel, amidst all this feverish activity the Dramatic Society chose to perform Noel Coward's play 'Hay Fever' in the camp theatre! Down at the WRNS quarters CPO Ferguson BEM, whom you may recall in Part 1 came here as a Leading Wren in charge of 20 young ladies in September 1941, was throwing a farewell party prior to withdrawing with 'her girls' as dramatically as they had arrived, leaving a vacancy that was not filled until 28 August 1974 when 'Marens' moved into newly built accommodation.
1 November 1946 was the date set for the official change over of Lympstone's new role and title, by which time the last of the six remaining recruit squads had completed Phase 1 training (this part then became exclusive to Depot Deal for both Continuous Service and National Service lads) and they then concentrated on phase 2 syllabus only. HQ RMTG(D) was now closed down, and personnel records and control of ITCRM passed to the Command of Plymouth Group.
An 'Inventory Check' at the time revealed 3000 officers and men living in 74 huts enclosed in an area of 54 acres within a boundary of 1¼ miles! Broken down this represented 60 officers, 13 Companies of three platoons each, plus a complete Infantry Battalion with a total of 82 vehicles of varying types to convey them around! Lympstone was now very much alive and well with between 1,000 and 1,500 recruits under training at any given time, and on completion of which some went on to Bickleigh Infantry School for specialisation or to Commando Training Centre at Towyn (N Wales) which for a short time had taken over this role from Achnacarry before it too closed down, and Plymouth took temporary control!
From its humble beginnings seven years earlier Lympstone had, to all intents and purposes, progressed to 'near perfection', with two small churches now, a Corps Military Library built up to 1,200 books for recruit study, and many other facilities...yet 'Their Lordships' were still not satisfied and many changes were to come, so that by this year of 1986 we now have an entirely rebuilt camp, beyond all recognition to any who first served here.
Changing Roles and Development
Early in 1951 the Officer Training Wing moved in from Bickleigh Infantry School, just six men in the first intake, two of whom were Corps Commission candidates and parachutists, to be joined later by further batches totalling a complement of 40. The Officers Mess also acquired some material additions at this time, as a piano, table-centre, two paintings, some silver and other items of furniture arrived from Chatham Barracks which was closing down.
There were two intakes of boys between the ages of 16 and 17 in August and October 1958, who were known as Youth Entries 1 and 2 (YEl and YE2) but were later amalgamated to form Junior Entry Squad No 1 (JEl). The charge of these young men for their first year of training was given to Lt Thomas Seacombe RM. They spent a year at Deal before being split up, so that 18 of the eldest boys went to Lympstone for Commando training, whilst the others remained at Deal for further training.
With the temporary closure of Stonehouse Barracks (Plymouth) for a 'care and maintenance' period, the SNCOs Training Wing and Specialised Training moved to Lympstone in February 1960, followed by the Commando Specialist Training in April, which included Heavy Weapons, Cliff Assault, and Assault Engineers. These bodies joined up with the resident 'X' Troop to form a new Commando Training Wing centred around the old 'c' Company Lines. Previously there had been four recruit companies, A, B, C and D; of these only A and C survived, with the former as the National Service Company, but to make way for the new units these now amalgamated into a single Recruit Training Wing in February.
The last of the National Service recruits were in 939 Squad, finishing their Phase Two training here early in 1961, and thus were due for release two years later, just as Lympstone started to undergo its face-lift.
In the autumn of 1959 the Sergeant's Mess had some alterations and foundations were laid for an extension, which increased recreational facilities, but under the redevelopment plans, drawn up in five stages, to cover an estimated twelve years period, the first actual replacements were the Drill Shed in 1960 and the wooden huts of the Officer's Mess, the latter taking about a year for completion, in bricks and mortar.
Lt Gen M C Cartwright-Taylor opened the first of the new recruit accommodation blocks on 12 July 1963, by which time four others were also erected, awaiting completion, and already 'a blot on the rural skyline' according to the 'Western Morning News' of 29 June previous. Some locals obviously viewed the new 'skyscrapers' with alarm, and the Earl of Devon, residing opposite in Powderham Castle, who no doubt had the most cause for complaint, suggested the planting of trees around the camp to hide it! Although trees do adorn the site, even now the white buildings stand out clearly from Exmouth and the western river shoreline.
The site selected for the new barrack blocks was at the top of the slope above the old bayonet range. A total of seven new barrack blocks and four company offices were planned for this site, each of four storeys intended to accommodate 100 men, whilst the company office buildings were small compact and single-storeyed. At Withycombe Raleigh 36 new married quarters for 'other ranks' were rising per schedule, with the officer's quarters slowly progressing on the Admiralty land at Lympstone, and War Office land at the Retreat in Topsham, but would not be ready for another two years.
By the end of 1966 the Mess-and-recreational block, including the Main Galley, Dining Halls, NAAFI and Junior NCOs Club was nearing completion: nearby were the NAAFI quarters and a trading centre designed to house the UIF-run amenities, Barber Shop, Pressing Shop, Laundry and Drying Room, a civilian Tailor's Shop...and the new automatic telephone exchange which came into operation that January. Also in progress were the practice rooms, stores and offices of the Plymouth Group Band, and the seventh barrack block. Sports grounds were provided in the field opposite the main gate.
Exmouth's adoption of the Corps took place on 11 May 1968 when a parade, depicting the various Royal Marine uniforms, wended its way through the town, whilst Exeter followed suit on 23 April 1977. Between these two events a new training syllabus had been introduced at Easter 1972 because of the popularity of the new initial short engagements. Divided into two phases, the purpose of phase one (Commando Training) was preparation, covering the majority of individual skills and the physical build-up necessary for phase two, lasting 14 weeks for adults and 25 weeks for juniors. This concentrated on team and group skills, all aspects of troop weapons and minor tactics up to section level, and included a week at the Amphibious Training Unit, Poole. ITCRM changed to CTCRM on 24 August 1970.
By January 1976 the Junior Marines Block and an extension to the Officers' Mess had been completed, work progressed on the new Sergeants' Mess and sadly the last tree holding the 30 foot ropes of the old assault course was felled! That Easter the Sergeants were at last able to take up residence in their new Mess, and since the new year recruits were now arriving here direct, instead of via Depot Deal.
A unique event occurred on 3 May that year when the Mayor of Exeter joined the Commandant General and senior railway executives on an inaugural train service from Exeter scheduled to stop at the camp's very own station, Lympstone Commando. Not only the first new station to be built in the western region this century, but the only one in the country designed exclusively for servicemen.
Other special events included the first change-over of the CGRM, outside of. Whitehall, on 11 April 1975; a rare visit by a Prime Minister (Harold Wilson) later that year; and the first member of the Royal Family to undertake the Commando Course (HRH Prince Charles) during November 1974. The younger Princes Andrew and Edward did likewise in 1980 and 1983 respectively, the latter actually joining the Corps on 5 September.
The fifth stage of modernisation was officially celebrated as completed with the unveiling of the 'Both Arms' Kenneth Armitage sculpture, in the newly named 'CGs Court' at the end of 1974, by which time the number of recruits barrack blocks had been increased to 9, plus one of three storeys for trained ranks. *
Four years later the new £l.8 million physical and recreational training centre was completed; by which time the PT Wing had moved in from Deal. A new church of St Alban was dedicated on 1 April 1981, in the presence of the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, and then when Maj Gen Sir Jeremy Moore KCB OBE MC* opened the new main presentation centre, Falklands Hall, on 6 May 1984 it could be said that Lympstone Camp's modernisation was complete.
Only one of the original wooden huts now remains to remind any returning 'old boys' that this site is indeed that of the old Exton Camp, and one can only guess at their thoughts as they survey the vast complex of today! They might also compare the pay received by today's recruits, and envy their cars and seemingly marvellous conditions, but times (and prices) have dramatically changed since the formative days of the old Exton Camp, when the return bus fare from the main gate into Exmouth was just 8 Pence (3p decimal coinage) or 1/6d (7_p) to Exeter; by train it was 6d (3p) and l/ld (5p) return respectively...and the fortnightly pay for a recruit was 28 shillings!
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* NB. With 'D' Block (Salerno) being the first of the new four storied blocks to be opened on 12 July 1963, the last one was that for the Junior Entries Wing (Normandy), built to a completely different design and containing 20 barrack rooms, plus 4 'Quiet Rooms', 3 television and 2 hobbies rooms, also Company and Troop offices. This block had the distinction of being officially opened at precisely 1158 on Monday 28 October 1974...exactly 310 years (to the minute) after the founding of the Corps.
Apart from the Corporals Block and one as yet un-named ('F' Block), the remainder are known as Chosin - Dieppe - Kangaw - Limbang - Matapan - Montforterbeek - Normandy - Radfan - Salerno and Termoli.
© - RMHS 1986
Memories of this era and photographs
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