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1939 – 1940

1939 - 1940

     The Regiment was mobilized on 2nd September 1939, following its separation and duplication of the 53rd (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA).
     This page covers the era from mobilization in September 1939 to the end of 1940, during which they had been sent to N Ireland on 10th July 1940.
     First, a reminder of how the regiment progressed from being Hussars to Royal Artillery.

     In 1920, after World War One, the Territorial Force (TF) was reconstituted and officially named the Territorial Army (TA).  The title “Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars” had been changed to “Oxfordshire Yeomanry“.  The men now formed the 399th (Oxford) and 400th (Banbury) Batteries of the 100th (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (TA).  A further change in role came in November 1938, when the Regiment was converted from its field artillery role to that of an anti-tank artillery unit, and again merged with the Worcestershire Yeomanry into the renamed 53rd (Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA).
     The guns were now 2pdr anti-tank guns and the batteries renumbered 211 at Oxford and 212 at Banbury.  War with Germany was looming again (after the Munich Crisis of September 1938) and there was a demand for increases in the armed forces.  Prime Minister Chamberlain decided to double the establishment of the Territorial Army and this resulted in the QOOH becoming a separate regiment again.
     On mobilization they now became the 63rd (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (TA) with its Headquarters in Oxford, and 2 batteries (249 and 250) at Oxford and 2 batteries (251 and 252) at Banbury.  Along with this change in title came the decision to make them a second-line regiment, and part of the 61st Infantry Division.  The Regiment was charged with the responsibility of home defence and of training men to feed into the first-line.  The Worcestershire’s however, retained their title of the 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment RA (TA), becoming a first-line regiment and went to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  With this increase in the quantity of regiments, the guns and equipment had become a scarce commodity and one of the 63rd AT Regt’s first actions was to hand over all their 2pdr guns and associated equipment to the Worcesters to enable them to be an efficient part of the BEF. This must have had some effect on morale, and with new recruits wondering just what sort of unit they were joining.  Their equipment (or lack of it) was to impede the regiment for the first 12 months or so.  But being true Yeomen, they learnt to adapt and overcome as best as they could.

     The following text has been taken from the War Diaries.  Italicised text enclosed in ‘square’ brackets – [text] – is usually text added by myself, for clarity and extra information.


     In 1939, the principal officers of the 63rd (OY) AT Regt at this time were :-
          Commanding Officer (CO) – Lt-Col Anthony John Muirhead, MC, TD, MP.
          Second-in-Command (2i/c) – Maj JRR Christopher.
          249 Bty Commander (BC) – Maj John Thomson.
          250 Bty Commander (BC) – Capt Charles Priestley.
          251 Bty Commander (BC) – Capt John Patrick Turrill.
          252 Bty Commander (BC) – Maj John Stockton.

     On 2nd September, Maj JRR Christopher (2i/c) and the 63rd AT Regimental HQ’s staff [previously part of the 53rd (Worcs & Oxfords Yeomanry) AT Regt HQs] left Kidderminster for Oxford.  2/Lt FW Deakin was attached to HQ from 249 Bty.  Maj Stockton, with the HQ’s Party of 251 & 252 Bty’s, arrived at Oxford from Banbury.  At 16.00 the RHQ personnel paraded – 44 men all told – and their several duties allotted.  Arrangements were made for the handover of all equipment to 53rd AT Regt at Kidderminster.  Progress Reports were despatched from the Regimental Office to the CRA [Commander Royal Artillery].
     On 3rd Sept, all guns and equipment were dispatched by road to Kidderminster.  At 11.00 it was announced that Great Britain and Germany were at War.  Investigation of houses for a permanent HQ began.  The RHQ staff temporarily moved into Saville House, Mansfield Rd, Oxford on the 4th Sept.  The question of requisitioning premises was discussed with the Oxford University authorities.  Balliol College sports ground was acquired for the use of the troops.  Arrangements were made for use of the river swimming pool for the troops.  Detailed plans for the occupation of the men were put into effect.  Authorisation for requisitioning of buildings etc, was received from Divisional HQ.  The billets in Carfax Assembly Rooms and Yeomanry House were inspected on the 6th Sept by Brig Farren.  Brig Farren, Lt-Col Muirhead, 2/Lt Deakin and Maj Stockton (252 BC) drove to Banbury at 12.00 to inspect the batteries there.  On the 7th Sept, the Commanding Officer’s conference was held at Saville House to discuss details of training.  Balliol College pavilion and sports ground were requisitioned for the Regiment.
     In the following days training exercises began, with Maj Christopher lecturing the officers at Banbury on Military Law, an Infantry lecture by Col Wood was given to the Oxford batteries.  Maj Christopher lectured the officers, at the School of Geography, on duties in ‘aid of the Civil Power’.  Liaisons were made with Brig Fulbrook-Leggatt (GOC 184th Inf Bde) on Home Security Duties.  Arrangements were made by Lt-Col Muirhead for the commissioning of certain new officers.  Maj Christopher lectured at Banbury on Supply and evacuation of the wounded.  Plans were discussed with Div HQ concerning P.A.D. [Passive Air Defence] and Home Security Duties.  Maj Christopher lectured to officers on ‘Appreciation and Orders’.  Lt-Col Muirhead, Maj’s Stockton, Christopher, and Thomson, Capt’s Priestley, Turrill and Schuster accompanied the 5th Bn Oxfordshire & Bucks Light Infantry [OBLI] on a practical instructional course.  Brig Fulbrook-Leggatt discussed the problems of Home Security with Lt-Col Muirhead.  On 17th Sept, Battery church parades were held.
     The Regiment is pressed for accommodation and equipment.  Maj Stockton and 2/Lt Deakin inspect possible additional quarters for troops.  On 22nd Sept, a Div Commanders’ conference was held at 276 Banbury Rd to discuss problems of clothing, billeting and recreation – Maj Stockton and Lt Fidoe attended from 63rd AT Regt.
     On 23rd Sept, Lt-Col Muirhead interviewed candidates for Emergency commissions from the ranks at his office in Saville House.  Lt-Col Muirhead gave authority for 65% of personnel of each battery to sleep out.  On 26th Sept, the Regiment was instructed by 61st Div to take over guard duties at Abingdon and Bicester aerodromes.
     On 29th Sep, Lt-Col Muirhead, Maj’s Stockton, and Thomson, and Capt Priestley attended a conference at Police HQ on Home Security.  A scheme was drafted for the co-operation of the Regt with the police in an emergency.  Arrangements were made to take over new HQ Offices and the Air Squadron mess at Manor Road, Oxford.  Warsaw surrendered to the Germans, and details of the Russo-German agreement was published.
     On 30th Sept, the comb-out of the Regt was completed, and the returns forwarded to the Ministry of Labour.  [This ended the month of September and the Regiment coming to terms with full-time military life and solving some of the problems arising].
     During the remaining months of 1939 various conferences were attended by certain Regimental officers.  In early October, the Regiment took over Home Security duties in Oxford from the OBLI [Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry].  2/Lt Viscount Harcourt was sent on Weapon Trg Course at SAS [Small Arms School], Hythe Wing.  Gen Sir Walter Kirke, GCB, CMG, DSO, [GOC-in-C Home Forces] inspected Banbury batteries.  Lt-Col Muirhead pressed for the supply of 2 x AT guns as training seriously hampered by complete lack of equipment.
     On 18th Oct, 97 Militia soldiers were received by the Regt, but many were medically graded Grade II and unfit for Anti-Tank work [a/tank soldiers needed to be strong and fit to enable the manual handling of the guns].  2/Lt Butler was put in charge of the militia of the Oxford batteries, and 2/Lt Birkenhead at Banbury.
     On 28th Oct, the Oxford batteries were sent on a shooting exercise to Larkhill, with guns and equipment supplied by the 53rd AT Regt.  On this same day, to the profound grief of the whole Regiment, Lt-Col AJ Muirhead, MC, TD, MP, had died at Haseley Court [his home].  On 1st November, Maj Christopher temporarily assumed command of Regt, wef 28/10/39.  2/Lt Deakin became A/Adjutant.  The funeral of the late Lt-Col Muirhead took place at Haseley Court.  [Sir John Thomson, in his memoirs in the Yeomanry Memories book, had the following to say about Lt-Col Anthony Muirhead, MC, TD, MP, – “As recorded in the Keith-Falconer book [QOOH in WW1], he had good service in WW1, winning an MC and bar.  Quite later in life he became a politician, as MP for Wells and was a Minister in Chamberlain’s government.  His suicide in October 1939 caused a tremendous shock to his Yeomanry colleagues and to his numerous friends and admirers.  It was attributed to overwork, as he sat up all night, clearing up various outstanding problems before he gave himself entirely to soldiering.  And then being told by two doctors that he could not be passed fit to serve in the War”.  He had been the CO of both the 100th Worcestershire & Oxfordshire Yeomanry Field Brigade RA (TA), and the 53rd (Worcestershire & Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment RA (TA), before being appointed as CO of the 63rd (Oxf Yeo) Anti-Tank Regt RA(TA).]
     On 17th Nov, owing to an acute shortage of equipment, 8 Bren-guns were received on loan from 53rd AT Regt, who were now at Wantage.  On 19th Nov, the two 2pdr AT guns, having still not arrived, were urgently asked for from Division.  On 20th Nov, in accordance with instructions, Maj Christopher, Maj Stockton, Lt Fidoe, Capt Briggs and 2/Lt Deakin inspected houses in Warwickshire as the possible new training area.  Final arrangements were made with regard to Walton Hall, Wellesbourne, Warwicks.
     The Regt had a new CO, Lt-Col Coltart arriving in December 1939.  In the same month, the Regt moved from Oxford to Walton Hall, nr Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.
     During 1939 the Regt had visits and inspections from numerous high-ranking officers – CRA, Brig RH Farren in September;  GOC 184th Inf Bde, Brig Fulbrook-Leggatt in Sept;  GOC-in-C Home Forces, Gen Sir W Kirke, GCB, CMG, DSO, in October.


     On 3rd January a number of young soldiers were posted out of the Regiment.  They were referred to as ‘Immatures’ (under 18½ yrs old) and were sent to Anti-Aircraft (AA) and Searchlight (SL) regiments around the country.  [The term ‘immatures’ was used by Winston Churchill to refer to the underage soldiers who joined the Territorial Army before the war started.  These soldiers were too young to be sent overseas to fight, so they were deployed in various roles within Britain].  This decision however meant that a lot of these young soldiers probably saw action during the ‘Battle of Britain’ (July 1940-May 1941) before the men of the 63rd AT Regt !  [This event was remembered very well by one of the Immatures and wrote several episodes of his experiences for the QOOH Assoc newsletters.  His recollection is of 10 young men from 249 Bty, who left the Regt whilst it was at Walton Hall, near Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.  Some 10 hours later, after travelling by train via London, arrived at Swaffham, Norfolk at the HQ of 409 Bty, 78 HAA Regt.  Their task was to guard/protect four widely scattered RAF bomber airfields in the vicinity.]
     A new CO, Lt-Col MacDonald, had been posted to the Regt on 20th April 1940.  [Sir John Thomson, in his memoirs in the Yeomanry Memories book, had the following to say about Lt-Col MacDonald – “As recorded, was ‘prickly’, eccentric and unpopular with all ranks.  None of us could get on with him.  The ‘Authorities’ – thought it was our fault – so sent us an efficient Regular, Capt Rowland Symonds, to serve as his adjutant and to report to them.  As a result of his assessment, MacDonald was posted away in September 1940”].
     On 1st May, with the Regt now at Friz Hill, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire – 2/Lt MR Sperling was attached to RHQ, from 249 Bty, to act as Regtl MT Officer.  Regimental and Battery Training carried on.
     On 3rd May, the Regiment was inspected by the GOC-in-C, Home Forces, Gen Sir Walter Kirke, GCB, CMG, DSO, at Walton Hall.  He was attended by his Military Secretary and ADC, and the CRA 61st Div, and the Bde Maj RA accompanied him.  251 and 252 Batteries marched over from Butlers Marston and Kineton.
     In early May, the Regt fired their rifle course at Wedgnock Range, Warwick.  On 11th May, 2/Lt PT Aston returned from the Army Gas School, Tregantle Wing [Tregantle Fort is in south east Cornwall and one of several forts surrounding Plymouth].  On 23rd May, Lt(QM) JH Fidoe was posted to Depot RA, Woolwich.  On 26th May, Capt RC Symonds was posted to Regt from 61st Divisional School to take up the position of Adjutant, with 2/Lt THF Whitton appointed Assistant Adjutant.  2/Lt FW Deakin relinquishes appt of Adjutant and is posted back to 249 Bty.  2/Lt Viscount Harcourt relinquishes appt of Asst Adjutant and is posted back to 252 Bty.  A further two officers had been posted into the Regt during this month.
     On 31st May, the Regtl HQ’s received from 61st Div RA, warning of the imminence of an enemy attack, immediate action was taken by all Batteries who made preparations for an instant move.
     On 1st June, the 63rd AT Regt RA received orders to move to Newbury-Kingsclere district on 6 June 40.
     On 4th June, the Advance Party moved into Benham Park, Newbury, to prepare for arrival of Regt.  251 Bty received orders to take over Guard duties at Brize Norton and Rissington aerodromes.  On 12th June, the last of the Rear Party arrived at Benham having handed over buildings at Walton, Friz Hill, Woodley & Butlers Marston.
     On 16th June, Orders were received, to move the Regt to Portsmouth to take over the commitments of 184 Inf Bde.  251 Bty to move from Brize Norton to Portsmouth.  After many conferences and discussions at Fareham Fort the VP [Vulnerable Points] commitments of the Regt were settled.  On 17th June, the Regt moved to Portsmouth Area and took over the VP’s, coming under command of 5 Corps [and it is thought this was in the event of a German invasion].  These  VP’s were scattered between Southampton (Taunton Schools PoW Camp) in the West, and Thorney Island (RAF Station) in the East.  251 Bty also supplied a guard for Buriton Tunnel near Petersfield.  RHQ was established at Havant.
     On 25th June, Orders received to hand over VP’s to 119 Fd Regt and to move back to Oxford.  On 28th June, the VP’s were handed over.  The Regt moved to Roche Court, Fareham, for the night.  On 29th June, the Regt moved to Port Meadow, Oxford.  While at Portsmouth, the Regt was under command of V Corps,  they were now back in 61st Div.
     On 1st July, it is understood that one Bty (249) will be fully equipped immediately.  On 2nd July, an Urgent Postal Telegram arrived, received from the War Office.  The Regt is to move overseas on or about 4th July 40.  One Battery to be mobilized forthwith; the remainder at a later date whilst overseas.  On 3rd July, vehicles began arriving from Chilwell [RAOC Depot near Nottingham].  Other equipment being collected by the QM.
     On 4th July, Orders received by phone by 61st Div, for the move.  On 5th July, a Road Party, consisting of 37 veh’s and 36 M/C’s, left Port Meadow for Glasgow, stopping one night at Catterick and one at Dumfries, departure 05.00.  The bulk of the Regt left Port Meadow and entrained at LMS Railway Station, Oxford during the night 8/9th July.  It was not until they had reached Stranraer that their destination was made known to them – N Ireland.  [The reason for this move was to counter any move by the Germans into (a neutral) Southern Ireland and therefore through the ‘back-door’ to Britain].
     10th July, and the Regt is now at Lisburn, N Ireland, and found them settling into billets as follows: 249 Bty – the Grain Market, a good billet with ample vehicle park for the new veh’s allotted just before the move from Oxford;  251 Bty – the Co-operative Stores;  250 and 252 Bty’s – at Richardson’s Factory.  The Regt was informed that it was definitely in 53rd(W) Division.
     On 31st July the War Diary states the following ;-
     At the close of the month, it may be well to include a summary of the position with regard to equipment and to the commitments of the Regt :-
          Equipment           RHQ   249    250    251    252             Totals
          2pdr guns                           8         6                                        14
          A/Tank rifles                       4         4         1        1                   10
          Bren guns                1       12       10       11      11                  45
          Rifles                         6       59       59       75      75                  274
          Telescopic sights               3          1                                        4
          2pdr  rds                           934      672                                     1606
          .303                                                                                            97000
          Cars                           4        2         2                                         8
          8 cwt                                    3         2                                         5
          15 cwt                        3      12        9            1                           25
          30 cwt                        3        5        5                                         13
          3 tons                                                                     1                  1
     Commitments:  As regards operations, the unit acts on the code words (i) ‘CROMWELL’, (ii) ‘HARE’.
          (i) on code word ‘CROMWELL’, all British Troops in Ireland will be ready to move at 6 hrs notice.  Until                      movement is ordered, all units will man their alarm posts and hold mobile columns ready to move.  This                Unit’s mobility is limited to RHQ, 249 & 250 Batteries.  251 & 252 Bty’s have no vehicles and could only                    move if these were provided.
          (ii) The code word, ‘HARE’, only affects the 2 Batteries, 249 & 250.
          249 Bty will receive a ‘Zero hour’ and will move at Z+7½ hrs to their concentration area. (Tanderagee-                      Markethill-Keady).  They come under command of 53rd Div on ‘HARE’.
          250 Battery will probably move within 4 hrs of receipt of the code word to Londonderry and will come                    under command of 182 Inf Bde of 61st Div.
          The remainder of the Regt will remain in their Defence Area, presumably under the command of 158 Bde,              under BTNI [British Troops, N Ireland].
          For ‘Intelligence Security and Defence’ the Regt is under command of 158 (Royal Welch) Bde and has been              allotted an area extending from Crumlin and Ballyhill in the North to Lough Neagh in the West, Lisburn                  and Aghalee in the South.
     On 12th Aug, four 75mm guns had arrived, and this means a further re-organisation of the batteries.
     On 31st Aug, the present ‘War Establishment’ of the Regt consists of: six 2pdr guns and three 75mm guns per battery.  Of these we have at present six 2pdrs per bty plus the four 75mm guns, and have allotted two to 251 Bty and two to 252 Bty.
     On 3rd September, a Telegram was received posting Lt-Col MacDonald to 88 Fd Regt RA.  Lt-Col Arthur Charles Brooke was posted in, to command the Regt from this date.
          The following comments had been recorded in the War Diary on 30th Sep :-
               During this month, training has proceeded and there have been a number of exercises.  Every battery                     has now been out on an exercise.  The Regt is now equipped with 24 x 2pdr guns and 12 x 75mm’s.  We                 are expecting to receive the remaining 24 guns in the near future and to pass on the 12 x 75mm’s which                 we now have.
     On 21st Oct, Capt S Hurry, RAOC was posted from “attached to this unit as I/C LAD” to DOS [Director of Ordnance Services] “E” Directorate (War office). [at this time the REME had not been formed and all the tasks and duties (which will come under the REME on formation) were carried out by the RAOC]
     Over 21st to 24th Nov, a Practice Firing Camp was held at Dungiven in the Sperrin Mountains.  The shoot proved the excellence of the 2-pdr.
     On 25th Nov, Capt RC Symonds, was posted from this unit to 133 Fd Regt RA.  [He had been Adj of the Regt, tasked with ‘watching’ Lt-Col MacDonald]
     On 28th Nov, 42 O/R’s were posted and joined this unit from ITC [Infantry Training Centre], Royal Scots Fusiliers, Ayr.  Between August and December, 5 new officers had been posted into the Regiment.  The Regiment had taken part in several Divisional and Brigade exercises through 1940.
     [Earlier in the year, Capt Ben Barnett had been posted out of the Regt to take up a ‘Staff Officer’ post at Vitre, east of Rennes, in Britanny, France.  Whilst the Evacuation of Dunkirk (May 7th – June 4th) was ongoing, Barnett and a few other Staff Officers manage to get to St Malo and scrounge a lift on a hospital ship which was about to leave, eventually arriving at Plymouth.  On his return to Britain, Barnett reported to the War Office and was given a further Staff Officer post with a Scottish AT regiment [54th AT Regt] stationed in Perthshire.  Eventually, in January 1941, he was posted back to the 63rd AT Regt, who by this time were in N Ireland.]
     During 1940 the Regt had a visit and inspection from the following high-ranking officer – GOC-in-C, Home Forces, Gen Sir Walter Kirke, GCB, CMG, DSO, in May.

     So how and why did the Oxfordshire Yeomanry end up in N Ireland in July 1940 ?
     ‘Plan W’, during World War II, was a plan of joint military operations between the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom devised between 1940 and 1942, to be executed in the event of an invasion of Ireland by Nazi Germany.
     Although Ireland was officially neutral, after the German Blitzkriegs of 1939–40 that resulted in the defeat of Poland, the Low Countries and France, the British recognised that Germany planned an invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion) and were also concerned about the possibility of a German invasion of Ireland (Operation Green).  German planning for Operation Green began in May 1940 and the British began intercepting communications about it in June.  The British were interested in securing Ireland, as its capture by German forces would expose their western flank and provide a base of operations for the Luftwaffe in the Battle of the Atlantic and in any operations launched to invade Great Britain as part of Operation Sea Lion.
     However, because of the threat of German occupation and seizure of Ireland and especially the valuable Irish ports, ‘Plan W’ was developed.  Northern Ireland was to serve as the base of a new British Expeditionary Force that would move across the Irish border to repel the invaders from any beach-head established by German paratroopers.  In addition, coordinated actions of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were planned to repel German air and sea invasion.  According to a restricted file prepared by the British Army’s “Q” Movements Transport Control in Belfast, the British would not have crossed the border “until invited to do so by the Irish Government”.
     By April 1941 the new British Troops in Northern Ireland (BTNI) commander, General Sir Henry Pownall, extended his planning for a German invasion to cover fifty percent of the entire Irish coastline.  He believed that German troops were likely to land in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Westport, Galway, Sligo, and County Donegal, i.e. on the southern or western coasts.
     Despite its detailed nature, Operation Green is thought to have been designed only as a credible threat, a feint, not an actual operation.  ‘Plan W’, a planned occupation of all of the Free State by the British Armed Forces, was drafted by the British military in secret liaison with the Irish government to counteract any German invasion.  This had raised suspicion that intercepted ‘chatter’ about Operation Green may have been aimed at creating a ‘bogeyman’ in the minds of British military planners on their western flank.
     The German attack on N Ireland obviously never happened, but in the ‘fog of war’ who really knows what is rumour or what is fact.  If it had been ignored, and Germany succeeded in capturing Britain, who knows what the outcome of WWII might have been.  As a direct result of this decision to send troops to N Ireland many thousands of men (British and Americans) found themselves residing in the Emerald isles for a few years.

Please also look at the further pages which depict :

19391940;     19411942;     1943;     1944;     1945;     1946.

     The 1944 page also details the merger with the 91st (A&SH) AT Regt.
     In the 1946 page can be found more information as to what happened to 250 and 252 Bty’s post the merger.  There is also a list of the Commanding Officers of the 63rd AT Regt.

     One part of the Regiment’s history in WW2, covering the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp and its liberation, involving 249 Bty, 63rd A/Tank Regt, RA, has been covered more fully on the pages of the QOOH/OY website – Liberation of Belsen – qooh.org.uk

     A further page will cover the outcome of the 85th AT Regt RA at the hands of the Japanese when Japan  entered WW2 on 7th December 1941 with the attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, and the invasion of Malaya on the 8th December.  Then with the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, and Japanese forces capturing all the Allied Forces there.  251 Bty, 63rd A/Tank Regt, RA had been transferred into the new 85th A/Tank Regt RA in September 1941, being formed (along with batteries from three other regiments) at Clacton-on-Sea.  The 85th AT Regt had been in a sea convoy heading for Basra, Iraq, then re-directed to Singapore to reinforce the Garrison there.

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