Flash spotting was developed in WWI under the static conditions of the fronts in France. It was much improved in WWII to cope with fast moving battle conditions. Many of our Instructors had had battle experience in the campaigns in Europe, the desert and Burma. Often they were in the thick of things for by the very nature of the task observers had to be up with the infantry and get forward positions on high ground or in exposed positions with a good view of the opponent’s front. Much later I realized how hazardous a surveyor’s and observers task could have been. But those thoughts do not pass through the mind of 19 year olds.
There other tasks to which flash spotting could be put such as calibration of the guns by air burst ranging out on the Plain which again was great fun, or by fall of shot into the sea which we did later in our service. In calibration the process is reversed for then what is established is where the shot actually went as compared to where it was expected to go, and the laying of the individual gun be adjusted accordingly.
Map reading was another art in which we were expected to excel. I had always had an interest in maps and I thoroughly enjoyed our exercises. For it involved all day trips, with an army packed lunch, haversack rations, in the back of a 3 ton Bedford QL truck. We traveled in and around all the delightful small villages of the Wyle Valley – Codford St Mary and Steeple Langford come to mind – out on the Plain or up on the high Downs with superb views over the beautiful counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and into Dorset.
Armed with a one inch to the mile Ordnance Survey Map, compass and binoculars on dismounting we were within moments expected to find our location, calculate its co-ordinates and take bearings to certain points. This usually was no problem for it seemed wherever one went the 400’ high spire of Salisbury Cathedral could soon be espied on one horizon or the other. Each trip too was enlivened by stopping at some cafe or other for ‘char and wads’.
Surveyor Testing & Assignment
All this came to an end in December when 98 Squad took its Trade Test and happily to relate I and those others I have already named ‘Passed Out’, became Surveyors RA, A3. This entitled us to wear on the right sleeves of our uniforms below the Royal Artillery flash an “S” surrounded by laurel leaves. For these we had worked hard and of which we were very proud. It also increased our pay by a material amount.
In late December 1949 and being trained the time came for us to leave Larkhill for our postings to a service unit. Of the two survey regiments the 19th was in Germany and the 52nd in the Middle East so we anticipated going to one of these. However we were destined for neither and our posting was to be to Hong Kong. A posting I certainly looked forward to for as a boy I had always been aware of it as our local vicar had been headmaster of a school there and I had heard many a tale. A new unit 15 Independent Observation Battery RA was to be formed and we were to be part of it.