53rd Welsh

A World War II Living History Group

53rd Recce

53rd Recce Regiment was born out of the Brigade Anti-Tank Companies within 53rd Welsh Division which were drawn from all of the Infantry Battalions within in the Division. It officially became the 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment on the 1st January 1941 and would serve with distinction until disbanded in 1946.

This section is thanks to a wide variety of sources - all of which can be found in the Acknowledgements section of the website.

Contents

53rd Recce at War

Vehicle Camoflague and Markings

Unusual Dress

Incentives and Humour

Animals of the Regiment

Photos

53rd Recce at War

Formed from Divisional Anti-Tank Companies, on the 1st January 1941, 53rd Recce Regiment was now 53rd Welsh Division's eyes and ears. Equipped with (initially) an eclectic variety of almost home-brew armoured cars - such as the Bedford 'Ironsides' (Bedford trucks with boiler plate armour). It was created in Northern Ireland, where 53rd Welsh Division was training and constructing anti-invasion defences.

By the end of March 1941, 53 Recce had been bought up to 49 Carriers and 30 Bedford Ironsides - these were the first moves toward modernising the equipment of the new Regiment. Throughout 1941 the Bedford Ironsides were handed over to the Infantry Brigades and Humberettes and Beaverettes began to replace them. October saw 32 new Humber Mk II's arrive and the Regiment handed over a corresponding number of their older armoured cars to 5th Recce Regiment. November saw a return to the Uk and Christmas 1941 saw the Regiment celebrate with a good Christmas dinner and the issue of more specialist Mortar Carriers.

Standard 'Beaverette' scout cars, Bren gun carriers and motorycles of 53rd Battalion, The Reconnaissance Corps during manoeuvres at Ballykinlar in Northern Ireland, 19 June 1941. [IWM]

Within under a year, the Regiment was already well on the way to being ready for war, replacing old outdated equipment with some of the most modern vehicles in the British Army, however shortages of rifles and basic .303 ammunition persisted. Intense training was moulding the unit well, but this was only the start of the long journey which would see the unit refined as one of the finest Reconnaissance Regiments.

At the start of February, the famous 'Dafodil' green/yellow FS cap was issued to the Regiment along with the green/yellow Recce lanyards. The Officers of 53 Recce had an unpleasant surprise when on the 14th February they lost a .22 shooting competition with the local Home Guard. Around this time the Officers finally uncovered that the Quartermaster, Wagstaffe, had been publishing a small broadsheet paper for men of the Regiment!

April 1942 saw the Regiment's terminology shift, 'Privates' became 'Troopers', Companies became Squadrons, and 53rd Recce was formerly recognised as a Regiment. In May, the first (not infamous) Exercise Tiger took place, with the Regiment seeing Churchill tanks at hand for the first time, their conduct during the exercise earned them respect and great feedback from Division command.

June 1942 saw the Humber IIIs replace the other armoured cars, and the Regiment recieved its last consignments of Carriers, finally bringing them up to strength. On the 30th October, 53rd Recce's camp finally opened its own dedicated NAAFI store giving the soldiers a much needed place to unwind and relax! November saw the arrival of the new GS Beret and the last No.4 rifles required to bring the Regiment up to standard, replacing the First World War SMLE. Churchill toured the unit, meeting the men and even joined in trying out the assault course, climbing the greasy pole! This provided a morale boost after the newspapers had starting refering to the Recce troopers as the 'reckless Reckies'.

January 1943 saw the replacement of the obsolete 2 pounder anti-tank gun with the issue of the six pounder, however bad weather compounded training and 6 pounder ammunition was nigh on unattainable. During this time the Regimental Padre had a series of open discussions on religion and army life. The Regiment began pulling in very strong performances in cross country, trashing the Blackheath Harriers 66:113. This led to the team being invited into cross country competitions across the country.

Vehicle Camoflague and Markings

It is often tricky to find out what a Regiment marked their vehicles up with (in terms of formations) the formation number, what colour markings were painted.

53 Recce vehicles were painted by Lance Corporal Langton, '...left his mark on the Regiment more than anyone else... with his wonderfully neat 41's on green and blue backgrounds, bridge classifications, Divisional signs and Squadron triangles, squares, circles, and diamonds...[he] painted on all of his twenty-one carriers during the time it took to give out orders to the Troop Leaders who were going to take them out on a trial run.'

So for 53 Recce vehicles, the most Regimental marking is '41' on a blue/green background with the 53rd Welsh Divisional symbol nearby.

Unusual Dress

Daffodil Boys

In common to the rest of the Division's troops 53 Recce had their own distinctive dress. Originally the anti-tank companies retained the cap badges of their parent units, and this was ultimately standardised to the Reconnaissance Corps cap badge.

 They also wore the distinctive green and yellow FS cap which was the source of their nickname ‘The Daffodil Boys’

Dress Blanco

53 Recce wore an unusual shade of blanco (introduced on the 9th February 1942), described in Welsh Spearhead as a '...creamy yellow... it was admitted to be magnificent but not considered war.' It also suggests that it originates fromB Squadron who had made it whilst 159 Anti-Tank Company from the Spelga Hill clay in Northern Ireland.

 This is juxtaposed to the normal, pristine white blanco one sees for ceremonial/some guard purposes!

Changing Uniforms

July 1942 saw the first arrival of shoulder titles bearing 'Reconnaissance Corps' in yellow letters on green backing. This sat above the Divisional 'W' as seen in the image above, or more clearly on the portrait of L/Sgt Fulcher below in 'Pictures'.

The wearing of the yellow/green lanyard was only available to those who passed the Commanding Officers Turnout and Drill Competitions untill everyone passed - then they started from scratch!

Its noted in Welsh Spearhead that when one won your titles and your lanyard at the earliest parades, you did not have to particpate again, and this may not be for 6 months!

The green and yellow shoulder titles of which the men were so proud were removed by ACI1681 (which lingered 1941) in September 1942.

However on the 20th November, Winston Churchill visited 53 Recce, with General Paget (CiC Home Forces), he showed great interest in the men's reaction to the loss of their shoulder titles and promised that they would be returned. In early 1943, the permission to wear the titles was granted once more but they only said 'Reconnaissance'.

GS Cap Nonsense

The GS beret is summed up as follows:

"We wear it, perhaps a little self-consciously, on all occasions except on certain parades when we wear our coloured side-caps. For walking-out either can be worn and at this stage it is interesting to see whether the familiar and tried success of the green and yellow F.S. cap is to be ousted by the new vogue."

Ultimately it would usurp the FS cap, and as seen in the photo above, and those that follow.

RAC Beret

To add to the confusion regarding headwear, on February 1944 the Regiment was issued black RAC beret (seen in the above picture). This was worn with the Reconnassiance Corps cap badge.

Incentives and Humour

 In every unit incentives are needed to create an espirit de corps, and ways of rewarding competency were devised, 53rd Recce was no different in this sense

Weekly Vehicle Competition

Commencing the 7th February 1942, this competition saw each Squadron put two or three vehicles forward to compete for marks out of 100 on everything from cleanliness, reliability - all the way to the Trooper's personal AB64 and anti-gas ointment in his gas mask bag! It soon became a much fought for title within the Regiment.

Inter-Squadron Drill Competition

First held on the 20th February 1942, the Drill Competition offered rewards of the green and yellow Recce Corp lanyards for those who passed the tests that made up the Competition. On the first day HQ Squadron won 50 lanyards, and this event soon became a regular occurance!

Safety Holidays

On the 9th May 1942, the Regiment introduced a day's holiday for each month that went by without an accident. This leave was awarded across the relevant Squadron, so woe betide those whose vehicle would collide with a telephone pole on the last day of the month!

Sport in Maidstone

Swimming: Being so close to Maidstone allowed the men to enjoy many creature comforts when the 53rd Recce camp at Gore Court Camp lacked many of the basic washing facilities, so soon theybecame regulars at the Maidstone Baths with a Regimental Swimming Gala on 21st July 1942, after which it was followed bya Regimental sport competition on Maidstone Cricket Ground, which was followed by a famous lunch prepared by the Regimental cooks.

Cross Country: The 53 Recce Cross Country team was created in 1942, as a way to improve fitness - by 1943 they began competing in cross country competitions. 20th March 1943 saw the team come a dussaoiubtubg 20/57 in the 'News of the World' Relay Race. April 1943 saw 53 Recce lose the Divisional Cross-Country Championship by 1 point to 2 Mons. The subsequent Divisional Cross-Country Championship in February 1944 saw 53 Recce triumph by 127 points. With most of the team in the top 22. By now the Regiment's runners were conducting weekly runs which were becoming part of the fabric of the Regiment's fledgling traditions.

Rugby, Football and Boxing: Football was the most popular game and many informal matches against other units were arranged. Both the rugby and boxing teams managed to get into final of the 53rd Welsh Division competition.

Savings

During 1942, the Regiment bought saving stamps and certificates worth £1000. It is commented on in Welsh Spearhead that, "Surely a great tribute to our thrift, or perhaps to our inability to spend our money."

Royal Intervention

The 2nd March bought an unexpected visito, the King enjoyed a ride on an immaculate Loyd carrier, with Trooper Lovell being the 'lucky' man chosen to drive the vehicle!

In Jokes/Slang

53 Recce cooks were often asked for food/brews at inopportune times, they developed their own slang which was caused much hope in the eyes of hungry Troopers, "Fizz Off!"

Animals of the Regiment

 Many animals passed through the Regiment and a few that stand out from Welsh Spearhead are:

Geoff the Cat, born at the Orderly Room at Hatch Park, favourite animal of the Regiment and sadly died during the Ardennes Offensive.

Leo the 'half-bred' pup born with A Echelon at Maeseyck and survived the war.

The affectionate Norman Hen who liked the 'rear link' vehicle of A Squadron.

Photos of 53 Recce

Here are a selection of photos, accreditation is given along with the original captions, as appropriate.

Portrait of Trooper Hughes, 53rd Recce. [Hughes]

 

Lance-Sergeant Albert Victor Fulcher, 53 Recce. (Colourised) [Carter]

 

 Trooper Hughes with unknown woman, man on right presumably RWF due to capbadge/unit insignia. [Hughes]

53rd Recce in the Ardennes. Note the assorted knit wear and large leather jacket worn bythe man on the right (Hughes?) [Hughes]

Trooper Hughes with Sten. Note the white ceremonial belt. [Hughes]

 

"Hilda Dusseldorf" [Hughes]

 

 Taken in Hamburg 2 Days Before VE Day [Hughes]

 

Balen: 19.9.44, "This was taken nearly 3 months ago, the civvies in the photo had just been liberated." [Hughes]

 53 Recce Beers... [Hughes]

Unknown Officer (Presumably 53 Recce) [Hughes]

53 Recce NCOs (Colourised). [Carter]

 "Troopers" posing with captured German (presumably) cavalry swords.[Hughes]

 

53 Recce Party, Trooper Hughes has arrow pointing at him at the back [Hughes]

Artwork

Here is a somewhat unusual example of late/end of war 'trench' art.

53 Recce Fruitbowl [Carter]

 Close upof 53rd Recce image and where it was made [Carter]

Arms and Vehicle Stores

March 1941 - 53 Recce Vehicle Establishment

Carriers, Bren, Mark 1/6           -     49

Trucks, 15 cwt, Bedford            -     24

Trucks, 30 cwt, Bedford            -     9

Trucks, 3 ton, Austin                 -     4

Trucks, 3 ton, Fordson              -     2

Water trucks, 15 cwt, Bedford  -     2

Wireless P.U., Morris                 -     2

Wireless P.U., Humber              -     2

Trucks, 8 cwt, Morris                 -     12

Utility Truck, Humber                 -     1

Cars, 7hp, Austin                      -     3

AFVs, 'Ironside' Bedford            -     30

M/Cs, Norton                            -      12

March 1941 - 53 Recce Arms and Ammunition Establishment

710 Rifles                                 - 100,250 rounds .303amn

44 LMGs                                   - 97,000 rounds .303amn

39 Pistols (assorted)                - 1,000 rounds

1 'Tommy' Gun                          - 2,000 rounds

30 Anti-Tank Rifles                    - 3,600 rounds

6 2-inch Mortars                        - 180 HE and 54 Smoke

1 3-inch Mortar                          - 60 HE and 18 Smoke

144 Hand Grenades

 

Upon the 8th May, 1941, 53 Recce recieved six Standard Beaverettes

2nd July, 23 Recce Cars (Standard 'inkpots'?) and 12 No18 sets arrive.

22nd July, 3 No11 sets (increasing Regiment's number to 5)

23rd July, 2 3-Inch Mortars arrived.

28th August, 2 3-Inch Mortars arrived.

October 1941, establishment now has 32 Humber Light Recce Cars, MkII. Anti-Tank Battery was still armed with Boys anti-tank rifles.

September 1942 - 53 Recce War Diary notes they are at full AT strength, with 12 2 Pounder anti-tank guns.

November 1942 - a complete issue of No4 rifles now equips 53 Recce.

August 1943 - waterproofing training commences, followed by loadings onto mock landing craft, and using scrambling nets.

April 1944 - post address shifts to an Army Post Office closed address. Mail censorship commences.