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Friday February 2 2018

Looking Back: With the Territorials

From February 1938, an account of a summer volunteering with the Young Men's Guild at a Territorial Army camp near Edinburgh

The Church under Canvas

Days with the Territorials


WHEN we arrived at Waverley Station, Edinburgh, en route for the Young Men’s Guild Tent in the Territorial Camp at Dreghorn, I thought of the person who at some time or other wrote an essay on “Going Away and Arriving.” But the appropriateness of this association was rather spoiled by the fact that we had not, strictly speaking, arrived. We had still to carry all our gear into Princes Street and seek for a Colinton-bound car, which we hoped would take us within striking distance of our objective; after about half an hour’s ride we did arrive at Colinton – a lovely little place which we would have been glad to call our destination, for curiously enough our baggage did not seem to get any lighter as we proceeded. Imagine our despair when we found that still another fifteen minutes’ walk lay in front of us – mostly uphill.

We were rescued by a Good Samaritan in the form of a butcher, complete with Ford van, who was also going to the camp. Now this van had seating accommodation for two only. We were four and baggage. Suffice it to say that the door shut with difficulty. Thus, we arrived.

The camp lay in a huge field. A little apart from the main body of tents stood the Guild canteen and cook-house. It was to this last that we made our way, and were duly introduced to the company assembled there awaiting lunch. In true Guild fashion we were all friends at once.

Later, a visit was made to the canteen, and we were soon in possession of a grand knowledge of the prices of everything a Territorial may want when in camp. When we entered, some were playing table-tennis, some reading the magazines and newspapers provided, some listening to the wireless, some writing home, while behind the counter two Guildsmen were supplying the needs of the men. Soon we too had changed and were in the thick of it.

Came evening and closing time. We were rather tired by now, and, after the last customer had departed and the canteen was closed, we all assembled for supper. This was a leisurely meal taken round the cook-house fire, and after it was over we gathered together for ten minutes’ evening worship - a different member of the company taking this each evening. The quiet atmosphere of the tent, the simple beauty of the Scriptures, the short time of prayer gave all a sense of peace.

Sunday morning found us up early as usual, and after breakfast we began to prepare the canteen for the Church service, which would be attended by the whole battalion – officers and men. All the floor space had been cleared, and our stock behind the counter was covered up in order to bring the place as much as possible into keeping with the reverent atmosphere of the service. A lectern from which the lesson would be read was placed on the small platform, and the hymn-books were distributed.

Soon we heard the troops falling in on the parade-ground, and at the appointed time they marched down to worship. The service was conducted by the padre, assisted by the Commanding Officer, who read the lesson; one of our own men accompanied the singing at the piano. It was a simple service, and well suited to the occasion. Held as it was in the Church of Scotland tent, and arranged by the young men of the Guild, it would perhaps help to show the men that we were not there merely to provide ‘cakes and ale’ and entertainment for them, and bring them to realise that our presence among them was actuated by deeper and more spiritual motives.

As the days passed we came to see in how many ways the Guild Tent helped these Territorials. It was the centre of camp life for many. No need to tramp away down to the village for odds and ends, post cards, stamps, etc.

On wet evenings the attraction of the tent was doubled. Here they found company, shelter from the rain, entertainment from the wireless or from the piano, if they decided to have a sing-song – which they often did – and last, but not least, piping hot suppers supplied by our cook.

When the time did come for breaking up we were all sorry to leave. But during our stay a small cine-camera had been busy, and soon we are to relive those enjoyable summer days when one of our number gets his films collected and we fix a date for our reunion.

Looking back on it all, it is difficult to see just what we had achieved; it is always difficult to measure spiritual results. We sought to influence those around us by our example, by friendliness, helpfulness, and service. The very fact that we young men of the Church were there to render service spoke louder than words. Something, at any rate, must have prompted the young man to say to me one morning, “You know, this is the happiest corner in the camp… you all get on so well. It’s fine to come down here.”

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