The Corporation company which trained on the sand

The lord moyor of Portsmouth addressing men recruited from Portsmouth Corporation at Margate railway station
The lord moyor of Portsmouth addressing men recruited from Portsmouth Corporation at Margate railway station

THIS WEEK IN 1979: Southern Television stays off the air

0
Have your say

It was the railway station which first intrigued us in the picture of wartime troops being addressed by the lord mayor of Portsmouth.

It certainly did not appear to be any of those in the city. So I posed the question and its location was revealed within hours – Margate.

Which left an even bigger poser. What was Alderman Denis Daley doing talking to soldiers on the north Kent coast?

A phone call from 95-year-old Ron Brewer, of Hilsea, then cleared up that mystery.

For he was among the greatcoated Royal Engineers listening attentively to Portsmouth’s first citizen.

It turns out many of the men were in 698 General Construction Company, Royal Engineers, which was recruited from the city with many from Portsmouth Corporation. A bit like the pals battalions from the First World War.

Ron, a signwriter, says when he joined up in January 1940 the company was sent to Chatham to be kitted out.

‘Then we went to Margate and I remember being marched up and down the sands as part of the basic training.

‘Many men worked for the corporation and there were lots of others from around the district who joined that company,’ Ron recalls.

Eventually, they were sent to Southampton and sailed for Le Havre to join the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated from Dunkirk at the end of May 1940.