A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
WILLIAM JOHN BARTON, Leading Artisan Staff Sergeant in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (1943-1947)
William John Barton was born on 24th June 1916 and was baptised on 6th August 1916 at Slimbridge Parish Church by the Rector, Rev J.O.H. Carter, who had married his parents three years earlier. He was the eldest son of Percy and Florrie Barton of Churchend, Slimbridge and his father was a blacksmith and farrier. He was educated at Slimbridge County Primary School and moved with the family to Narles Farm, Cambridge, in 1927. Having left school, he worked at home on the family farm. From 1930 to 1937 he did weekly courses on Agricultural Theory and Engineering through the Berkeley Young Farmers Club and further evening classes on Engineering through Dursley Technical School from 1932-35.
From 1937 Jack was employed by R.A. Lister and Company of Dursley where he trained as a Fitter Erector. At the time of the 1939 Register for England and Wales, he was lodging with a gardener, Albert Clayfield and his wife. Helen, at Hill Road, Dursley. Jack was described as a ‘Fitter Mechanic – Auto Trucks’.
During the years 1940 to 1942 and still with Listers, Jack worked on engineering proto-types under the senior experimental engineer where he gained beneficial training in the art of making initial parts by hand, prior to machine production.
Jack enlisted in the Regular Army at Leicester on 3rd June 1943 and was given the number 14622658. At the time of his enlistment he was described as 5 feet 7 ½ inches tall, weighed 141 lbs. with a maximum chest measurement of 36 inches. He had a flesh complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. He transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as a Private on 14th July 1943 and was appointed a Vehicle Mechanic. He was called up 5 weeks before his wedding for six weeks preliminary training. A letter from the Rector of Slimbridge confirming he was to marry, got him a weekend pass, Friday to Monday.
On 10th July 1943 Jack married Diana Patricia Beatrice Hunking at the Parish Church of St James in Dursley. On the marriage certificate he was described as a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor serving in the Army and of Narles Farm, Cambridge. His father was given as Percy Barton, a farmer. The bride was described as a twenty-three-old shorthand typist, of 33 Garden Suburb, Dursley. She was the daughter of Wilfred Henry Hunking, a steel hardener. The minister was the Reverend Hubert Goddard and the witnesses were the fathers.
During World War II the increase in quantity and complexity of equipment exposed flaws in the system for repairs to military vehicles and equipment. Pursuant to the recommendation of a Committee on Skilled Men in the Services, chaired by William Beveridge, the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was formed on 1 October 1942.
In 1944 Jack did an introductory three-month course on Armoured Track and ‘B’ Vehicles at No 11 Technical Training Centre at Mitcham Road Barracks, Croydon. He was given the rank of Corporal on 26th April 1946 and Leading Artisan Staff Sergeant on 27th June 1946. He did his three-month Leading Artisan Staff Sergeant’s Course at R.E.M.E. Headquarters at Arborfield, Reading.
During the war Jack served in Italy and Yugoslavia. He spoke of his time in Trieste where he was, for a time, billeted on a farm and he was briefly taken prisoner somewhere in Yugoslavia. There are five photographs, probably taken from a train, which includes one which is of the approach to Stazione di Carnia. A sixth photo is of a group of twelve soldiers, presumably colleagues.
Amongst his mementos from the War are various cloth uniform badges which may indicate Divisions that the R.E.M.E. accompanied into areas of action. These included the 56th Division insignia during the Second World War, featuring Dick Whittington’s black cat on a scarlet background. Secondly, an heraldic ‘lion rampant’ in gold on a scarlet background were worn by units under the command of HQ Scottish Command.
At one point Jack was stationed with the R.E.M.E. on the old Roman road near Marshfield and it was probably then that he was in digs in High Street, Malmesbury.
Jack was released from service on 18th February 1947 and transferred to the Army Reserve with effect from the following day.
Jack received the War Medal 1939-1945 and his military conduct was described by his Major as ‘Very Good – Excellent tradesman on automobile repairs, particularly heavy goods vehicles – very trustworthy and reliable. Noted for his upright character and very good sense of responsibility. Will do well in civilian occupation where his conscientious application to his work will be recognised’.
Further memories and details of R.E.M.E. activity in Italy and the former Yugoslavia would be very much appreciated.