In 1941 about 70 men of the Royal Corps of Signals gathered on Liverpool docks preparing to embark for service ‘somewhere’ abroad. They carried tropical gear. Some of the men were career soldiers and had survived Dunkirk. Their units had been disbanded and they had been sent to work at Harnham Camp near the South Coast, restoring lines in the much-bombed coastal city of Plymouth. They were perhaps hoping for a cushier posting after their grim experiences.
These Dunkirk men had been allocated to a newly created unit, 27 Line Section, under a newly created Captain, Barry Baker, all of twenty-five years old, married with a baby son. Barry should have been in France, but he was recovering from head injuries after being knocked off his motorcycle by a young Canadian driving on the wrong side of the road. Backing him up was a 40 year-old NCO, 2nd Lieutenant Sutherland Brown, a married Plant Manager from Malaya.
The bulk of 27 Line Section was made of Scottish Reservists mainly from Glasgow. Many worked in the post office but there were also bakers, electricians, butchers, bricklayers, waiters and many other trades. They ranged in age from nineteen to late thirties. Few if any had been abroad before, none, except possibly the Lance Sergeants, had seen active service.
In his memoirs Barry wrote:
The Glasgow party arrived, bringing most of their own lorries with them, and they seemed to fit in quite easily with the men I knew already at Harnham. We had a few days to sort out duties, stores, transport and drivers and then we were sent on detachment as a whole Section to carry out a most interesting job. This was a great bonus as it enabled us, me and the four sergeants, to get to know one another and to get the Glaswegians and the Southerners properly acquainted and working together without the nuisance of Company Parades or C.O.’s inspections.
These weeks together proved crucial in the years ahead. As Barry remembers:
The whole job lasted only a few weeks but by the end of it No. 27 Line Section had a firm personality and individuality of its own. Later in Malaya or up country in Siam, if any of our men were asked what Unit they came from they would not answer “Malaya Command Signals” or “Attached to 8th Australian Div”, or even “2 Group POW Camp”, but simply “27 Line Section”.