THE HOME GUARD
Copyright Extract from The History of Newmarket, Volume II, Chapter 41, (2000) Easom S. (editor), Newmarket Local History Society|
On 14th May, 1940, the Government broadcast a message asking for volunteers for the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers). On 23rd August, 1940, Winston Churchill changed the name of the LDV to the Home Guard. Wits had dubbed them the "look, duck and vanish brigade". The organisation took on more credibility once its name was changed and uniforms were issued.
The 2nd Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Battalion of the Home Guard was formed on 15th May 1940 when Major W N Phillips, Chairman of the British Legion in Cambridgeshire, arrived at Mr. W J Taylor's house to say that he had received instructions to form a number of Home Guard Groups.
Rifles, ammunition and equipment had begun to arrive in varying quantities. The CO's garage became the Quartermaster's Stores and his chauffeur, Mr. Robinson, acted as Quartermaster with Mrs Taylor assisting. Every time anything was checked, it always seemed to be short, but nobody minded! The most important thing was to get arms and equipment to the Home Guard companies in the shortest possible time.
In May 1940 no-one seemed to know what spending rights the Local Defence Volunteers possessed; therefore they scrounged much of their equipment. The first uniforms issued were denim overalls, but these were replaced by Battle Dress in autumn 1940. Arms and equipment came with the uniforms until almost everyone had rifles (this did not seem the case for other battalions nearby).
The Battalion was about 1,000 strong by now, but was split as Colonel Foster formed the 3rd Battalion and took over 2 of the 3 companies - together with their rifles.
The powers-that-be said such an arrangement would not work as Suffolk men would not wear another county's badge. They were proven wrong. National spirit outweighed local pride and the battalion area eventually stretched from far north of Brandon in Suffolk to Brinkley in Cambridgeshire and covered an area of 400 square miles.
Cheveley Local Defence Volunteers, lacking appropriate equipment, used to block the road running through the village every night with an enormous tree trunk. The tree trunk was very heavy and it took considerable effort to put it into place.
In July 1940, the chief worries of the LDV were spies and lights in the night. Reports came in that red, yellow, green and other lights were being seen. These were possibly RAF lights but, due to the lack of liaison, it was decided it was necessary to investigate to be certain.
The battalion was paraded for the first time in September 1940. About 800 men were lined up behind Egerton House, Newmarket. The LDV from Newmarket were there, but at this time they were only attached to the battalion. They were commanded by another battalion commander in Suffolk, from whom they were entirely detached – all due to geographical position on county boundaries! It was not until 1942 that the situation was remedied
By the time of the next parade on 1st March 1942, there were 1000 officers and men in the battalion and the parade took place on the Severalls.
Several of us may recognise their grandfather, or perhaps great grandfather. (TP -Mine is in the centre,Captain 'Sid Welch" Mr Ede who managed Marlow's in St Mary's Square is on his right and the RSM on his left is Arthur Clarke). About a dozen of them old sweats from WW1 by their medal ribbon. Actually my grandfather was young enough to enlist in WW2, but he had lied about his age to get in the Army in 1909 and the Army records had him as too old and would not take him !..We would love to have more names|
We have already looked at the incendiary devices known as Molotov Cocktails. They could be risky to use as the corks which held the fuses sometimes leaked. There was a danger of spillage and setting uniforms on fire as the thrower brought his arm back.
On another occasion, an agitated volunteer reported that he had accidentally put a round of ammunition through someone's electric stove. He had shot straight through the oven door. The bullet had wrecked the inside of the oven and carried on out of the back. The police were given the rather doubtful explanation that the man's rifle had a very long firing pin and, when the bolt was pushed forward to extract the round, the cap was struck and fired.
Various road blocks were set up overnight initially and the old soldiers who manned them 'dug in' comfortably in borrowed sheds which they put temporary beds in. In the case of one particular squad, the comradeship they obtained in this way was so important to them that they almost mutinied when they were told that the all-night duties were to be discontinued.
We were to block roads when the Boche landed. Anything would do. Old wagons, rollers, binders, anything. Stop the roads, trap him in defiles if you could find any, in one of the flattest countries in Europe! Get at the parachutists before they have time to form up, with a few old rifles and the village poachers shot guns. Splendid, everyone was thrilled. It was a magnificent bluff and it succeeded. No Boche would believe that we were so unprepared. How could we be? We had armed the country for defence in depth. What chance had the invader when everything was guarded by the men who had beaten him in the last war? Every village had its OP and the dangerous hours from dusk to dawn saw each village manning it and sending out its patrols to look for parachutists, subversive characters and fifth columnists.
The Wood Ditton and Saxon Street Home Guard 8th Platoon - early nineteen forties.
Back:- Fred "Tubby" Brown - Bill Stubbings - Charlie "Nicky" Crick - Francis "Sonny" Cates - Joe Woollard - Jack Dean - Jim Starling - Harry Scrivener - Charlie Carpenter - Charlie Levitt
Middle:-Albert Williams - Ted Rose - Eddie Nicholls - Tim Norden - Charlie Bridge - Jack Claydon - Artie Woollard - Frank Carr -Harry Byford - Ted "Chinnie" Brown
Front:-Perce Wright - Bill Cook (Saxon St)- George Brigs - Bert Wright - Charlie Carter - Capt Lionel Long - Bill Webb- Les Brown - Lewis Reynolds (senr) - John Coe - Cyril Swann
In September 1944, the year before World War II ended, the Home Guard stood down. The danger of German invasion of our shores had passed.
He was born in 1911 in Wood Ditton and destined, like most of the young men of the time, to work on the land. This suited him fine as he loved the outdoor life and working with animals. As a young boy he attended Wood Ditton School during the Great War, "the war to end all wars", which brought heavy loss of life and injuries among the village men.
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