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15 October 2014
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A Home Guard Ack Ack Gunner in London by Joe Carley

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Joe Carley
Location of story: 
Chatham, London
Background to story: 
71st Manchester Heavy Ack Ack (Home Guard) Battery
Article ID: 
A2315107
Contributed on: 
19 February 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Chris Comer of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Joe Carley and has been added to the site with his daughter Miss M. Carley's permission. Miss Carley fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Joe had joined the Home Guard in 1940, serving initially with the No 4 Platoon, A Company, 38th Cheshire Battalion (Home Guard) based at Heaton Moor Golf Club then transferring in 1941 to the 71st Manchester Heavy AA (Home Guard) Battery at Mount Road, Levenshulme.

After a year of intensive training but little opportunity for active service things were starting to become a little tedious....

"Towards the latter part of 1944, training began to pall, there was little else to teach the majority of the Home Guard gunners. They all knew what was required of them, they could man and fire the guns, knew sufficient facts about fire control, care and maintenance, barrages etc., and the repetition of training had its inevitable effect - we were getting a little 'browned off'."...

"When things were at their blackest, many of us were suddenly bucked up and made cheerful by the news that Home Guard contingents were to travel from Manchester to the region of Chatham to help man the guns. It gave us a chance of some real experience, relieved tired gunners from the strain of almost nightly alerts in that district, and furthermore would enable us to see the more up-to-date guns of which we had heard so many rumours, guns which made our own weapons at Mount Road (Levenshulme) seem antiquated and redundant."

In November having settled into their new quarters near Chatham they were introduced to the new guns...
"Superficially the old 3.7 but with what is known as the No.11 Fuse setter plus the almost complete working of the gun by remote control, it made the type on weapon on which we had trained at Mount Road seem obsolete and old fashioned. It was strange to watch the guns, with seemingly nobody near, swivel and turn from side to side, like a wild beast seeking its prey, or raise and lower its slim muzzle as directed from the Command Post and Radar."

"No less interesting was the loading of rounds (a process which formerly involved several men).. Now instead of all this one man took a round, passed it up to a second man who placed it on a tray and struck a metal plate, known to us as the Pig's ear, at the side of the gun. Internal mechanism then set the round, loaded it into the tray, rammed it and fired without any further manual effort.. In addition the rate of fire was increased to about 25 rounds per minute, against 6 rounds with the old type of weapon".

"The gun looked a far more complicated weapon and we saw that we would have a lot to learn about it."

After a period of training one night they were roused at 1.30 am by an alarm bell....
"I had slept in my uniform so slipping into my boots and grabbing my steel helmet I was soon ready for action and dashed excitedly from the hut. In my eagerness to get to the gun quickly.... I tripped and fell head over heels over the cables running from the Command Post to the guns. Picking myself up and retrieving my helmet I galloped on and eventually we were all ready to fire if necessary."....

"There was little doing in our immediate vicinity except for the illuminating searchlights which ceaselessly probed the sky but we got quite a thrill when they suddenly focussed on a high flying plane, which looked like a moth in the glare, but we were quite disappointed to learn it was a British aircraft and were thus deprived of a chance to open fire."

"We had no more excitement that night and after the sounding of the 'All Clear' we adjourned to the cookhouse for a welcome drink of hot cocoa before again seeking our beds."

After this brief spell of duty the Home Guard gunners returned to their base in Manchester.

In February 1944 the Home Guard gunners returned to London for their second stint at manning the Ack Ack guns.

Life wasn't entirely concerned with military
matters. On one occasion the men attended a dance at the N.A.A.F.I....
"As for myself I was enjoying myself at the dance and was pouring out a glass of lemonade for a certain little A.T.S. girl who hailed from Cambridge when the alarm bells rang out. Gunners, A.T.S. and Home Guard crowded through the door and as I raced for my hut Jim (Wilson) was emerging and also bringing along my steel helmet."

"Again I had trouble finding our gun pit in the dark but was rather amazed as I arrived there to hear a voice call out 'No 3 gun Ready for Action'. In the Home Guard training such confirmation is not passed to the Command Post until every man is at his post....I was quite surprised to find only two or three gunners in the pit, the remainder coming in after me..."

"With this new type of A.A. gun not so many men are required to manipulate it as hitherto but its increased rate of fire means that more ammunition rounds are needed to keep up a steady flow of rounds. The recesses were opened and the Home Guards and gunners alike grabbed rounds and stood in a long queue ready to pass them into the hungry maw of the weapon."....

"Eventually we heard the longed for word 'Fire' and the guns roared out - deafening at least me with their first salvo for I had omitted the precaution of using cotton wool to stuff my ears against the blast. From then on I could not hear any words of command, I just followed my companions, though the roar of the guns still penetrated of course and I could feel the blast more than I have ever done before or since. The pyrotechnic exhibition in the sky was marvellous to we comparatively uninitiated Northerners. The surrounding A.A. sites over a wide area, the ships in the Thames estuary and River Medway, the 4.5s, the 3.7s and the Bofours Guns were all in action and the sky was filled with bursting shells , tracers, rocket projectiles and the brightness of numerous searchlights, while on the horizon fires glowed in three directions, caused by enemy bombs."...

"Deaf though I was, I felt a strange feeling of exhilaration and satisfaction at having helped to fire at 'Jerry'. I felt somehow that all the training, discipline, crawling through fields, manoeuvres, sentry duties, lectures, rifle shooting, grenade throwing etc etc. had not all been quite in vain. I had joined the Home Guard to 'have a smack at Jerry' and though, as far as we knew, we had not done any damage to him, the fact that we'd had an opportunity of hitting back instead of the passive resistance we practiced in 1940 gave me a feeling of wellbeing."

Joe subsequently returned to Manchester and not long after the Home Guard were disbanded and Joe and his comrades took part in the official Stand-Down parade in Manchester on Sunday, December 3rd 1944.

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