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Home Guard in Loughborough - The Home Front

by RichardCory

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John Cory
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Loughborough Leic's
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17 December 2005

Home Guard 1941 Loughborough, John Cory on the right

My father John Cory’s story from his Memoir “A Span of Years 42 —47” by Richard Cory.

Civilian Life in Wartime — The Home Front

If I recall correctly the Home Guard was formed some little time after the evacuation of the British forces from Dunkerque. It was supposed to reinforce the defence capability in the eveny of enemy invasion by operating locally.

Such a defence unit was formed to defend the works of Brush Electrical Engineering Ltd located on the outskirts of the town of Loughborough, and consisted of volunteers from the workforce. Equipment issued comprised battle-dress, army boots, gaiters, and a heavy 303 rifle of Great War vintage. Training was rudimentary, a short drill session, how to safely carry the rifle, to clean it and how to load and fire it. Also included was the use of passwords and challenge. A local rifle range became available, a miniature sort for practising with a 202. A visit followed to a full size army range for target practice with a 303.

Barbed wire reinforced the works perimeter fencing and the duty, two nights per week, comprised patrolling this in connecting sections, hence the need for a password. On going on patrol a clip of five cartridges was issued to each, but it was not allowed to put one “up the spout”. The order to load would only be given in an emergency! Fortunately we did not come across a German paratrooper coming through the wire with an automatic!

Each member of the squad did two hours on actual patrol, the rest of the night being on standby in the guardroom, ready for any general callout. The latter enabled a good card school to develop. Rummy, pontoon and brag were the favourite games, with intervals for mugs of tea and bread and cheese.

Many a night the engine drone of enemy aircraft could be heard overhead, on a path from over the North Sea before turning off in the direction of their target areas, Birmingham, the Black Country, Derby and Coventry etc. There were only a few anti-aircraft guns in our area. On one particular night an enemy bomber came low over the factory, flying in a zigzag fashion, we could clearly see the German cross markings. Badly hit over its target and just clearing the factory chimney it seemed to be limping on in the direction of the fatherland but crashed into a clump of trees just up the hill from Prestwold Hall on the right-hand side. All the crew were found dead, the plane had been flying itself. The splintered clump of trees has recently been cleared. Apart from this incident nothing else of note happened, guard duties passed off peacefully and the threat of invasion receded.

At this time the factory was 100% on war work. My side, the coachworks, was producing small spotter and trainer aircraft called the Dominie, on sub contract to De-Haviland, radio location mobile units, later termed “radar” by our American friends, square shaped buses with wooden seats, and category ‘A’ aircraft repairs. The particular plane involved in the repairs was the Hampden bomber, forerunner of the Wellington, and was used in night raids over Germany, its industrial plants and cities. The Hampden was nicknamed the submarine of the skies and not much liked by the RAF crews. The narrow pencil like fusilage allowed very little room for movement.

The planes that had been shot-up but managed to get home were dismantled elsewhere into sections, the front fusilage, main fusilage, tail section and wings. Our works received front sections. Those damaged beyond repairs were cannibalised into parts, for use on those capable of being repaired. Fellow subcontractors on this work were the Railway Carriage and Wagon Works at Derby and Dick Kerr’s English Electric Works at Preston, and parts were interchangeable between companies.

AGS (aircraft general supply) parts were generally obtained from M.U.s (RAF maintenance units), such items as rivets, ally sheet, nuts, bolts, springs, linen, paint, glass, and wire etc. Parts were identified by a lengthy code number from “Air Ministry Vocab.” parts books. On one occasion quite obviously a mistake had been made. Instead of receiving the desired parts what arrived were ‘Eggs, china, pigeons, broody for the use of’ — pardon the ministry language!

Obviously aircraft items were much in demand and when there were shortages it was necessary to scour the country, visiting manufacturers and agents in order to obtain supplies to keep the work going.

The ‘fronts’ when completed were collected by the RAF and taken to an assembly location, where the different sections were married up at random and eventually the completed aircraft once again flew over Germany to drop their deadly load of bombs.

One particular ‘front’ we had in was extremely badly damaged and the inside was a mess. It belonged to a sergeant pilot by the name of Hannah, his marking was by the cockpit door. His plane had been extensively shot-up during a bombing raid over Germany. Although mortally wounded and his crew either wounded or dead, he managed to bring back his crippled plane safely to base. He was dead when taken out of the cockpit and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

On the home front people went about with their gas masks, the black-out was in force and street and fire wardens operated. Food and clothing were on short ration and beer was in very short supply! Pubs only remained open until the supply gave out, roughly two days per week and a few hours per day. One had to hunt to find one open and some remained shut at the front and the regulars going in at the back!

At the time I was living with the Harts at 141 Ashby Road (Loughborough). Gordon, their son, and I had an ‘act’, one piano and four hands. Gordon played in the bass and I provided the tune and harmony. Our style could be termed early rock with a touch of jazz. We played in works canteens usually at the middle of the nightshift, under the ‘Workers Playtime’ programme of the BBC. We did a regular Saturday evening session at the King William pub at Sutton Bonnington which used to get packed. It was the nearest pub to the agricultural college, which at that time was training and turning out Land Army Girls. This pub was never short of beer, maybe the Ministry of Agriculture had something to do with it. We had free drink and after closing time sat down with the family for a real good meal, they certainly were not short of an ample variety of food.

Going home to Finchley for a weekend, training it on a Friday evening after work could be an adventure. Very lucky most times but one particular night a full bombing raid was in progress over London. The train slowly edged its way towards St Pancras station, using the protection of the tunnels and was 1 and a half hours late on arrival. The ticket collectors had all disappeared and the station entry down to the underground was closed. One hell of a racket was going on outside, anti-aircraft guns were blazing away, planes were buzzing about, searchlight beams were roaming the skies and a number of buildings could be seen to be on fire. An underground entry was found and on reaching the platform of the Northern Line most of the space was taken by people stretched out sleeping the night away in safety. Getting home to 65 Grove Road, I found the family in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. Activity was still going on, but on the whole concentrated on the centre of town. Looking around the next morning I did however see a few houses in the locality that had been razed to the ground.

As the war progressed new bombers came on stream, the Wellington and the Lancaster, capable of carrying bigger and more deadly loads of bombs. The Hampden repairs became less important and the category was downgraded. In the process many at the factory, including myself, lost ‘reserved occupation’ status. Following an interview with a visiting ‘body snatcher’ at the factory and subsequent medical and being pronounced A1, calling up papers duly arrived through the post.

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