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Heaton Moor Home Guard by Joe Carley

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Joe Carley
Location of story: 
Heaton Moor
Background to story: 
Heaton Moor Home Guard
Article ID: 
A2304415
Contributed on: 
17 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 Carley wrote extensive diaries covering his life from 1908 to the 1980's. He typed and bound many of these diaries into several books.

The first book covered his early years in Manchester from 1908 to 1938, when he married and moved to Heaton Moor. Substantial parts of this book were published by a local publisher, Neil Richardson in a volume entitled "Old Friends, Old Times 1908 - 1938, Manchester Memories of Joe Carley".

The second book covering his war years serving in the Home Guard, No 4 Platoon, A Company, 38th Cheshire Regiment at Heaton Moor Golf Club from 1940 to 1942. In 1943 to 1944 Joe served in the 71st Manchester Heavy Ack Ack (Home Guard) battery. The book only exists as a typed and bound manuscript.

Joe tried to join the R.A.F. but was rejected on medical grounds so when the call came out for people to join the local Home Guard Joe volunteered his services.

A lot of the entries in his book about this period reflect the tedium of endless night duties on guard and repeated drills. There were classes and lectures on various aspects of Home Guard Service, some more interesting than others. There were practical exercises where they honed their military skills including 'attacks' on other Home Guard units.

There were lighter moments when the Golfhouse facilities were used for entertainment and parties attended by the Home Guard and girls from the local N.A.A.F.I and A.T.S.

There are some intriguing thumb-nail character sketches of the men serving with him, many of whom or their families may still be around in Heaton Moor.

In the latter two years of his service Joe was trained as part of a Heavy Ack Ack unit and actually experienced some active service in London in 1944 when relieving military Ack Ack Units who were enjoying brief and well earned rest periods.

The early part of his service in the Home Guard reflected the adjustment to military training and drills and the problems of getting hold of basic kit and weapons.

"There is one incident that stands out in my memory from that first night. We were marching in single file at the time, all hoping we were more or less in step, when an order was given which should have turned us to the left, and thus have us marching line abreast. We accomplished the manoeuvre more or less succesfully - with one exception - Maurice Costello, so while we marched one way, off went Maurice in the opposite direction, arms and legs vigorously swinging, head and jaw thrust aggressively forward as he strode along, until, realising his mistake, he skipped sheepishly back into the ranks.".....

In the early years of the Home Guard, after the disaster at Dunkirk, there was real concern that the Germans might carry their thrust into Britain and lonely hours spent on night duty could sometimes result in mistaking night sounds for an imminent attack.

"Suddenly I pricked up my ears, for I heard a heavy, clumping sound as if a heavy shodded man, or men, were moving clumsily along the path some 50/60 yards in front of me....queer sounds at 12.30 in the morning, immediately after the crossing of presumably enemy planes, was sufficient to arouse my suspicion. Little shuffling bursts could still be heard from the path, but suddenly ceased, and as I peered into the darkness of the summer's night, I detected a movement at the foot of a gnarled tree that stood alone some yards back from the path.... I crouched low in an effort to silouette the tree and its "occupant" against the skyline and cautiously moved forward..... I almost had a desire to shove my head into the golfhouse where my companions were playing darts and shout "come on lads the b....rs are here!". Fortunately I refrained from calling out the guard, and my feelings can be imagined when a closer inspection revealed the object at the foot of the tree was a horse!"

Getting kitted out with uniform and weapons was a protracted and frustrating process as, after Dunkirk, the emphasis, quite rightly, was on re-equipping the regular army.

"At first, the great majority of the "parashots" were armed with nothing more lethal than sticks, clubs, knives or even knuckledusters....." and later "my armament consisted of one unloaded rifle (which I had never fired), a bayonet and in my pocket, reposing amongst my lighter, cigarettes, torch and miscellaneous odds and ends, was a clip of five cartridges, which I had never been shown how to load at that time. Thus did Joe Carley and many other Parashot and Local Defence Volunteer and Home Guard set out to defend his native land against the might of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe!... I gained consolation at the thought that while I kept my lonely watch on that dreary hilltop, other home guards were keeping their vigil throughout the length and breadth of the land - guarding lonely moors, fields, hillsides, bridges, roads, wharves, docks, warehouses, canals, railways and other military and semi-military objectives. All were doing their duty to the best of their ability and all were improving in discipline, efficiency, knowledge and skill, and I hoped, so was I"

"Our morale was also considerably advanced at the time by those stirring speeches by Sir Winston Churchill....such pugnacious words as "We shall not flag nor fail; We shall go on to the end......We shall fight on the beaches, the landing grounds, in the fields, in the steets and on the hills. We shall never surrender!"".

"All this time we were getting our equipment but Oh! so very slowly....There was a large box affair just inside the door of the orderly room in which Home Guard articles were placed as they came in from the stores and often I drifted into the room to find the lid of the box thrust back and the rumps of half a dozen Home Guards obstructing the view as their heads, arms and shoulders disappeared into the gaping interior of the box whilst they rummaged feverishly for denims, caps, boots, leggings etc....."

As the men became more proficient, Home Guard life was enlivened by conducting 'attacks' on other units in the area, often followed by heated debates as to whether victims that had been targeted by a 'bang' from your gun were 'dead' or not. Joe describes an attack that his unit perpetrated on a local Anti Aircraft gunsite, one that he had not taken part in but learned about through hearsay.

"On July 13th (1939) a mock attack on the recently constructed Anti-aircraft gun-site on Green Lane took place. The defenders were the gunners attached to the site. The chief difficulty for the attackers was, of course, the approach to the site, an open space from which a good view of the open country could be had in all directions and as zero hour approached the more distant screen of the defenders and their comrades nearer the site, keenly watched for any suspicious movements which might betray the presence of their enemy. But nothing was to be seen beyond the usual sights one connects with such districts on pleasant Sunday mornings in summertime - children playing in the fields, courting couples ambling slowly along the lanes, an old cart horse plodding along with its load of hay, a pleasant pipe-smoking gentleman wheeling a bath chair containing a decrepit old man wrapped in heavy blankets and shawls.
'Nothing doing' in any direction thought the defending sentry as he watched the old man in his bath-chair draw the attention of his companion to the site of the nearby guns. The man who was pushing the bath-chair seemed quite disinterested and took little or no notice of the invalid's quavering voice and shaking finger, but smiled pleasantly on the sentry and wished him 'good morning'. The latter returned the salutation, smiled benignly on the old man and courteously opened a farm gate nearby to enable to let the bath-chair pass through. Immediately the 'old man' flung aside his wrappings, whipped out a 'Tommy Gun' and 'riddled' the poor sentry! Away in the distance, a whistle shrilled - Zero hour! Instantly the attack seemd to spring from nowhere - even the hay cart disgorged a machine-gun team and before the bewildered defenders knew the fight was on, the site was ours and they had to admit defeat..... The occupant of the bath chair by the way was Joe Hoyse, Kings Corporal and old soldier from the 1914-1918 War. I believe he played his part very well and made great efforts to heighten his appearance of old age...."

To read Joe Carley's description of the Manchester blitz visit A2305388

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