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15 October 2014
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Home Guard Memories (18th Battalion Bristol HG) - Chapter 3

by Marc_GB

Contributed by 
Marc_GB
People in story: 
David Garth Pepperell; Keith Wilson; Captain Jimmy Jordan
Location of story: 
Filton Aircraft Works, Bristol
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A6045121
Contributed on: 
06 October 2005

Training became more specialised. Down in the Bristol docks, the Royal Naval Reserve training ship, Flying Fox was used for lectures, particular for anti-aircraft training and aircraft recognition. Members of the Royal Observer Corps trained there also, and alongside was a ‘dome’ in which we were taught how to quickly recognise enemy aircraft, and to ‘aim off’, or in other words, aim sufficiently far ahead that by the time the bullets had reached the correct height, the aircraft would have flown into them. We had live firing practice subsequently at Pilning, firing machine guns across the river Severn, and at a range at Minehead, under the tuition of regular army gunners. There we fired Bofors Anti-aircraft guns as well as Bren guns and similar small arms, using a target towed by an aircraft. I learned later that one of my cousins had been towing a similar drogue for target practice, and he had suddenly found tracer shells coming up in front of him. He frantically radioed down to base “I’m towing this bloody target, not pushing it!” I don’t think we gave the pilot any such trouble in our case.

I mentioned earlier that we used hand grenades on appropriate ranges, and some of us were now taught how to destroy ‘blind’ grenades, i.e., those that had failed to explode. This sometimes happened while we were on the ranges, and I dealt with several. This entailed approaching carefully, and placing a charge of dynamite or some other explosive alongside the unexploded grenade, lighting a ten second fuse and retreating to a safe place. We were taught about explosives, how to sabotage rail tracks, or blow up munitions, or set fire to tanks etc., should the Germans invade, and also some basic bomb disposal techniques.

Officers did not have any special weapons. Some continued to carry rifles like the NCOs and men, but others like myself bought revolvers, often from dubious sources. The first one I obtained was not very good, and I was advised not to fire it, but to dispose of it before it backfired, and hurt me. I then purchased a Smith and Wesson 45. This was a great weapon, which I fired on several occasions at pilning. I wanted to keep it after the war, but eventually had to turn it in to the Police, with all the ammunition I possessed. I also had a genuine commando two-edged fighting knife. When on guard duty I usually carried a Sten gun.

Other battalions were organised as anti-aircraft units, known as ‘Z’ batteries. They had rockets about five feet long and two inches in diameter, which were launched from a metal frame, and guided by a range finder. One of my friends, Keith Wilson, was stationed with one of these batteries on Bedminster Down, and his unit was credited in bringing one German aircraft down.

In the sunimer of 1944, I was sent on a two weeks training course at No.1 Home Guard Training School in Dorking, Surrey. We arrived on the Friday evening, met at the station by regular army NCOs and taken by truck to our billet. This turned out to be part of a stately home, of which the owner had retained one wing. We were given an introductory talk by the CO and, amongst other things, told that we were to be prepared to play the staff at cricket during the second week. We could practice and select a team during our time off, but, he informed us we would he soundly beaten. This naturally put us on our metal, and we did put in some practice during the week as suggested. We woke upon the Sunday to he told that the invasion had started. D-Day was here. There was great excitement, and many of us thought that we should he back home in case Jerry tried anything. That night, about 2 am, we heard boots clattering up the stairs, and a sergeant shouting “Wake up and get dressed, they’re here! The Jerries are here!”. We assembled in one of the guard rooms, were issued with rifles, divided into small sections and placed under the charge of regular army sergeants, who told us where we would he required to patrol . Then the Officer in charge said, “All right, that’s it! This was an exercise; next time it will be for real Go back to bed now.”
Every morning started with half an hours drill, before breakfast, given by one of the Scottish officers. The rest of the time there was spent mostly in small groups with regular instructors giving detailed training on various subjects. There were training films, lectures and discussions. also practical exercises and TEWT’s (tactical exercises without troops). Once when a small group was seated in a circle on the grass near the house, the instructor suggested that we turn around quietly, and there walking along the roadway was His lordship, the owner dressed in a blue morning dress suit, gray topper, spats, and gold topped cane.
I don’t remember what the food was like, I think it was OK. It was cooked and served by WRACs. They told us that normally there would he a dance held each week, but for some reason this had not happened for a week or two, and we were asked if we would try to have this practice reinstated. We did this, but the officer in charge indicated that because of some misdemeanours recently, dances had been cancelled. In the meantime, we continued to put in an hour or so at cricket practice, but we never got a game. The CO had been called away early the first week to command a company of troops in France, and we never saw him again after the first talk that he gave us.

When we were dismissed from the course, I spent a few days with my uncle and aunt in Hampstead. They were both ARP Wardens, and when we had air raid warnings during the nights I was there, I went with them to the Warden post. The second night, one Warden came back to report that there was a rumour that a pilotless aircraft had come down and exploded. Later this was confirmed as the start of the Buzz Bombs, and we heard several coming over and peter out followed by a large explosion. I was also in London later, when the V2 rockets were sent over from Penemunde. These were early solid fueled rockets which rose to a great height before coming down without any warning, and doing a lot of damage. They were developed by Herman Von Braun, a rocket scientist, who came to the USA after the war and worked for NASA.

As an officer, I was able to lunch at the officers mess in the Battalion Headquarters in Fairlawn House. The mess was run by Captain Jimmy Jordan, and generally the food was good, but I did lot like the breakfast that was served up after guard duty. This was usually cold sardines on toast. It was interesting to meet all the other officers in the battalion, and socialise with them. When I was first commissioned, RSM Walker also ate with us, and was always addressed as Mr. Walker. Later he was commissioned and then he became Lt. Walker. One of Jimmy Jordan’s assistants in the mess was accused of stealing butter which was found concealed in his saddlebag. He was dismissed. Just before the Home Guard was stood down, there was a gala dinner for which we had a goose. This poor goose was paraded at the mess a few days before the dinner. I have no idea how, or where Jimmy managed to obtain it, but there it was. I remember the meal ell. There were roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing and gravy, but the goose was really tough I had to cut a tiny piece and chew it for a long time before taking another piece. I still have the Menu card, and also a group photo of all the officers outside the HQ.

After D-Day when the allied forces had got a good foothold, the role of the Home Guard changed slightly and more emphasis was placed on anti-aircraft work, but we still had shoots on the ranges at Pilning. Often these were held as competitions between companies and platoons. One of the senior officers put up a prize for the best score by an individual for rifle shooting at various distances and Sten gun at about 30 feet. I won the Sten gun competition and was placed high in the rifle shooting, as a result of which, I received the highest aggregate mark, and was awarded the title of Battalion Shot, and presented with as magnificent silver rose bowl. Other prizes included a bread knife and a linen basket. That night, on guard duty my platoon displayed a table full of prizes which we had won as best platoon. The rose bowl was supposed to be put up annually for the competition, but the war ended and the Home Guard was disbanded, so I kept it. It is now worth about £50.

There was also a competition for small bore shooting held soon after this shoot, open to all the battallions in Bristol. We had .22 rifles which were used in indoor ranges, and I selected the most accurate rifles available and the five best shots in my platoon to enter the competition. I also organised through one of my electrician members, extra lighting to illuminate the targets. Out of about five hundred entries, my platoon came about one hundred and twentieth. Not quite as high as I had hoped, perhaps because one of the best and most experienced men was off form that day and recorded next but lowest score in the platoon. I was anticipating that he would have had a perfect score.

When the war ended, some of our explosives and gas supplies were buried in a deep excavation on the slopes overlooking the airfield. We had a grand time loosing off many rounds from Bren guns and Browning automatic rifles before handing these in.

There was one last parade, held on a Sunday. All the battalions in Bristol assembled on the Durdham Downs near the top of Blackboy Hill. From there we marched, proudly, ten abreast with bands playing down Blackboy Hill, Whiteladies Road, Queens Road and Park Street, around the Tramways Centre past a saluting base, and dispersed in Queen Square. Captain Brice went along the ranks and shook the hand of each man and thanked him for his efforts.

The matter was concluded by the arrival in the mail of a Defence Medal, and a citation from George R.I.

P.S. Based on the activities of the Home Guard, the very successful television series ‘Dad Army’ portrayed many facets of our training, successes and frustrations, comradeship and humour. I was particularly moved when, in the last episode, the cast turned to the cameras and raised a glass ‘To all home Guards’

D.G.Pepperell
April 1999

Submitted by Marcus D. Pepperell (David's son). My father typed these memories himself a few years before he passed on, and left them with me for safe-keeping. I have copied these verbatim. Originally written as one text, I have split into three chapters for this site.

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