Ron Crook as he appeared on his National Identity Card during the war.
- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ronald Crook MBE
- Location of story:
- Bishop's Waltham and Swanmore, Hampshire
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 December 2004
I joined the Local Defence Volunteers (later called the Home Guard) at Bishop’s Waltham in 1940, while I was working for the West Hants Electricity Company. The Commanding Officer was Major Gunner of Gunners Bank; although we attended all the lectures, parades etc., we were excused guard duty because we were on call to repair damage to power systems during air raids.
At this stage, we were issued with the Canadian Ross 0.303 rifle (n.b. the rifles were always kept at home with the limited ammunition - ten rounds).
We had what was left of a platoon of Royal Engineers after Dunkirk, comprising of some dozen troops, commanded by a young Lieutenant with two lorries which were stationed in our yard. The Lt gave lectures to the LDV/Home Guard, and also made up pipe grenades, comprising one inch diameter water pipe, some six inches long filled with gelignite and scored with a pipe cutter and ignited with a slow match. He demonstrated these with some effect by us standing under our tin roof hut while he tossed a pipe on the roof. The result was shattering.
In those first days, apart from the Ross rifle, the platoon had one air cooled Lewis gun with a rotating magazine donated by a retired Naval commander who had it on his mantelpiece as a World War I trophy. During lectures given by the Lt Royal Engineers, on defending areas of Bishops Waltham, e.g. road blocks, the old soldiers from World War 1 said, I quote,
“Sir if we placed a Vickers machine gun or Bren gun at point X, another at point Y and another at point Z, it would be well covered”.
The Lieutenant, with an understanding but sad smile replied,
“Gentlemen, I agree with your appreciation, but the sad fact is there are none".
The drill hall was the “Elms Hut”. This was on the opposite side of the road to the West Hants Electricity Coy where I worked. There are two events which stand out. In Christmas, 1940, there was a great party given by the Home Guard with the Royal Engineers invited with beer unlimited. It lasted all night — I suppose we all assumed that the invasion could be at any time. (N.B. some time between end of September and October we were in a local pub, we were all called out as it was reported that the church bells had been rung but it was a false alarm and we, of course, were unaware that operation “Sealion” had been called off). The highlight of the party was pianist and raconteur, local tailor, Bert Shorney. He made up the verses, highlighting the alleged dubious activities of some of the personalities of Bishops Waltham, of which Arthur Rooke, the local garage owner, was one (shades of the BBC entertainer of the time Norman Long “a song, a joke and a piano).
An event in the Elms Hut during a training session (I was not present at the time) when practicing with the Blacker Bombard mortar a range practice round was inserted and fired with disastrous results; the bomb disappeared through the closed doors and the mortar “legs” stood back on some unfortunate operators, however, only minor injuries were sustained.
I transferred to Swanmore Home Guard in April 1941 when I changed my job to Vosper Ltd, the builders of Motor Torpedo Boats at Portchester. The CO at Swanmore was Lt Fred Rudd (the local assistance officer) but not long after, he resigned and was replaced by Lt. Green. Our Sergeant Major and drill instructor was Jack Mills (late of Hampshire Regiment when it was blown up in Dublin circa 1922), one of the characters with a superb sense of humour; during a period of a gas scare, we were instructed to wear gas masks at all times. During one parade, Jack shouted “GAS”. We all put on our masks except Harry Tibble (another character) because he had left his at home. Jack strolled down the line and, when he reached Harry, looked him up and down and said “I suppose you are immune Harry”.
We had a musketry instructor, Corporal Gadsby, a stockbroker and Captain in World War I. He instituted a musketry course and, if one passed to his strict satisfaction, he personally awarded a five shilling piece. I eventually passed but, instead of keeping it, foolishly spent it on beer.
We carried out many mock battle exercises with neighbouring platoons and later with regular troops, both British and Empire. I recall one such a major exercise and the Swanmore platoon in conjunction with others in the Meon Valley. Our patrols discovered that the regulars had “occupied Bishops Waltham” at night and were bedded down and were very tired. The exercise was due to start the following day, but the Swanmore platoon decided that the “War would start that night” (shades of the film “Oh What a Lovely War !” only in reverse). We managed to “capture” them all asleep including their CO. He was not at all happy and threatened to place Corporal Vic Page on a charge and tried to bluster his way out of the situation. He then tried to reach for his general alarm, however, Vic having fixed his bayonet, suggested what he might do with it if he reached the alarm. It was the only time we won!
At the Rising Sun pub at Hill Pound, the landlord was a Mr Willing, another great character, who had just taken it over in the summer of 1940 and we were connecting the pub to the mains electricity (tragically that afternoon his son was killed in a raid on the Supermarine factory at Woolston). He came from London and became a member of the Home Guard. During the years from 1942 , rationing in the South was very tight. Every time we went on an exercise with him, his wife packed a superb hamper.
Major Panton was a Regular and an Area Commander of the Home Guard who lived in Swanmore and was a regular visitor to our platoon. What we did not know was that he was a member of the secret Home Guard. He was very enthusiastic and he came on all our field and weekends under canvas. Come D Day, he tried to persuade the War Office for him to take some of us younger members to the Normandy beaches to help unloading; of course no way were they going to agree. However, about a week later he did arrange a visit to Hardway, Gosport and boarded landing craft with the troops embarked, also to Stokes Bay where the Canadians with their tanks, milled around awaiting to embark. Not a sight one easily forgets.
As we attended public parades during the war, in conjunction with ARP services etc, Major Panton said that we should have a lance with a pennant and that Ron Crook being six-foot plus should carry it. The problem was the pennant, however my mother offered to make this. (Swanmore Platoon was part of the 30th Battalion Hampshire Regiment) The Hampshire Rose presented no problem, but to put 30th Battalion on a pennant 16 inches by 9 was going to be difficult, so it was a yellow pennant Hampshire Rose in the top left hand corner but with three white x indicating 30th Battalion. However, because of a certain beer being advertised, the immediate comment was "We knew that the Home Guard liked their beer, but was there any need to advertise it?!"
During the daylight raids by the Americans, one Sunday afternoon, a B17 crashed on the Downs. Some of the platoon who were on exercise in the area guarded the plane. When I arrived they were keeping anyone clear from exploding 0.5 ammunition.
Our firing range was at the Dean Farm, north of Bishops Waltham and for competition shooting we had access to the Army range at Chilcomb near Winchester. (Later in 1944, some of us became keen on shooting and fitted “Parker Hale” sights to our favourite rifle).
When we received the Sten Gun, we were issued with 9mm ammunition which was captured from the Italians; however, this was unreliable and on occasions a round would “crawl” out of the barrel or stick half way with hair-raising results. I feel that that is why the Army refused to use this ammunition.
During 1942, we were issued with radios and I became part of a signals section under Sgt. Eddie Carpenter (he was the local wireless repair man). We were equipped with No 38 and No 19 tx/rx. One day, using the No 38 for range control, I was in the buts and I lost contact and when looking up most of my whip aerial was shot away.
Some of the more hairy moments; priming and throwing the Mills grenade: our first instruction was given in the British Legion hut by a regular Army Sergeant - we were actually priming live grenades ready for Sunday throwing exercise. He made the point of how to squeeze the detonator and primer to ensure straight entry into the grenade, and not to scratch or heat the primer as it could cause a premature detonation; one only has to imagine how nervous we were. Throwing the grenades next morning was also a nerve wracking affair.
The schoolmaster, Mr Richardson from Droxford was an expert in explosives. He used to remove tree stumps for the farmers near Botley using explosives. Because it was near opening time and the last stump was difficult he used a large explosive on the last stump. A chunk of it landed on the Bugle Hotel roof displacing tiles which dropped through the visiting general’s soft top Rolls Royce !
On to our guard duties at Hill Top, Upper Swanmore, the residence of our CO, Lt. Green. We did this night duty on a rota basis and slept in the barn. On occasions Lt Green did a two hour spell, but slept in the house. On this occasion he was to follow me, and gave me verbal instructions as to how to reach his bedroom (NB they were all sleeping on the ground floor and as it was a warm summers night and the French windows were open). When the time came to rouse him, I wandered through the bedrooms; I think that there were others sleeping there at the time, but in the semi darkness feeling my way around and coming across what appeared to be a ladies nightdress I quickly retreated, and I never did wake him, and did his two hour duty (I was a shy young man in those days). I don’t think he ever knew.
During the 1941 air raids, the RAF placed a power operated neon light (normally used as a landing light) some 300 yards from Hill Top. They would start it up after night fall and then depart until morning. At first we thought it was for guidance for our returning aircraft, but because it was red, we realised that it was part of a decoy system simulating fires.
During 1943 we were part of a Concert Party given in the British Legion Hall, in aid of Wartime Charities. The Home Guard played a scene of “before and after” (quite difficult). I was made up as the village dunce by the local waterworks engineer Bert Simpson ( he was an amateur dramatic entertainer specialising in Dickens characters). He sometimes played in the Portsmouth Colliseum Theatre.
In 1944 I was billeted in the "Railway Inn" in Droxford (also known as the "Station Hotel", but now "The Hurdles")and was on duty as the sergeant in charge of the Swanmore platoon to mount guard on the railway station prior to D-Day. I recall that there was a buzz that the Germans might try a parachute drop on various installations in Southern England. However, some two nights before D-Day, a large steam loco (I think it was a 4-4-0, but am not sure) pulled into the station. This was most unusual as the Meon Valley line was a single track with passing places only.
That night the officer in charge was not from our local platoon, and when he arrived at the pub he said to me in a slightly hysterical tone,
"There is a rumour that Churchill will be here tonight, and if you see him report to me immediately, but don't panic! (shades of Dad's Army!). Needless to say we did not see Churchill, but he was on the train with Eisenhower, Montgomery, General Smuts and General de-Gaulle.
However, early next morning I was on patrol inspecting the troops and across the field came two people out for a morning stroll. One of these was vaguely familiar. A man with a small pointed beard, and of course it was General smuts. The other man was a tall, angular individual in a foreign uniform. As they drew closer I came to attention. General smuts said, as I recall, something like, "Good morning, Sergeant, and this is General de-Gaulle."
General De-Gaulle remained enirely aloof and said nothing and they moved off in the direction of the train.
A few moments later, all hell broke loose! The Special Forces and Royal Marine Commandos who had been guarding the train were swarming around me in panic as they had "lost" two Generals. I reassured them that they'd returned to the train!
When we were on duty, Lt. Green would always come up for a chat which invariably ended in a lively discussion way into the night. At one period, I think about early 1943, he promised that after the War ended he would take our section on a day and night out in London. Either late 1945 or early 1946, he was good to his word; I think there were eight of us, I remember Bill Harris, Reg Gray, Alec French and myself. We set off in two cars, saw a football match at Brentford, then on to a restaurant for a meal, finishing up at the London Palladium where Flanagan and Allen were starring.
At the end, at least Swanmore Home Guard survived without any injuries.
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