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15 October 2014
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Home Guard Experiences: 16 Devon Plymouth

by Jamesbo

Contributed by 
People in story: 
James Bartlett
Location of story: 
Devonport, Plymouth
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 November 2003

I enlisted in the 16 Devon Plymouth Home Guard on 20th February 1941. If I were to compare the people in charge with the characters from Dads Army I would say that our C.O. was like Sergeant Wilson while our Sergeant took after Captain Mainwaring which is perhaps an injustice to Mainwaring. As an example of our Sergeant's stupidity he once ordered two of us to climb a tree and observe any movement of the enemy. I informed him that the enemy was on the other side of the Channel. I was told not to answer back and to climb the tree and stay there until relieved. It got so cold that I eventually climbed down.

"You will be shot for desertion," my fellow sufferer said.

"I would rather be shot than freeze to death," I replied.

To my relief I was transferred to the 17th Devon Dockyard on 31st August 1941. On duty in the shipyard during one of the many heavy bombing raids a friend and I were sheltering under a rail truck. I heard my chum saying the Lord's Prayer.

"You told me you weren't religious," I said.

"I'm not, Jim," he replied,"but there's no harm in making sure."

When the raid was over I saw the contents of the truck were drums marked "highly inflammable".

"When you're on guard with me, Tom," I told him, "you'd better make your prayers a habit."

When our Devonport-manned ships were sunk and the fateful telegrams arrived we saw the effect this had on parents, relatives and friends. We also saw our lovely city being destroyed in the nightly bombing raids, our own homes included. In one particularly shocking incident two nurses and thirteen babies in a maternity ward were killed during one raid.

These events generated a genuine hatred of the enemy.

We now had good rifles in the Home Guard and plenty of ammunition. Our saying then was, "as long as I take one with me, I'll die happy". Pure bravado perhaps, but somehow I do not think so.

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