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Memories of Gunner Dennis Nash

by Ann Nash

Contributed by 
Ann Nash
People in story: 
Gunner Dennis Nash (Home Guard)
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Contributed on: 
18 November 2003

These are the war time memories of my Father-in-Law Dennis Nash, as told to me during November 2003.

I was 16 years old when the war began in 1939. At the time I lived with my parents and sister at Quinton, between Birmingham and Halesowen. I have vivid memories of listening to Chamberlain's speech on 3rd September, announcing that we were at war with germany. the first "wartime" incident that I remember happened within an hour! A barrage balloon at Woodgate was struck by lightning and came down in flames. Those early barrage balloons over Birmingham were at fixed points, but later in the war they were attached to lorries so that their positions could be changed.

I had just left Halesowen Grammar School in the summer of 1939 and my first job was at Bellis and Morcome in Ladywood. This was an aircraft company and I worked in the toolroom. After a few months I left there and began an apprenticeship at Accles and Pollock in Oldbury, another aircraft company. During the war years there used to be plane spotters on the factory roof. As an aircraft company we were a german target and they sent planes over in the daytime to disrupt production. My job at Accles and Pollock was a 'reserved occupation' and i continued to work there throughout the war.

In 1940, after I turned 17, I was conscripted into the Home Guard. Ours was an ACK-ACK (anti-aircraft) Unit and I belonged to the Stonehouse Gang at Harbourne in Birmingham. There were another 5 or 6 such units located around the city.

We were issued with a combat unifrom and helmet and also a great coat. This had a red band on the arm with ACK-ACK on it and a picture of an anti-aircraft gun. On the shoulder flash were the words 'Home Guard'. Other members of the gang were either aged 45+ and too old for the regular army, or like me they were in a reserved occupation.

The Stonehouse Gang was made up of 8 groups of up to 140 men. We were on duty for one night in every eight. We had to report for duty by 7pm, or ealier if possible, and our shift finished at 7am. We slept in Nissen Huts, about 28 - 30 men per hut. We had a bunk with 2 blankets on. We were given supper at 9pm and breakfast in the morning before leaving for work. These meals were in addition to our normal rations. If the alarm went off in the night and we were out for more than 45 minutes we were given cocoa too!

Like most people at that time I cycled everywhere: 4 or 5 miles from Quinton to Oldbury, back home for tea, then another 4 miles to Harbourne for Home Guard duty. Then after my night shift I would cycle to Oldbury to do my 'day job'.

We did our training on Sunday mornings. This mainly consisted of 'Rocket Drill': collecting ammunition, altering the angle of projection and the bearing of the rockets and firing. We were using high precision guns and shells. We had 64 rocket projectors, each of which fired two rockets simultaneously, and thus had to be operated by two men. The rockets were about 5 feet long and exploded on altitude. When there was an air raid they were all fired together, the barrage of explosions causing the maximum damage to enemy aircraft. The amazing thing about the projectors was that they were only powered by a 4.5 volt torch battery!

Twice during the war I ahd to go on firing courses, once to Liverpool and also to Swansea. It was at The Mumbles that I remember quite a frightening experience. After firing one of our anti-aircraft rockets a flagstone was uprooted and this made me realise what power these rockets had.

Close to home there were a few scary moments. One morning, as I cycled to work, I saw an unexploded bomb covered by a parachute at the end of Gower Road in Quinton. Another bomb left a huge crater at Clapgate Lane in Bartley Green.
I also remember a German aircraft coming down on the central reservation of Hagley Road near the Holly Bush pub. How lucky it was that it didn't land on one of the houses on either side of the road.

Another frightening moment was early one foggy morning as I was cycling to work. There was a German aeroplane very low in the sky - I presume it was lost. It was low enough for me to see the pilot inside - despite the fog! I felt extremely vulnerable because I was quite isolated and out in the open. I was sure that he could see me and that there must be a gunner on board. Thankfully, he didn't shoot and I'm here to tell the tale!

As told to Ann Nash, November 2003

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