- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr. Joe Denton
- Location of story:
- Kempston, Bedfordshire, Colchester, St.Neots
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 September 2005
Memories of an Officer’s Batman Part One — From Reserved Occupation at Stewarty Brickworks to Officer’s Batman for the Beds. & Herts. Regiment
Part One of an oral history interview with Mr. Joseph Denton conducted by Jenny Ford for Bedford Museum
“I was born in 1911 and the war started in 1939 didn’t it but we didn’t get called up. I didn’t get called up as I was on a Reserved Occupation down the brick yard (Stewartby Works, Marston Moretaine) you see because they were building all the bomb shelters and things like that you see. So we didn’t get called up but we had to join the Home Guard, Home Guard you see. We had to join the Home Guard and we used to have to go three times a week. We used to meet up at Green End where we did most of the training. Up there was years ago, there was an old brick yard and there were all like big knot holes type of thing so that was ideal. Our Commander was a Wootton chap, from the next village.
Anyway one Sunday we were crossing the river to attack Bedford and so they tipped me in the river, lost my rifle, I think they were more interested in getting the rifle. They got me but I mean they said, ‘You’ll have to pay for your rifle’ they said. Anyway in the week they sent a diver and then he got it for me. So I had to clean that and all that sort of thing. I had to, as luck happens my wife had got a cousin lived near there at Kempston Box End and so I went there like a drowned rat and she said, ‘You’d better go in the shed Joe’ so I went into the shed. She got some of her husband’s clothes out, so I stripped out and dried myself and then I walked home.
We used to go on the shooting range, you know where the water is at Stewartby, do you know the Stewartby Lake? Well that was the knot hole at one time of day, when I worked there, that was the knot hole where they’d got all the clay to bake the bricks you see. Down there oh, I should think it must have been 80 or 90 feet deep I should think, nearly 100 feet deep down there so they had the rifle range down there. All the other Home Guards used to go down there in competitions that sort of thing, shooting, all training all that sort of thing. In a way it was an ideal spot because no one could get hurt, it was an ideal spot really, someone had thought it out well really. To tell you the truth down there I got nearly top of the rifle shooting, done quite well really, yes. One Christmas we had a football match with Kempston Rovers and that sort of thing you know just to make it somehow a little bit more interesting. It was quite nice really.
Sometime we used to have to drill, mostly when they said the invasion was imminent we had to go sometimes up to, right up to, they had somebody on duty all night up here, Kempston West End and that way. We used to have to go, sometimes I used to go at half past three in the morning and we used to have to report up there for an hour up there. Then, as I say I used to come home then and change my clothes and go to work then, you see, go to work. You did it in turns, they did it all in turns. We used to go to Kempston West End there on farm, the farmer there, Rushy Ford, there was a big farm there, we used to sleep on the old straw palliasses and we used to have to Parade there. I always remember because we had to Parade, there were ever so many of us, a whole platoon of us and that sort of thing. Then we used to have to Parade out there. One or two nights were moon light nights and we went mushroom diving and all that sort of thing you know. That was lovely really to see all the things, yes. We used to sleep in there, yeah.
Then I got called up in 1942, a week before Christmas, left my wife with a little boy at home. I always remember when I had my Calling-Up papers and my wife came down to Stewartby on my bike. She said, ‘You’ve got your Calling-Up papers, Dad!’ So I said, ‘Oh, have we?’ So I took my barrow down and I reported it to the Office. She came down there and said, ‘You’ve got your papers.’ So of course I’d got to go there. It was an awkward time really, about a week before Christmas, you know. Like many others did I expected really.
I went to Colchester and was in the Hampshire Regiment. We had to go the Training Place for a start and then we went, Colchester was a real barracks place really. Me and another young lad, he wasn’t as old as me, he was only 20. He came with me and we started off well, we had to walk and catch a train. I went to see his Mum and Dad because I mean they were worried about him as everyone else were you see. Anyway we were walking down that hill down towards Kempston - now and at the bottom of the hill where the cross roads are they’d got a bomb shelter there type of thing for defending the roads you see and then also they made a First Aid place there. We were just going down the hill and a lady, she was going to work I suppose, she had a little child on the front of the bike and had got their clothes or something in the front wheel and had knocked her off, she was in a terrible state. I thought, ‘Well we can’t stop because we had to go and try to catch a train’ so anyway me and him got her to this here thing and they treated her. So I thought ‘this is a good start that is!’
Then we went down and did the six weeks training there. The assault courses were terrible really. I mean, I’d been working down there in hot chambers and things like that and well of course when we got there there was snow outside you know and the assault courses were very hard really, oh yes. I mean the most of the time when we were first called up, the six weeks there, I mean they were all old fashioned houses, there were some good old Sergeants up there, phew, God, they’d put the wind up you. Sergeant DeVoi, I’ll always remember him, Sergeant DeVoi his name was, he’d come round, if you ain’t out in ten minutes or quarter of an hour something like that you’ll be on Jankers tonight, all them sorts of things you know. I always remember, a funny thing, when we’d got in this here, there were ever so many of us in one room, these old double bed things you know (bunk beds). We all had our injections and that sort of thing, mine went alright but some of them that put them out for the count you know. And one from local, I haven’t seen him for ages and he got called up and he was there, I was sleeping on the top and he was sleeping underneath, he used to make me laugh he did. ‘Oh, bugger him’ he used to say. Oh, Reveille, the bugle played, you had to be out of them places, everything was so strict. That was the way they had to do it I suspect to train people, the discipline and all that sort of thing, oh yes. But I mean I never, I was lucky in one way because I was Methodist you see and in the Church of England they used to have a big Parade on Sunday mornings, go to church. They’d say to me, ‘You can go on your own’ you see so I used to go to the Methodist church on my own. A real testing time it was really.
You were kitted out. We had our Home Guard Uniform and all, we had a Uniform then. I suppose we had to hand it in, I suppose, I just can’t remember, I think we did. And then we had all new Uniform there. They dished it out and one thing and another. You had to polish buttons and everything every week while we were there. At the end of the week you used to have to stand by your bed and they’d come and see if you’d shone your shoes and all the rest of it. If that wasn’t just right you’d had it type of thing, yes, yes. Some never made a lot of it because I mean we’d got all of these beds as I say, they’d come round at night to see to check in or the Officer would, he’d come round at night, I nearly always used to be in bed I never used to go out very far. Not while I was there, I never used to go out very far. There didn’t use to be many in there, only me. Some wouldn’t get back until the time, until the proper time.
We had a supper at quarter to eight in the evening time, a little canteen place, we used to have to go in there if you wanted, generally it was a bowl of soup something like that, it wasn’t nothing fancy type of thing. The meals were alright, oh yes. I mean the Christmas dinner, the Officers had to serve that, they always served it, the Officers, that was quite good. The food was good, oh yes, for the times it was it was quite good really, yes. Because as I say when I was up in Yorkshire I was quite lucky because I was in the Mess sort of thing you see so I was alright really.
And then I got sent to Withernsea in Yorkshire then. (In February 1943 with the Hampshire Regiment). Guarding the coast for invasion in them days, yes. Then we still had to train at Withernsea because we used to have to train on the road them days because there was no traffic about them days. We’d done the training up there they hadn’t got a problem. That was a temporary affair because they expected an invasion you see them days so we had to do that and train on the road during the day time and that sort of thing. Quite nice people up there, I wasn’t there long.
I came back to Kempston Barracks for seven days I think it was. Then I got transferred to 30th Beds and Herts. We Paraded at Bedford once, in Bedford High Street. We had a new shilling each when we were finished. We had a new shilling each, yes when we went on the Parade. And then I was in the 30th Beds and Herts at the finish. I think we went up to Ampthill Park, we went to St.Neots. We went to a field in St.Neots, we had a field there and we were in Nissen huts there, it was Nissen huts in them days. They’ve still got the troughs for water and things outside. We used to have to get up in a morning and go and shave outside and wash. There was a big factory there. I think we went to Brampton(?) Park from there and then I got sent to Attlebridge in Norfolk.”
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