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15 October 2014
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“My War”

by ageconcerndurham

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Archive List > Home Guard

Contributed by 
ageconcerndurham
People in story: 
Jack Taylor
Article ID: 
A2926983
Contributed on: 
18 August 2004

1939
The whole world watched with apprehension as the fateful development of negotiations took on an ominous complexion as Neville Chamberlain made his broadcast, to the effect that we were at war with Nazi Germany.

Our country began to put into operation the mobilisation of our armed forces, and in other directions the need for co-ordination of other agencies needed for other National Services geared up.

As the meaning of the Prime Minister’s statement finally sunk in and because there were no immediate air raids or invasion threats, so we teenagers looked on the situation as an adventure.

As the early days and weeks moved on there was a need to mobilise the manpower who would be over military age. The obvious selection of this reserve manpower were the old sweats of the First World War.

At last a volunteer force known as the LDV was formed and the response was met with magnificent enthusiasm. The ex-First World War veterans were again recognised as a valuable asset, bent backs miraculously straightened, the slow step of age changed into a smarter gait and talk was of square bashing, old regiments and reminiscences of methods of military drilling were exchanged.

These circumstances were soon to be valuable as the volunteer force increased in numbers. I was one of the youthful contingents who volunteered to be runners, and we were sworn into the LDV. However, we youngsters were still inclined to look upon this war as a story unfolding in the ‘Wizard’, the ‘Rover’, or the ‘Adventure’ — the boy's books of those days.

This false sense of fun was soon to be dispelled as the fit young men were ‘called up’ at all too often intervals. As these events were taking place also was the LDV beginning to be knocked into shape. Several sections were formed of differing skills, with sections such as map reading, rifle drill, communications etc. As my fit pals were now absorbed into the regular armed forces I was still at home, but a member of the LDV.

I must at his juncture state that I was disabled due to a childhood accident which would obviously cause me to be rejected as a member of the armed forces.

Despite the obvious I was at last called up, and ordered to report to a building in Durham City to be medically examined. Now I have no wish to be jocular about the war effort, but I recall that from time to time certain events lent themselves to my sense of humour as being fun, and the medical at Durham provided one of many humorous memories which even today I recall.

There was a line of candidates required to give a sample. This test was being carried out be a medical orderly. Now the chap in front of me had submitted his sample and the orderly had tested it, and then asked the guy ‘how many pints did you have?’ At a lot of blustering denials, the poor guy had to admit that he had drunk about three pints of beer.

Next came the heart, lungs and eye tests which I passed with ease, but the next test needed us to be stripped off and lie on a bench. The doctor conducting this exam did not take long to recognise my left leg disability. He then said ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ to which I replied ‘Because you sent for me’. He then said ‘Put you're bloody clothes on, and go home son’.

This was no more than I expected, however I was also employed at the Witherite Washery Plant at the Morrison Pit, Annfield Plain, and Witherite apparently was essential to the war effort which clinched the fact that I was destined to spend an play my part of the war as being in a reserved occupation, and as a member of the LDV.

I was the youngest member of a family, who the men folk were members of the local clay pigeon shooting fraternity. It was assumed by the officers of the LDV that I was a suitable candidate for the marksman squad to train as a sniper. This suited me admirably as I was always interested in shooting. I was then handed over to a veteran marksman for him to train me in the army method of shooting. This 1914 veteran was Jack Wanless who was also a Morse Code operator, and this also became part of my LDV training.

Because of my disability I was excused marching on small route marching, but I accompanied Billy Pears on the pillion of his motorcycle as he delivered communications to other platoons in the area. On these missions he and I learned wherever there was any beer, and this was valuable information for the upkeep of the morale of the troops who invariably routed their marches in that direction. It must be remembered that there was a disastrous shortage of beer at the start of the war.

As I mentioned earlier, there was always a sense of humour in the events of the early days of the LDV. One incident caused some mirth during rifle drill, and the movement of pointing the rifle at an imaginary target. One recruit pointed his rifle on command, and a sparrow perched on the barrel of the rifle as if in derision.

I mentioned rifles then. Thereby hangs a story, but in sequence, before the rifle saga there was a most exciting command for all the volunteers to muster at HQ most urgently. This was to receive the first issue of a uniform. Now this uniform consisted of a khaki blouse and a pair of pants, but without buttons. Panic ensued as by now most recruits were becoming to be serious about their role of defenders of our country. And to be issued a uniform without buttons caused some slight lowering of morale.

However, this was not to be the end of this problem as our local shop. Millers, was rumoured to have a stock of buttons which required to be fixed with a split ring. As this news was circulated in South Moor there was a mass attack by LDV recruits on the shop, and even now many, many years after it is said that a contingent of military police were on standby to control the crowd at Millers demanding uniform buttons. It did take some time for the uniforms to be altered to give a semblance of fit, and even mine needed to have the left leg shortened slightly. At last we were beginning to look a little like soldiers.

It now only remained for the recruits to be armed. Again there was a call to muster, and during this call we were issued with a rifle from a crate which had been opened to reveal rifles absolutely covered in grease. The subsequent demand was to immediately take home our rifles and de-grease them as quickly as possible.

When my mother saw the state of the gun, she forbade me to ‘bring that filthy thing into the house’ in which case I was only allowed to boil several gallons of water and clean my treasured rifle in the back yard with strict instructions not to carry the filthy thing into the house unless mother first inspected it. Her inspection was every bit as severe as our sergeants’ during subsequent arms inspection.

Time and the war were beginning to bring home to us that this war was really serious as certain government edicts demanded that able-bodied men and women were directed to essential work, or the armed forces. Work such as munitions factories, or factories making tanks or planes.

It was so regrettable to see or hear of my young friends being drafted and later to hear of some of them never to return.

This was now war.

Air raids on our major cities and military installations were now prevalent. Sirens were very soon wailing their warnings several times per week, and should we Home Guard — as we were now known — at Saturday nights we would arrive at our HQ which was the colliery offices at South Moor. Should the air raid last for some time, we were allowed a brew up and fell my lot to take a mug of tea to the Mine Manager’s office as he also turned out on an air raid. This was during the time I was playing cricket for South Moor Second Team, and my job was wicket keeper.

Every Saturday evening, during the cricket season, Mr Scott would have the cricket scorebooks delivered to him for scrutiny. Now if I had had a good game behind the wicket, then I quite bravely knocked on Mr Scott’s office door to be admitted with his tea and he would make whatever remark necessary regarding my performance that day. If I had not had a good day, then I very reluctantly entered his office to face up to some criticism but really, never too bad.

As I have mentioned earlier, I was excused marching, but still carried on practicing rifle shooting with Jack Wanless as my instructor, and during these shooting sessions the bulls eye seemed to be right on the end of my rifle with the result I was chosen to shoot for our battalion, and won honours in that direction.

The rest of our mob were by now taking part in military exercises involving other platoons of Home Guards and as the enemy, who attempted to break through our defences. These exercises were being treated very seriously as necessary training for national defence. As we, or should I say our platoon, made plans for the defence of South Moor. These plans were hatched by the two sides, the Defenders and the Attacking force. But I was to be excluded from the ‘fighting’ — I was to travel to Burnhope to collect a batch of army blankets and my driver was to be Tommy Thorn who was allowed a petrol ration for his car as was also disabled.

Obviously I received my instructions about the collection of blankets, and the orders were not secret. So off we went to Burnhope, Tommy and I, and I was suitably equipped — in uniform — with rifle, gas mask and steel helmet. I am not sure if I had a bayonet, however we were en route to Burnhope to collect said blankets.

My secret orders, after collecting the blankets, was to be part of the Attacking force and I was to avoid detection by hiding under a massive pile of blankets, and Tommy was to give the information at any check-point that he was delivering blankets to South Moor HQ.

We were successful in getting through the Defence checkpoints and I was to pick a suitable place to vacate the car and arrive in South Moor if successful. It had been decided that it only required one Attacker to breach the defences to claim victory in the attack. So Tommy and I decided that I would leave the car about just under the gangway bridge on the road to Craghead. I was then to crawl up a ditch to about the road to the then Store Field. Right then, I negotiated the ditch which — incidentally — no longer exists, and arrived very near where I lived in Moor Street, South Moor. The time was about noontime, and the aroma of Sunday dinners being cooked pervaded the morning air and this was an attraction I could not resist. So I just called at home before reporting to HQ, and had my lunch.

When I thought that it would be appropriate for me to report, I gave our Lieutenant Rutherford (Jimmy, who was the local dentist) the report of my activities, was congratulated on my rouse to capture South Moor.

Of course, the Defenders refuted how Tommy Thorn and I could have got through the excellent defences. However, there was sufficient back up in our story to convince our Major Smart (who ran a wallpaper and paint business in South Moor) that I had captured South Moor.

Now you will all have, at some time, seen a film of James Bond as the agent 007 performing amazing exploits in the defence of our country and the world against crime and warlords. It has been rumoured that the James Bond series of films were based on my way of operating during my war service in the Home Guard. Only now have I been allowed to divulge my stories as the State secrets are not now in jeopardy.

Due to my trip to collect the blankets, I became known as 001 ½ the secret, undercover agent.

The 001 ½ depicted how much short my left leg is, and the term undercover, again, is now obvious as to how I carried out the famous breaching of defences at South Moor under army blankets.

Now if any of you people believe that rubbish, you will stand for the three card trick, however I thank you for listening to the partly truth of my story ‘My War’.

Thanks again people and the story is told, not to belittle true stories of heroism of which we are all aware, during the war years.

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