John Sheppard of Mark in his Home Guard uniform
- Contributed by
- Somerset County Museum Team
- People in story:
- Mrs Pam Slocombe's father - John Sheppard
- Location of story:
- Mark, a village on the Somerset Levels, Somerset
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 April 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Phil Sealey of the Somerset County Museum Team on behalf of Mrs Pam Slocombe and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
“Being a baker, my father was in a reserved occupation and during the war he enlisted first in the Local Defence Volunteers when that organisation was set up in May 1940. He was one of the younger ones involved. It later became the Home Guard. He transferred after a while to the Special Constables. One of the tasks of the Home Guard was to man a searchlight station behind the Vicarage. When aircraft came over George Lodge had to say “More power!” and this became a catchphrase amongst the men, still used after the war when George was testing car engines at the Foundry Garage. Another of their tasks was taking turns to watch at the top of the church tower. My father remembers carving LDV on the lead of the church tower during a boring night on duty in the first part of the war.
He was given an old Lee-Enfield rifle for training and could not get it to fire. He would put a brass cartridge in but the striker wouldn’t come out far enough to set it off. He removed the part with the striker and took it to a firearms shop in the centre of Taunton. The old man there refused to look at it as it was Government property. Not wanting to be defeated and disliking things not working properly, my father worked on it himself and got the striker to hit the cartridge. He then took the gun out into the field behind the bakery, lay down on the grass and aimed at the soil on the side of a gripe. He fired and the gun went off all right. He had an idea that perhaps it had not fired into the ground as there was a swirl in the grass which might have been caused by a ricochet. The next time he was on parade at the old East Mark School they were told that there had been a very serious incident in the village. Someone had fired a rifle and hit and split the guttering on the corner of Jesse Salvidge’s house at Yardwall. The house was four fields away from the bakery! Mr Houlden, the vicar, who led the Home Guard, asked the guilty person to stand forward and own up. My father kept a low profile and never heard any more about it.
Firing was only supposed to take place on ranges. The Mark Home Guard trained at a range in an old sand pit in the dunes nearly opposite Berrow Church. They used high velocity bullets there which would penetrate iron ½" thick.
On one occasion eight German airmen bailed out over the moors. One landed at Heath House. He was found by two Home Guards who only had one (non-working) gun between them. Luckily for them he surrendered and gave up his gun. They took him home for a cup of tea and rang the local police to come and collect him!
The Home Guard used to patrol King’s Way. One day when they were part way along the road three bombs were jettisoned over Burnham Moor. The explosions were very noisy and frightened the men. On another day a bomb was dropped near Watchfield windmill and people in the whole area became very edgy. One night when there were a lot of aeroplanes going over on their way to bomb Bristol, Mr Newman, a retired man who kept the railway crossing at Burtle, was standing in the roadway outside and lit a cigarette. His wife nearly killed him. She flew at him and knocked the cigarette out of his mouth fearing that the small spark might attract enemy bombing.
On another occasion the Home Guard received a notification that a colonel was coming to inspect them. After the inspection the colonel, the vicar and the second-in-command, Arthur Goodridge sat at the teacher’s desk in the old school and the men sat in the school desks. After a half hour of lecture Mr. Houlden said to Mr Goodridge, “Perhaps you’d go and order some drinks for the table up here”. Old Mr Corp at one of the desks piped up “I’ll have one too, sir”.
When my father joined the Special Constables, all the men from Mark went in one car to Burnham Police Station for training. They were told what to do against butterfly bombs, how to cope with people cycling without lights, what to do if there was an invasion etc. Ralph Whitting usually drove. After the training session they would fetch the vicar, who had joined the Police as well as the Home Guard and really enjoyed both, and go to the Fox and Goose at Brent to drink. Later there was often a further adjournment to Ralph Whitting’s farm at Watchfield where a bottle of whisky was started. My father had to be up very early to bake the bread and these late nights were not to his liking.”
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