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Home Guard Memories (18th Battalion Bristol HG) - Chapter 2

by Marc_GB

Contributed by 
Marc_GB
People in story: 
David Garth Pepperell; Peter Parker; Ken Brice; Major Peter Christian Wadsworth; Lt. Col. C.O.Worth; King Hakon of Norway;
Location of story: 
Filton Aircraft Works, Bristol
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A6045086
Contributed on: 
06 October 2005

About a year after joining the 13th Battalion, a new battalion was formed at Filton, and designated 18th. and I was amongst those transferred into it, and that time promoted to Sergeant. Peter Parker and Ken Brice were promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant, and Captain, later Major Peter Christian Wadsworth was our Company Commander. The Battalion Commanding Officer was Lt. Col. C.O.Worth, whose day job was security chief. Another Security officer at that time was Captain Spong, who had been captain of one of Campbell’s pleasure steamers in peace time. The battalion headquarters was located in a basement below the security offices. The works doctor became the Regimental Medical Officer and his assistants and first aid men were made stretcher bearers; the works brass band were put into uniform and led us on parades; millwrights and engineers became engineering platoons, and the Works Fire Brigade had their own platoon under their regular officers. Our battalion became the defence force for inside the works, and the 13th defended the perimeter.

I found that I had a good, loud parade voice, and was soon engaged in drilling the recruits and more seasoned troops. Although drill seems to he pointless to many, it has the distinct advantage that it conditions the soldier to obey orders immediately without question. It is also good exercise and it is a wonderful feeling both to be part of and, to see a squad under your direction, march, wheel and move as one. In order to show the general public that there was indeed a fighting force, ready to meet any invaders, the whole battalion, together with others, occasionally held marches through the streets of Bristol, in full battle order. There were always several rehearsals and I often acted as Company Marker. The markers were positioned at a certain distances apart, on the parade ground forming a skeleton formation, to indicate where each company was to take its place. When all were in place, and the Regimental Sergeant Major was satisfied, each company marched to their allocated marker and stood at ease. Whoever was in charge of the parade could then call the battalion to attention, and give the order to move off with the band playing. Col. Bogey was one of the favourite tunes of the time. To mark some public holiday, a detachment of Black Watch pipes and drums played a ‘retreat’ one summer evening on the Tramways Centre, marching and counter marching. This was organised by Col. Mc Bennett, and was after always referred to as McBennett’s snake charmers.

One of my proudest moments as a sergeant was when I was chosen to be in a Guard of Honour to be inspected by King Hakon of Norway who was coming to visit the works. About thirty of us were chosen, all tall, smart and well experienced at drill. Most of us were NCO’s and because it was considered bad form to have too many NCOs in the Guard party we were given new blouses without badges of rank, just for the occasion.

Perhaps the most ignominious situation in which I found myself was one night on guard duty, as a sergeant, in charge of a squad of perhaps ten men who were supposed to be guarding a stores hut. We had done some drill and training during the evening, and at dusk, the majority relaxed in the guard hut, here we slept, and I had set a man to guard the stores, a quarter of a mile away. The arrangement was that he was to be relieved every hour and a half or two hours throughout the night. This was fine until about midnight when all those who were not actually on guard could sleep. I am not sure whether the sergeant was expected to remain awake all night, but I certainly did not wish to, as I had to work a full shift next day, like the others. I gave orders that the men were to take a duty each, and change themselves over at the appointed times without my supervision each time. This I knew was common practice amongst other sections, and eventually all those in the hut, including myself settled down to sleep.
About 3am, I was awakened roughly by the Regimental Sergeant Major, who informed me that he had been to the stores hut and found no one there! He also said that he had been called in from home because there was an invasion alert. By this time the whole section was aroused, and I was fully awake, alert, and very much aware of the seriousness of the situation, so, shouting to one of the lads who seemed to be more alert than some of the others, I told him to go down and ‘double up the guard’. In other words indicating that there was already someone down there, even if he was not very visible, although I was pretty sure that there was not. We always slept in full clothing and it was only a moment before he was off at the double. Sergeant Major Walker asked a few questions, which I was able to answer satisfactorily, but whether he guessed what had happened I never knew, and he never took it further, other than to ensure that there was a guard on duty when he left. Had the invasion really happened that night, and had it been Jerries who came into the hut instead of a sympathetic Sergeant Major, it would have been curtains for me. It was a salutary experience, and one of which I was rather ashamed. I have never acknowledged this until now.

We obeyed army law, discipline, and traditions, endeavoring to maintain a high standard in our activities at all times. Other ranks were expected to speak circumspectly to officers, and to salute them when they met within or outside the works. Officers were expected to behave like officers and to return salutes appropriately. One nice tradition observed was to salute, as we passed, one of the security men who often took duty on the main gates. He had been awarded the Victoria Cross during world war one, and always wore it on his uniform.

One lunch time while finishing my meal, I was approached by the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 13th Battalion. He first asked if I knew a certain man whom he pointed out to me. This chap was a member of 18th Battalion, and it was indicated to me that he was improperly dressed, in that his uniform was not fully buttoned up at the collar, and it was suggested that I, as a sergeant of the same battalion should go across and tell him to smarten up. Coming from such an exalted ranking officer, this was tantamount to an order, but it would have been contrary to army protocol for an NCO, even a senior one, of a different battalion to approach the man himself.

Not far from the main gates in Filton Works was a terrace of small houses called Fairlawn Avenue. In one of these, our platoon had an office and weapon store which we visited several times a week. Head Quarters Company had an office in the same building, and one day as I was leaving the platoon office, which was at the back of the building, was called into the Front office by Major Worth, the Company Commander, and brother to our CO. He called me by name, “Come in Sergeant Pepperell” and I recall I was somewhat surprised that he should even have known me being in a different Company. However, it appears that he had been watching me, and had seen some of my training and drill sessions. To my utter surprise, he offered me the job of Company Sergeant Major in Head Quarters Company. I was just 20, and would have been a very young senior NCO, with complete responsibility for all drill and training in a Company of perhaps two hundred officers and men. I must say that I was honoured, because I knew also that at some time in the future, the present Regimental Sergeant Major was to be promoted to commissioned officer rank, and his logical successor would be the CSM of HQ Company. It was a tempting opportunity, but, at that time, I had just been informed that I too was being considered or a for a commission. So I reluctantly declined.

About this time, my friend, and colleague Ken Brice was promoted to Captain, and appointed Assistant Company Commander to Major Peter Wadsworth. Soon afterwards, confirmation of my promotion to commissioned rank came through, and as a Second Lieutenant, I was give a platoon of about thirty men, a sergeant and two or three other NCOs. Most of these, apart from the sergeant, were active and younger than the average Home Guard unit, carpenters, millwrights, engineers, fitters, and electricians. They were sometimes known as ‘Pep’s commandos’, I was very proud and trained them hard in all aspects of defensive warfare. To simulate street warfare, and conditions that we might encounter, I organised assault courses, up and down the cat ladders, over parapets, onto the flat roof and leaping from one building to another. I usually went first to show them the way, but having leaped across one wide gap, and slipped on landing, I decided that perhaps it would be better not to let all of them follow this time, as some were not quite so active as some of the younger ones, and I did not wish to cause any injuries.

One weekend, we had an exercise where a corporal and my self acted as the enemy, and tried to penetrate my platoons defence area. They knew that we were coming, but did not know the exact time or direction. We blackened our faces, sewed on German badges of rank, and gave ourselves German names and identities. Instead of approaching the platoon from inside the works, we went outside the main gates, down to a point level with Rodney Works on Filton Hill, climbed over the steel security fence, and crept quietly towards the defending troops. We made good progress but we were challenged and allowed ourselves to he taken prisoner, as time was running out. (We reckoned to finish about nine p.m. so that those who were not on duty all night could get home on the last buses.) Of course we were unable to use live ammunition on such an exercise, so could not shoot our way out. We were taken to a brick building, it may have been a garage, which the platoon was then using as its HQ. We were interrogated, and gave only our German names and number, in accordance with the Geneva Convention. During a moment of inattention, I managed to grab one of the guard’s Sten guns and pretended to spray the whole group. Ufortunately the umpire said he couldn’t accept that situation, so we had to capitulate. After a brief discussion on how the exercise had gone, we went home.

I believe that my efforts inspired other platoons to have similar exercises, and certainly my own platoon was given another exercise when Captain Brice and Major Wadsworth attempted to break in, to test our platoon area defences. This time I was in charge of the defence, and my headquarters was the control bunker, below the security office. In this bunker were two or three telephonists and a couple of security officers who were on regular duty, not part of our exercise. I posted a sentry at the entrance door of the building, and went down to the bunker and talked with those on duty. While I was there, I noticed that there was an escape hatch, high up on one wall, and felt guided to check it out. I found that the handle securing the steel plate had been unscrewed and therefore could have been easily removed from the outside. I secured it again, and shortly after the handle was tried from the outside; someone was trying to enter by that route. I immediately went up to the entrance level again, and hid just inside a darkened office. Soon, I heard Captain Brice (the enemy on this occasion) talking to the sentry, and demanding to be let in. He was very persuasive, and the sentry was fooled and let him pass. He passed me without realising that I was waiting for him, and I fell in behind him and put my pistol in his ribs and said ‘hands up!’ I was not intending to let him go down into our control room and I tried to lead him to another place. However, after some discussion, I did let him go down to the bunker to be interrogated. While he was being questioned, one of the girl telephonists drew a pistol, and tried to hold us up, but she was overpowered and we won the day. The Captain had enlisted this girl as a fifth columnist, and it was she who had unlocked the emergency door, through which he had hoped to enter and take us by surprise. In the end this ruse was foiled, and we came out of it quite well.

D.G.Pepperell
April 1999

Submitted by Marcus D. Pepperell (David's son). My father typed these memories himself a few years before he passed on, and left them with me for safe keeping. I have copied these verbatim. Originally written as one text, I have split into three chapters for this site.

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