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15 October 2014
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MEMORIES OF FERNHURST HOMEGUARD (PART TWO)

by The Fernhurst Centre

Contributed by 
The Fernhurst Centre
People in story: 
Ken Young
Location of story: 
West Sussex
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A2966691
Contributed on: 
02 September 2004

This is Ken Young’s story: it has been added by Ralph Lines (on behalf of the Fernhurst Centre) with permission from the author who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the Web

The account below follows on from Part One of my story of Home Guard Memories of Fernhurst.

At weekends we often had training sessions including firing practice. This used to take place at Linchmere at butts constructed by the Home Guard. They were in a field alongside a road down a steep hill to the south of the church. They were fairly rough and ready but adequate for our needs. The targets were up the hill towards the church and backed by the woods above them. They were mounted above and to the back of a trench about eight feet deep and six feet wide. A sheet of corrugated iron formed a roof over the trench on the side farthest from the targets. There was room for two targets side by side. A public footpath passed through the woods at the back of the butts so it was necessary to post guards at each end of the path whenever firing took place. It was a duty most of the Platoon hated. No one ever came along the path so you spent a couple of hours bored with your own company and denied the opportunity to take part in the firing. The rifle firing was very popular and competitive. Most of the Platoon were excellent shots having used guns from an early age to shoot rabbits and squirrels and an illegal pheasant or two. There was usually a sweep with the best score scooping the pool often after a shoot off if enough ammunition was available.

The markers in the butts indicated the position of the shots on the target by means a disc about eight inches in diameter mounted on a long pole. On the very rare occasion that someone missed completely this was signalled by a flag waved from side to side with great enthusiasm.

Firing was taking place one day and the markers were working as usual with the disc but instead of marking for five or six seconds before taking it down they were keeping the target covered for twenty to thirty seconds. This proved too frustrating for the individual in the firing position who kept on saying , “take the ****** thing down.” Eventually, his patience exhausted, he waited until the disc was eventually removed and fired anther shot into the bull. Up came the disc to record the bull and the second it appeared he fired another shot. The disc immediately disappeared and reappeared to mark the shot and disappeared again. Needless to say a bull had been scored having passed through the disc first. No more trouble was experienced that day with the markers.

There were various adventures with live ammunition over the years which gave cause for concern. Live hand grenade firing was conducted at a quarry on the outskirts of Midhurst. The grenades were thrown from behind a sandbagged emplacement about five feet high at the edge of the top of the quarry. The emplacement had four walls at right angles to the front wall each about five feet long and as high as the front wall giving three bays all open at the back. For safety reasons only one person was allowed in the emplacement at a time with the instructor the rest of the Platoon being stationed some distance away. Throwing the grenade was done from the centre bay and each trainee was told that in the event of him dropping the grenade in the bay having removed the safety pin he was under no circumstance to pick it up. The procedure was to retreat to the left hand bay and lie on the floor, the instructor retreating to the right hand bay. When Steve came to throw his grenade it hit the top of the emplacement where it lodged, undecided which way to fall. Steve stood there open mouthed for a fraction of a second before disappearing in to the left hand bay. After the explosion he and the instructor returned rather shaken to the centre bay to discover that fortunately the grenade had fallen on the quarry side. From that day on Steve kept away from grenades.

The Home Guard was involved in exercises with the Canadian soldiers billeted in and around the village. They were commanded by a young headstrong Lieutenant O. He was not very impressed with what he considered amateurs. He demonstrated this one day when he ordered the Platoon to get down to Cooks Bridge to defend it against an imaginary enemy. We were

formed up and marching in column of threes to the bridge when down by Collyer’s Farm we met Lieutenant O coming towards us in his jeep. Without any hesitation he drove straight at the column of men causing everyone to dive into the nearest ditch of hedge. He did actually steer away from us at the last moment and pulling up some yards past the now terrified Platoon came back and gave us a lecture on marching as a body of men in wartime conditions. We should have been marching in Sections on alternate sides of the road. We never made that mistake again whenever he was about.

It may have been on that occasion or a later date when we were supposedly defending Cooks Bridge against the enemy (the Canadians). Cooks Bridge at that time was completely different to what it is today. The bridge was the Fernhurst side of Migg lane which was where the stream used to pass under the main road before doing a large S bend before passing under another bridge in Migg lane. The approach to the bridge was flanked by a very high bank on the left hand side. A Section of us were positioned on top of this bank and every time that Lieutenant O came by he tossed a thunderflash at us. We did not have any to retaliate with and were getting a bit miffed by the treatment we were receiving. We decided we would cut some reasonable sized turfs with our bayonets and heave them at him the next time he came by. Most of them came very close and a couple scored direct hits. He completely lost his rag and came storming up the bank with his bayonet drawn. Fortunately for us Bert was our Sergeant on that day and in our eyes he earned a DCM. He faced him directly and told him not to be so silly and should have expected us to retaliate. In all the weeks Lieutenant O was with us I had never seen him so subdued. He and his men gave us good training including live fire. This was conducted in the field at the back of the cottages by the police house. The first thing we saw on being marched into the field was an ambulance. The Lieutenant assured us that it would not be needed as his men were good shots. We were spaced out about five yards apart and told to crawl on our stomachs for about a hundred yards while the Canadians fired live rounds several feet above us. Those who had the courage to look up could see every fifth round was tracer. The Lieutenant amused himself by firing between each man about two feet above the ground so you could see more tracer.

On the same day while we still had the ambulance on site we had to sit in a slit trench six or seven feet deep while a Bren Gun carrier was driven over the top of us. We were supposed to plant sticky bombs on its underside as it passed over. The majority of us were glad it passed over never mind the sticky bomb.

Despite the hard time Lieutenant O gave us he was still popular and respected by members of the Platoon. It was with a great deal of sadness we heard that he had been killed in the unsuccessful Dieppe raid. Whatever happened to him I expect he gave a good account of himself and threw more than thunderflashes.

Going back to the night duty in the Guardroom in the village at Fernhurst Fuels. A very frightening event occurred one night which could have had a tragic end. In retrospect it had an amusing side to it. Andy a WW1 veteran was giving Dennis a new young recruit instruction on the rifle. Part way through this a fresh pot of tea was brewed. Andy put his rifle down against the wall to drink his tea. In the meantime someone called the guard in for their cup of tea (so much for guarding the village). The guards came in with their loaded rifles and put them against the same wall. Andy and Dennis having finished their tea stood up to continue the rifle instruction, Andy being on one side of the table with Dennis facing him. Andy picked up what he thought was an unloaded rifle, but unknown to anyone in the room picked up one of the guard’s loaded rifles in error which had the firing bolt over the rounds in the magazine. He stood facing Dennis with the rifle pointed towards him at an angle of approximately forty five degrees and proceeded to demonstrate the actions required to fire the rifle. “Now Dennis, you pull the bolt back, push it forward and down. This places a round in the breech and then you squeeze the trigger.” Before he could say that it would fire a round it did. If this had been the TV series you would have had Corporal Jones leaping around shouting, “don’t panic, don’t panic.” I assure you there was panic. Firstly the muzzle of the rifle was close to the paraffin lamp in the middle of the table and the explosion extinguished the light. It was completely dark and for a few seconds there was a stunned silence, followed for immediate concern for Dennis.

“Dennis are you alright,” someone called. There was no reply. “DENNIS ARE YOU ALRIGHT.” Someone called out even more loudly. There was still no answer. By this time there was a frantic search going on to locate some matches and bring some light on to what everyone presumed would be a dead Dennis. Some matches were found and the lamp was relit to reveal Dennis standing up with a finger in his right ear trying to restore his hearing.

When we went off duty the next morning he had not regained his full hearing. No one knows how close the round came to him but the hole that it made was just behind where he had been standing and had passed through the intersection of the wall and ceiling at the rear of the Guardroom.

The next problem was to account for the missing round of ammunition in the standard night report of ”all ammunition correct.” This was solved by one of the pickets who claimed to have some rounds at home. He nipped off and returned with the replacement round.
Everyone thought that the incident was now closed but we had overlooked the diligence of the Royal Observer Corps who had an observation post in a field at the back of the cottages at the bottom of the Green which is still there today. Their report recorded hearing a rifle shot during the night. I believe there was an inquiry which resulted in a minor reprimand for the Guard Commander but no further action was taken.

The final comment on this episode was a conversation in the Spread Eagle (now Tavern Court) between a member of the picket involved and one of his cronies. Having described the incident he finished by saying, “Andy shot and I S**T!” This probably sums up the feelings of all those present.

This story of the Home Guard must be regarded as the humorous side of the Platoon spread over four or five years and remembered by those of us still alive with great affection. It is a minor part of what we did and achieved. The greater part of the story will remain untold here but we were a very well trained force well armed and proficient. We trained with the Canadians and the regular Army and ultimately were entrusted to man every other pill box on the coast at night. This released regular troops for the more onerous tasks. With our training and local knowledge of the surrounding countryside we would have been a considerable thorn in the side of the invaders.

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