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15 October 2014
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Exmouth Home Guard

by pastmybest

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Contributed by 
pastmybest
People in story: 
Dennis Davey
Location of story: 
Exmouth, Devon
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A5104793
Contributed on: 
16 August 2005

I volunteered to join the Home Guard in 1941. Although I was only 16½ at the time, I was tall for my age, and was accepted into C Company of the Exmouth Home Guard without any problem.

Although most members of the Home Guard were older men, there were several youngsters like me, some of them in reserved occupations such as those who worked for the local boat builders, who were building ship’s lifeboats at the workshops by the docks.

A year or two later, I was declared to be Grade 4 when I had my army medical, because of my short-sightedness, although I considered my sight to be normal when wearing glasses, and I was able to fare at least as good as anyone else with target practice on the firing ranges. I wore the usual type of horn rimmed glasses of the period, but I was sent to an optician to have special steel framed glasses made that would fit inside my army respirator when required.

I was issued with my uniform, ammunition and equipment, and a Springfield 300 rifle, which we assumed were the ones used by the American army in the first World War. Later in the war, my Springfield was exchanged for a B.A.R., Browning Automatic Rifle, an extremely heavy weapon to carry. At various times I also used a Sten Gun and a Vickers Machine Gun in training. Other weapons used by some units of the Home Guard were Thompson sub-machine guns, Lewis machine guns and Spigot Mortars, a very unreliable weapon, to be used against tanks.

To get us used to using hand grenades, we had a session at Orcombe Point throwing live Mills bombs as far as we could, and ducking behind rocks as the bombs exploded. Nobody was injured!

One platoon of the Home Guard was trained to operate the two large guns mounted in an emplacement behind the seafront at the bottom of Maer Road, and another platoon kept guard at the docks. My squad, based in the Drill Hall, was on duty two nights a week, taking turns to patrol the seafront in pairs as far as Orcombe Point.

The Home Guard trained enthusiastically in the Drill Hall or in the nearby Manor Gardens. We were instructed in the art of hand-to-hand street fighting in some bombed house ruins in the town. We sometimes joined regular troops on the firing ranges and in weekend manoeuvres on Woodbury Common, in fields or on the cliffs. On one occasion, another young private and myself were chosen to guide an Army unit across the cliffs to Budleigh Salterton. It was a nightmare journey in complete darkness staggering through mud and barbed wire, we got there ok, but it was never repeated.

Units of the Home Guard were called out to watch over the shattered shops and houses when the centre of the town was partially destroyed during an air raid in 1942.

After D Day our role became redundant and we were stood down later in 1944. We handed in all our weapons and equipment. I kept my cap badge as a souvenir of my wartime activities, and that was that!

I regret the way that the Home Guard has since become a joke, mainly because of the programmes of ‘Dad’s Army’,which I agree were funny, but at that time we were deadly serious and worked hard with our training.

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