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MY WAR IN THE LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS-3 CLOSE CALLS

by CovWarkCSVActionDesk

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Contributed by 
CovWarkCSVActionDesk
People in story: 
MR KEN CLARK
Location of story: 
COVENTRY
Article ID: 
A7413996
Contributed on: 
30 November 2005

I was born in Rugby in 1917 and my father was killed serving in the Army in France, a few months later. After my mother died when I was 10, I was brought up by an aunt and uncle. I left school aged 14 years and went to work at the B.T.H. Company as a mailboy and became a Drawing Office apprentice 2 years later. In 1939, I joined A W A Baginton as a J & T Designer. Although working in Coventry I continued living in Rugby, travelling daily until 1942 when I came to live in Coventry.

Whilst at A.W.A. I volunteered for the R.A.F. and passed the exam for Flying Crew, however the Air Ministry decided I was more useful at A.W.A. as I was already 23 years old and considered too old and so was discharged to return to civilian occupation which, of course, I had never actually left.

I joined the L D V (Local Defence Volunteers — at its inception (colloquially known as “Look, Duck and Vanish’) and which later became the Home Guard, while still living in Rugby. Apart from a few, such as the following incidents my war was pretty mundane. My unit of the L.D.V. was based in Hillmorton, where there was a huge G.P.O wireless station — the most powerful in the world. This was a real landmark with masts nearly 1,000 ft. high, which could send messages to America and dealt with messages to submarines. This would be one of the first places to be taken over if and when there was the threatened invasion. Despite the realisation of this station’s importance, the defence merely consisted of rolls of razor wire around the perimeter (approximately 11 miles) in the form of three rolls at the base, then two, then one — an almost impossible barrier for ordinary people, but a joke when considering the German invaders. The remaining defence consisted of a small group of Royal Warwicks “old sweats” (too old to be sent abroad) on the main gates, and two L.D.V’s on a lane leading to these gates.

We stood seven nights a week (two per night) from about seven thirty in the evening to six o’clock in the morning, sandwiched between two working days! We were armed with American P17 rifles, very heavy and also very accurate and unbelievable as it may sound today, we were ordered to “shoot to kill — NOT challenge anyone” in among the masts as they would be possible saboteurs. At this time we had not fired the rifles but when I did I had a 9” diameter bull group at 400 yards. It must have been about 4 a.m. June/July time and daylight was just beginning to show when I noticed someone among the masts. I just couldn’t fire without challenging and called “Halt or I fire”.

I was about to fire when a drunken voice wailed “Don’t shoot, it’s only me” and I realised it was one of the “old sweats”, who had been down to the village with his mates and got drunk. How he got in there we never found out, but assumed his pals had thrown him over and because he was so drunk he got away with it. We never saw him again.

A somewhat similar incident occurred at a different post. There was a rumour that a German bomber had been shot down over Leicester and that the crew had escaped. We were told to be on the alert as they were thought to be heading in our direction. Sure enough in the early hours of the morning we could hear footsteps coming down the hill and were able to glimpse some vague shadows. I called out “Halt — who goes there? and on receiving no answer “Halt or I fire” which I was about to do when a group of five cows slowly hove into view.

About this time I left the Hillmorton squad and joined the unit at Singer Motors where I was now working. One night the squad was on duty at the factory where we used to guard the entrance and man the machine guns on the roof. Those of us not on duty had been practising stripping and rebuilding a Lewis gun against the stopwatch. It was the early hours of the morning and most had gone to bed. I was sitting on a bunk, watching my friend idling with the gun. He had a live round of ammunition and I saw him drop it onto the carrier. The gun was pointing at me and I realised with horror that should he pull the trigger I was dead! At that very moment he did just that. Being in a specially built concrete room, the noise and choking smell were awful. After a second I realised I was still alive and took a tentative look to the side to see a stream of red down the whitewashed wall! No, it wasn’t blood, but red brickdust! Fortunately the Home Guard had not at this time become a unit of the Army, otherwise it would have meant a Court Martial and jail. He got a right “shellacking” from the officers. That was the first of my three narrow escapes.

It must have been in 1941-1942 in Coventry when the big raids had finished and I used to drive to work and back in a complete black-out. I was driving along the main A 45 Rugby to Coventry road, in the vicinity of where the Root’s factory is at Willenhall, Coventry, when I ran over something. An Army transport had crashed and there were hundreds of Mills bombs lying all over the place — fortunately not primed!

A further incident occurred the morning after the Blitz in November. I came in through Baginton — the factory had not been touched but there were no lights or water and the workforce kept appearing, in a steady trickle. Later on that day I was near to what is now the Cheylesmore Estate having given my girlfriend a lift home. I was turning around in a street of parked cars when a delayed action bomb went off. The two empty cars protecting me were destroyed by the blast and a warden’s post 200 yards away in the opposite direction, was flattened, and the warden killed. Now aged 88 years I consider myself extremely lucky.

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