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Being in the Home Guard

by Ken Rawlinson

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Contributed by 
Ken Rawlinson
People in story: 
Ken Rawlinson
Location of story: 
Weston Turville, Bucks
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 December 2005

Being in the Home Guard
Ken Rawlinson

When the call came from Winston Churchill for volunteers to form a Home Guard (Dad’s Army) I couldn’t wait to join. At only 17 years old and working at he local garage I enquired right away. I was really too young but as I owned a motorcycle — a 250cc New Imperial I was welcomed with open arms as they required a despatch rider/messenger. As portrayed in the TV series Dad’s Army we really were a very mixed bag of individuals who reported for duty and brought with us all sorts of lethal weapons; farmers with 12 bore double-barrelled shot guns, lads with air rifles etc, almost everything except a ‘blunderbuss’! I was given a small 32-calibre 6-shot pistol that would have fitted in a ladies handbag.

In the early days our uniform was an armband printed with the letters LDV (Local Defence Volunteer). We were later issued with a set of Army denim overalls, usually two sizes too large and not very elegant. Eventually we received proper army battle dress including the gaiters and we all felt that now were getting somewhere.

The day we received real army issue rifles was very exciting. They were 300-calibre ex-US army Springfields, much the same as the British 303 Lee Enfield. They and the ammunition arrived covered in a thick protective layer of grease, which had to be cleaned off, a task that involved much hard graft. I regret to say that several rounds went into the roof of the HQ as we familiarised ourselves with these weapons — the result of enthusiasm and a round being left ‘up the spout’ and the trigger being pulled. Luckily we did not kill each other or anyone else for that matter. We were so keen.

One other deadly weapon we tried out was the infamous Molotov Cocktail — simply a milk bottle filled with petrol with a string wick coming from the top. This wick was ignited with a lighter and thrown at a vehicle or tank with the hope it would it set it on fire. That was the theory but of course many ‘accidental’ fires were started with these ‘bombs’ during practice. Was it Wellington who said at Waterloo when looking at his troops, ‘I don’t know if they frighten the enemy, but by God they frighten me’?

HQ was over the double garage of a large country house in the village. Originally it had been the chauffeur’s quarters and was equipped with a small kitchen so we were OK for a brew up during spells of duty. Also we were handily next door to the local pub, the Five Bells.

As time went on we became very organised with regular patrols around the village and watches on top of the church tower through the night with only the owls for company. This was quite eerie at times. My mate and I (we used to patrol in pairs) had a favourite route, especially in the summer months, around the local reservoir. This offered the opportunity for a spot of midnight skinny-dipping on warm nights! Another favourite patrol took us through a number of orchards and the resultant treat of fresh fruit — apples, pears and plums. Who said scrumping was just for kids? No one could begrudge us a few bits of fruit for doing such a worthwhile job, we hoped.

We took part in many military exercises, mostly at weekends, as we were nearly all employed during the week. These were usually with other Home Guard units but sometimes with the regular army who were stationed nearby. On one of these skirmishes we were pitted against the Coldstream Guards who were stationed at Chequers, the Prime Minster’s country residence. They ambushed me during the night as I was on a mission on my motorbike. The blighters pushed the bike into a ditch and then tied me, yes tied me, to a farm gate and disappeared laughing into the night. They made a good job of it too and I could not get free until a farm hand on his way to work released me. I still had to go to work at the garage at 8 am somewhat tired, hungry and dishevelled.

Regular drills, weapon training and patrols soon instilled in us a feeling of pride that we were defending old England against the might of the enemy. However for me it all came to end when I volunteered for the Royal Armoured Corps and was posted to Burma (see the article A Willing Volunteer). However the stint in the Home Guard stood me in good stead as I now could recognise the various army ranks by their insignia and badges and knew who to salute and who not to! And also not to volunteer for anything!

Looking back I shudder to think what would have become of us had the Germans invaded, imagine facing paratroopers and tanks equipped as we were! The spirit was willing but….

Ken Rawlinson

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