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MEMORIES OF FERNHURST HOME GUARD (PART ONE)

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: 
A2966664
Contributed on: 
02 September 2004

16th Platoon E Company 7th Sussex Home Guard Fernhurst 1940-1944

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.

This is a record of my memories of the Home Guard. Most of the memories are of the humorous type. “Dads’ Army” the television series is closer to some of the events in the Home Guard than some people realise.

I joined the Home Guard on leaving school at the age of sixteen in 1942. The platoon that I joined was situated in the small West Sussex village of Fernhurst and was part of E Company based in Midhurst.

When the Home Guard was first formed it was originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers or LDV for short. The original force had no recognised arms and early drill and training took place using broomsticks or 12 bore rifles which a large number of the local countrymen owned for rabbit shooting. One individual, a local gamekeeper, retained this form of defence until the day the Home Guard was disbanded claiming that he had used his faithful 12 bore all his life and it had served him well. Nobody could convince him that the 300 Remington rifle eventually issued to us was as effective. This individual had some health problems, associated with his breathing, which prevented him from taking part in anything involving strenuous exercise. He was promoted to guard room orderly and store man which kept him out of the public eye and because of the weaponry he insisted on retaining out of the way of any possible encounters with potential invaders.

Parades were held in the evenings in the local village hall during the winter months when arms drill, weaponry training, lectures on first aid, gas mask drill, etc. were carried out. During the summer months and on Sunday mornings throughout the year field tactics and live firing were carried out in the surrounding countryside.

How the Officer in charge of our Platoon was chosen I do not know. NCOs were obviously selected in the early stages by the Officer in charge of that particular Platoon. Some of these NCOs were obvious choices, i.e. men who had served in the first World War. One easy choice was Bert a holder of the DCM, other selections were of a more doubtful order. The selection of Arthur as Sergeant created the impression that it was due to the fact that he regularly went ferreting with the Platoon Officer.

Arthur was a source of continual amusement among members of the Platoon. He had the misfortune to have a very young Section under his command, sixteen and seventeen year olds like myself mixed in with some of the characters of the village with a highly developed sense of humour. He was a farm worker at that time dealing mainly with the horses so it was not unusual to see Arthur turn up on parade, having seen his horses safely bedded down for the night, with straw sticking to parts of his uniform and traces of horse manure on his boots. When marching us around the village he frequently forgot that he was in charge of men and not horses and when he required us to stop we were often ordered to “Whoa”. Unfortunately for him there was a member of the Section whose surname was Holt so on the rare occasions he remembered to shout “Halt” we used to keep marching and private Holt without fail would reply, “Yes, Sergeant”. Needless to say whenever he called for Holt we all to a man slammed to a halt that the smartest regular would have been proud to perform.

Arthur had difficulty in remembering which was right and which was left. He always knew which way he wanted us to turn but not being sure whether he should say left or right he used to guess. 50% of the time he got it right. On important occasions like Church Parade etc we usually knew which way he wanted us to go and would perform perfectly, but if we were on the way back from some routine task like erecting barbed wire we would obey whichever command he chose to give. Many a time we marched into the drive of the house opposite our headquarters in the village hall to the cries of, “Whoa, Whoa”. We, as a Section, were caused a great deal of embarrassment once in front of the local Commander. We were carrying out exercises on the local recreation ground and had been formed up in a single line having been given the order, “From the right dress” with Arthur on the right hand end of the line. The next order was, “Left turn”. We duly turned left, but once again Arthur unknown to us had got it wrong. He really meant us to turn right which he had done. This meant that he was facing the opposite way to the remainder of his Section. The next order was “Quick march”. We moved off in one direction and Arthur in the other. We were on grass and he could not hear us marching and got about ten yards from us before the amusement of the onlookers caused him to look back over his shoulder. In a panic he was back among his beloved horses and we were ordered to “Whoa, Whoa”.

Once every seven to ten days each Section of the Platoon was required to be on night duty. This took place a mile outside the village at a place called Greenhill. We had a hut of sorts beside which was the wreck of an old car. The remains of this car some fifty plus years later are still to be seen. We used to sit on the car whilst on guard outside the hut. From here we could see the red glow in the sky caused by the bombing of Portsmouth and Southampton. Our main purpose for being there was to look out for parachuting invaders.

The biggest disaster while on guard took place one night when Rusty offered to make a fresh pot of tea. He took the teapot to the door and holding it by the spout attempted to throw the contents out of the door. Unfortunately for him the teapot disappeared into the darkness leaving Rusty standing in the doorway with just the spout in his hand. This took place quite early on in the evening and the prospect of a long cold night without the comfort of a cup of tea did nothing for his popularity.

Our guardroom was a brick built building twenty five feet by twelve feet and consisted of two rooms with the entrance in the centre. The smaller room to the right contained two single beds with enough room to pass between them. It had no lighting and no door. The larger room to the left was furnished with a rough wooden table and a number of chairs placed in the centre of the room with just enough space to walk around them. This room was illuminated by a paraffin lamp suspended over the middle of the table. Heating was provided by a round cast iron stove familiar to anyone who was in the Forces at that time. This building is still in existence and is used as the display window for Fernhurst Fuels (Q8).

Once again I am not sure what we were supposed to be guarding but I do know that we were armed with loaded rifles which had the bolt over the top of the rounds and the safety catch on. We were expected to stop and identify anyone passing through the village between the hours of 2200 and 0600. Never once in all the hours that I spent on night duty was anybody ever stopped. The only people we ever saw were village people, some of them creeping back to their own homes hoping not to be noticed. One night when one of the other pickets was on duty they challenged a pedestrian to “Halt” which he duly did but when instructed to “Advance and be recognised” he remained where he was. With some trepidation they advanced close enough to talk to him and discovered that he was not speaking English but a guttural language that sounded like German. By this time it was a choice who was the most scared, the picket or the pedestrian. They promptly marched him into the Guardroom for further questioning by the guard Sergeant. It was established that he was a Polish soldier walking back to his camp. A phone call established his identity and he was sent on his way but not before he had been fortified with a cup of tea.

At the end of a night duty the Sergeant in charge had to produce a written report of anything that had occurred during the night. By now I was no longer a member of Arthur’s Section having been promoted to the dizzy heights of Lance Corporal. My new Section under Sergeant Ben was always on duty the night after Arthur’s section so the first thing to be looked at was Arthur’s written report of the night before. As you may have gathered Arthur was no scholar so his reports were often the source of great amusement. Arthur must have been the original direction and range finder because if he happened to be on duty when German bombers were active his report would often read “0115 bomb dropped at Liphook, 0127 bomb dropped at Redford, 0207 bomb dropped at Stedham” and so on.

The final paragraph of the Guard Commander’s report was a standard statement used by us all. This read as follows — “All rifles and ammunition correct. Nothing else to report.” Arthur knew this off by heart but could never ever have checked his spelling against any of the other Guard Commanders. Without fail his report always read, “Refils and ammer all corrots, nothing eles to report”. Arthur’s classic was the night he wrote in his report, “Convoy went through the village at 2416 going the other way”. We decided after some consideration that the convoy must have been going to Midhurst as most of the picket was of the opinion that Arthur only knew one way and that was to the Spread Eagle (now Taverners Court) towards Haslemere.

Another of Arthur’s amusing ways was when the telephone rang. As Guard Sergeant he always answered it and always put his cap on to do this. If the caller happened to be an officer he used to salute as well.

These nights on guard duty were never taken too seriously particularly by the younger members of the Platoon. The two guards on duty outside invariably spent the time sitting in the bus shelter. The other members of the Section spent their time playing cards and drinking tea. Occasionally some members would attempt to sleep in one of the two beds provided although this was almost impossible to achieve. The noise and the light coming from the open doorway in to the larger room ensured that only the deaf or very tired could sleep. Having got to sleep you would invariably be shaken awake by someone asking you an inane question like, “Do you want to buy a battleship?” Norman having been woken several times one night with this very question replied with some exasperation, “Look, let’s get this straight, I do not want to buy a battleship, I do not want to buy a cruiser, I do not want to buy a frigate, I do not want to even buy a bloody Hornby speedboat!”

Even so if you were really determined it was possible to sleep soundly if you were tired enough. This was demonstrated one night when Jack and Norman were asleep in the adjacent beds. The other members of the picket, with the aid of some soot from the fire, managed to blacken both their faces without waking them. Both of them had completed their tour of duty on guard outside and were allowed to sleep until it was time to go off duty at 0600 hrs. They both swung their feet out of bed to face each other across the gap between them more or less simultaneously. After rubbing the sleep from his eyes Jack looked at Norman and seeing his sooty face began to laugh. Norman looked at Jack to see what he was laughing at and seeing Jack’s sooty face began to laugh also. Both were completely unaware that their own faces were black. The guardroom was tidied, the night report filed and we all went home. Jack cycled home to Henley some two miles away in uniform with rifle and tin hat and a black face. Had anyone seen him they would have thought he had been on a commando raid somewhere. On reaching home he made himself a drink and sat down to read the paper, the rest of the household still being in bed. It was not until he was getting ready to wash and shave that he looked in the mirror and realised why Norman had been laughing. Norman remembers the occasion well but cannot remember whether he got all the way home or Ron told him as they walked along Chapel Street (Vann Road).

Another escapade involving Jack and Norman was with the stirrup pump, invariably referred to as the stomach pump. For the uninitiated the stirrup pump was a hand pump resembling a large bicycle pump operated by a double handle and fitted with a length of hose and with the aid of a bucket of water was designed to deal with incendiary bombs. It could be operated by one man by holding the hose in one hand, placing the pump in the bucket and pumping with the other hand. This tale involves a two man operation, Jack and Norman. They planned to douse the guards outside with water the next time they walked by. Jack was on the hose and Norman was on the pump. They turned the paraffin light down and opened the guardroom door. Jack said to Norman, “when they get in range I’ll give the word and you pump as fast as you can.” Five or six minutes passed and still the guard did not appear, probably because they were comfortably seated in the bus shelter. By this time the rest of the picket were getting restless sitting the dark with the cold draught coming in the open door. Jack was getting bored with waiting so he suddenly said to Norman, “here they come, start pumping.” Norman started pumping as fast as he could and Jack turned the hose on Norman. He started to squeal, “stop it Jack, stop it,” but still kept pumping as fast as he could. It took him several wet seconds to realise that all he had to do was to stop pumping. There are other night guard stories I remember but more of that later.

Further memories of the Home Guard of Fernhurst can be found in Part Two.

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