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A Home Guard in the 71st Manchester Heavy Ack Ack Battery by Joe Carley

by Stockport Libraries

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Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Joe Carley
Location of story: 
Levenshulme, Manchester
Background to story: 
71st Manchester Ack Ack (Home Guard) Battery by Joe Carley
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 February 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Chris Comer of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Joe Carley and has been added to the site with his daughter, Miss M. Carley's permission. Miss Carley fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Joe Carley served in the Home Guard from 1940 to 1944. In the first two years of his service he was based at Heaton Moor Golf Club in the No 4 Platoon, A Company of the 38th Cheshire Battalion (Home Guard).

For the two final years of his service he transferred to the 71st Manchester Heavy Ack Ack (Home Guard) Battery at Mount Road, Levenshulme.

Joe kept detailed diaries of his life some of which, covering his war years, were bound into a type written manuscript.

These are some extracts from this manuscript.

"On December 30th (1941), I received with mixed feelings, a formal letter intimating that I was to be transferred to the Home Guard Anti-Aircraft section. I was sorry to leave so may good fellows and happy memories behind, but against all this was the desire I has nurtured for some months previously, to participate in Ack-Ack work. I felt there was some hope of real action there. The subject would be interesting and frankly, in spite of my acquaintanceship with so many good fellows, the kindness and good fellowship amongst No 4, I, like many others, was simply getting "browned off"

Having attended a lecture on the subject of Anti-Aircraft defences and the need for Home Guards to supplement the Regular army gunners on January 10th 1942 Joe was sent to the gun site at Mount Road, Levenshulme to sign on and commence his training by witnessing a 'dummy run'...
"A 'Dummy Run' was staged for our benefit, the A.T.S. girls and the gunners being called from their task of clearing snow, to stage the demonstration - the girls to manipulate the predictors and range-finders etc., the men to show the action of aligning the gun on an imaginary target, going through the actions of loading etc, and we were duly impressed, especially with the confident ease, alacrity and skill in which the gunners tossed the dummy rounds about, though many of the orders and instructions were to us, as yet, a closed book"

On the following night his training started in earnest...
"Soon we were split up into groups, each group crowding into a gun pit and gathering round a 3.7 Anti-Aircraft gun for our first lesson which simply consisted of the naming of various parts of the weapon"....

"Most of us were quite keen on the new subject, it was so different from what we had hitherto learnt and attendance was very good at the two training nights per week"....

"As I have said, no time was wasted, once in the circular gun pit, the lads scrambled all over the gun, hauling the heavy, awkward, cumbersome cover away, together with the smaller breech, tray and muzzle covers etc."

"Having assimilated the chief parts of the gun we were next formed into gun teams (11 men to a team) and instructed in the various jobs assigned to different gunners. Briefly these were the duties of the team:-
No 1.
Usually an N.C.O. The man in charge, who transmits orders received from the Command Post and sees that the gun is efficiently manned and in working order etc.
No 2.
The Bearing Operator who rotates the gun in the required direction.
No 3.
Q.E. Quadrant Elevation Operator. Responsible for angle of fire.
No 4.
Sets the fuse required
No 5.
Fires the gun
No 6.
Rams the round into the breech
No 7.
Takes round from the tray, places the head of the shell in the M.F.S. (mechanical fuse setter) and when the operation of fuse setting is complete passes the round up to No 11.
No 8 Ditto
No 9
By means of levers, locks the rounds in the M.F.S. until fuse is set, then unlocks, so they may be withdrawn.
No 10.
In charge of ammunition. Sees that rounds are kept moving from recess to tray during action.
No 11.
Places fused rounds into a loading tray which he then closes, preparatory to the ramming operation."

"The above is a very brief outline of the elementary stage of gun drill and having been assigned to our positions (I was No 11) we worked hard at our respective jobs, gradually becoming faster, slicker and more efficient with constant practice"

Another drill to be mastered was "telling off" when all the crew having mustered at the gun site had to call out their numbers in the correct order to confirm they were ready and able.

"There were other elementary jobs to be learnt during our initial training such as 'Checking dials', 'Lining up the guns with the Predictors' 'Misfire drill' etc. and the correct procedure to be adopted when orders such as 'Stand Fast', 'Stop' or 'Cease Loading' were given while we were furiously loading, firing and unloading our 'Dummy runs'. "

There were regular soldiers on the site who usually lounged around in the N.A.A.F.I. of an evening, perhaps bored with this comparatively quiet, uneventful posting.....

"Although they (the regular soldiers)appeared so bored and indifferent they were extremely helpful, and if a mamber of the Home Guard required any information regarding the A.A. gunnery, the 'Regulars' would go to great pains to explain, illustrate and help as much as it lay in their power to do so, and there was never the slightest hint of friction between them and the 'Part-Time Soldiers'"

Last but not least I must mention the A.T.S (bless 'em). Unlike the male members of the Battery, they were, with very few exceptions, a most jolly crowd of girls, and in spite of depressing periods of monotony, they usually managed to keep cheerful and found plenty of time in their off duty hours to give vent to their feelings in outbursts of the popular songs of the moment such as 'You'll never know', 'I wonder why' etc. etc"

Joe mentions a lot of his comrades in the unit by name with character sketches of each man, including Captain Naylor, the Battery Commander; Lieutenant Driver; and Sergeants Freddy Fowler, Bill Eaton; 'Dizzy' Longworth; and Hewston etc.

The Home Guard team experienced only one alert when they were in Manchester....
"Dashing into what I thought was our gun pit I found myself in the Command Post so beat a hurried retreat and floundered across to my proper destination finding some of the lads already preparing ammunition for what they hoped would be a spot of action. Captain Naylor and Lt Cook were also helping in this task and in the general excitement, they must have been tugging against each other in their efforts to extricate the same case round for I heard the Captain's instruction to our H. G. Officer "Let go of the ...... thing!"

"Eventually everything was ready and we stared skywards waiting for the approach of the Luftwaffe. Instead of the usual 6 foot wall of thick concrete surrounding normal gun pits we had little more than the foundation of the wall and it was extremely cold sitting or standing about in that open spot waiting for something to happen"

"Although contrary to military discipline, Captain Naylor quietly informed us that if we once received fire orders which were, as often happens, cancelled, we were to ignore the correction and 'Have a bang' - sentiments which suited us. Anyway nothing happened and when the 'All Clear' sounded we trooped dismally back to our huts feeling despondent and nearly frozen with the cold"

There was always the possiblity of accidents happening when handling heavy rounds of ammunition....
On one occasion Sergeant Fowler was demonstrating the finer points of gun station drill when
"He contrived to drop the heavy 50lb dummy round from the high tray to the ground - at least it would have hit the ground immediately if George Brown's toe had not momentarily delayed it!
With muffled gasps and a choice string of imprecations, poor old George hopped wildly round the pit, pursued by a colleague and the officer in charge who tried to calm the agonised, writhing Home Guard.... To me the surprising thing about the whole affair was the indifference of Fowler to the incident. Ignoring the hopping Geprge, he calmly lectured the rest of us on the subject of how careful we must be in the handling of rounds in case we ever dropped them!"

In May the Home Guard gunnery trainees finally received their Ack Ack flashes indicating that they had acheived an acceptable level of competance in handling Ack Ack guns and could now compete in the Kemsley Cup.
"Lord Kemsley of the Allied Newspapers had presented this cup for annual competition between Home Guard A.A. Units in the Manchester area....qualified experienced officers would visit the various sites in the area, coming unexpectedly and testing whatever teams were on duty in gun drill, turn out, general ack-ack knowledge, smartness, efficiency etc. etc. The best teams from each of the sites would then meet in a final arranged test at a later date" - but Joe's team did not do very well at their first testing.

"Saturday June 10th was to be a red letter day for us - the first time we were to fire the 3.7 A.A. gun" (with live ammunition). The unit was transported off to Morecambe, to Sunderland Point, to do this exercise.
"I did not feel the slightest feeling of 'Nerves' ... throughout the preparations, until the round was actually in the breech.... and following the order 'Stand by', waited for the command to 'fire'. It seemed as if the last command would never come and I was filled with a seething impatience to hear it. I knew that simulataneously with that order, Charlie Dye would smack a lever which would cause a violent explosion, powerful enough to drive the heavy head of the round miles into the air, and the air would be full of cordite fumes, the empty shell would clatter past and the gun would violently recoil and I would have to be ready to immediately place another round in the tray....However after what seemed to be a long wait the order was given, the gun fired and I was pleasantly surprised at the comparative ease of the recoil. I had fully expected to be almost shaken off the platform."

The Home Guard gun team got more proficient in their drill but the chances of putting it into real action seemed to elude them a certain level of boredom crept in....
"When things were at their blackest, many of us were sudenly bucked up and made cheerful by the news that Home Guard contingents were to travel from Manchester to the region of Chatham (London)to help man the guns. It gave us a chance of some real experience, relieve tired gunners from the strain of almost nightly alerts in that district and .... would enable us to see more up-to-date guns of which we had heard so many rumours, guns which made our weapons at Mount Road seem antiquated and redundant".

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