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15 October 2014
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by Bill miles

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Bill miles
People in story: 
Bill Miles
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Royal Navy
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28 December 2003

In the early days of WW2 my pal and I who were both 15 years of age put our age up to 16 and joined the local newly formed home guard. Our section CO. who had served as an infantry major in WW1 asked how old we were and when we told him we were 16 he smiled and said it must have been a very recent birthday. He swore us in, shook our hands and welcomed us to his section. We were given a HG. arm band and a broom handle to drill with Our drill sergeant informed us that Jerry did not like the cold steel and that he was expecting an issue of uniforms and Canadian Ross rifles in the near future .In the meantime we marched about with our broom handles having to withstand the remarks of the watching public .Two months later our uniforms and equipment arrived and we at last started to look like an army. Another week and the rifles arrived packed in a thick layer of grease. Each man was issued with a five shot Ross rifle and an 18 inch bayonet plus five rounds of ammo. I asked our sergeant what he expected me to do with only five rounds if the Germans landed. He said shoot one Jerry and as there were 60,000 home guard .If they all did what he said the invasion would be over. It was two months before a large consignment of ammo reached us and we were able to go onto the firing range for target practice. We fired at targets of 250 yards and 500 yards range. My pal Neil produced the best score of the day and I wasn’t far behind. Our sergeant was surprised and it had the effect of us no longer being regarded as kids by the other members of the section. Soon after I received my rifle I was in our front room, which in those days was mothers pride and joy. Everything in this room contained the best we could afford and we were only allowed the use of it once a week on a Sunday. It was in this room with its polished fire irons and highly polished Rexin settee that I was showing my Father, a time serving soldier from the 1914 war, my rifle with bayonet attached. He said this takes me back and with a cry of charge lunged forward sticking the bayonet though the back and out of the front of mothers much cherished settee. Mother screeched “you fool you have ruined my settee�Efather looked at the jagged hole wet his fingers dabbed at it and “declared it wil1 hardly notice�E.The rifle was never allowed in the front room again. The next on the H.G. scene was live grenade practice. The mills bombs were very little problem, just a case of pulling the pin and lobbing the bomb into the target area. The sticky bomb was more complicated. It was like a large toffee apple. There was a white tape that you stripped off, you then gave the bomb a shake and two halves fell away leaving you with a sticky toffee apple type bomb full of nitro glycerin. You pushed a button in the handle and then whacked it onto the side of a passing enemy tank, which in our case was an old iron boiler towed along behind a lorry. It was while practicing that a HG. bomber got his stick bomb stuck to his trouser leg and couldn’t shift it. A quick thinking mate whipped the trousers off and got rid of them and the bomb. After the following explosion the trousers were in a bit of a mess though I think they were a bit of a mess prior to the explosion. Various weapons began to arrive .A spigot mortar which could fire a 20 pound antitank bomb or an antipersonnel 17 pound shrapnel bomb .This was a very heavy clumsy weapon but it was also very accurate.

We also received a smooth bore Smith gun. It arrived in boxes and required assembling. After it had been assembled as per instructions a small washer was found in one of the boxes. This item was ignored and the gun was taken onto the firing range for testing. It could fire mills bombs or phosphorus bottle bombs which burst into flames on impact. Our two corporals were to have the privilege of firing the first shots. The breach was opened and a phosphorus bomb inserted followed by the propelling charge. The two gunners crouched behind the shield and the order to fire was given. There was a bang followed by a huge burst of flame which enveloped gun and gunners. From out of this conflagration staggered our corporals, their eyebrows had gone and their tunics were smoldering. They had the appearance of having been on a good summer’s holiday. It was later discovered that the bomb had gone off in the barrel by striking the foresight screw which had protruded into the bore. The washer left in the box would have prevented this. Fortunately no lasting damage had been done and all were left smiling apart from our corporals. As an ex H.G. I enjoy DADS ARMY on TV and very often its portrayal is close to the truth but it must be remembered that good work was done during the blitz and also a number of AA guns were manned by men of the home guard and if they had been faced by German forces the old soldiers and young boys would have given their best. I was privileged to have met many interesting old soldiers while serving iii the H.G. some were to lose sons before the war was over Our sergeant was to have his son killed while serving as a paratrooper at Arnhem . He informed me while I was on leave from the Royal Navy and we went for a drink together.

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Message 1 - Dad's army

Posted on: 29 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Nice story Bill. I think people were lucky to survive the burst barrel. I had a little experience circa 1980 whilst doing some work as a defence contractor guest of the TA. A cleaning rag accidentally left in a 40 mm Bofors gun emerged with a shell. No-one was hurt but it was treated as a very dangerous incident due to the risk of a burst barrel. I suppose your corporals had already got the message!

Why do you think the youngsters got the best score, was it to do with eyesight?

I didn't know the home guard manned some of the AA guns. It's an important point. From what my father has told me of his experiences in Malta, the gunners played a key role but were a prime target for any aircraft with spare ammunition and not in a hurry to get back. Unfortunately this isn't portrayed in Dad's army as its hardly the stuff of comedy!


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