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15 October 2014
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Reminiscences of a Hampshire Home Guard - Part 1

by Dora_Piper

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Leonard Thomas Piper
Location of story: 
Denmead area
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 April 2004

(an account written by Leonard Piper)

At some time during the fourteenth of June 1940 I was told of a broadcast by Anthony Eden during which he gave details of a volunteer force to be raised to provide local defence when the Nazis invaded this country. This force was to be made up of men between the ages of, I think, sixteen and seventy; at least I served with many LDV members within this age group. The method of enlistment was very simple - go to your nearest police station and inform the officer therein that you came into that age group, were British by birth and state what experience, if any, you had of firearms. Having done this you waited. On arrival at the village police house I found that the constable was out and waited until he returned home some twenty minutes later. It soon became obvious that he had no knowledge of the broadcast, but after a short conversation with his wife he passed a piece of paper across his desk and told me to enter the necessary details. Having done this I either went back to work or to my lodgings; after a lapse of some fifty six years I cannot be sure which!
Within a day I was visited by a gentleman who introduced himself as Captain Tayler, the designate O.C. of the local Volunteer Force as yet, I think, un-named. He stated that he was appraising all those on the list of volunteers passed to him by the local police. He emphasized that as yet he had no arms to issue, although he was doing all in his power to remedy this, but that it might be necessary to go on patrol with just anything we could provide from our own resources; if we had a friend who owned any sort of firearm we should borrow it. Failing that we should use anything that came to hand which could put a German paratrooper out of action in order to arm ourselves. In the meantime he was contacting all organisations in the area, such as schools, which had a Cadet Force, in order to borrow any arms they might have. He also said that as I had no military experience he had arranged for me to go to the local Royal Marine A.A. unit to learn how to use the S.M.L.E. Within a few days rosters had been drawn up detailing patrol duties and I think I did my first duty within four days of enrolling.
This first duty was a static one in the grounds of a large farm outside Denmead, just off the road to Hambledon. On this first patrol, or sentry duty, we were armed with one First World War German rifle and bayonet - a souvenir of that war - with five rounds of vintage ammo, a shotgun, some knuckledusters, knives and clubs. During our off-duty periods we were allowed to rest in the farmhouse itself - very cosy. However, as the danger of invasion receded so the standard of accommodation deteriorated until we ended up in the garage! That was later, of course, but on that night we were very welcome guests and we had authority to use the owner’s shotguns if the balloon went up.
Our patrol of six or eight men, I cannot remember which, included several ex-service men and these set out immediately to instruct the novices in the arts. Our position on that first night provided a good view over an arc of about 270 degrees. This meant that we had a large front to observe and we were shown the importance of making a rough sketch of any objects such as bushes, gateposts, etc. so that if, after dark, our eyes played tricks we could check our plan and calm ourselves. I don’t remember any rural LDVs shooting up bushes and posts but many of those just back from France did so, plus horses and cows! Easily done, I can assure you. After this we made ourselves familiar with the rifle and then had instruction with the rifle and bayonet. Here we were fortunate as one of our number had at some time been Imperial Services Champion in this skill and soon proved that even at the age of sixty plus he could defend himself against two or three of us armed with clubs. Our first night passed without any alarms with the exception of some AA shell-bursts which contrived to make themselves look like parachute canopies! Few of us took much rest and at 0.600 hours we all went home, some of us to change and go to work. In fact, I was half an hour late but - there was a war on!
On this duty, of course, our only uniform was an armband indicating L.D.V., not sufficient to save us from execution if we were captured by the Nazis. In the early days we did around two night duties per week, with training and lectures in addition. Each Patrol saw the issue of more weapons and ammo and even some uniform. The first issues were of denim suits and side caps, and eventually winter clothing reached us, but we were more interested in the arrival of weapons. It is now obvious that, probably due to the location, we were armed to a very high standard many months ahead of some of the less fortunate battalions. In fact in my unit we received our weapons at some time, I believe, towards the end of July. Each Platoon had a B.A. Rifle and I am sure we had a Tommy Gun per platoon, with at least one Lewis machine gun in the H.Q. Platoon. I think that before the end of summer we had all tried the Sten and it is possible that we had one or two on issue. I realise now, on reading other Home Guard accounts, how fortunate we were in that area because some less fortunate units were issued with PIKES as late as 1941/2. In our area I can affirm that our first patrol was the only one on which we had no SERVICEABLE rifle to hand. Each duty after the first saw more rifles appear — SMLEs, P14s and Ross. The latter were soon withdrawn because although they were very accurate they suffered from an inclination to jam should there be any dirt about. As a sniper’s rifle they would have been almost ideal but at that very early stage we had no call for such sophistication.
By this time more instructors were available and more emphasis was placed on drill. In the early days our instructors were of the 1914/18 vintage who tried to teach us to form fours, but after going on courses they had to re-organise us all to drilling in THREE ranks. This resulted in some confusion at first as the older N.C.Os tended to forget the correct word of command. It is possible that some of the more way-out tales arose from this type of occurrence; a typical CpI. Jones episode! You can imagine the chaos if one rank obeyed the order given and the rest acted to the order that should have been given!

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