The Reeve’s Tale magazine website
we laugh at ‘Dad’s Army’, but in 1940 the threat of a
German invasion of Britain appeared very real.
Churchill, newly appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, was convinced that
the possibility of German troops being landed on the East coast of England
should not be overlooked.He argued that forming a
home defence force from those who could not be accommodated within the
regular armed forces but who were keen to play their part would be popular
and would free up soldiers from garrison duty in the home country.
poured in to editorial offices, military headquarters, and the offices of
MP’s and the Prime Minister supporting the idea.
the Home Office issued a statement as to what the public should do and should
not do in the event of an enemy landing.‘It
would not be right for country gentlemen to carry their guns with them on
their walks and take flying shots as opportunity offered.’
military authorities also had reservations, foreseeing residents forming
‘private defence bands’ which the Army would not be able to
were already taking matters into their own control.In
East Anglia there were reports that ‘farmers are oiling up their
fowling pieces, preparing to receive what they call “those umbrella
the 14th May 1940, Anthony Eden making his first speech as Secretary of State
for War announced the official formation of Local Defence Volunteers.Any
men between 17 and 65 wanting to join should report to their local police
next morning queues formed outside police stations everywhere and the poor
police had had no warning or instructions. The lack of organisation was to
continue to be part of the Home Guard for a long time to come.
Despite its popular image of old men and teenagers playing
soldiers, the Home Guard, often as large as the wartime army, became a strong
Invasion of Britain never took place and the Home Guard was never called upon
to fulfil its military role.
Bugdale has written this personal account of the
beginning of the war we met at The Ram, where
there were some evacuees, and in the Parish Room on some weekday
evenings. We also used to have exercises on Sunday mornings. We
were issued with 303 standard rifles - but very litle
ammunition. Later we had two Sten guns: Raffin Hudson had one and I had the other. Lance
Corporal Bob Mann had our only machine gun, which he used
once or twice as we only had a few rounds of ammunition.
shepherd's hut from Hall Farm was used as a guard hut in the early part of
the war. It was placed near the church. Two people would be on
duty all night and Quintin Gurney would visit them
around 9pm, and usually said,"Boys I've got a
feeling they're coming tonight". In
the event of an enemy invasion we were supposed to wake Quintin
first by rapping on his bedroom window with a pole. We had a hurricane
lamp in the hut and were there until about 6am in the morning. On one
occasion Billy Bugdale, ex-army and so had 'the'
rifle, whilst unloading it one night shot out
the hurricane lamp.
ordered to stop traffic in the village one night for a security check.
For that we were issued with live ammunition. There was a searchlight
post a mile or so away just off the Reepham Road at Jordans
Lane and for a time one of us had to go there each night. I think I
went twice but can't think why we were there! I was made hand grenade
instructor as I had a reputation as a good bowler in the village cricket
team. We dug a trench for practice on the Rabbit Hills and used live
grenades. The shrapnel must still be there.
After a lorry accident Peter Sayer refused any more army lorries and used one of his
mill lorries when needed. At the end of the war we celebrated with a
real feed - Major Stimpson killed a pig and I
think Peter Sayer provided the drink. When
the time came for the Victory Parade in London, I went to represent the
Bawdeswell Home Guard.
received from Bryan Donoghue, now living in
I was also interested and somewhat amused by the reminiscences
of Mr. Bugdale regarding the Home Guard. I was one
of the “evacuees” to whom he refers, as our family had to move
out of London having spent practically all of our nights there in air raid
shelters. When we came out of the shelters in the morning, apart from seeing
some of the devastation, we boys would drag magnets along to collect the
shrapnel from the bombing.
As we lived in the Willows, I had first-hand views of the Home
Guard. For most of the war they had no complete uniforms and generally turned
up wearing an assortment of civilian clothes with perhaps a battledress
blouse. I can still remember one man dressed in work boots and trousers, with
a battledress blouse, a flat cap and a white scarf around his neck. Their
usual arms were broom handles. Most people thought it was better that they
did not carry real weapons as they would have caused more trouble than any
Germans who might appear. I remember a group of us boys watching Mr. Lambert
who ran the Bell Inn, chopping wood in his barn across the road from the pub.
One of us asked him why he did not join the Home Guard. Mr. Lambert looked at
us with an expression of amusement and said “me join that lot, if my
home needs guarding I will do it myself”.
I also recollect that even as a small boy I was surprised that
nobody in the village seemed to understand what was going on in London with
the bombing and devastation. In fact they seemed to know almost nothing about
what went on beyond Dereham and Norwich at the
1945 Bawdeswell Home Guard consisted of 44 volunteers.You can see a group photograph of them
below and read many of their names.