“Today we are travelling in Bill Jeffery’s coal lorry to Berkhamsted Common. No.1 Section will man a road block. Sections 2 and 3 will do an attack and defence exercise at Coalharbour Farm.”
At first they were known as the Local Defence Volunteers (L.D.Vs). On 20th August 1940 the name changed to the Home Guard. Cap badges were issued in November, battledress the following September. Boots were then issued but there were difficulties with sizes. Most boots were far too big. Socks were never issued. Boots were not to be worn for normal work!!
The first jobs involved the making and working of the road blocks; old cars and machinery were used. Concrete blocks can still be seen by the road in Dagnell. Our nearest was in the road by the farm shop, an old black car. Stopping people and examining identification papers and then searching vehicles. All crashed aircraft had to be guarded and souvenir hunters kept at bay. A light bomber crashed in the field next to the cemetery. R.A.F. Halton soon removed it. In 1941 an order came from above: “Captured German airmen must not be treated as guests but as prisoners”. In one case chocolate and cigarettes had been offered. On Easter Sunday, a holiday, Church services were suggested! All the Home Guard were volunteers, most had jobs to do, some had experience of the 1914-18 war, some had just left school and would be called up in the regular army.
In the summer evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays trenches were dug, timber was prepared for defences, bottles filled for Molotov cocktails, all privately owned weapons were restored and drilled with. Identity of enemy aircraft was taught. The first test call-out took place at 0300 hours on July 2nd, 1940. Dismissal at 0400 hours. There occurred several alarms on 7th September. There were four or five turn-outs at night and the next morning Major Swan made this note: “It has become history that the enemy embarkations were actually made on that night. The landing craft were dispersed with heavy loss by our bombers and surface craft. It is doubtful whether more than one German reached dry land on this side of the Channel”.
Gradually the training became more intense with regular troops instructing and taking part. Bicycles were used to increase mobility; a large area had to be covered. (There was no bicycle fund.) Training in the rifle, Sten gun and spigot mortar. 30 rounds of live ammunition per person per month were allocated. A warning to all ranks who kept cigarettes, matches, socks or photos of their best girl in their ammunition pouches.
In 1943 the road blocks were removed. The Home Guard helped with the harvest. Agricultural workers were given lighter duties. There were 3 flying bombs in the area. On 3rd December 1944 the Home Guard was stood down. A melancholy reality. They were the most numerous, highly trained volunteer army ever raised in this or any other country. King George VI, December 2nd 1944.
“History will say that your share in the greatest of all our struggles for freedom was a vitally important one. You have given your service without thought for reward. You have earned in full measure your Country’s gratitude”.
No. 4 Platoon, C Company. Just some of the names: Corporal Dick Bateman, Sergeant Fred Bateman, Lieutenant Bert Bussey, Tom Chapman, Henry Chapman, Thomas Chappin, Henry Chappin, Donald Dean, Leonard Dean, Arthur Gates, Harry Glasser, Gilbert Grace, Fred Jeffery, Howard Ross, Don Bignell, G. Casemore, Ron Kitchener, John Rush, Reg Winfield. There were 9 Webbs in No. 4 Platoon. Nearly 600 men involved in C Company.
I would like to thank Tommy Chappin for the loan of the book: “7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard”, edited by Henry K. O’Kelly, to which acknowledgement is given. (If any reader has photographs of the local Home Guard or LDV’s we would be delighted to publish them. Ed.)
Article appeared in the Village News November 2009 page 15