Local Home Guard
- 1 SPROWSTON, 10TH PLATOON HOME GUARD. - MAY. 1940 to DECEMBER. 1944.
- 1.1 PREFACE by VICTOR R. BENNETT - 10th Platoon.… 2004.
- 1.2 THE LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEER
- 1.3 COMMAND STRUCTURE
- 1.4 INVASION COMMITTEES
- 1.5 PROFICIENCY AWARD SCHEME
- 1.6 HITLER INVADES RUSSIA
- 1.7 EXERCISES AT MORETON HALL
- 1.8 THREAT OF DISBANDMENT
- 1.9 SECOND FRONT DUTIES
- 1.10 V1 & V2 ATTACKS START
- 1.11 HOME GUARD. FACTS AND FIGURES
- 1.12 MEMBERS OF THE SPROWSTON PLATOON
SPROWSTON, 10TH PLATOON HOME GUARD. - MAY. 1940 to DECEMBER. 1944.
As remembered by the late Victor R Bennett.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMBERS WHO FORMED THE SPROWSTON PARISH HOMEGUARD UNIT TO ENLIST IN WINSTON CHURCHILLS CITIZENS ARMY IN THOSE DESPERATE YEARS.FOR MANY IT WAS THE SECOND TIME ROUND IN TWO DECADES, HAVING TO COME TO TERMS WITH YET ANOTHER WAR. For all we have and are. For all our children’s fate. Stand up and take the war. The Hun is at the gate. Rudyard kipling. 1917.
PREFACE by VICTOR R. BENNETT - 10th Platoon.… 2004.
The purpose of the book is to put on record the contribution made by the residents of Sprowston in forming a unit. I am able to present this to the reader due to having in my keeping the original registration book listing all those volunteers, of which I was one of them at the ripe old age 15 and a bit, enlisting in 1941. I can recall the many “war games” played making good use of the facilities such as Mousehold Heath, Recreation Ground, Norwich Greyhound Stadium, to name a few sites. As you would expect many of the cameos of humour were certainly in step with TV’s Dads Army.
The registration book, a sturdy “Guildhall Accounts Book” was given to my father, Robert Bennett, Platoon Sergeant, after the stand down in December 1944, for safekeeping and now in my possession. In 1990, with all my memories and the information in the book I put to print, albeit a pen and ink job. As you see we’ve moved on a little. The registration book contained so much detail of the members, as follows… National reg. No… Date of birth… Next of kin… Occupation Joining Forces… Firearms and Ammunition issued… Transfers in and out, Medically Discharged (Two Doctors Certificates needed.) Was easier to get in than out. The person who updated all this matter suggests R. B. Deeker, L/Cpl. indeed the Parish Clerk.
Trust the book shows the Home Guard in good light and worthy of their wartime efforts. Few bullets expended but do remember a runaway Barrage Balloon making an excellent target - Hard to miss. Many would rightly wonder that after the slaughter and misery caused by the 1914/18 Great War that Europe would slide towards another, 20 years on. The League of Nations being the forerunner to our present U.N.O. formed hopefully to prevent another. Hitler made his entry in the 1930`s, clearly making his views known and to write a book, translated “My Struggle”. He also increased arms production, as the world looked on seemingly powerless. On our side of the continent a clash of opposing opinions with Winston Churchill expressing his views with force and passion but brandished a warmonger was rejected by society and political arenas. Prime Minister Chamberlain was the peacemaker and to his credit tried his hardest to maintain peace… even then he must have realised that Hitler would go his own way.
Churchill pondered what the country would be able to do if faced by a formidable foe -- Germany-- and looking at the worst of all, with all Europe dominated and Great Britain left to carry the fight… Alone. Where would the manpower and resources come from to supply the home front as well as servicemen to the outposts of the World? Did he realise his thoughts were to come true and enable him to further his idea of a Civilian/Part time Army for home defence. History books tell of the events that led to the Second World War with Germany making easy conquests over its neighbours against very little resistance in some cases. On September 3rd. 1939, Chamberlain reluctantly declared war on Germany having tried all peaceful means. The Empire and France followed with declarations. The period that followed was titled “Phoney War” probably by the Americans. This was unfair considering the Royal Navy and Air Force were continually in action also the build-up of troops in France known as the Western Front. Suddenly the stalemate came to an end with the swift invasion by the German forces of Denmark and Norway. Then within days Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg then the push into France. April/May 1940 proved hectic indeed.
These events forced Chamberlain to resign and Churchill was installed as Prime Minister and Minister of war. The situation became desperate as the Army and the support services comprising of half a million personnel looked likely to be trapped on the continent. The story of Dunkirk says it all as over 300,000 were taken off the beaches and not surprisingly most of the arms and equipment were lost. Replacements were virtually non-existent. By the end of June France capitulated as there appeared no other way out and spared Paris the heavy bombing Warsaw and Rotterdam had been subjected to. We were now “Alone” The swift conquest of Northern Europe was due to a new type of warfare. “Fifth Column” units of spies and agents planted to take over important sites and buildings… Parachute troops to capture aerodromes and backup forces sent in by Air Transporters and Gliders. These tactics would be the blueprint of the invasion of Britain, “Operation Sealion”. German control of air bases in Holland had brought the war to the doorsteps of Norfolk and Suffolk, and likewise the South coast were to experience the threatening menace from across the Channel. Churchill, alive to the situation, decided on a Local Defence Force.
THE LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEER
On the evening of Tuesday, May 14th. 1940, Anthony Eden made his historic radio broadcast that linked with the 9 p.m. news and an appeal for volunteers to join a new civilian army to defend the homeland. All able-bodied men between the ages of 17 to 65 to form the L.D.V. Those interested were to report to their nearest Police Station, City Halls or Libraries. Registration Forms had been rapidly dispatched during the day and the response to the appeal, far exceeded what was expected, meant the forms soon ran out. By the end of the month the National total stood at 400,000. Norfolks recruitment reached 28,000, by August… Looking back it seemed an odd time of the day to make an appeal of this nature considering the urgency of the situation… that time of night. One aspect would be the adoption of “Double Summertime” that was introduced in February and the benefit of an extra hours daylight taking in account of the blackout and the early to work, the population would more likely to be thinking of bedtime, rather than going out. Another reason was Churchill’s habit of favouring 9p.m. for the breaking of good or bad news, so it would capture live American daytime radio… He felt this was a good tactical ploy. The question of manpower had reached a critical stage and this became obvious when coupled with the L.D.V. appeal, an additional announcement that the service call up age for men to be raised… 38 to 40. At a stroke this would take 500,000 out of industry.
The residents of Sprowston heard the appeal and responded by making their way to the local Police House that was on the corner of Wroxham Road and Cannerby Lane. It appears there was a rush to join, keeping the Police Constable very busy for an hour or two and by the end of the evening a total of about 50 registrations. By all accounts, after committing themselves stood around waiting for the next move then disbanded. I well remember my father on that evening as he dashed off to offer his services and from thereon had a very busy war. He was not surprised at the turn of events as he, like many of the “old sweats” had been talking up this war for many years and seemed to cherish the idea of involvement. He had tried to get back in the R. A. F. a few months earlier but was turned down because of age. The number of recruits enlisted could be described as excellent when you consider the landscape and population of the 1940`s. half the parish was of agricultural status with cornfields and grazing land. Within days the Local Defence Volunteers had been formed and the Headquarters to be the Lone Barn that was sited in a cornfield at the bottom of Cannerby Lane/ Corbet Avenue. They were not roads but farm tracks. It leaves little imagination to the origin of Lone Barn Road. The Barn became the assembly point and soon put to use, drill, marching, slope and shoulder arms, but only with “broomsticks” No uniforms or rifles, as yet. An armband did arrive displaying L. D. V. and became the only recognition for a while.
They were given permission to obtain shotguns, revolvers for temporary use, also to fit a blade to a broomstick. Considering the weapons on offer to the L. D. V. or the lack of did not dent their enthusiasm, holding on to the promise of supplies to follow. The government had placed a large order for shotgun cartridges that were on offer and an M. P. in Parliament who had been informed of a warehouse that contained a very big stock of redundant Great War bayonets that could be fixed to a suitable stave, wood or metal. The “Molotov Cocktail” another weapon to come to the fore… a glass bottle filled with petrol, a cloth wick as a plug. This became the favourite of all resistance groups. A link was established with an Anti-Aircraft battery based in Blue Boar Lane and night time guard duties in association with the regular force. There was no payment for this duty but a generous Sergeant of the Guard made sure of a little gratuity in the form of jam, fruit and vegetables of the tinned variety to help the family ration. By the end of June the platoon’s strength had increased to 90 and had now outgrown the Lone Barn site and the Parish Council made the offer to use the Sprowston Recreation Ground and Pavilion. Pavilion, Recreation Ground. This was ideal for the platoon with plenty of land and surrounding fields for drill and manoeuvres with the big plus of a wooded area, tank traps, concrete blocks, a pillbox and concertina barbed wire all over the place. All this contributed to the defence system that was made good use of in the coming years. Home Guard Base
The move did give publicity to ourselves by giving the residents a chance to observe as to what we were about; who knows it could have helped to swell the ranks. The arrival of uniforms certainly gave the unit a change of image, Khaki denims, not pretty but morale boosting. The Counties Lord Lieutenants had the mandate of office to set up the early operation of the L.D.V. but difficulties regarding arms and equipment proved the big problem. With members finding ways to obtain their own weapons, the Police could not help feeling upset that civilians had a right to roam the Cities and Counties armed with shotguns etc. under the protection of an L.D.V. armband. This right was something even the Police were denied. Churchill by mid-July made sweeping changes to his original plan, L.D.V. out and renamed the HOME GUARD, claiming it would square better with the Army ranking order. To him the L.D.V. sounded too defensive. It was more likely that volunteer did not fit in with his future conscription plans at a later date… February 1942 to be precise.
(L. D. V. 1940) became (HOME GUARD. July 1940) with the following change of rank names:-
Zone Commander became Brig/Colonel.
Group Commander became Colonel.
Battalion Commander became Lieut/Colonel.
Company Commander became Major.
Platoon Commander became Captain or Lieutenant.
Section Commander became Sergeant.
Squad Commander became Corporal or Lance Corporal.
When the new structure was enforced, the bottom rankers preferred “Volunteer” rather than Private. This objection became more noticeable when conscription was introduced. The L. D. V. / Home Guard received their instructions from the Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office… the following. To give the reader an idea of the kind of world we were about to enter and experience, I reprint the instruction.
“INVASION” What to do………………..How to do it.
1. If the Germans come, by Parachute, by Aeroplane, by Ship. Remain where you are… the order is to “STAY PUT”.
2. Do not believe rumours, do not spread them. When you receive an order, make sure whether TRUE or FALSE. Check with Police, A. R. P, Wardens or the Military.
3. Keep watch. If you see anything suspicious, make a careful note and report to the Police, A. R. P. or Military. Give facts and do not spread any rumours.
4. Do not give Germans anything, do not tell them anything. Hide your food, bicycles, maps, and petrol. Cars and Motor Cycles must be put out of operation… to hide ignition key is not enough. You must make vehicle useless. (Except for yourself). If you are a Garage Owner, you must work out a plan to protect your stock of Cars and Petrol. Remember that transport and petrol will be the main problem for the invaders. Deny them any means of transport.
5. Be ready to help the Military in any way you can. Do not block roads unless ordered by the Military or L. D. V.
6. In Factories or shops, all Managers and Workmen to organise some system by which a sudden attack can be resisted. ……….These six rules give a general idea of what you can do in event of invasion. More detailed instructions from time to time.….……Further instructions will come from the Military, Police or L. D. V. No information will be transmitted over the Wireless (Radio) for obvious reasons.
7. Think before you act… Think of your Country before you Think of yourself. DATE of ISSUE, JUNE 1940.N. B. This was the instruction for all to follow. It was often quoted as the “Look, Listen and Report” instruction, or sometimes “Observe, Obstruct and Patrol”, translated as O, O, P, s.
The instruction regarding rumours had to be heeded. They were easily spread. I remember one such rumour of enemy troops landing on the South coast and also on the beach at Trimingham, North Norfolk. How true was this? Denied of course, but it seemed odd that the National newspapers, despite heavy censorship, made references to this “event” some weeks later, but gave no real details. The locals did their bit with reports of the R. A. F. attacking the enemy to total destruction… The Royal Navy ramming barges and ships… Of the Army laying in wait to shoot up the invaders and to watch them being blown up on a mined beach. At least there was a choice of whatever version suited your taste, but you must agree at that particular time a local “victory” was sorely needed. Even to this day, with all the denials there is someone whose brother-in-law, had a friend who knew somebody, even a relative who actually dug the graves… but cannot remember where… A mystery!!
A further supply of uniforms and then boots, military gas masks, capes, webbing equipment in anticipation of rifles and ammunition. The arrival of a few American 1918 rifles .300, not enough for everybody, but did give volunteers a bit of hope for the future. The rifles were in a dreadful state having been “mothballed” for twenty odd years, packed in heavy black grease that had hardened. I understood at the time, that on arrival at Liverpool Docks, they were put through large degreasing tanks that proved ineffective. Can well remember helping in the clean-up operation. The months to follow limited numbers of Bren guns, Tommy guns and Hand grenades. In the woods, behind the pavilion, the Royal Engineers constructed a concrete weapons store and surprisingly it never was tampered with or broken into. Children did make use of the corrugated roof as a slide.
Whether the supply situation, although improved, it is doubtful that resistance to the invasion, destined for September, would have been effective as far as the Home Guard were concerned. Churchill had realised that his “baby” were still poorly armed despite his promises. “They have plenty of spirit… but nothing else”. Sprowston unit were steadily getting into shape. How they resolved the ranking order I have no idea. I suspect it was based on who was what in the Great War- an Officer, Sergeant, other ranks, length of service. It appeared to work out well in the end. The formation of sections with approximately 15 to 20 men, a Sergeant, a Corporal, and one or two Lance Corporals appeared the criteria. The unit started with four sections finishing with eight by stand down. Air attacks commenced in July with the South East being the main target. Norwich got the first of its daylight raids commencing July 10th. With a strike at Barnards Iron Works, Salhouse Road.
The Barnard's Factory site on Salhouse Road.
The country survived the Battle of Britain and the projected invasion set for mid-September was shelved and the next possible date suggested would be April 1941. The Home Guard had increased in numbers and began to receive a bigger range of firearms, normal Army uniforms, (Denims taken out of use) webbing and ammunition pouches. Also a brown leather belt and gaiters… this was a surprise as these would normally be Officer’s equipment. By now the Sprowston unit had a title—10th Platoon and formed in a Company No. 3. With Catton, N. E. Norwich and Barnards Works Platoons. The Company met on a monthly basis at the Greyhound Stadium that was opposite the Brickmakers Public House. It was an ideal place as a parade ground and used for drilling, demonstration of equipment, with good facilities when weather bad. The Company were 500 to 600 strong and quite an impressive sight when on parade. Thinking about it one would believe with that number of people about, there must be chaos… not so, always taking the job seriously indeed… organised. The family tree did not end there as the Company had further links making up a 2000 strong Battalion No. 10. and taking it a stage onwards to be attached to the 76th. Division of the Royal Norfolks. The City of Norwich started with two Battalions the 6th and the 10th. an additional Battalion, 16th. added as recruitment rose. The operational boundary was the East Zone, North to South of County. Other zones known as West and Middle of the County.
Invasion committees were formed to make the best use of training, presentation and use of equipment, also a programme for large-scale manoeuvres. The committee had to interpret the Home Guard instruction manuals that appeared from time to time, passing it all down to the platoons. Lieut. Hewlett being our platoon commander was part of the top brass committee that had to solve these problems. Sprowston had been cut in half to create a defensive line to thwart any attack on the City of Norwich. The line commencing at Salhouse Road and to finish at North Walsham Road. Most of the route of Tank Traps, 300 Concrete Blocks, miles of Concertina Coiled Barbed Wire stacked in pyramid fashion, extended the length of Cannerby Lane, across Wroxham Road into Dixons Dairy (Stonehouse Farm) and to Dixons Field that bordered Cozens Hardy Road. The old allotments along Edwards Road, the Recreation Ground Woods had a big mix of all the above items and carried on to North Walsham Road. The unit made good use of these facilities and also a check now and again to see if everything’s to order. During the invasion scares a roadblock would be set in place and an identity card check made, but usually for not more than 30 minutes. Not to upset the natives. By now the platoon had forged a strong link with the Barnards. Works on Salhouse Road and we would share night time guard duties. They had just completed a refurbished Gatekeepers Lodge, below was a spiral staircase that led to the basement, fitted out with bunks and a few chairs. It was a bit cramped with 12 other fellows, got smelly, smoke laden, difficult to sleep if a card school was operating. With all this going on it was a relief to go up top and do some guarding? A typical roster would be a two-hour stint spread over the hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a. m, and possibly to be selected every tenth day. Considering all had a job to go to the next day I cannot remember any arguments or disquiet. The selected guards had to see out the whole shift- no doing your turn, then going home. Later the Battalion paid out a subsistence allowance for duty performed… one shilling. Barnards had been a favourite daytime target in the 1940`s but now the Luftwaffe were operating at night going for the Midlands instead. This meant a long guard night as the route taken, flying over the City that operated the siren alert, returning a hour later and dispatching any surplus bombs on the City or County. It was always difficult to patrol the factory, particularly on those very dark moonless nights, not a soul about, the odd crump (was that a bomb?). One did not stray too far from the railway line that encircled the factory. During one nights guard a badly shot-up Wellington Bomber crash-landed on Mousehold Airfield, nose in the ground, tail in the air, and 20 ft. from the factory gate entrance. None of our lot heard or saw it come down.
Aerial view of the Wroxham Road area showing tank traps etc.
HOURS ON DUTY AND EXERCISES The War Office had given instructions that 45 hours per months duty expected of all H. G. members. This instruction would cause big problems to many workers, already 48 to 52 hours per week, normal working hours, allied to shift work or any overtime. Industrial and business houses set up their own Home Guard Platoons, just as Barnards had and members were allowed to transfer. The Sprowston unit had a few transferred. The B. B. C. television series “Dads Army” have done much to bring to the public’s attention that a civilian army existed during the war and must be commended. The code of dress, the cameos of humour were spot on, but must say the inference of a bumbling crowd of geriatric misfits representing the Home Guard was to my mind an error. Our own unit, that reached a total of 180 members, the oldest was 55, and the majority were mid- 40` s. However the series did strike a few cords and recall one such incident of a rapid call out of sergeants and corporals at an appointed date, the time was set at midnight. During that era, very few people had the luxury of a telephone; therefore myself and other younger members became the platoon runners. Primed of our duties… sworn to secrecy…get the N. C. O`s to report to the Headquarters at the Greyhound Stadium at speed.
No explanations to be given… must be seen as the real thing… they would be timed on receipt of “call out” and on arrival at Headquarters. The first four of my knock-ups caused no problems at all, but my last call did experience a little trouble. I did not expect to wake up the whole neighbourhood. A bright moonlit evening I arrived at Black Horse Opening, Sprowston Road, a narrow roadway dividing a row of terraced houses. Finding the address, I proceeded to knock on the door but the response was a feeble boom, boom, boom. No reply… louder… BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Suddenly I was aware of bedroom windows being opened all around me as the residents, peering out and seeing me there in my uniform, started a barrage of questions. What could I say… sworn to secrecy… “What’s happened?”… “Have they landed? ”.”What was that, landed where?” asked another. “Looks bad”, was the reply, “He’s not going to tell us.” The neighbours were obviously on tender hooks with the war situation as it was, and the possibility of the April invasion. At this moment, a bedroom window opens and the sleepy head of Corporal Lew appears. “What do you want this time of night?” Urgent… Report immediately to the Headquarters… now? I replied. The mention of urgency creates a stir among the residents. “Should I take sandwiches with me?” He asked. Remembering it was a time exercise… “No time for that, urgent”. “Should I bring my rifle?”… YES. “Ammunition?”… YES. The residents had absorbed this conversation in complete silence. My part in the “call out” was now over, job done, all to do now was to report to H. Qs of notification times. One can imagine Corp. Lew, heading off to war with rifle, ammunition and bicycle with plenty of neighbourly support. But what would be his reception from the neighbours, having lost a possible 30 minutes sleep… He had a lot of explaining to do. I feel guilty now of any stress that most certainly had been caused… but then, I was sworn to secrecy. The exercise was reported as a success and this would be the format for the future. Fortunately it was never repeated.
A planned weekend call out was organised by Eastern Command involving all the Regulars, Civil Defence, Ambulance Services and Home Guard. Most of the action appeared to be the coastal areas leaving the inland groups to make their own arrangements. Not a good start. Evening manoeuvres was another activity that the Platoon became involved in, and usually on the Saturday with a limited number of men. Our first “turn out” became a complete failure and a valuable lesson learned… Do not write on the Platoon Notice Board “Assemble in the ……… Public House.” Strange that word “at” read as “in”. The landlord must have been very pleased to see thirty or more Home Guards invading his premises on this Saturday evening, here was an excellent chance to drain his barrels, thereby exhausting the weekly ration and to close up for a few days. Time came for the call to “fall in”, or to those inside “fall out”. One could see great difficulties getting the troops in order, let alone lining up with rifles at ease. A long orderly queue had developed and terminated into a very small outside toilet… they were the vogue in that era and never designed for such a demand as that. Everybody were now milling around in an aimless fashion, laughing, joking including the Sergeants and Corporals, and realising it was impossible to take the “war games” seriously and cancellation it had to be. Next exercise came… no Public House for miles. Lesson learned.
A joint effort with Barnards Home Guard, starting from Salhouse Road Works, we proceeded in total darkness towards the Blue Boar Lane in batches of six at intervals, finding cover in a hedge, then cross the road as silent as possible, wait a few minutes then cross again. All this in a crouched position, follow your leader. This went on for about a mile or two, twenty paces-cross, twenty paces-cross, on and on. It was an exhausting exercise really, with full pack and rifle. Halfway through the skies opened up and got a real soaking, alas no shelter, no pub! Most of the training was carried out with knowledge passed down by the Great War veterans and they themselves getting refreshed by the latest instruction manuals. As the days lengthened and with Spring in the air, the Recreation Ground began to put to full use, rifle drill, also strip and clean other weapons, all in double quick time. Throwing dummy hand grenades, map reading, aircraft recognition, camouflage and bayonet practice using straw bales as a target. Later, on one Sunday, a couple of athletic looking Sergeants from the Royal Norfolks arrived and demonstrated their undoubted skills of unarmed combat. After a 15-minute workout, they began “casting the net” for volunteers. True to Military doctrine, the you, you and you method of selection was applied and about twenty of the younger members found themselves the platoon “guinea pigs”. Split into two groups for an in-depth study of the noble art of U/C, and were soon to be seen throwing, tripping, grappling and generally being spread-eagled on the ground. It became a popular part of H.G. training and the squad increased. As time passed by they would often be seen at fetes or money raising events, showing off their expertise, or more likely a laugh or two… Another exercise that was popular and if turned into a team game better still. This would be a crawling race, with backpack, holding the rifle in both hands and crawl a distance making use of elbows and knees. There were obstacles on the way that had to be navigated. It was exhausting work, whether first or last the finishing post would be a welcome sight.
PROFICIENCY AWARD SCHEME
The much-published attempt of a German invasion in April 1941 did not happen. Obviously their thoughts elsewhere… Russia. The Home Guard were now to engage in a Proficiency Award Scheme and the outcome of this would be a small red diamond badge to be worn on the sleeve if successful. This did not mean the recipient now had the requirements to gain a stripe… Oh no. Also many of the members had no wish to participate. The scheme, however, did give platoons a programme to work on, but the test itself appeared to be lengthy taking 18 months to complete. The reason for this was due to sections of the test having to be set at different venues, examined by other platoon officers. This took a lot of time and frustration set in replacing earlier enthusiasm. A later addition of the Proficiency Scheme was introduced, demanding more than the original. There were few takers. The first award scheme show a surprise or two regarding the role and responsibility of the H.G… Coastal Artillery, Heavy Anti-Aircraft, Bomb Disposal, Watermanship, Heavy Vehicles. I cannot remember any of our platoon engaged in the above, but many of the Great War vets, no doubt, would have had this experience. Two of our members were transferred to the Battalion H/Q. as drivers. Heavier weapons arrive. Northover Projector that fired Anti-Tank Grenades and Phosphorous Shells. This became more effective when fitted to a wheeled carriage, being rather weighty. Another weapon was the Blacker Bombard (Spigot Mortar) that hurled hand grenades quite a distance. After the War I came across a book assessing W.W. II military hardware and it appears both were withdrawn, dangerous, and unreliable. MOUSEHOLD HEATH was a designated area for most of the H.G. platoons, having plenty of trees, scrub and valleys, making it an ideal place for manoeuvres. One such exercise with many sections involved, colour coded, starting off in regular intervals and going forward by a pre-arranged route. The Assessors would be the Royal Norfolk Officers, in hiding along the route to judge our camouflage, silent movement, use of cover and general attitude. Finished off with a discussion. The old Brickmaking site on the Heath was converted into a rifle range and for live hand grenade throwing. On the football ground on Mousehold Lane a Royal Norfolk Sergeant introduced us to the STICKY BOMB. The bomb is round, and a handle inserted and locked in position… it is now activated… the two outer covers are held in place by a tape that have to be peeled off and withdraw a clip, the two covers will spring off leaving a very sticky looking object. An old car became the target and the Sergeant with a moderate clout, this breaks an interior glass tube and you have 10 seconds to take cover. BANG. He now asks for a volunteer to step forward after we had fell in line. There was little response, but everyone appeared to shuffle backwards, except one. This gave the impression that he had volunteered. He took the challenge in good spirit going through the stages to make it active… handle… tape… clip… he was doing very well until the sticky mess came to view, then his courage failed him as his hand and bomb dropped lower and lower. A gust of wind blew over the Heath, and the bottom part of his greatcoat whipped in the air and the bomb is now stuck to the coat. The Sergeant leaps in and gets the coat and bomb off the victim. Cheers all round as the car and coat went up with the bang.
Thanks to a Mr. S a Mr. T. who produced a remarkable light weapon the STEN, favourite to many Home Guards, particularly to those who up to now had been issued with no arms at all. It was light, could be split into three parts, including a magazine and all could be tucked away in the uniform – it was known as the “Ten Shilling Gun”, the big fault – drummed into us – was to watch your fingers as the bolt action would act like a bacon slicer. Was this the first English made metric gun? Was the gun made to fit the bullet? The story told at the time that vast quantities of Italian and German 9mm ammunition had been captured in the North African campaign, and justified production. However the recipients, twenty-five in all, went on a crash course at the firing range to try out their new weapons and at the end of it received 100 rounds of ammunition, much to the envy of those with rifles who had an allocation of only 50 rounds. You cannot please them all. Route marches were something we got used to and became a way of life. Having assembled at the Recreation Ground, a few slope arms and about turn’s etc. forward march, we were off. The Sprowston residents could always be relied upon to give a wave and a cheer, even more so if headed by a marching band. There were special occasions to have a band, such as R. A. F. Wings Week or Navy Week to support donations to named causes, or anything to put cash into the war effort. Secretly, I believe we were chuffed by the attention received and spurred us on regarding our part-time duties. We had many followers on route and the marching numbers grew with children in our wake, also barking dogs to complete the picture…
HITLER INVADES RUSSIA
The German invasion of Russia in June certainly took the pressure off the country at last we were no longer alone. We felt more hopeful. A selection of the Battalion members were called in on a special operation that involved the dropping of parachute troops on the then Norwich Civil Airport (Salhouse Road). Not selected myself and knowing the finer details of when and time, I did go to witness this spectacular show. The Home Guard units did their job well by a successful “mopping up” operation although the “Paras” didn't seem to offer much resistance and appeared to be happy to be collected and directed to the awaiting buses. Instructions from H/Q related to the change in the international situation and the platoons must not be allowed to get rusty … Our solution would be a six mile jaunt complete with full kit and rifle appearing to be a harsh way of doing it. Fortunately most were hardy manual workers and could take whatever on the chin… The march got underway with our leader Lieut. Hewlett at the head of the troop, but the main difference being our struggling along with full pack and our sprightly leader content with his wooden baton. No full pack for him, he’s not silly… and onwards we marched. On the return journey we came to an unexpected halt with a yelling of pain. It was our leader who had suddenly been struck down with a nasty bout of cramp or dead leg. One exercise that needed a lot of forward planning was the Sprowston Platoon, dubbing as an enemy parachute unit, are ordered to attack and destroy the Salhouse Road works with the Barnards H.G. in opposition. The big problem, both sides knowing time and date, was how? It seemed an impossible task for the attackers with a 5 to 6ft fence to overcome that surrounded the factory. A plan was agreed upon. The attack would be in three areas. Two Lories with human cargo aboard hidden under covers, proceed to their destination, one to the Mousehold Lane end, the lorry stops and reverses to the fence and over we go. The other vehicle travels to the further part of Salhouse Road and the same tactic used. The third group, being the largest, assembled in the wooded area and located a weak part of the fence making their way into the site with ease, much depended on them. At this stage everything was going to plan, except for a Barnards member deciding to turn up late for parade, witnessed our lining up and boarding the lorries. He pedalled off at speed on his bicycle and raised the alarm to his superiors of our whereabouts. The defenders were well prepared, as during our attack and pointing at the enemy and shouting “bang, bang”... You’re dead, they appeared to have pulled a fast one by obtaining a considerable number of Thunder Flashes that they used with great effect. Our “bang.. bangs” were almost unheard due to their better firepower. At least the result proved that the attackers did enter the site and were in “business” for 30 minutes. Grateful that the lorries gave us a lift back to H.Q.s… footsore… weary… and slightly deafened.
EXERCISES AT MORETON HALL
Moreton hall, near Lenwade, was a venue for county units to take part in weekend training courses, Saturday to Sunday. Fully kitted out we boarded buses and headed off into the county. It was now our turn. Arriving at the stately home we were directed to some distant part of the estate, reaching an area already set up with tents, a field kitchen, outside toilets, and a larger tent displaying a Red Cross symbol, below this the word… Hospital. This did strike fear into the hearts of those who had up to now, might have considered the weekend a bit of a spree? The allocation of tents sorted, then additional duties as hospital orderlies, kitchen staff, waste collectors and in-charge of toilets. The meals that followed, considering wartime rationing, passed the test and can't think of anyone making use of the hospital. Divided into groups, we now went through the first day’s syllabus, all being routine stuff. It changed when the two Sprowston Doctors, the Carlson Brothers, made an appearance and gave a lecture of the medical aspects in a battle area. It all made sense when red cross boxes and stretchers arrived. Volunteers for the next stage… the injured, attendants, and the bearers. Soon the “injured” covered in tomato ketchup, bandaging, then strapped onto the stretcher, the bearers dashing off with their charge to the hospital. The patients would be cleaned up and surely remember the bumpy ride they had experienced on their way to the hospital. It would now be their turn next as bearers, making it bumpier… Retribution indeed. The day passed quickly and now a night under canvas, what will tomorrow bring. It was fortunate that on arrival a set of working denims were handed out and to use when instructed. Obviously more to come. Sunday morning came with great expectations and smell of outdoor cooking was in the air. Porridge, eggs and bacon on the menu plus a cup of urn-brewed tea. A short religious service and back to business. Instructions now to change into the Denims and report back with rifle at the ready… line up for inspection… off we go, quick march. We arrived in a valley and received our final instructions, split in groups for the exercise then on to makeshift control point. A ten-foot track had been marked out with tapes and each group crawling with rifles held in both hands for twenty yards, having to keep low to the ground avoiding live machine gun fire, with tracers being sprayed just inches above. The exercise took about ten minutes and quite an experience being shot at. Some wanted another go at it. I could not understand why, the first time was bad enough. Whose idea to select a part of the field that had more than its fair share of cattle droppings and most in the taped area, making it impossible to avoid. It was a smelly job… denims appreciated… but cleaning up with little cold water and soap was difficult. The transport arrived at mid-day and made our departure. The memories of the previous nights “off the cuff” entertainment, all unrehearsed, a real sing song and the Great War veterans coming in with recognisable tunes but words somehow, bawdy or spicy maybe. The two doctors and their appearance at early morning reveille, displaying dressing robes, causing comment and hilarity. Taken in good spirit. Even Private May suffered verbal abuse, his only crime being in charge of the porridge and the discovery of a few cigarette butts in the stir. That was that, except the cattle smell that accompanied us homewards. By 1943 the Home Guard were now well armed having quite an array of weapons. Although there was a long way to go it appeared that the tide was on the turn and a feeling of optimism had set in. This might have been the reason that in January/February that the nightly guard duties at Barnards Works were suspended at very short notice, by Barnard’s management. It came as a bit of a shock at the time, but not too many tears shed.
THREAT OF DISBANDMENT
There was a big push at the end of 1943, that the Home Guard be disbanded. First the church groups who considered Sunday training was taking away their congregation. Also leader of the Trade Unions opinion that his members, pressure at work and H.G. duties, were having a bad effect, causing all sorts of medical problems. Little bit of truth here as I remember four of our members had to be discharged--- U/F. They were disappointed; after all they had been through and to the point… volunteers. Churchill wouldn’t hear of disbanding, said the war was not over yet and the H.G. had heartened the country, also with big demands for troops overseas the H.G. would assist in holding the fort. Another point was how could he inform the Allied Command, prior to D/Day, that he considered taking a million and a half men out of uniform? He couldn’t. However there was a relaxing of parades in February 1944, the 45 hours per month severely reduced to weekday parades and alternate Sundays. Researching the registration book I note that myself and 19 others in the platoon, had to hand in our rifles and ammunition. On 19 March 1944… Serial No. 100066… U.S.A… P.14… 50 rounds of .300… parted company. I can't say I was too upset… no more drills… no more cleaning with the dreaded pull through, no more hauling that gun around. What a relief. Did they go to France? For resistance groups ahead of D/Day? Likely.
SECOND FRONT DUTIES
A month prior to the opening up the named “second front” a sudden recall to night time duties, just as it seemed that we were no longer required. This time it was a joint effort by all Norwich units operating at important sectors such as Power Stations, Railway and anything that was deemed important. Two weeks before the event we had our orders to be on the lookout for parachutists, spies, saboteurs, that they were desperate to upset the invasion plans. We were directed to Thorpe Railway Station H/G., collected a rifle and ammunition, then go on to the bridge, railway lines and points, checking if clear and no obstruction. The five of us had this area to patrol and to be relieved in three hours’ time. The area was so quiet to be believed, it was unreal – no whistles or steam – nothing and began to wonder why we are here. Suddenly the lines began throbbing with rolling stock pulling wagons piled high with military hardware, tanks, trucks and guns most of it under cover. This traffic carried on for over an hour, train after train moving slowly southwards, taking advantage of the darkness. The noise finally subsided and silence with us once more. Dead quiet again, then a slithering and shuffling sound from the undergrowth was heard. We became very edgy which is not surprising after the lecture about parachutists and spies etc. so my colleague and I decided to put a bullet in the “spout” just in case. Were the years of training now to be put to use? The rustling sound continued, and then suddenly a black cat leapt out of the undergrowth to catch its prey. Stand easy, “don`t panic”. We are almost to the end of our Home Guard story and the finale as far as I was concerned, to stand guard at the gates of the Thorpe Power Station a week after the D/Day landings. Often wondered if all this was part of the “Great Deception Plan” to deceive Hitler.
V1 & V2 ATTACKS START
That was it as far as active duty went, except for the launching of V.1. Doodle Bugs, in droves but not too many reached Norfolk. It became so serious that London schoolchildren evacuees reappeared, A further message to say that the war was far from over when V.2. Rockets struck. These were lethal as no warning of the approach could possibly be given. Records show that from September 1944 at least 38 were aimed at Norwich and a blessing they had an inaccurate streak about them, one landed in the City, another at Spixworth. There were other places. December 1944, the Home Guard was now to stand down ending all training and guard duties. All firearms, ammunition and kit handed in but members allowed to keep uniforms and boots. Always recognised a gesture but there were many Church services and Victory parades to come that would involve all Home Guard units. There is often a mention of a Secret Army within the Home Guard, working completely on their own “O.B.s” (Operational Bases as an underground unit. The section usually contained 10 participants and responsible for making life difficult for the invader by acts of sabotage and general disruption. Two of our platoon joined a local O.B. unit. Was the Home Guard a typical Churchill bluff? Many thought so, but bluff or no bluff rallied to the cause. The recruiting figures must have surprised the military planners- half a million to 1.7 million in such a short time- having no option but to make it a success. The biggest compliment came from the Germans themselves. Having threatened and ridiculed our Home Guard, launched their own *Volk Sturm* in 1944. The T.V. series “Dads Army” captured the viewer’s imagination with the differing characters. How did Sprowston 10th Platoon fare? Lt. Hewlett. Platoon Leader. Did a good job being an ex G.W. veteran, stern but understanding. Employed in the legal business. S. Bennett. Platoon Sergeant. Ex G.W. veteran. Six years in the R.F.C./R.A.F (India.), Wood Machinist his line of work. Received the British Empire Medal, (one of four awarded in the County). Rescued workers trapped in a burning building, result of an air raid. Claimed others did greater deeds than that and received nothing. Burton. (Billy). Corporal. Ex G.W. veteran. One of the first to join and was the platoons oldest member at 55.“Eddie” H. Fox. He came to Sprowston in circumstances that would be hard to write a script. Summer 1939, with parents and sister left their home in Bulawayo, South Rhodesia for a holiday in Norfolk… caught up in the declaration of war… could not get out of the U.K… settled here for the duration. Eddie worked for Panks, Electricians, joins the Home Guard, then gets called up into the Army and serves mostly in the Far East. Father joins the Civil Service as well as the Civil Defence. Finally went back to Rhodesia in 1946 to complete the longest holiday ever. Robert Young lived nearby and being of the same age we enlisted at the same time. We were very keen to develop our skill at mastering the Morse code, which was a big thing in those days, so we set up our own network. Unfortunately the neighbours began to get radio interference and having tracked us down we had no option but to shut down. Better than being reported as Nazi spies. F. Pike. Yes we had a Pike… Boat Builder at Brundall. War Contracts. Harold O. Miller. Assistant Platoon SGT.A Butcher by trade. One of seven in the platoon. G. Pipe. Private. The local Milkman, probably the fittest man of all, having to walk miles on his round pushing a loaded handcart. R. B. Deeker. Lance Corporal. G.W. veteran. Part time Parish Clerk. Fred Hearn. Private. On retirement in the Shoe Industry, set up business as a Hairdresser or Barber at his abode in Blenheim Road… It became a regular meeting place for ex Home Guarders to chew over the past. Section Sergeants. H. Brown, I. Burton, H. Goodson, J. Humphrey, A. Kennedy. (Transferred to Nottingham.) and A. Palmer. Company Command. Major W. Lusher, Captain J. Wright, Lt. Hewlett.
Any regrets must be there was never a platoon photograph taken although there is one of the Company that have proved difficult to find. Coupled with that, never a reunion… regrettable, so you can see I am thankful that the original Registration Book is still at hand to make notes and not consigned to the dustbin. Finally, a plaque on the brick wall of the World War Two Memorial Cottages, in Mousehold Lane, shows the good relationship between the Royal Norfolks Regiment. The 10th and the 16th Battalions, Home Guard, and the financial support to that building project. Opened 1951.
HOME GUARD. FACTS AND FIGURES
Age of entry. Under 20. 14. - Between 20/30….. 40. - 30/40….. 62. - 40/50….. 50. - 50/55….. 1.
Platoon Strength: End of 1942 …… 160. Maximum ………190.
Occupations. Manual...145. Non-Manual…15. Shopworkers…10. Butchers……7.
IN & OUT. Joined Forces or Called Up…36. Transfers to other Platoons….23. Discharged. U/F. 1943…4. By the Conscription Act. The platoon gained……3. Transfers Incoming. From other platoons…2.
Assorted weapons. Rifles. 100. / Sten Guns.24. / Thomson. / 3. Lewis. 1. / Bren. 2. / Northover Projector. 1. / Blacker Bombard. 1 / Hand Grenades. / Morter Shells. / Sticky Bombs.
MEMBERS OF THE SPROWSTON PLATOON
Platoon Leader – Lieut. Hewlett. Platoon Sergeant. R.S. Bennett. B.E.M. Assistant Platoon Sergeant. H.O. Miller. Arthurton. S.G. /Arthurson. L. / Anderson. A.E. /Aldis. W.L. /Amos. H.J. Transferred. /Ashford. R.C. /Aitkin. D. Transferred to H.Q. /Andrews. F /Barker. H.E. /Barnes. A.E.Joined Forces. /Batchelor. E. (Corp.)Joined Forces /Blyth. L.W. Joined Navy. /Burton. L. (Sgt.) /Burton. W. (L/Cpl.) /Bennett. V.R. /Bishop. H.C. Joined Forces. /Buddery. G.B. Transferred.Brown. C.A. Brown. T. Brown. R.C. (Corp.) Brown. L. Joined Forces. Brown. H.G. (Sgt.) Blyth. J.H. Joined Forces. Blyth. C. (Corp.) Joined Forces. Briggs. F. Burgess. A.W. Clarke. H.E.(L/Cpl.) Transferred. /Caston. G. /Cortis. A. /Cousins. J W. Transferred. /Cousins. F.W. /Chettleburgh. R.J. /Cornwall. A. Joined Forces. /Chenery. F.A. /Clarke. J.V. Joined Forces. /Clarke. R.A. /Clarke. W.R. /Carver. J.E. Transferred. /Chittock. A.J. /Crane. G.E. /Daynes. R. /Daynes. C.J. /Daynes. G. /Deeker. R.B. (L/Cpl.) /Dodds. G. /Don. J. Transferred. /Dye. C. /Ellis. A. (Corp.) /Fair. W.H. Transferred. /Ferguson. D.C. (L/Cpl.) /Finch. F.L. Joined Forces. /Fisher. A.J. /Fisher. J. Transferred. /Fisher.J.J. / Flatman. A.C. /Fox. H.J.C. Joined Forces. /Forster. F.G. /Foulger. R.J. (Corp.)Joined Forces. /Franklin. A. (Corp.) /Goodson. A.R. (Sgt.) /Goodson. H.J. Transferred. /Gee. A.J. Joined Forces. /Grey. J. Joined Forces. /Grimstead. B.W. /Graver. N.H. Transferred. /Goldsmith. L (L/Cpl.) /Guymer. J.E. /Grayling. R. /George. R.P. /Goose. A G. /Groat. J.J. Joined Forces. /Gowan. R.J. Joined Forces. /Grigg. W.G. /Guymer. R. /Hagg. J. /Howes. E.A. (L/Cpl.) /Hudson. E.C. (L/Cpl.) /Humphrey. H.A. /Harrold. H.J. Joined Forces. /Harrold. A.L. Discharged u/f 44. /Herd. E.J. Joined Forces. /Howes. S.C. /Hagger. H. /Harman. V.W. /Hearn. F.W. /Hope. J.H. /Howard. W /Hall. M.H. Joined Forces. /Harvey. R.P. /Howes. C. /Johnson. W.H. Transferred. /James. P.Jarvis. /A.S.Kennedy. A. (Sgt.) Transferred. /Kett. G.M. Transferred. /Kemp. K.W. (L/Cpl.) /Littell. E.G. /Lebell. W.G. /Lecornu. B.T. /Leaman. W. /May. P.J. Joined Forces. /May. N. /Miller. H.J. Joined Forces. /Maston. D. Joined Forces. /Middleton. A. Joined Forces. /Moles. G. Transferred. /Millward. K. /Morter. C.H. /Musgrave. E.I. Transferred. /Norman. C. /Osbourne. R. Transferred. /Orford. G. /Parker. L.G. Joined Forces. /Parker. L.E. (Sgt.) /Palmer. L.C. /Percy. H.J. Transferred. /Parker. R. /Palmer. J.R. /Pike. F.J. /Pipe. G. /Pank. W.E. Joined Forces. /Parrish. F. /Pye. T.H. /Read. W.J. (L/Cpl.) /Read. G.A. /Read. T.N. Discharged u/f 43 /Rush. S.H. /Richardson. J.A. Joined Forces. /Rivett. S.W. (L/Cpl.) /Rix. C.J. Joined Forces. /Read. M.C.J. Joined Navy. /Redgrave. R.H.Discharged u/f 43. /Rigby. T.B. /Sutton. W.P. Joined Forces. /Skoulding. E.A. /Stowers. A. Joined Forces. /Smith. J.R. /Shorten. W.G. /Shorten. J.A.F. Joined Forces. /Scarll. F.H. /Stevens. H. Transferred. /Savage. J. Transferred. /Sturman. F.J. /Spelman. C. Joined Navy. /Tooke. C. (L/Cpl.) /Thacker. R.R. /Temple. G.A. Joined Forces. /Townshend. A. /Thorpe. H. (L/Cpl.) /Tigg. A.J.C. Transferred. /Turner. C.E. Transferred. /Thacker. H.S. /Vince. J.A. Joined Navy. /Vincent. A.J. /Whiting. W.C. (L/Cpl.) /Winsworth. W. (L/Cpl.)Joined Forces. /Worthington. A. Joined Forces. /Wilson. A.H. /Wilkinson. T.F. Wilkinson. E.A. /Wade. E. /Warnes. F.H. /Walker. W.J. /Walker. F. /Wrech. R.N. /Wrench.N. /West. J.J. Wilde. W. (L/Cpl.) /Webber. A.C. /Wightman. R.A. /Youngs. R.A.
The Sprowston Platoon Completed their part in the War with no casualties. But some within the 10th Battalion. National figures reported just over 500 killed, and 5000 casualties on active service, by enemy bombing and training accidents. Platoon Sergeant. Robert S. Bennett. B.E.M. 1943Private. Victor R. Bennett. 1943. (Author). Private. G. Pipe. 1950. 37 Private. Walter Shorten. Private. Russell Clarke. Private. John Shorten. 1938. Private. Ernest Littell. (Some photographs of later years).38 39 40 The Proficiency Certificate declares the amount of knowledge needed to gain a pass. In most cases the period the “Test” or “Exam” took was 12 to 18 months. Note part 3. of the Certificate “If the holder joins H.M. Forces.” 41 - 42 Author. Victor Bennett. Victor is a valued Committee member of Sprowston Heritage and this booklet is one of many that have been produced by our members. It gives the reader an insight of what life was like in Sprowston during this period. We are most grateful for this contribution to our Archive. Peter Sneddon, Chairman. Sprowston Heritage. 2007. Note. We apologise for the quality of some of the photographs, which have been made available to the author, other Photographs and plan drawings are from the Heritage Archive. A SPROWSTON HERITAGE PUBLICATION.