The Home Guard, page 2
This latter warrant officer had resurfaced in all his former glory. From his chest of military possessions he had resurrected his beautiful silver topped, malacca, Regimental Stick. His “boned” boots shone like glass and he proudly wore a row of campaign ribbons on his wife-altered, immaculately fitting uniform. What had happened to that postman who had rarely been given a second glance?
The area for which C Company was responsible had rather nebulous boundaries, extending from Blackpill in the East, to Caswell in the West. North boundary was somewhere on Fairwood Common.
Sunday Morning Route Marches
C Company regularly went on Sunday morning route marches. Beautiful, gnat-nibbling Summer evenings were spent in fieldcraft in Underhill Park. Grenade practice throwing took place up the Castle Field. First Aid classes were held in the British Legion Hall. There were lectures on tactics, weapon maintenance, machine guns, bombs etc etc.. With the arrival of the 9th Bn Royal Sussex Regiment in Summerlands, C Company was able to dip into the vast pool of knowledge possessed by this fine unit who willingly sent along their NCOs to instruct.
A Guard Room was established in the end house of a row (long gone) between Lloyd’s Garage (now Texaco) and the bottom of the Mayals. The ground floor was taken over by the Home Guard and housed the armoury, to accommodate the rapidly increasing reserve of weapons and ammunition. Upstairs became the HQ for the ARP personnel. Unfortunately it was not a happy marriage because of the unreasonable sensitivity of the ARP lads.
24 hour guard
The armoury had to have a guard for 24 hours of the day. Single manning from 0600hrs to 2100hrs and then a full picket, all night, with outside mounted sentry until morning.
It was a bomb!
There were two incidents of note. One night the sentry heard an aircraft passing over and heard a noise he had never heard before. It was a high pitched whistling whine slowly dropping in pitch and, apparently, coming nearer! After a little thought, he suddenly realised- it was a bomb! He also realised that it was probably unwise to hang about. He fled in the direction of Swansea. Unfortunately in his line of flight, was situated a row of Mr. Lloyd’s Pool Petrol pumps. He hit the nearest pump with such momentum that he broke his shoulder. C Company of the Mumbles Home Guard now had its first soldier wounded in action.
The second incident happened one night when Lt. Thatcher (Manager of the Mumbles Labour Exchange) was inspecting the picket before mounting the guard. There was an unfortunate mix up which resulted in one of the soldiers, discharging a round which went up through the ceiling. The sort of silly little thing that can happen anywhere. Unfortunately, there were a number of the ARP personnel using the room upstairs. As ever, they were drinking their endless cups of tea when this bullet came up, through the floorboards, punched a hole through their tea table and, via the ceiling, continued on into the firmament. No one was hurt, but, being rather highly strung, nervous individuals, they spilled their tea and the odd cup was broken. A very minor event but they all rather over reacted with the result that the Home Guard boys transferred their Guard Room to the more spacious Vivian Hall, which they guarded devoutly until the day they stood down and with the happy knowledge that there was no fussy individual upstairs to complain, if an odd bullet or two whistled up between his legs.
Soon, denims were replaced with good fitting serge battledress. More steel helmets arrived. As with the regular forces, identifying shoulder flashes and arm badges were issued carrying respectively “Home Guard” and “12 Gln” lettering. The leather belts and gaiters now had a polished weathered look and the boys began to look the part.
Major H Davies was promoted to Lt. Colonel and took over command of the 12th Bn and moved off to Pant Gwyn. Captain Hayes of Newton Road was appointed full time Adjutant and he accompanied Col. Davies. There was now a full time staff at Pant Gwyn under the supervision of RSM Mugford.
Meanwhile, back at C Company, Major Bert Palmer took over and his 2 i/c was Captain Ben Walker-Jones. Lt Chown was promoted to WTO and Sgt Bishop was commissioned and took over No 1. Platoon. His able deputy was now Sgt. George Rees.
Never missed a parade
After by the end of the first year, the younger element began to be accepted by the older soldiers. They saw that these youngsters were in dead earnest, never missed a parade and were well turned out. The whole unit began to bond.
Twice a year, a weekend camp was organised in Reynoldston. Here the unit fired rifles on the ranges that had been constructed for the regular army on the Oxwich Marshes. Lewis guns, too, were fired and grenades thrown. The Company slept in Bell Tents erected on one of the fields by the Village Hall. Food was served in this hut used as a mess hall. Again, it contributed to the comradeship of the unit.
Once every six weeks, one took one’s turn as part of a picket on all night guard at Vivian Hall. Guard was mounted at 2100hrs and stood down at 0600hrs, in time to catch the first Mumbles Train up, get home, wash, change, breakfast and go to School! Most times the picket consisted of the same soldiers and we enjoyed being together. I was invariably on with Alex Kostromin of Westbourne Place, Duggie Stainton, Gwyn Grace, Duncan Bishop, Peter Smith and Hubert Davies. We were an intrepid bunch and Britain could sleep safely on those nights that we were on.
Fairwood Airfield Attacked!
There was variety. Weekend manoeuvres took place, when the Battalion “attacked” Fairwood Airfield to test its defences and the efficiency of the new RAF Regiment. In turn, the area was “attacked” by sea forces, practising skills to be needed in the years ahead.
Concrete pillboxes were now appearing in strategic places on the coastline and at road junctions. No.1 Platoon found itself ultimately responsible for the Blackpill. Area. A pillbox was constructed facing up the Mayals on the sea side of the Mumbles Road. It was very skilfully camouflaged to look like an ice cream kiosk and was emblazoned with the name “Belli’s Ices”. I spent many hours in this damp, wet floored structure. It had one big fault. The occupants could only look up the Mayals- there were no apertures to look out backwards towards the sea. It did give a feeling of great vulnerability.
Mumbles Hill ablaze
Many times, C Company proved themselves of great value to the civilian community. There was the time the Mumbles Hill at Bracelet, was set ablaze by enemy jettisoned incendiary bombs. Every available man in the area, from all the services, was needed to put out this enormous guiding beacon. Alongside the regulars, C Company fought the flames until the early hours of the morning.
When Swansea was attacked by the Luftwaffe in February 1941. Members of the Mumbles Home Guard were amongst those who went to Swansea to assist the overwhelmed ARP services, this became a frequent duty during the other raids. This added tremendously to the pride of the unit.
The Home Guard soon came under the direct command of the Army which was an obvious progression, as its role changed. Officers were now allowed to wear the traditional badges of rank. As the danger of invasion lessened so was this enormous fund of manpower utilised for other roles, hence releasing many thousands of regular soldiers for active service overseas. The guarding of strategically important buildings such as power stations, manning anti aircraft guns and “Z” Battery rockets working side by side and in harmony with the regular gunners, similarly with the heavy coastal defence guns.
A little known fact is that over 1,200 Home Guards were killed on duty.
As each month went by, so improvements were seen. As the demands of the regular forces were met, so new weapons became available for the Home Guard. To be cast aside, were the primitive home made “Molotov Cocktails”, to be replaced by the awesome “Sticky Bomb”. Anti-tank mines were issued and the notoriously inaccurate “Blacker Bombard” anti tank mortar was supplied to specially trained squads. This latter weapon put fear into the heart of the user as well as the recipient.
There was a desperate shortage of light automatic weapons, throughout the army and to help fill the gap, some sort of deal was hatched with the Americans, resulting in the appearance of the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, better known to the filmgoer as the Tommy Gun or “the Chicago Piano” – Al Capone’s best friend. Some how or other these few guns always seemed to fall into the hands of those with a theatrical bent.
By 1942, the Sten Gun was being manufactured in enormous numbers and soon filled the gap in British Infantry weaponry but not without severe criticism as to its quality. In comparison to the Tommy Gun it was like comparing a clapped out Austin 7 to a new Packard.
Grenades and mines
As with all other heavily bombed towns, Swansea made use of the devastated areas. The ravaged crescents of the Townhill area were used for street fighting exercises, under the direction of the Regular Army. New courses alongside the regular troops became available and one of the most satisfying experiences of my life was to be sent to the Western Command Weapon Training School at Altcar, near Liverpool. Here for a fortnight I received instruction in light weapons, grenades and mines and was treated with all the respect shown to the other junior NCOs of the regular Units. I learned a lot.
The Mumbles Company had the good fortune in 1941 of being joined by ex-CSM Jack Anderson, Welsh Guards. He was appointed Drill Sergeant and such was his impact that C Company won every drill competition held throughout the South Wales area and had the honour of being inspected by Churchill himself when he visited Swansea, following the February 1941 blitzes.
A Smokers Concert
It did not take long, after its formation for the likes of Fred Allen to form a social committee. A “Smokers” Concert and Dinner was held in the Langland Bay Hotel and such was its success that it became an annual event. George Rees showed himself to be an excellent tenor, CSM Mitchell’s daughter an accomplished accordionist. Bombardier “Tiny” Harcourt, from the Mumbles Battery, showed how he won his heat of the Caroll Levis Discoveries Show, with his hilarious comedian’s act. The Regent Cinema gave up its parade ground role, several times, for concerts by the Ensa Company who were stationed in the Higher Lane. I heard a top class tenor sing live, for the first time in my life, when Covent Garden’s Walter Glynne sang for C Company and its guests in a packed hall.
Enthusiasm and dedication
The standards of this excellent Mumbles unit never dropped to the day it was stood down in 1944, four and a half years after its formation. The enthusiasm and dedication of its members, never faltered.
There were really two distinct phases in the life of this remarkable part-time army. There was that group of men who raced to enrol when the danger of invasion was real and imminent. The reality of the situation can be seen by just a quick glance at a map, the vast German Armies, basking in the glory of total victory, were thirsting for action- only sixty miles away from the Sussex and Kent Coastline! Give credit to those stout men who knew all about the horrors of war and yet offered their services instantly, fully aware that if “the balloon did go up” their chances of survival were so slim as to be negligible- yet they came in their thousands.
The second phase was the controlled development of the Home Guard, under Army Command, into the multi purpose unit that it became.
At local level in Mumbles
And what did it all mean at a local level, here in Mumbles? I obviously cannot speak for everyone but I believe I am representative of my age group.
It gave me a chance as a young teenager to rub shoulders with the experienced veterans. I listened and I learned. I saw the other side of Mumbles men whom I had formerly perceived as ordinary workers, shopkeepers, tillers of the soil.
I saw the breakdown of social barriers when young and old- irrespective of occupation or social background- joined forces for a common purpose.
I had the great joy of feeling accepted by these worthy people.
The younger Home Guards, week after week, were called away to join the Regular Forces. Amongst the many were, John Varley, Alan Millichip and Jack Timothy who left for flying duties with the RAF. Pat Rees of West Cross who gained a coveted place at Dartmouth as an RN Cadet, and George Parsons and Hubert Davies who became matelots. Then came the turn of that bunch of green, village lads who had all enrolled together in 1940; one by one, Peter Hooper, Duncan Bishop, Peter Smith and myself, left to become part of the Regular Army. .
We, all of us were ready for service anywhere. Thanks to the Home Guard!
The Home Guard stood down, as 1944 drew to a close. Suddenly, after four and a half years of parades three times a week, the “getting together”, and the pint afterwards, was over.
For the rest of their lives, these fine men would look back and remember, with joy, those days of comradeship.
Nothing could take that away.
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