ID CNS_005_025 / Peter Tucker

TitleThe Dad's Army of Mersea
AbstractPeter Tucker of Norfolk Avenue was a member of the HOme Guard prior to his service in the RAF in 1942 at the tender age of 17. He tells the story of his time there.

May I as a former member of the LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS, L.D.V. to give them their correct title, and later the Home Guard, give my version of the West Mersea Platoon up to November 1942 when I left to join the RAF. I quote here from 'The Real Dads Army' by Norman Longmate.

It began, like the War itself, with a Broadcast. On the evening of Tuesday 14th May 1940 the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, appeared on the BBC Home Service radio. Four days earlier, on the previous Friday, the Germans had begun their long awaited offensive in the West and already alarming reports of their success, and the unexpected methods they had used to achieve it, were reaching Britain, as Eden explained.

The Local Defence Volunteers was formed and a request for men of 17 to 65 years of age to enroll at the local police station was met by a huge number of men who needed to be part of the chance to at least do something for the defence of Britain. My older brother and his mate were among the early ones to respond. I got in as soon as I could being somewhat younger. Although the official age of entry was 17, I'm sure that no one bothered to check for I was in long before that. nicknamed the 'Parashots' locally because that was the original intended task for fear of the repetition of the tactics used in the Low Countries of airborne troops dropping from the sky; the idea of large amounts of locals who carried their rifle every where that they went, would indeed present fire-power to be reckoned with, giving time for the regulars to move up in force.

Following the fear that civilian dress with just an Arm-Band would not give protection under the Geneva Convention, it was decided that full uniform would be provided and be renamed the Home Guard with full military status on the 23rd July 1940. So much for the brief history of a well intended project which was never put to the test which perhaps fortunate, for us that lived through those times.

This story is about the West Mersea Section and the structure of it's early days. Enthusiastic we most certainly were, well armed we most certainly were not. However, upon joining at the first moment that my age would allow, some basic instruction was forth coming from the ex-servicemen of 1914-18 War. Herbert Griggs of Mill Road and Tom Clarry of Churchfields took on the task of licking us into some sort of shape.

Being a former Sergeant and Sergeant Major respectively in that war gave them the qualifications to do the job. No uniform was available at first but an Armband was issued. Second hand uniforms became available in dribs and drabs and sizes were a real problem. Much of the early uniform was reclaimed off of troops returning from Dunkirk, and as a consequence had bullet holes and barbed wire tears that had to be repaired before it could be put into service. One could not be too particular and a lot of the work was undertaken by mothers and wives and somehow we managed to get shipshape.

Having started out with a wooden gun for rifle drill in the first instance, I was issued with a P17 rifle of doubtful quality and 5 rounds of .300 ammunition. Most of the Home Guards had .300 weapons which of course had to be kept separate from the regular forces who had long since used the .303 calibre weapons. A red band was therefore painted around the .300 guns barrel to denote the difference in cartridge size.

At the onset of the L.D.V. Colonel (ret) Cartwright of Garden Farm House, East Road, became the Commanding Officer with Major (ret) De Manby of Barrow Hill who was the Adjutant assisted by Cap Scott of Seaview Avenue and Capt Purkis making up the officers. Sgt Major Clarry in their roles as stated before. Corporal Millbank of East road, who had a motor car of sorts became the run-a-round for the officers after petrol coupons had been obtained.

The first Head Quarters as such, were in the large kitchen of Garden Farm until more permanent Quarters could be negotiated for the use of the British Legion committee room; a brick built out-building to the rear of the main hall. This became the Office, Guard Room and used by the whole Platoon. In the early days and indeed nights, there was always 2 or 3 men on duty and armed.

The Legion Rifle Club range situated under the stage in the Hall gave an excellent facility to get recruits but using .22 rifles. However real weapons tubed to .22 were obtained and these were much better in size and weight.

Our main area for training was, on Major De Manby's marsh and his lower field at the bottom end of East Mersea Road hill, just before the Strood. Here we had a couple of old motor cars which were filled with sand bags and were used for target practice. From a sand bagged throwing point we were able to try throwing the hand grenade and later the Cup Discharger Rifle. In the first instance they were dummies, for who in their right mind would trust our motley shower with the real things. Later the Spigot Mortar came our way much to the delight of everyone, for at last we had something which would really hit back. This had it's own portable base which consisted of splayed steadying legs and was fired from the prone position. Later, a concrete emplacement was installed for us near the road facing the Strood with another two at Weir Farm and at Broomhills corner.

Better weapons came to us in dribs and drabs to add to our firepower. There was much joy with the arrival of a Thompson sub-machine gun with a 50 bullet magazine and a Bren Gun. We had instruction in their use from a regular soldier. Also available now were the Anti-Tank grenade, a hand held device rather like a thermos flask and you needed to get close to the enemy tank to throw it and then run. The Sticky Bomb which was to be smacked on to the side of a tank and the adhesive would hold it there until the fuse fired it.

The Cup Discharger Rifle was also a handy addition. This comprised of an S.M.L.E. (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) rifle which had it's entire length of woodwork which covered the barrel and breech bound tightly with stout wire to give added strength. Welded to the barrel muzzle end was a steel cup just large enough to receive a Mills grenade. When ready, it only required the grenade pin to be pulled and the rifle trigger pressed sending the grenade much further than could be thrown by hand. A seven second fuse grenade was required for this as the normal four second one was to short for the flying time.

As is usual with all of the Armed forces; the rank which was held upon leaving the regular service was carried into civvy street and was therefore accepted as a matter of respect. It did crop up with an element of fun from time to time. On parade beside the British Legion, the usual starting off point. Sergeant Major Clarry calling us to fall in ready for the officers to preside. Form up there, and quickly get in line Private Pullen. Yes Tom said Pullen, SGT MAJOR to you Pullen, reply Right-o Tom! Of course there was no report to the Guard Room to back it up.

Some time around January 1942 there was a partial conscription for men who were in exempt jobs. They were required to do a certain amount of training in the Home Guard for a specified number of hours a month. This of course meant that many more uniforms and rifles were required. A consignment of Canadian Ross Rifles arrived in a somewhat questionable condition. They were rather elderly and had a long barrel and were said to 'kick like a mule'. Sergeant Ernest (Bear) Woolf, who was our Armourer, enlisted me to go down to our range at the sea wall near Kiddiesland, (now the Youth Camp) to sight the rifles. Some 50 weapons were transported there in the Platoon's car and Sgt Woolf and I cycled down on a Sunday morning. It took about 5 shots to adjust the sights on an average, although a few were OK any way. Kick hard they certainly did and I had a bruised shoulder for quite a while to prove it.

I finished my time with the Home Guard with a spell on the guns of 373 Battery. Two 4.7 calibre ex-naval, pedestal mounted in the concrete emplacements, one of which is still in being as a Cafe (Two Sugars). Those of us who took on this task were given lectures in the former private schoolroom behind Five Gables in Willoughby Avenue. This was on the Barr and Stroud Range Finder of 20 feet base housed in an extension to the front of the Public Conveniences and linked via Tannoy to the guns. These covered the river and the mouth well out to sea if necessary, either by direct shot or howitzer action, ranging towards the target by 200 yard increments going beyond and then ranging back at 100 yards at the direction of the ranging officer.

I left the H.G. in November 1942 to join the Royal Air Force.

A later picture of the Home Guard outside the British Legion in Barfield Road.

Back row L-R 1. Nathan 'Si' Smith, 2. Norman Everett, 3. Cliff Robins, 4. Albert Lee, 5. Fred 'Dubbin' Cudmore, 6. Alf Chapman
2nd row 1. Jim Groom, 2. Ed Wyatt, 3. Din Hoy, 4. Jack Marsh, 5. Bill Weeks, 6. Dennis 'Bubbly' Cook, 7. Reg Garrard
3rd row 1. Alfred 'Did' Lee, 2. Ben Clark, 3. John French (Bank Manager), 4. Fred Pullen, 5. Percy Bacon, 6. Hector Farthing
4th row 1. Arthur Benns, 2. Eddie Cornelius, 3. E.A. Oswald French (Shoe Shop), 4. Alf Sherwood, 5. Les Green, 6. Herbert Grigg, 7. Ernie Woolf.
Front row 1. Tom Clarry, 2. Dr George Purkis, 3. Capt. Scott, 4. Colonel Cartwright, 5. Hills (Lump)

This article is reprinted from 'Community News' where it appeared in June, July and August 2006.

AuthorPeter Tucker
PublishedJune 2006
SourceMersea Museum
IDCNS_005_025