|Abstract||PELDON HOME GUARD - BEYOND THE PHOTO
Peldon History Project
Researched & compiled by Geoff Gonella
Many local residents and visitors have probably seen the group photograph the Peldon Home Guard, which has been on display in the Peldon Rose Public house for many years. This article is the result of some research into the structure of the Essex Home Guard, the role and activities of Peldon Platoon, and background information on its membership.
The threat of invasion
Prior to the outbreak of World War Two, the UK government had not planned for a volunteer home defence army, but in early-May 1940 the signs were that France would fall to Germany. This would bring the German army dangerously close to the English coast.
The possibility of an invasion was so real that Mersea Island was taken over by troops and equipment. The following excerpts are from a member of 373 Coastal Defence Battery between 1940 and 1942, and they illustrate the anti-invasion measures that were in force:
Mersea Island World War II
2000 troops were stationed on the island during the threat of invasion.
The Headquarters of the Royal Army Corps Motor Boat Company was stationed nearby. The coastal defence of the area around Mersea Island was the responsibility of the Coastal Artillery who had 4.7 inch guns in location on the island. The battery at Cudmore Grove Country Park had 2 guns and supporting searchlights. It was guarded by pillboxes. West Mersea was defended by a second Coastal Artillery emplacement.
In addition, Mersea Island had an 'Invasion Exercise' and a 'Medical Exercise'. [Noel Beadle by Chris Harris ]
Colchester itself was heavily fortified. Essex, with its relatively flat, open countryside was seen as particularly vulnerable to an armoured thrust from the coast towards London or the industrial Midlands. So the town was heavily fortified by a ring of defences, with over 120 pillboxes, anti-tank barriers, gun emplacements and road blocks. There was even an anti-tank ditch all around the town. Essex County Council, 'Colchester at War - World War Two Trail'. Leaflet by Fred Nash.
The Home Guard nationally
On 14 May 1940 Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for War, gave a radio broadcast to "Men of all ages who wish to do something for the defence of their country", encouraging them to join a new force, whose purpose would be to ensure that any German "invasion would be repelled doubly sure". Within 24 hours 250,000 men had registered. This force was called the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) and was established to protect against German attack. It comprised ordinary citizens who were not eligible for military service, such as being too old or too young or not physically able. Others not eligible were those in Reserved Occupations (jobs that were necessary to keep the country running, such as agriculture workers, railway workers, bank staff and teachers). (2)
Members of the LDV were initially poorly armed, yet they trained in the evenings in weapons handling, unarmed combat, and basic sabotage. In July 1940 Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed that members of the LDV should receive proper military training so that they could act as the 'extra eyes and ears' for the full-time soldiers. (2)
On 22nd June 1940 France fell to Germany, and a German invasion of Britain seemed to be likely, with the East coast looking particularly vulnerable. It is now known that Germany was working on a plan to invade England, code named 'Sealion'. (For more details see the preamble in Peldon's Preparations for a German Invasion ).
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a vocal supporter of the Home Guard, and in a BBC broadcast on 14 July 1940 he stated:
"These officers and men, a large proportion of whom have been through the last war, have the strongest desire to attack and come to close quarters with the enemy wherever he may appear. Should the invader come to Britain, there will be no placid lying down of the people in submission before him, as we have seen, alas, in other countries. We shall defend every village, every town, and every city". (3)
After an intervention by Winston Churchill, the LDV was changed to the more inspiring 'Home Guard' on 23 July 1940, to serve as the Britain's last line of defence, and to guard strategic places such as airfields, factories and explosives stores, coastlines etc. from invasion. (4)
Members of the Home Guard still did their regular jobs, and in the evenings they drilled and patrolled locally, whether they were in an area Platoon or at a 'Works unit' (which there would be at for example, an industrial complex, railway station or utilities company). They were not paid.
From poorly equipped beginnings, where they utilised make-do uniforms and weaponry, the Home Guard evolved into a well-equipped and well-trained army of 1.7 million men. These men were not only made ready for an invasion, but some of them were skilled in other roles such as bomb disposal and the manning anti-aircraft guns and coastal artillery. There was quite a difference between a 1940 Local Defence Volunteer and a 1944 Home Guard. As the war went on, the Home Guard became a well-trained and well-equipped fighting force; also the average age of members decreased, as the 'old sweats' were retired off and young men of 17 and 18 were incorporated into the Home Guard prior to their being old enough to be Called Up. (3)
At its peak the Home Guard numbered 1,793,000. It only fell below one million when fears of an invasion started to fade. It was in operation from 14 May 1940 to when it was Stood Down on 31 December 1944. It was disbanded in 1945. (2)(3)
Members were awarded a 'Certificate of Achievement' from The War Office, and if the certificate cited 3 or more years service, it could be used to claim The Defence Medal. (5)
The Essex Home Guard, and Peldon Platoon
The Essex Home Guard was made up of several Battalions on an area basis, normally covering towns or districts.
Each Battalion had a number of Companies under its control, and each Company would have a number of Platoons. Each Platoon could appoint lower levels (Sections, Squads) for specialist work.
The 18th Battalion was one of the last ones to be formed. It had its origins in C Company of the 7th Battalion, which had Birch Hall as its headquarters, and was commanded by Lt.-Colonel Charles Round. Under his enthusiastic guidance it expanded to become 'a great company of companions-in-arms of the Lexdon and Winstree District'. It had Sections at Copford, Stanway, Birch, Layer Marney, Layer-de-la-Haye, Abberton, Peldon, Wigborough, Fingringhoe, Rowhedge, and West & East Mersea. Expansion into Tollesbury and Tiptree districts came in October 1942, when Major F.S. Harvey-Cant took over the command of C Company whilst the new 18th Batallion was being formed under Lt.-Colonel C.G. Mangles as follows:
18th Battalion, Essex Home Guard
Covering Lexton and Winstree
HQ: Ball Farm, Blackheath, Colchester
Commanding Officer: Colonel C.G. Mangles
Covering Tolleshunt Major, Goldhanger, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Salcott and Tollesbury.
Commanding Officer: Captain G.H. Brand
Covering Tiptree and Messing.
Commanding Officer: Captain F. Sparrow
Covering Stanway, Copford, Birch and Layer Marney.
Commanding Officer: Major F.S. Harvey-Cant
Covering Layer-de-la-Haye, Abberton, Peldon and the Wigboroughs.
Commanding Officer: Captain S.S. Aldridge
(Peldon was Number 3 Platoon in this Company, based at the Peldon Rose Public House with owner & Landlord Basil 'Ivan' Pullen as Platoon Commander.
Covering Fingringhoe and Rowhedge
Commanding Officer: Captain R.C. Tippett
Covering West Mersea and East Mersea
Commanding Officer: Captain T.D. Scott
1. Major F.S. Harvey-Cant was also second-in-command of the Battalion.
2. Lt.-General M.G.H. Barker of Abberton Hall had 'Group' duties, but he also served in the 18th Battalion as Captain, and was the Second-in-Command of D Company.
3. Lt.-Colonel C.G. Mangles was also Colonel Round's right-hand man in the LDV days and onwards.
'Essex at War', by Hervey Benham, 2nd edition 1945, page 102.
The War Office was wary of any suggestion that the LDV/Home Guard had the same status as the regular army. Rather than commissions coming from the King and the War Office, senior officers were appointed by the Lords Lieutenant, and those senior officers in turn appointed more junior officers. It had its own system of rank, and although Section and Squad Commanders (NCOs) had the normal army chevrons, officers could not use the normal army 'pips'. Instead there was a system of coloured braid on the epaulettes:
Zone Commander: 1 broad stripe
Group Commander: 4 stripes
Battalion Commander: 3 stripes
Company Commander: 2 stripes
Platoon Commander: 1 stripe
Section Commander: 3 chevrons
Squad Commander: 2 chevrons
'To the Last Man' by Malcolm Atkin, ISBN 978-1-52674-593-4, page 13
Training and skills
A wide range of instruction manuals, pocketbooks, booklets and charts were made available to Home Guard members across the country between 1940 and 1944. These provided a basis for the many demonstrations, training courses and practice sessions that were set up to enable Home Guard members to become proficient, or if any were in WW1, to refresh their battle skills.
The 'Home Guard Pocket Manual' was one such pocket booklet, first issued in 1940. Nowadays it gives us an insight to the basic knowledge and skills required of members of the Home Guard. The subject matter included:
- Pattern 17 rifle (daily cleaning, cleaning after firing, loading, unloading, trigger pressing, aiming, lying position, kneeling position, standing position, fire discipline, visual training, judging distance, fire orders, range practices, range safety precautions).
- Browning automatic rifle
- Tests of elementary training
- Squad drill
- Platoon and Company drill
- Field training (use of cover, types of cover, field signals, section formations, scouts, fieldcraft, messaging, patrols, road blocks (siting, manning, dealing with infringements etc.), sandbagging and trenching). (6)
Some of the skills a Platoon member had to learn were demonstrated by Wivenhoe Platoon in a film made in 1943. (7)
The role of the Dispatch Rider ('DR')
DR's were probably used in non-combat situations for delivering routine written communications such as telegrams and Orders from higher levels, using a special lockable dispatch bag and panniers. If invasion was imminent or in progress, (whether airborne or by sea), the role of the DR would become paramount because he would become a vital link in the chain of command, if telephone or wireless communication became inoperable. In such circumstances the DR would always have to be ready and able to transport vital written communications, over a variety of routes and terrains if need be. It follows that a DR would need much local knowledge regarding the lie of the land; in countryside areas he would have to be aware of a variety of paths, field tracks, bye-ways, gateways and so on - all could be vital to a Home Guard unit fighting an invasion and depending on written communications with Command positions.
DR's would also need to be proficient in the efficient riding and handling of their motorcycle, and need to have it maintained in reliable working order, fuelled up, and ready to go at any time. The probability was that during an invasion, everything would critically depend on radio silence and written communications, so the DR's own local knowledge and efficiency would be crucial in a battle situation. (8)
Peldon Platoon - members
No. 3 (Peldon) Platoon - D Coy - 18th Bn Essex Home Guard
June 1940 - December 1944
Outside the Peldon Rose
Back row, from left:
- E.G. (Edgar) Reynolds. Private. Edgar George Reynolds was born in Colchester to William and Elizabeth Reynolds. In 1939 he was living in Mersea. He later lived at The Bungalow, Moor Farm, Peldon, and died in 1986 aged 51. [PEL_BUR_NAM ]
- W.V. (Vic) Sheldrick). Lance Corporal. William Victor Sheldrick lived in Brierley Avenue, West Mersea and was an Agricultural Labourer.
- W. (Will) Nicholas. Private. William Nicholas was the brother of Philip Nicholas (see below). Born in about 1907, Will married Barbara (known as Bar) in 1956 and they moved into Malting Cottage, Peldon, and later into Malting Farm house. [ PH01_LDM ]
- W.B. (Bruce) Rainbird. Private. Walter Bruce Rainbird was an Engineer as at 1953 and was well-known in sailing circles on Mersea Island, becoming Commodore of the Dabchicks Sailing Club in 1955. He was also instrumental in the efforts to get an RNLI lifeboat stationed in West Mersea, (which arrived in 1963) and chaired the Lifeboat Organising Committee.
- H. (Bert) Inman. Private. Herbert Inman lived in 'Wayside', Church Road, Peldon and was an antiques dealer. He died in 1977, aged 82.
- J.R. (John) Starling. Private. [PH01_LDM ]
- R.G. (Bob) Brand. Lance Corporal. Robert Brand was born in about 1900, to Thomas and Emma Brand. The family had Peldon/Wigborough origins. Bob had a home address of Hall Cottage in 1919, when he was serving as a Private in the Scots Guards. Later in life he lived at 4 Council Houses, Mersea Road, Peldon and died in 1970, aged 70. [Absent Voter List ]
- P. (Phil) Nicholas. Corporal. Philip Nicholas was born in 1909 to Edgar and Florrie Nicholas of Malting Farm, Peldon. After working at the farm, Phil married Margaret and they moved out of the village. They later had a son, William. [PH01_LDM ]
- E. (Ted) Martin. Lance Corporal, from Moor Farm, Peldon. [PH01_MTN ]
Centre row, from left:
- R.A. (Rene) Strahl. Private. Rene Albert Strahl was born in 1895 and was Swiss. He and his French wife Germaine were London directors of the French Guerlain Perfume company and lived at 'Leeward' in Empress Avenue, but also had a house in London. They had a boat at Mersea, the GANNET, previously owned by Ken Gowen.
- C.A. (Charlie) Mason. Private. Charles Alfred Mason lived in 'The Bungalow', Lodge Lane, Peldon, and died in 1966 aged 72.
- J.C. (James) Purtell. Private. James Clifford Purtell lived at Brickhouse Farm Cottage, Peldon and died in 1974 aged 72.
- A.B. (Bert) Day. Private. Bert 'Cronk' Day was born in 1898 in West Ham and had been a gunner in WW1 and was awarded the British War medal and the Victory medal. He lived on Mersea and was running a small fleet of buses before 1929. He became a bus driver and worked for Eastern National for many years. Bert's wife Dorothy was a conductor with them. [LH22_083 ]
- J.C. (Charlie) Heynes (Haines?). Private.
- W.W. (Billy) Mason. Private. Wilfred Wilson Mason lived in Norfolk Cottage, Peldon and died in 1948, aged 53.
- L. Smith. Private. Luther Smith was serving as a Gunner with the R.F.A. 9th D.A.C in 1919, with a home address of 3, The Glebe, Peldon. He also had lived at Forge Cottage, Peldon. He died in 1986, aged 90.
[PH01_HWS , Absent Voter List ]
- G.H. (George) Talbot. Private. George Henry Talbot lived in 'Newholme' in Peldon, and died in 1966 aged 73.
- C. (Charlie) Lapwood. Private. Charles Ernest Lapwood, born c1913, was a nurseryman living at Fairhaven Avenue, West Mersea before WW2. 10 Aug 1940 he married Doris Pullen, whose mother was from Peldon. By 1945 they were at Pete Hall Nurseries.
Front row, from left:
- A.W. ('Hoppy') Osborne. Sergeant. Alfred William Osborne was nicknamed 'Hoppy' due to having a wooden leg. He was the Platoon's Dispatch Rider, and lived in 'The Nurseries', Peldon as a tomato grower at a nurseries/market garden off Lower Road, known locally as 'Garden Field'. He did shooting as a hobby, including punt gunning, wildfowling and duck shooting. Hoppy died in 1950 aged 45. (9)
- F.G. ('Bunny') Unwin. Sergeant. Frederick George Unwin was born in 1885. At 16 he was a clerk for a Church Mission Society, and he married in 1912. He enlisted in 1915 at the age of 30, and served in WW1 with 134 Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1916 he was promoted to Sergeant and served in France from 1916 to 1918. In February 1919 he was demobbed and awarded the Military Medal for gallantry, which was reported in the Colchester Gazette on 17 June 1919. Bunny served in Peldon Platoon throughout its existence. He was married to Joan, and died in Mersea in 1961, aged 76. [WW1_BUN ]
- L. F. (Leo) Michael-Smith. Lieutenant. Leo was Landlord of the White Hart Hotel in West Mersea. He was well-travelled with a varied and interesting life, sometimes dangerous. This was described in a newspaper article after his death in 1983. [IA01_895 ]
- B.I. (Ivan) Pullen. Lieutenant. Basil Ivan Pullen was born in 1897 in Blackheath. In 1911 he was at school and living at The Rose, Peldon, which was owned and run by his Grandmother Jane Pullen aged 59. By 1918 he was an Acting-Sergeant in the Devonshire Regiment, based in Exeter. In 1935 his Grandmother Jane Pullen died aged 83, and Ivan inherited The Rose. In the same year he married Agnes Mary, and in 1939 he was listed as Innkeeper aged 42 at The Rose. He was also listed as a 'Special Constable Reserve'. He became Platoon Commander of Peldon Platoon, and in the group photo he is holding the Platoon's mascot, Renny, a tame fox. Ivan had found some fox cubs in a den, so young that their eyes were still closed. Their mother had been shot, so Ivan raised Renny by hand. He led Peldon Platoon throughout the war, and he and wife Mary (the name Agnes seems to have been dropped) had two daughters (Penny and Rosemary). He and Mary sold the Peldon Rose in about
1957 and moved into Rose Farm opposite, which they had previously had built as their retirement home. While there, they planned to emigrate to New Zealand and live near to daughter Rosemary, but Ivan developed cancer and died in March 1973. Mary died in 1983, aged 82. [PH01_RSE , Absent Voter List ]
- L. (Les) Mole. Sergeant. Les lived at Council Houses, Peldon.
- G. (George) Coates. Sergeant. George Edward Coates was born in 1902 and married Florrie Gladys Fenn in 1928. They had a son Dennis and daughter Pam. They lived on Mersea Road, Peldon, and George was a postman. He had also worked for Clifford White's (Builders) on Mersea Island. He died in 1978 aged 76. [PH01_FEN ]
- R.G. (Bob) Ponder. Corporal. Robert Gilbert Ponder was born in 1921, son of Harry and Mabel Ponder of Hillside Cottage, Peldon. He worked at Clarke & Carter's boatyard on Mersea. In 1953 he married Irene Taylor who was a Postwoman in Peldon and whose mother ran the Post Office. [DEP_053 ]
Not in the photograph. There is a large mounted copy of the Home Guard photograph on the wall in the Peldon Rose. It lists many of those who were not in the photograph.
Others are named in Some Record of the Parish of Peldon' (A Vicar's book) [PH01_SRP ]
- H.E. Bass. Lance Corporal.
- A.B. Balls. Private.
- E.R. Balls. Private. Ernest Balls was born in 1897. The Balls family lived in Haxcells Cottage, Peldon, certainly from 1901 to 1911. In 1919 Ernest was a Private in the 1st Royal Northampton Regiment, with a home address of Home Farm, Peldon. [Absent Voter List ]
- W.H. Balls. Private. Walter Harry Balls was born in 1895. The Balls family lived in Haxcells Cottage, Peldon, certainly from 1901 to 1911. Walter was living in Peldon Crescent in 1919, and he died in 1981 aged 85.
- A.J. (Bert) Carter. Private. Albert James Carter spent nearly all of his 82 years on Mersea Island. After school he was an apprentice shipwright in Southampton, then he returned to Mersea followed by a period at sea. In the 1920's he and Jim Clark (also of Mersea) founded the Clarke and Carter company, which in WW2 carried out work to Admiralty contracts to supply oars and landing nets, employing a large local workforce. At this time Bert was a member of Peldon Platoon. After the war the boatyard expanded and built yacht spars and masts, and was eventually sold in 1972. Bert remained active, with an oyster lane, trawling, dredging, and serving on local committees. Smuggling Villages of North East Essex' by George Pluckwell, Page 83
- C.C. Collins. Private.
- W. Knight. Private. Wilfred Knight lived in Mill Cottage, Mersea Road, Peldon and died in 1970, aged 45.
- J. Knight. Private.
- O. Neville. Private.
- J.W. Pratt
- F. T. Purtell. Private. Frederick Thomas Purtell was serving as a Private in the 3rd West Riding Regiment in 1919, with a home address of Whittakers Cottages. Later he lived in Hillside Cottages, Peldon, and died in 1959 aged 60. [Absent Voter List ]
- R. (Roland) Behn from Langenhoe, joined Peldon Platoon as soon as it was formed. He volunteered for the Royal Navy in December 1941, and after training at HMS Ganges, HMS Pembroke (Chatham) and other postings he served on the destroyer HMS ULSTER. He was killed in battle in 1943 whilst inside the forward gun turret. (10)
- G. (George) Scales. George Scales lived at Harveys Farm, Peldon, but at a time he was working in Suffolk, he joined a Suffolk Home Guard unit. He transferred to Peldon Platoon, then got the Call-Up to join the Royal Navy, where he became a senior officer on a tank landing craft. Due to his leadership and bravery at Dunkirk, under fire, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. After the war he became a successful farmer and amassed a very large farm at Abbess Roding. His Biography was published as a book: 'Full Ahead Together' by Ian Baird. He died in 2013 aged 92. [PH01_GSC ]
- J. O'Riley. He lived at Games Farm, Peldon.
- G. Bars. He lived at Brick House Farm, Peldon.
- A. G. Puxley. Albert George Puxley lived in Mill House Cottages and later in life at 1, The Crescent, Peldon. He died in 1980, aged 71.
- B. Swallow. He lived in Mersea Road, and was subsequently Called-Up for the Army.
- P. Miller. He lived at Tronoh Bungalow, Church Road, Peldon.
- K. (Kenny) Thorp. A 'Ken Thorpe' was referred to by Winifred Hone in her memoirs (see 'Manoeuvres' below). It has been assumed that this was in fact Kenny Thorp, son of Maurice Thorp, a builder and brickyard manager who lived at Holly Lodge in High Street North, West Mersea.
Peldon Platoon - activities and resources
It has not been possible to establish where or how often the Platoon did their manoeuvres, but he following extract from the memoirs of Winifred Hone gives us an insight:
"Many of the Mersea men ineligible for service in the forces joined the Peldon Home Guard. They had their headquarters at the Rose in Peldon, the popular landlord Ivan Pullen being the Officer in Charge of the platoon. Many of the members were very serious about their training and didn't always share Mr Churchill's optimism. On one occasion they were having manoeuvres with Wigborough. Ken Thorpe was the machine gunner, his 'gun' being a tin of stones which he had to rattle. A signal was the blowing of a whistle when the manoeuvres had finished, and was the order to assemble and return to base. Unfortunately Ken Thorpe being deaf didn't hear the whistle, and he was rattling the tin of stones for hours, which resulted in him being slightly disillusioned about serving his country as a machine gunner." [WW01_171 ]
Instructing members of the local Civil Defence
Peldon had an Invasion Committee which planned for the worst, and set up teams and individuals to look after specific areas of concern. The following extract is from a meeting in April 1942:
"...Mr Pullen agreed to set aside a night a week for the Home Guard to train ARP wardens in bayonet fighting and rifle drill, this military training was extended to the Fire Party." [PH01_INV ]
Manning the Observation Post
There are three accounts about Peldon Platoon using the tower of St. Mary's church as an observation post.
The wartime Rector of Peldon, John Robert Wilson recalled:
"....the Home Guard keeping watch from the Church Tower, and on Parade Sundays, filling the Church, for intensely-moving services, never knowing who would be 'missing' on the next Parade." (11)
The tower's use as an Observation Post was investigated by Fred Nash, Military Archaeologist, on behalf of Colchester Archaeological Group and Essex County Council. His record reads as follows:
SMR No. 21109
NGR: TL 9694 1678
Contemporary records state,"Observation post. Peldon Church Tower. Map ref. 436351."(Mil. Ed.). There are surprisingly few entries in War Time Contraventions 1968 listing church towers used as observation positions. However, this must surely have been a regular occurrence; a natural position for the Local Home Guard to keep a watch over the surrounding countryside.
It is not known whether anything would have been actually built on the tower top to facilitate the position. Probably not, perhaps a table and chair would have sufficed.
At the time of the site visit it was not possible to access the tower. (12)
The above report and references were subsequently adopted by Colchester Heritage (Monument record
Keeping a watch on the marshes and reservoir
The Home Guard supported the Military on the marshes, watching for any enemy landings and dealing with crashed aircraft. They maintained a watch on the reservoir in case German seaplanes landed there. For a time the reservoir was mined, but the mines had to be cleared when they became iced-in, and so a threat to the dam. (13)
Note. Whether this was the sole responsibility of Peldon Platoon is debatable. With the length of marshland at Peldon and the long perimeter of the reservoir (even then) it is likely that the responsibility for keeping watch over these areas was shared.
Manning the Defence Post and its Ammunition Shelter
This was investigated by Fred Nash, Military Archaeologist, on behalf of Colchester Archaeological Group and Essex County Council. His published record was:
SMR No: 21110 ( MCC4095 ).
NGR: TM 0064 1593
Contemporary records state, "Ammunition Shelter. Land at rear of The Rose Inn, Peldon. Map ref. 454343". (Mil. Ed.).
The Rose public house stands on the corner of Mersea Road and Colchester Road behind a triangle of grass. An aerial photograph taken in April 1946 shows a tract of land immediately behind it with a small structure in the middle, too indistinct to be truly identifiable.
A second entry in the records lists "sandbagged defence post with trench" on the triangular plot in front of the inn, and given that both entries are dated 23/10/40, the only two of that date in the Peldon records, it is clear that the ammunition shelter was built to accommodate the needs of the defence post in front of the inn.
Nothing of these structures now survives. (12)
Use of the Arms Store
Ivan Pullen was in charge of an arms store, which was located behind 'Ray View'. The store was like an Anderson Shelter with a corrugated iron top. [PH01_RSE ]
Note. One wonders what was inside this Arms Store, especially at the start of the war. Probably not rows of rifles, pistols and knives. The following recollections are from a resident of Tollesbury:
"My Dad was a Sergeant in the Home Guard. We were living down Old Hall when the War began. On Sunday mornings the Home Guards met on the Square and my Dad drilled them there. The Vicar wasn't very pleased as my Dad had a loud voice and his commands could be heard throughout the service and eventually they had to change their meeting place for drilling to the Recreation Ground.
My Dad was a cowman by day. At night he would blacken-up his face and set off with the weapon he had been issued with - a pitch fork. So, had a well-disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped German Army landed in Tollesbury (and at one time this was a definite possibility) they would have been met by a uniformed group carrying pitch forks.
Later on my Dad was supplied with six rifles, only six rifles for twenty eight to thirty men. He was really worried about how these should be distributed, and I remember my Mother saying "Let them all take a turn." And that is what happened for some time - the Home Guards were prepared to face the German Invasion and defend their village and their country with pitch forks, or if it was their 'turn' with a rifle." (13)
The complex matter of arming the Home Guard has been researched at Cranfield University. For the whole story and
supporting photographs see:
(a big PDF document - opens in a new window).
John Milgate of Shell Bungalow, Peldon, recalled that the very large shed at Shell Bungalow was used as a yacht store, and during the war the Home Guard used it as a store. (14)
Ready to man pillboxes
Colchester Heritage has a record of a pillbox that was on the Peldon Rose side of the Strood. It reads:
Monument record MCC5043 - WWII Pillbox (destroyed), The Strood, Peldon.
Grid reference: Centred TM 0105 1538 (13m x 16m)
Map sheet: TM01NW
Contemporary records state, pillbox. 2 meadows opposite Strood Villa, Mersea Road. Map ref. 457338 (Mil. Ed.) This pillbox can be seen, overlooking Strood Channel from a position 50 yards W of The Strood, on an aerial photograph taken in 1946, but an aerial photograph taken in 1960 shows it to be no longer in existence by that date.
The same pillbox appears to be in a drawing of Strood Villa from memory in c.1945, by Colin Grimes, son of Peldon artist and cartoonist Leslie Grimes.
Note. Colchester Heritage has the records of surveys carried out on other pillboxes that are somewhat local to Peldon. These are mostly on the northern shoreline of the Pyefleet Channel and the Langenhoe length of the western side of the river Colne. At the time of writing (2020) it was not known if they were under the auspices of Peldon Platoon.
The defence of Peldon and nearby villages
Villages and towns were to be defended primarily by covering all approaches and blocking all roads leading into the village or town. The principles of Home Guard defence (nationally) were outlined in Instruction 51:
- Defence is final. A defended locality must fight to the last man and the last round.
- Defended localities must be sited in depth. The enemy may infiltrate between localities, he may overrun one, but the impetus will be slowed down as he advances and he can be dealt with by vigorous counter-attack.
- Aggressive defence. Defence must not be static. Every commander must have his mobile reserve to dominate his front by fighting patrols and snipers and to destroy the enemy by counter-attack.
Defence must not be concentrated. Seeds, not soldiers, survive distribution in penny packets. It is fire power that stops an attack. Keep the size of a locality small enough to produce concentrated weapon fire. Defend essentials only.
Mutual support. Enfilade fire by machine guns and anti-tank weapons is more effective than frontal fire. It often assists concealment. It allows one locality or strongpoint to support the neighbouring ones.
Concealment is paramount. A post located can often be neutralized. A vital element in successful defence is surprise. Conceal yourself, your positions, your weapons. Don't let the enemy draw your fire. Hold it until he attacks in force. (15)
Closure of the Platoon, and reunions
There was no invasion by Germany. Instead the main role of the Home Guard (in a national sense) became reduced down to escorting prisoners (e.g. German airmen that had bailed-out), guarding munitions, and the checking of identity cards.
Nationally the Home Guard was stood down late 1944 and had their church services and stand-down parades end November early December 1944. The caption on the copy of the Home Guard photograph that is in the Peldon Rose gives the dates June 1940 to December 1944 and probably this photograph was at their stand-down parade. The Home Guard was finally disbanded 31 December 1945. After that the members of Peldon Platoon held a series of reunions, for example:
HOME GUARD REUNION - The fourth annual reunion dinner of No. 3 (Peldon) platoon of D Company, 18th Battalion Essex Home Guard, took place at the White Hart Hotel, West Mersea, on Friday when over 40 sat down to an excellent meal provided by Mr and Mrs Michael-Smith. The toast 'Our Officers' was proposed by Mr F G Unwin and responded to by Mr B I Pullen, and the toast 'Our Guests' was proposed by Mr L Michael-Smith and responded to by both Lt-General M G H Barker, C.M. G., D.S.O. and Mr S C Allderidge, Company Commander. A letter was read from Brigadier Seth Smith expressing his inability to attend the gathering on account of ill-health and having moved from the neighbourhood. Mr Claud Theobald's excellent party provided the musical part of the programme. Essex County Standard, 5 March 1948
Sources and More information:
|(1)||Hertfordshire Home Guard
|(2)||National Army Museum www.nam.ac.uk/explore/civilian-soldiers
|(3)||Imperial War Museum article 'The real Dad's Army'
|(7)||East Anglian Film Archive www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/673|
|(8)||The Motor Cycle Magazine, article: 'If the Home Guard goes into Action' by Arthur Bourne (Editor), 29 January 1942 issue.
|(9)||Script for a BBC Outside Broadcast on 29/30 November 1947 from the White Hart Hotel, West Mersea. Mersea Museum IDs RG03_CMG_001 to RG03_CMG_115|
|(10)||Roland Behn Memorial Profile by Edwin Sparrow BEHN Roland.pdf|
'The Rectors of Peldon' by Anthony W. Gough, Essex Archaeology and History: Volume 7 (1975), http://esah1852.org.uk/research/transactions
Mersea Museum ID PEL_REC_068
|(12)||'Survey of World War Two Defences in the Borough of Colchester' by Fred Nash, November 2007. Section C, page 331.
caguk.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/5WW2_sites_C-p238-370.pdf [ 8Mb PDF file - opens in a new window ]
A valuable document which is indexed by SMR number. Records also should be on Colchester Heritage Explorer
colchesterheritage.co.uk with MCC.... numbers, and this should bring the story up to date. [Tony Millatt]
|(13)||BBC article - WW2 'People's War' series - 'Weapon issue: Pitchforks' www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/41/a7920641.shtml
|(14)||Mersea Museum ID MIL_OPA_163|
|(15)||Home Guard Instruction No. 51, Battlecraft and Battle Drill for the Home Guard, Part IV: The Organization of Home Guard Defence. GHQ Home Forces, November 1943 version.|
The Pullens of Peldon Rose
Peldon's Preparations for a German Invasion
Some Record of the Parish of Peldon (A Vicar's Book)
a) Elaine Barker, for research notes and articles and her input on Peldon people and families
b) Tony Millatt, for input on Mersea Island people and families.
c) Ron Green, for the depth of his memory of local people, buildings and events.
d) National Army Museum www.nam.ac.uk
e) Imperial War Museum www.iwm.org.uk
f) Staffordshire Home Guard website www.staffshomeguard.co.uk
g) Colchester Archaeology Group caguk.net
h) Essex County Standard
Adapted for the web by Tony Millatt, Mersea Museum