WORLD WAR 2 Part Four

The War may have seemed happily remote from an area like the Lake District, which escaped the very worst of rationing and shortages, and the nightly fear of bombing; but there was always the threat of enemy invasion, and the men that were left behind formed the front line defence, as they drilled and patrolled with the Home Guard.

Its difficult to picture the Home Guard without thinking immediately of Captain Mainwaring and "Dad's Army". But did the popular television series really capture the spirit of the Home Guard? Men were armed at first often with little more than broom handles, which were in time replaced by antiquated rifles. This week, the last of this series on World War Two, we listen to the men who served in the Home Guard and what they thought about their duties and responsibilities:

"Our particular area was all t'way from Clappersgate, that was main road mainly, but we nivver went much farther than Brunt How, which was a good bend, but we had nothing; if there'd been armoured wagons or owt, we would have been smashed to smithereens. I don't know what would have happened if there had been owt, Army would have come and backed you up. But it was Home Guard, a rifle, or a Browning Automatic, or a few grenades, something like that. If you'd comed against an armoured wagon, you wouldn't dare show up, I don't think, you just might have hindered them a l'al bit."

The Home Guard started as the old Local Defence Volunteers:

"We just signed up, joined the LDV and we met at the Drill Hall on The Green. We joined there and we were issued with an arm band which had LDV on. Eventually we were fit out with khaki uniform, had rifles issued to us and we did our practice, drills, marching, route marches."

In Ambleside, the Home Guard defended key positions like the Water Works and the Gas Works:

"What we had to do is, we had two men out on duty at the Ribble Garage in Compston Road, one at the garage down on Wansfell Road near the church and as it so happened I was picked for our section to be the messenger. I had to go from Wansfell Road Guardroom, come up into the village on my bike, was challenged at the garage and asked if everything was OK. From there I went right down to Rothay Bridge via Wansfell Road again, challenged again, went on and met the Langdale man right in the middle of Rothay Bridge. If everything was alright I came back and reported to the Guard Room. I did that twice during the night, and then you took your turn on two hour duty outside."

Each company of twenty men took it in turns on a rota to defend the village each night, on a twelve hour shift; guards also slept up at the Gasworks:

"There you had two camp beds and you used to sleep just right outside the torch and if anything happened you had to jump up on the alert right away."

With night-time exercises and secret missions to execute, it wasn't surprising that the Home Guard themselves often caused local misundertandings. One member on an exercise almost became the subject of a police alert when he was spotted in the half light fleeing through a wood in a grey uniform:

"We were told, 'You two, you've got to get out there and get back in here without being seen'. It was winter, so off we went, Tommy and me away down towards Elterwater. Tommy said, 'I'm going to take t'beck', and I thought I'd better go t'other way towards Walthwaite, that area. By gum you know, I was just ganning up that road, you know where Pentecostal is? Well, I thowt, I think we'll have to be turning back. This thing was only about an hour... I thowt we'd better start back and find out way back. I'll ga this way, I thowt and shoot back through that wood. How t'heck I'd git from that wood to the Corp room I didn't know. I set off running - a flaming policeman was after me! Anyway I saw him coming and I owered gate and I got into this field at the back of Pentecostal, and of course he's at bottom end and he's after me! And he was gitting ower gate and by gum, there was a tree in the corner and I hooked tree and I was ower wall! I nivver saw him again. He wouldn't know, it was grey and I was in uniform..."

Not many sudden scares broke the peace of Wartime in Lakeland. However, the Home Guard was at hand whenever anything untoward was reported, though they didn't always manage to do the right thing:

"We had one alarm, one scare, in June, when somebody had seen parachutists landing up Far Easedale and the Home Guard were turned out to try and apprehend these. We thought they would be parachutists, and the local church bell was rung which was the warning for everybody that danger was about, and my mother had to cycle to all the outlying farms to warn them that they thought parachutists were landing. But the Home Guard, who were, after all, most of them middle aged or even retired gentlemen, had to rush up Far Easedale in hot, June weather - and when they got there, it was a barrage balloon that had got loose from Barrow and they didn't know quite what to do with it, so they thought the best thing to do was to let all the gas out and fold up the outer covering and take it back with them - only to get very badly hauled over the coals from headquarters because the expensive part was the gas which they had let out!"

There was more than just friendly rivalry between services like the Home Guard and the WVS in many small places. In one town, where the Home Guard's unpopular Commanding officer was commonly known as the Minister Without Portfolio, the ladies of the WVS resented being asked to help put up the camouflage nets for the Home Guard:

"As if they couldn't jolly well have put them up themselves! ...but we used to go and put this blessed stuff, you know, hessian, and most of it was green, in the netting and we used to fill the thing. The next night it was taken down and another one was put up, and we had to do that. We used to go home with green faces and green hair!"

The only reward from the Home Guard was to leave the WVS volunteers a couple of bottles of pop; one night two of them were walking home, when they saw the lights on in their own house:

"There was Father! He'd come home on leave unexpectedly. And of course he yelled his head off when he saw our green faces and green hair!"