HENFIELD HISTORY GROUP HOMEPAGE
HENFIELD'S WW2 HOME GUARD
Although several books have already been written about the Home Guard, Don had hoped to be able to find original record books and diaries of our two platoons and he searched in record offices, army museums, Imperial War Museum and the Public Record Office at Kew, but none were available. In fact the War Museum indicated that all the HG records were collected together after the War and sent somewhere up north to be collated ... and have never been seen since!
In 1939 that there were so many volunteers wanting to do their bit, that it forced the Government's hand, and it was on the 11th May 1940 that Minister Anthony Eden , called for men aged between 17 and 65 to serve with the local defence volunteers, or LDV as it was then known. They had hoped that half-a-million men would respond to this call, but within 24 hours quarter-of-a-million had enrolled, and by the end of June 1,456,000 men had joined. It must be said though that some of these volunteers were outside the age limits, men as old as 80 has joined, although boys as young as 14 were considered useful for running messages.
It was on the 25th May 1950 in the Henfield Assembly Rooms that our Section of the LDV was formed; there were two Platoons: Henfield, commanded by Mr. Rothery, and Woodmancote commanded by Mr. Sandbash. Training commenced immediately, and guards were mounted every night from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The Henfield Guard was mounted on the Windmill south of the common on the Lidds, where you get a very good view to the South, and Woodmancote mounted guard at Hunter's View, which at the time belonged to a Mrs. Huntsman who provided refreshments for the men and allowed them to use her billiard room! They also needed to mount road blocks in case any 'fifth columnists' (spies) were found. The HQ of both these platoons was initially at the Eardly Hall in the High Street (now the Butchers). They were issued with arm bands with LDV on them. Gradually towards the end of 1940 they were given they were given Army overalls, and in 1941 regular army uniforms were available.
The provision of arms and supplies to the LDV was very 'DIY' in those early days as the government's first responsibility was to equip the regular Army, and an appeal was issued for weapons. This wasn't very successful as they collected a fairly motley assortment, with little ammunition available. Farming communities such as Henfield were perhaps better equipped as they had their own guns and ammunition. Owing to the total lack of arms, many volunteers had broomsticks, which were used with knives stuck into the end. In fact there is evidence that pikes were produced for the Home Guard. Eventually, though arms were brought from Canada and America; Don's father, who was in the Woodmancote Platoon, was issued with a Ross Rifle from Canada, with a 300 bore, although as the standard British Army weapon was 303 bore it was sometimes difficulty to find ammunition. Eventually the Home Guard was issued with the Lea Enfield 303, standard English rifle from WW1 through to the 1950s, and they were also issued with a machine gun, and so they were beginning to become a serious threat.
As a boy, Don remembered filling paper bags with whitening, which the Guard, who were hiding in ambush, would throw at Bren Gun carriers in training sessions. Don also remembered collecting bottles, which were used to make Molotov cocktails, which would have been quite lethal weapons.
We were shown a notice from Brigadier General G.V. Clark dated 29th November 1940 explaining the role of the Home Guard, and what the men's duties would be. They were expected to do 48 hours of voluntary service each month, and of course this was on top of their daytime work. The purpose of the units was to resist the enemy by whatever means possible mainly at nodal or vulnerable points. The nodal points in Henfield were Barrow Hill and Golden Square, and in Woodmancote was the top of Bramlands Lane where it meets the main road. In the banks at Barrow Hill were 40g oil drums filled with oil, petrol and an explosive charge; the idea was that if the enemy came from that direction the barrels would be exploded and a flaming river of oil would flow down the hill onto the enemy. Don remembered that these oil drums were used by a number of local lads for target practice with catapults! Later in the war, when there was no longer a threat of invasion, there was a number of small airfields constructed along the south coast (emergency landing strips), and there was one at Park Farm - members of the audience could remember Spitfire Day with pilot (later Sir) Max Aitken as his aunt (Lord Beaverbrook's sister) lived nearby. The main task then of the Home Guard was to patrol this air strip, and Mr. Beck who used to be the landlord at the Plough, and was also the local carrier, used to take the men from the High Street to Park Farm to stand duty, and then bring them back in the morning.
Ranks within the LDV did not correspond with the regular army: they had squadron leaders, platoon commanders and section leaders, etc. From 31st July 1940 on the instructions of Primeminister Churchill the name changed and it was called the Home Guard. At the same time they adopted ranks the same as the regular army, but the Home Guard was in no position to command other services. By September 1940 there were 1,600,000 members, and the numbers then started to decline as the youngsters joined the regular forces, and the older men retired, and it was at this point that conscription was actually introduced to direct men into the Home Guard. The command of the West Sussex Unit was changed quite a bit in its time, and there was a while when the Wineham and Shermanbury units were combined with the Henfield Units. Finally, it all became part of the 4th Billingshurst Unit, under command of Major K.W. Hawker, who lived in London Road, Henfield. By 1943 membership had increased again to 1,793,000, and by this time these men were doing duties which had previously been done by the regular army thereby releasing those regular Army personnel for duties overseas.
On the 6th September 1944 the Home Guard's duties were suspended, clearly there was no further need for them, and on the 2nd December 1945 the Home Guard ceased to exist.
HENFIELD HISTORY GROUP HOMEPAGE