Memories of Service with the LDV/Home Guard, Mitcham 1940-42

Local History Notes 9: by J B Pritchard

We have all laughed at ‘Dad’s Army’, but behind the mishaps and jokes was a very serious purpose. These notes give a clear, factual account of the formation, arming and training of the Mitcham Home Guard, formed to protect Mitcham against the threatened German invasion or any other hazard. A timely reminder of desperate measures needed in desperate times.


Review by Margaret Carr in MHS Bulletin 114 (Jun 1995)


In addition to the road blocks, there were brick and concrete pill boxes at strategic points, and a
house on the corner of Madeira Road / Commonside West was reinforced and turned into a strong
point. These we manned during the invasion scare and then on training exercises. After the
invasion threat was over, guards continued at night and training, route marches, etc., were carried
out at weekends. After one guard duty, when unloading the rifle, one chap left one up the spout
and shot a hole through the ceiling! Most nights were spent at the Coy. H.Q. at the Golf House.
If the weather was bad patrols were cancelled, and we played darts instead!

In addition to the road blocks, there were brick and concrete pill boxes at strategic points, and a
house on the corner of Madeira Road / Commonside West was reinforced and turned into a strong
point. These we manned during the invasion scare and then on training exercises. After the
invasion threat was over, guards continued at night and training, route marches, etc., were carried
out at weekends. After one guard duty, when unloading the rifle, one chap left one up the spout
and shot a hole through the ceiling! Most nights were spent at the Coy. H.Q. at the Golf House.
If the weather was bad patrols were cancelled, and we played darts instead!

An R.S.M. from the Royal Tank Regiment attached to Home Guard G.H.Q. once gave us a lecture
on automatic weapons. He was responsible for training the Home Guards in London. His talk
influenced me to join the R.T.R. when called up. After his talk we didn’t have any pieces left over
when reassembling the machine gun! On another occasion we were taken to Epsom race course
to watch a demonstration by three light tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment. I was impressed by
their black overalls and beret.

I was posted for a week’s attachment to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards on Wimbledon Common.
(They had been in the counter-attack at Arras in the retreat to Dunkirk). I slept in the Quarter
Master’s Stores, and attended all parades. I ate in the Sergeants’ Mess and found Officers,
Sergeants and everyone most helpful. The Guards’ drill was a bit different to that with which I
was familiar, and since I was put in a squad without any preliminary training, I made an awful hash
of it! In retrospect, it must have been comical to watch – somewhat like a comedy stage sketch.
However, I learnt a lot by joining in all parades and patrols and talking to them all.

I served in the Home Guard until I was called up in November 1942, having by then been promoted
to the rank of lance-corporal. I joined the Royal Tank Regiment, and landed with the 7th R.T.R.
in Normandy on D Day + 12, finishing up in Hamburg when the Germans surrendered. We were
equipped with Churchill tanks.

My time in the Home Guard was at times hilarious and at times dangerous, but I learnt much from
the training and talking to veterans of the 1914-18 War. This benefited me greatly when I joined
up.

ISBN 1 903899 32 X

Published by Merton Historical Society – March 1995

Further information on Merton Historical Society can be obtained from the Society’s website at
www.mertonhistoricalsociety.org.uk or from
Merton Library & Heritage Service, Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden, Surrey. SM4 5DX

MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY
LOCAL HISTORY NOTES -9
Memories of Service with the
LDV/Home Guard, Mitcham
1940-1942
By J B Pritchard
I was still at Mitcham County School for Boys when I joined the L.D.V.s (the Local Defence
Volunteers) on 23rd June 1940, aged 16. With the fall of Dunkirk and the miraculous withdrawal
of the British Expeditionary Force from France the appeal had gone out over the wireless, and
thousands still in civilian occupations wished to do what they could to defend England in the
invasion, which everyone was expecting that Summer. I was signed on as a dispatch rider by my
uncle, Lauri Shepard, who at the time was deputy commander. A veteran of the 1914-18 War,
he had seen four years continuous active service in Flanders with the 5th Seaforth Highlanders.

I did my first guard duty at the Canons A.R.P. post. There were two of us, one armed with a
12-bore shotgun and two cartridges, and the other with a tin hat! Our sole item of official
“uniform” was an L.D.V. armband. Whilst on duty we challenged a caller who, failing to give a
satisfactory response, was promptly escorted to the guardroom. It turned out he was a member
of another L.D.V. Company testing to see whether we would challenge him! As a dispatch rider
(on my own bicycle) I had use of a tin hat. I remember one trip to Morden A.R.P. / H.Q. post in
the middle of a heavy raid. I had to dive for shelter twice down Morden Road.

The headquarters of the Local Defence Volunteers, and later of the Home Guard, was the
clubhouse of Mitcham Golf Club, near Mitcham Junction Station. On early L.D.V. parades we
were put through the basic movements of rifle drill, using broom sticks, on the putting green at
the side of the club house, where we also did P.T. In July 1940, when we had 60 members, we
received our first rifles. These were U.S.A. Ross rifles of 1917 vintage, and packed in grease. Six
were cleaned with boiling water for the guard that night. There was no difficulty in finding
volunteers for guard duty! We received our uniforms on Sunday 18th August 1940. By then we
all had rifles, ammunition and tin hats, and within a short time our title was changed from L.D.V.
to the more imaginative Home Guard, and we became “A” Company 57th Surrey (Mitcham)
Battalion wearing the badge of the East Surrey Regiment. Parades now included rifle drill (bayonet
drill, once the bayonets arrived) and exercises over the Common.

The headquarters of the Local Defence Volunteers, and later of the Home Guard, was the
clubhouse of Mitcham Golf Club, near Mitcham Junction Station. On early L.D.V. parades we
were put through the basic movements of rifle drill, using broom sticks, on the putting green at
the side of the club house, where we also did P.T. In July 1940, when we had 60 members, we
received our first rifles. These were U.S.A. Ross rifles of 1917 vintage, and packed in grease. Six
were cleaned with boiling water for the guard that night. There was no difficulty in finding
volunteers for guard duty! We received our uniforms on Sunday 18th August 1940. By then we
all had rifles, ammunition and tin hats, and within a short time our title was changed from L.D.V.
to the more imaginative Home Guard, and we became “A” Company 57th Surrey (Mitcham)
Battalion wearing the badge of the East Surrey Regiment. Parades now included rifle drill (bayonet
drill, once the bayonets arrived) and exercises over the Common.
Members of 57th Surrey (Mitcham) Battalion Home Guard; Commanding Officer Major E L Shepard, c. 1943

On the opposite side of the railway from the Golf Club House, off the Carshalton Road, there was
an anti-aircraft battery of 3.7″ guns, manned by the Honourable Artillery Company. The first
fairway in front of the Club House was covered in wire mesh about two feet off the ground,
presumably some form of detection for the battery. When their guns fired our H.Q. shook
alarmingly.

Some night duties were spent at Mitcham Police Station so we could be available to assist the police
and A.R.P. if necessary. We had to turn out every time the Air Raid warning sounded, which was
every night during the Blitz, and we watched the heavy raids on London which lit up the whole
sky. We saw planes lit up by searchlights and some shot down by the A.A. guns – always a great
boost to morale. When bombs dropped in Mitcham we turned out to guard damaged shops and
factories against looters. Up to November 1940 Mitcham had five “land mines” – high explosive
devices suspended on parachutes – dropped on it, two of them being the first to fall in England.
I well recall being called out to protect property in Morden Road and behind the Methodist church,
damaged by these mines. An unexploded A.A. shell landed in the back garden of my parents’ house
in Mitcham Park, and that evening, whilst we were listening to the B.B.C. 9 o’clock news, a bomb
landed in the same crater, bringing down two ceilings and blowing in windows. Further up the road
a house was hit and completely demolished. We worked with the A.R.P. to get two occupants out
all right, but the next day the body of a third person was found.

On leaving school I joined Lloyds Bank at Putney. The manager was not best pleased when I told
him that as a member of the Home Guard I would not be able to do Fire Watch duty at the bank!
Cycling to and from work could be exciting with the air raids, and I remember seeing firemen
returning from the Blitz covered in grime, and dead tired. Every time the air raid warning went
we had to shut the bank and take cover in the strong room. One raid lasted from 9.30 a.m. to 2
p.m., so we opened when we should have been shutting.

In those days many homes were without telephones, and as dispatch rider I had to call out members
of my section whenever there was an emergency warning, such as the sighting of parachutists. We
would then take up position on the golf course, usually lying in a ditch or bunker waiting for Jerry
parachutists to arrive. Fortunately each call was a false alarm. One night we were out all night
and were later told the “parachutists” were puffs of A.A. fire drifting across the moon!

On other occasions it was reported a light had been seen on the Common signalling to the bombers.
We would spread out across the golf course and search the whole area. On really dark nights it
was somewhat hazardous with all the ditches intersecting the Common. We invariably had
someone fall in, usually choosing a ditch full of yellow slime! On return to the Company H.Q. he
would not be allowed in the guardroom because of the smell!

Not all the members of the Mitcham Home Guard were so lucky. On the night of 26th April 1941,
when members of “B” Company were on duty at their headquarters in the Tower Creameries on
Commonside East, they were alerted by what they thought were two parachutists descending on
the Common. Unfortunately the parachutes were mines dropped by German aircraft. Some of the
men were killed as they ran towards the “parachutist”, whilst others died in the explosion and fierce
fire which followed after one of the mines fell on the Creameries. In all 15 members of “B”
Company lost their lives that night. They were buried with full military honours in war graves at
London Road Cemetery, opposite Figges Marsh, and their names are recorded on a bronze plaque
unveiled at the Creameries in 1962.

The image created by the “Dad’s Army” series on television is not too far exaggerated, and we had
many similar characters and the incidents are often familiar. Initially, the Home Guard was poorly
equipped, but the situation gradually improved, and we were equipped with Browning machine
guns and P.I.A.T. mortars, grenades and more ammunition. We also improvised, making our own
“Molotov cocktails”, and placing barrels of oil on the railway bridges to be poured on the road and
set alight. Weapons courses took place at Nonsuch Park, Cheam, and we practised firing at Bisley,
staying there all day. Enthusiasm and dedication were certainly not lacking, and with time the units
became quite efficient. However, having seen what the real war was like, I have to admit that had
the Germans landed, we would have been brushed aside quite easily, although we would
undoubtedly have caused some casualties.

Exercises were an important part of our training. One practice attack was on the Gas Works and
surrounding area, defended by another Home Guard unit – we won! We also had exercises with
the Army – sometimes a company of Guardsmen – defending the Common whilst they acted as the
enemy. There were road blocks on the railway bridges at Cranmer Road and Commonside West,
to be manned in an emergency. These consisted of large concrete blocks with gaps for traffic to
pass through. The gaps could be closed by inserting railway lines bent into a V into holes in the
road. During the threat of parachutists and Fifth Columnists we sometimes set up road blocks on
the main roads. Each car was searched, names of occupants taken and reason for journey and
destination recorded. I don’t remember ever finding anything suspicious, but it put the wind up
many people, who thought the invasion had started.

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