Memories of the Home Guard 1941 – 1945
This article was written 2 April 2011 by the late Raymond Gibson
Memories of the Home Guard have been kept alive through the TV programme, “Dad’s Army” which is still being shown on Saturday evenings, the star being Captain Mainwaring and his motley crew. It never fails to entertain.
The Evenwood platoon had 65 members. Our headquarters was the pavilion in the Welfare ground. We were issued with uniforms and a rifle. The leader was Mr. Fred Steel who had the shop at West View. Mr. Ralph Bowman was also heavily involved with the organisation of the unit. Those who were issued with sergeant’s stripes were proud of having them – Walter Bowman the farmer and Jossie Hindmarch from the Oaks. There would be others that escape my memory. I recall that the Corporals and Lance Corporals were also proud of their ranks. Some of the older fellows had served in the First World War.
We assembled twice a week, that being Sunday mornings 10am until noon and Thursday nights, 6pm until dark. The Sunday morning parade was mostly held inside the pavilion. We had to clean our rifles by pulling cords through the barrel. We had to handle hand grenades and learn how to throw them correctly. We had one Lewis gun which had to be stripped down and cleaned every week. There was a box of ammunition. I never saw it but some knew about it. It was kept secret.
The main training night was held Thursday evenings when we had rifle drill and, what’s known as, “square bashing”. They brought a Sergeant-Major over from Barney Camp to supervise this. It was tough. We had running as well. All the time, he was watching over us and if you made a mistake, you were singled out. They had strong voices those Sergeant-Majors! This happened at the top end of the football pitch near the top goal.
There was an opportunity for volunteers to go to visit the rifle ranges at the Army Camps at Barnard Castle. There was Army personnel in dug-outs, showing you if you had scored a bull’s-eye or missed. You were issued with 5 bullets – that was it! Transport was provided but you had to volunteer to go. The entrance to the rifle range is still there. I pass it often, just beyond Deerbolt Young Offenders at Startforth – it brings the memories back.
There was a part of our training when we were taken to a site up at Woodland, along the road to Middleton-in-Teesdale. We had to crawl up a slope and above us were 4 soldiers who fired live ammunition rounds above our heads. We never saw them but it was the real thing. The bullets were flying above us, that’s for sure! No-one ever got hurt but we had to have the experience. There was another occasion when we were given battle training. We had to protect the railway line near the Mill from the Germans.
Looking back at the 65 members, to the best of my knowledge there are only 3 of us left, Eric Priestley and Ronnie Raper from Hilton and myself. There used to be a photo hanging up in the Swan.
I started the article writing about “Dad’s Army” and looking back to our Home Guard, we had our Walkers, Pikes and Godfreys, similar characters but we hadn’t a Captain Mainwaring. Things were a little different. I think that if we had been called on, we had been given proper training to do our best. And we would have.
NOTE: March 2020 and sadly, the last of Dad’s Army, Eric, Ronnie and Raymond have passed away.
Jack Smith; Bill Smith; Jack Hymers; Eric Weston; Chris Hutchinson; Fred Britton; ?; Eric Bennett; Raymond Gibson; Wilf Bussey; Nelson Bussey; Sammy Lee; Bowes Thompson; ?;
Norman Proud; Bobby Henderson; Harry Thackerey; Norman Wren; Harry Stones; Jos Priestley; George Vickers; Fred Todd; Eric Priestley; Arnold Bolton; Tommy Buttle; Harry Welford; Arthur Oldfield; Jack Sayers
Sidney Harker; Bobby Watson; George Mason; Willie Postgate; Dick Heaviside; James Law; Ralph Bowman; Major Russell; Captain A. Foster; Walter Bowman; Bob Cox; Edgar Tweddle; Sid Lowson; Joe Wren; Norman Knaggs
Kneeling left: Doug Henderson & Tazie Prudhoe
Kneeling Right: George Blackett & Ronnie Wilson