Surrey Mirror - Friday 29 December 1944
THE BOROUGH’S HOME GUARD. A SHORT HISTORY OF THE 8TH SURREY BATTALION. THE DAYS OF THE L.D.V.
How many people lining the route of the 8thh Surrey (Reigate) Battalion Home Guard's farewell march on Sunday, December 3rd, gave more than a passing thought to the significance of the event, or cast their minds back to Tuesday, May 14th, 1940. when, with the field-grey hordes of Germany spreading like an evil canker across Europe, the Secretary for War. Mr. Anthony Eden, came to a B.B.C. microphone with the appeal that brought old soldiers, well past the age of soldiering, back to arms, and set youth, not yet quite old enough for full-time soldiering, drilling, shooting and stalking?
The story starts at mid-day on that memorable Tuesday with a telegram over the signature of the Under Secretary of State. It went to every Chief Constable in the country. Mr. W. H. Beacher, sitting in his office in Reigate, read it: "Broadcast Will be made at 9.10 pm. to-day inviting male British subjects between the ages of 17 and 65 to register for Local Defence Volunteer Corps against enemy landings by parachute or otherwise. Registrations will be at any police station. Circular follows. In meantime, please ensure forthwith that all stations are prepared to receive registrations." There followed details of particulars to be taken. While the then Reigate Borough Police were making the necessary arrangements there came a second telegram notifying them of a broadcast appeal to be made for rifles and ammunition, and asking the police to be ready also to record details of all weapons offered to the new Volunteer Force.
The broadcasts which gave first news of the new Force to the public came in the bulletins at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. It was during the latter that Mr. Eden outlined the enemy’s methods of parachute attack and made his now famous appeal. In the Borough, as elsewhere in the country, the response was astounding. Almost before the broadcast was over the telephone lines to the police stations were busy and personal calls at the stations to register mounted rapidly. Mr. Beacher and his staff worked almost without pause to keep pace with the applications, 1,500 of which poured in in 48 hours.
Reigate Hill Patrol.
Some of the Volunteers had their first taste of duty only three days after the broadcast, for it was on May 17th that the late Capt. E. H. Tuckwell came from Guildford Headquarters to the Chief Constable - at 4 p.m - to make arrangements for night patrols to be on Reigate Hill. Capt. W. E. Hill, M.C., was contacted, and was acquainted on his arrival, shortly before 7 p.m., with what was required. A police car took him to the addresses of several of the Volunteers, and, armed with six "P.14" rifles, all that could be mustered at that stage, the little party set off in police cars for their patrol ground. The twelve men who comprised this first patrol were Messrs. Chalcraft, Cook, Cuss, Dungate, Elliott, Hunt, Jarrett, Laker, Lott, Lovegrove, Pilbeam and Rumble, under the command of Capt. Hill, who, however, found the chosen site for the observation post, a spot near the water tower on Colley Hill, to be unsatisfactory, the view to the southward being impeded by Reigate Park. On the following night therefore the same patrol moved to Reigate Park itself, and were under the command of Mr. Vigers, Capt. Hill having been summoned to Guildford to an urgent conference. Most of the men on these early patrols were unfamiliar with the "P.14" rifle, not having handled firearms since the last war, and so the commanders divided their small force into two, one keeping up the patrol of the area whilst the other received some instruction as to the handling of the unfamiliar weapons. These night watches were divided into three periods - 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., and 4 a.m. to 7 am.
The Borough Company Formed.
Meanwhile at the conference to which Capt Hill had gone, and which was also attended by Alderman Lieut.-Col. F. J. Spranger, Mr. W. H. Beacher, Capt. Mansfield (Redhill) and Capt. Charlesworth (Merstham), it had been decided that Reigate (including Redhill, Earlswood and Merstham) should be allotted one Company of the L D.V. The work of registration was continuing, and preliminary details of the scheme were being worked out, so that on May 20th at a meeting at the Town Hall, convened by the Chief Constable and presided over by Alderman Spranger, it was possible to get down to the work of organisation. At this meeting, at which Alderman Spranger intimated that he was unable to take command of the Reigate Company but at which he introduced Mr. R. J. V. Hake, of the White House, Reigate Heath, as Company Commander, it was decided that the Company should comprise a Reigate Town Platoon under Capt. W. E. Hill, a Redhill Platoon under Capt. E. T. Mansfield, and a Merstham Platoon under Capt. W. G. Charlesworth.
The Platoon Commanders quickly organised their own divisions. Capt. Hill sub-divided his command into Reigate North and Reigate South Platoons, under Lieut. A. W. G. Dewar and Capt. J. Gibson respectively, while at Redhill, Capt. Mansfield, with Major Strickland as his Second-in-Command, organised his Platoon into four sections under the commands of Mr. Cutliffe, Major Bowyer, Lieut. W. R. Howe Pringle, and Capt. Ferguson. At Merstham, Capt. Charlesworth, with Capt. D. J. Smith as Second-in-Command, set up two sections under Capt. C. Bowring and Lieut. V. H. Winson. At the outset the approximate strength of the Borough of Reigate Company was 930 officers and men, but the numbers expanded as more and more names were registered.
Equipment And Excitement.
In view of the fact that orders had been issued for the manning of vital points by the night of May 22nd, Command and Platoon officers had to hustle to contact their men and to arrange rotas for the mounting of guards. Arrangements had also to be made for the equipping of the men with the "fixed and distinctive badge or sign, easily recognisable from a distance" required by international law. It had been ruled that every Volunteer should be provided with a steel helmet, a Service jacket or denim overall, and a Service or forage cap. Alternatively, he was to wear with his civilian clothes - but not civilian headwear- an arm band bearing the letters. "L.D.V.," to be affixed to the sleeve. Those early Volunteers are hardly likely to forget those exciting nights, not unrelieved by moments of hilarity, when they first reported at the various guardrooms and selected their jackets and trousers from the piles dumped on the floors. Some fitted and quite a lot didn’t, and many a stirring tale could be told of uniforms in the latter category which were tailored with lengths of string.
And not the least exciting moments were those when the rifles and ammunition, brought from a central store, were handed round. The old soldiers in the L.D.V. were not long in familiarising themselves with rifles of a different pattern from those they used in the last war, but some of the younger members, though willing to learn, caused some nervousness during the initial stages as they swung their weapons while trying to load and unload- and at least one guardroom floor was punctured when a young L.D.V., after unloading at the end of the night, pulled the trigger to make sure that he hadn’t "left one in." This incident may or may not have been responsible for an order that was made to the effect that the five rounds issued to each man were to be carried in the pocket and only to be inserted into the weapon when the Volunteer was confronted by the enemy!
The Local Defence Volunteers, however, were not deterred in their preparations to defend the Borough against invaders by the early shortage of rifles and ammunition, and the younger and more agile volunteers were invited to form themselves into bombing squads, the "bombs" being the famous home-made "Molotov Cocktails" - glass bottles charged with a highly inflammable mixture of crude tar and petrol and prepared for fragmentation on impact by irregular slashes of the bottle’s surface with a glazier’s diamond. They were for use against tanks, and had proved their efficiency in the Spanish Civil War. The fact that, armed only with such weapons, a rifle, five rounds of ammunition, plus the usual cold steel, they might have to face the modern weapons of the world’s most ruthlessly efficient war-machine, did not appear unduly to perturb these Volunteers, young or old. Their spirit was superior to their weapons.
The Threat Of Invasion.
With events moving apace on the Continent it became evident that this country faced something more than the dropping of the paratroops whom the Local Defence Volunteers had been intended to counter. The threat of a full scale military invasion from the bases across the English Channel was growing hourly, and with it the need for envisaging the L.D.V. as something more than a mobile scheme of defence. General Ironside, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces, alive to the fact, called a conference of L.D.V. leaders, at which it was laid down that defence of the road blocks that were being hurriedly erected all over Southern England must be the prior concern of the Volunteers.
Under the stimulus of Mr. Hake’s energetic direction the Borough L D.V. jumped to it with a will. Mr. Hake set up his H.Q. in the annexe to the Town Hall, and appointed Mr. Sidney Lovegrove, a former Quartermaster, to take charge of the weapons and stores that were beginning to trickle through a little faster than hitherto. Observation posts established on Redhill Common and in Reigate Park were improved, from the point of view of those manning them, by the loan of two portable-job-office on wheels and equipped with heating and lighting. Other posts were established on Reigate Hill, Colley Hill, and at Merstham on Shepherds Hill. Road blocks which the L.D.V. were to man sprang up at points near Reigate Heath, on the Kingswood-road, in London-road, Merstham, near Nutfleld Priory, and, in addition, guards were mounted nightly at the Reigate, Redhill and Merstham telephone exchanges. Occasional extra guards had also to be provided day or night when called for by the military authorities or R.A.F. Commands for such things as food depots or military traffic temporarily parked in the area.
All tasks had been allotted and were being carried out by the various Platoons by June 23rd, 1940, and in addition a headquarters mobile unit had been formed under Col. P. F. C. Jourdain, M.C., and Lieut. T. P. Jarrett. Dr. C. H. Laver was appointed Area Medical Officer, with Dr. L. J. Barford as his assistant. Another progressive step was the setting up of an organisation of motor cyclists to train the Company’s own dispatch riders.
The continued expansion in numbers and quickly developing efficiency, and the transfer of the Kingswood Company to the Reigate area, brought a change in status, and at midnight on July 8th, 1940, the Reigate Borough (No. 9 Surrey) Company became the 8th Surrey (Reigate) Battalion. Attached to the Battalion for static defence were 27 men from an insurance firm at Woodhatch, 70 from staff of the Redhill G P.O., and 26 boys from the St. Dunstan’s College O.T.C. It was in this same month that the L.D.V. became the Home Guard.
With Mr. R. J. V. Hake as Battalion Commander the Battalion was organised into six companies - Headquarters, "A" Company, with Capt. W. E. Hill as Company Commander and Major H. G. Scott as Second-in-Command and Battalion Adjutant; "B" Company, under Lieut. A. W. G. Dewar, with Lieut-Col. E. H. S. James as Second-in-Command; "C" Company, under Capt. John Gibson, with Mr. W. W. Jeffcock. M.M., as Second-in-Command; "D" Company, under Capt. E. T. Mansfield, with Major T. G. Strickland as Second-in-Command; "E" Company, under Capt. W. G. Charlesworth, with Capt. D. J. Smith as Second-in-Command; and "F" Company, with Mr. C. H. Austin in Command and Lieut-Col. G. C. Stowell as Second-in-Command.
Under these were many Platoon Commanders, some of them of higher military rank in the last war than that of the officers under whom they were now serving, yet, what might have been a possible source of friction, was the very thing that became symbolic of the comradeship in arms which the Home Guard engendered. Nor was it confined to rank within the Home Guard, for cases are knowm of men going on parade and cheerfully taking orders and instruction from officers and N.C.O.s who an hour or two earlier, at their daily work, were receiving orders from the very man to whom they were now giving them. Esprit de corps, indeed! Army ranks were introduced into the Home Guard in February, 1941.