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Home Guard Service - Edited

Local History

Page updated - 08 March 2010


The following is an edited version of the text that was kindly submitted by John Farrow in Norwich, Norfolk and was published in the Spring 2010 issue of Cornard News.


Further to the letter in the Summer 2009 issue of Cornard News about the ‘Home Guard Oak’, we received a letter from John Farrow, a former resident of Great Cornard. Since then he has kindly sent us an account of some of his memories during part of 1940 and the early part of 1941. Although now in his 90th year his memories are very clear and his account makes very interesting reading to so many of us who were ‘lucky’ enough not to have had his wartime experiences. I, like many others, are so grateful for those who ‘did their duty for King and Country’. – Ed.



In May 1940 Anthony Eden the foreign secretary announced on the radio the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers for men of all ages who were not at present engaged in military service and wished to do something for the defence of their country. This was in response to the Germans dropping troops by parachute behind the defensive lines in Holland and Belgium.


At that time I was 19 years of age. The age for conscription into the Forces was then set at 20 so I was available and keen to do something locally to aid the war effort. I presented myself at the Police Station in Sudbury to enrol and after the briefest of questions I was given a Ross .303 rifle and 20 rounds of ammunition. I had no idea how to load the rifle or maintain it and was a risk to man and beast until I had some instruction.


Our first parade was that Sunday evening at the Church Hall in Broom Street.  Our Commanding Officer was Major Young who was the managing director of Bruntons who made propellers and had a factory in Edgworth Road (now pulled down to make way for Waitrose Car Park). To my shame whilst ‘coming down’ from the ‘slope arms’ I finished up with my rifle to the left of me. No doubt Captain Mainwaring from Dads Army would have referred to me as ‘you stupid boy’. I was issued with a uniform of ill-fitting khaki denim together with a cap, a Suffolk Regiment badge and an armband bearing the letters ‘LDV’ (Local Defence Volunteers).


A lookout post was established in an oak tree on Sheepshead Hill. A platform was built very near to the top of the tree and branches cut to give a clear view. Steps made of steel (supplied by Bruntons) were driven into the tree so that access could be gained to the higher reaches of the tree and a safety rail installed. I remember the Monday evening on which those steps were hammered into the tree and I wonder if they are still there today (a few can still be seen – Ed).  It was rather a steep climb up a bank to reach its base. The tree was situated on the edge of a field that, at that time, was planted with wheat.  I was assigned to the job of lookout at this location, probably being the most agile amongst the veterans.  This was the point at which we mustered in the event of a callout when invasion was threatened.


I remember one Sunday morning a barricade had been built near Great Cornard Church as part of an exercise that was overseen by the regular army. I think a farm wagon and other obstacles had been requisitioned by the LDV (now re-named the Home Guard). A 2nd Lieutenant (probably from the Royal Scots who were stationed in Sudbury at the time) arrived in a scout car and dismissed our efforts with the remark that he could push the whole lot aside with his vehicle. I think this was just accepted as no attempts had been made to strengthen it.


Each night a patrol of three men would walk the streets of the village of Great Cornard and if it was my turn to be on patrol I would see the family off to bed at 10pm and then sit in an armchair until midnight when it was time to turn out. I remember what it was like to walk the empty streets at that time of night through to the following morning. Our meeting point was at Chaplin’s Corner on the main Great Cornard-Bures Road (now Motorspares). Here I would wait for my two colleagues with my rifle slung over my shoulder and the breast pockets of the battle dress blouse bulging with ‘.303’ ammunition. I re-call one particularly warm and pleasant night, the songs of the night birds and also the ticking of a clock through the open window of an upstairs bedroom of one of the cottages opposite Chaplin’s shop.


After our patrol of the village we retired to a gypsy caravan parked in a field off Sheepshead Hill which was kitted out with bunks, and here in total darkness we slept only to wake at dawn (as this apparently was regarded as the most likely time an assault from the Germans would be made) to patrol in the direction of our homes.


The most memorable incident of my service in the Home Guard was the weekend of the 14th & 15th September 1940.  Around 8-9 o’clock in the evening the on-duty Runner came and knocked stating that there was a ‘stand to’ for the Home Guard and for us to go to our posts. At Sheepshead Hill I took up my post on the platform in the oak tree and waited for something to happen. There were searchlights sweeping the sky, and the noise of aircraft, but no bombs were dropped in our area. It was in fact a very determined raid on London and the South that night, as it was Herman Goering’s intention to neutralize the RAF prior to invasion.


Preparations for ‘Operation Sea Lion’ (the name for the invasion of Britain) were very much to the fore in the mind of the German High Command at this time and no doubt even more so in ours.  For us it was just a ‘stand to’ but when morning came we were allowed to go home to clean up, with the instruction to return to our posts. This I did of course. One thing sticks in my mind - I took back with me a sizeable portion of apple turnover to eat!!!!


Our final ‘stand down’ came late in the afternoon, and it was good to know that the RAF claimed to have destroyed 185 German planes (later the total was reduced) during this major part of the Battle of Britain.  Throughout the winter of 1940/41 our patrol continued and my last weekly parade was (I think) on Monday 24th February 1941 when I bade farewell to my fellow members and joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.


John Farrow - Norwich

 04 February 2010