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Author Topic: Home Life in WW2  (Read 140707 times)

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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #30 on: January 13, 2010, 17:13:19 »
Thanks for the compliment,

I'm sure the HG were amatuerish to start with. I can remember my dad coming home from a parade and going on about how he'd found some of them practising bayonet fighting with bare bayonets. Apparently he'd told them in soldiers' language that even the regular army didn't do that!

You mention women in the Home Guard, and I think I've heard about that before, but don't know where they served. Do you know any details?

Peter
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Offline alysloper

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #29 on: January 13, 2010, 16:59:30 »
About the Home Guard and Dad?s Army. The general background of the TV series caught the spirit of the times. The parades in the church hall (Our local unit met in Troy Town School, Rochester), and the mixture of the professional ex-serviceman and the ?non-military? civilian too old or otherwise unable to commit to military service was accurate enough. I think there was even an unstated theme in the episodes that if it came to it, they would fight to the end, and I?m sure that was true. They were professional enough to run the AA Rocket Battery at Gillingham, among many others, so to por
tray them as a bunch of bungling idiots worries me a bit. I have laughed at their antics as much as anyone else, but does everybody realise that it wasn?t really like that? Comments would be welcome.

PS: Many Home Guard units kept their weapons at home. There was a rifle and Sten Gun in our living room for part of the war!

Peter

Your memories are invaluable to someone like me looking back in time from the comfort of an armchair!  I love Dad's Army - like all good comedy there was a lot of truth in it but exaggerated for effect. The more I have looked into the Home Guard the more I appreciate that the chaps (and women!) in it were brave enough to be prepared to fight to the last and - in later years at least - as well trained and well equipped as the regular army. Whenever I can, I try to squash the idea that the HG was like Dad's Army for all of its life - though things must have been pretty desperate in the summer of 1940!

thanks again
- keep the stories coming!

Ian

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #28 on: January 13, 2010, 15:20:06 »
To put my comments about daily life in the Medway Towns in perspective and to give an idea of the intensity of events, I've dug out some figures.

These are the numbers of incidents from Rochester City Archives, and may be no more than bombs on open ground:

1940, from 9th August = 25:   1941 = 5:   1942 = 0:   1943 = 2:   1944 = 7 'conventional' & 5 V1:   1945 = 1 V2.

Full details at: http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=388.msg2790#msg2790

From 'Front Line County', figures for Gillingham, Chatham, and Rochester/Strood urban area are:

Incidents resulting in fatalities:

1940, from 18th July = 14:   1941 = 6:   1942 = 0:   1943 = 1:   1944 = 5 'conventional' & 3 V1:   1945 = 1 V2.

There were 780 HE bombs/parachute mines: approx 5500 incendiaries: 8 V1s: 1 V2.

Casualties were: Fatal = 179:  Injured = 970.

741 premises were wrecked, 2034 badly damaged, and 17838 slightly damaged.

I'm surprised at how things seem to have 'hotted-up' again in 1944, even before the advent of V1s.

I would like to know the total numbers of Red Air-raid alerts.
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2010, 12:02:29 »
About the Home Guard and Dad's Army. The general background of the TV series caught the spirit of the times. The parades in the church hall (Our local unit met in Troy Town School, Rochester), and the mixture of the professional ex-serviceman and the 'non-military' civilian too old or otherwise unable to commit to military service was accurate enough. I think there was even an unstated theme in the episodes that if it came to it, they would fight to the end, and I'm sure that was true. They were professional enough to run the AA Rocket Battery at Gillingham, among many others, so to portray them as a bunch of bungling idiots worries me a bit. I have laughed at their antics as much as anyone else, but does everybody realise that it wasn't really like that? Comments would be welcome.

PS: Many Home Guard units kept their weapons at home. There was a rifle or Sten Gun in our living room for part of the war!
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #26 on: January 12, 2010, 17:47:17 »
Here's something about propaganda and what we believed. The stories about German soldiers dressed as nuns were about quite early in the war and probably were purely rumours. There were other stories such as German tanks going into action with prisoners of war tied on the front of them. I think more attention was paid to stories of light signals given to German planes, when it was perhaps nothing more than somebody forgetting themselves and opening a front door with the hall light on. Someone asking for directions was likely to arouse suspicion, despite all road signs being removed in 1940. Anyone with a dubious connection was regarded with suspicion, and thousands of so-called 'aliens' were interned on the Isle of Man. I'm now wondering what happened to 'Jew Boy' mentioned here: http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=5154.msg41866#msg41866 But speaking personally I have no experience of anything like that.

My feeling is that the government got its propaganda about right. There was a Ministry of Information (MoI) that told it as it was. If a ship was lost there would be a radio announcement "the Admiralty regrets to announce the loss of HMS xxx", perhaps after a delay for security reasons. If there was a battle by the army there could be a statement such as "casualties may be heavy". Aircraft losses were not hidden. I distinctly remember the news bulletin of 31st March 1944 (OK, I had to look up the date!) "Last night our bombers attacked Nuremburg. 96 of our aircraft are missing". That really shook us; it was the biggest lost ever suffered by Bomber Command in a single night. The only thing they didn't say was that they were talking of missing aircraft; there were another 10 that crashed in this country!

So I think the policy of honesty paid off, we trusted what we were told. We were allowed to listen to 'Lord Haw-Haw' broadcasting from Germany and treated him as a joke. Unless there was a D-Notice issued for a piece of news, the press was more or less unrestricted, except that it was an offence to distribute deliberately false information that could help the enemy.

Government information campaigns tended to be humorous. There were the 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' cartoons that became quite famous. There were the 'Famous Last Words' cartoons that I mentioned earlier. That particular one showed a man walking past an air-raid shelter as a German aircraft was approaching from behind him; someone was beckoning him in to the shelter but he said, "it's OK, it's one of ours". The RAF had its own 'hero' named 'Pilot Officer Prune', who showed in a series of cartoons, made public, how NOT to do things. Because they were funny people looked at them and the message got across
.
I know this might seem corny, but a big inspiration was Churchill's speeches. I remember everybody listening when he was making a broadcast - no attempt to make things sound better than they were, just a straight message saying it would be tough but we would win.

And that was the essence. I remember the disasters of 1940/41, and the gradual getting of the upper hand. With the D-day landings in France many of us thought it was all over bar the shouting, not realising just how much it was going to take to beat the ordinary German soldier.

But in all that time I cannot recall anybody having any doubt that we would win.

So to answer Stewie's earlier question - yes, there must have been a common spirit. The in-fighting could wait, even to the extent that there were no elections during the war. That didn't mean we were entirely selfless, of course. I for one would always rather the bomb fell somewhere else than on me. But people would muck-in if needed, just as they do today in floods or snowstorms.

Just a last bit about Churchill. He was a great leader but, from what I've read since the war, we could have lost if the Chiefs of Staff hadn't put the lid on some of his more ambitious plans.

I'll probably be back tomorrow.
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seafordpete

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2010, 15:30:31 »
The Town Wharf building was still selling pets etc in the early 1960s think it was Honnors or more likely Cramphorns

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2010, 14:51:51 »
Some more thoughts that I should have included in the last posting. There were tank traps and pill-boxes being built everywhere, and in many places there were cylindrical concrete blocks with holes through the centre, placed on the pavement. The idea was they would be put in the road and a steel rod be driven into the road through the hole, to hold them in place.

One of the problems our troops had in the battle for France was refugees clogging the roads, so our government issued instructions to the civilian population to 'Stay-put'.

So I suppose there must have been some thoughts that 'Jerry' might come, but all the preparations probably made us even more confident that we could beat him.

                                A couple of pictures that show the atmosphere of the times, from 'Front Line County'.
                                      
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2010, 12:37:54 »
Now about our fears regarding invasion. Medway wasn't affected by the evacuation of Dunkirk. I remember being on Jackson's Fields at Rochester and looking down on the station where a trainload of troops was standing, and my dad mentioning that some of his acquaintances in his old regiment had been taken prisoner, but that was it. There was a government publicity campaign to urge us to always carry our gas-masks.

Then there were air attacks on channel convoys. One of the first, if not THE first, live radio reports came from the heights above Dover, describing such an attack; we could hear the guns and diving planes and thought it was the ultimate in information technology. There was a newsreel, sometimes repeated today, showing bombs bursting round ships in the channel and a plane flopping upside down into the water - but there's a snag; a close look shows it to be a Spitfire! The attacks moved to coastal airfields and then to inland ones, by which time we'd got the idea that it was a Luftwaffe-v-RAF affair and we were mostly by-standers. So it all crept up on us slowly. Not until 9th August 1940 was the first incident of the war recorded in Rochester City archives. The first big event came on 15th August when Rochester Airport was heavily bombed and our forum member Fred's uncle scared the wits out of me! See http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=4665.msg41737#msg41737

So I don't think there was any particular fear of invasion. I imagine the adults tried not to worry we kids, but I'm sure we would have sensed it if they had been unduly concerned. After all, what was there to worry about? We were shooting the enemy down by the hundred according to the daily news, which we believed. The army had got away from Dunkirk and we didn't know it had left most of its weapons behind. Then there was the navy; how could the Germans, with their puny little fleet, get past that? We didn't know just how serious was the loss of destroyers at Dunkirk, and we hadn't yet had the shock of the Japanese sinking the 'Prince of Wales' and 'Repulse' with just a few aircraft off Singapore in 1942. Not until after the war did we realise what a close-run thing it was.

Of course there was the possibility of a 'commando' type raid, and sentries could get a bit nervous. I lived in Chatham Gun Wharf at the start of the war and there were sentries patrolling at night; my dad emphasised how important it was not to spook them. When dad, mum, and I came home at night and were walking from the gate to our bungalow there might be a shout of "Halt. Who goes there?" We would STOP and dad replied "friend", and the response would be "advance one to be recognised", and the sentry's torch would switch on. Only then would ONE person dare move. It could have its funny and its tragic side. We heard of a chimney pot getting shot at Fort Amherst one night because it wouldn't come down from a roof when a sentry challenged it. On the other hand, people did get shot because they didn't react as they should have when challenged.

I was going to mention Germans dressed as nuns, but as I've been writing I've thought that could be the basis for a post about propaganda, so I'll be back later.
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #22 on: January 11, 2010, 21:08:48 »
My father says he went dancing at the town hall, but used to get drinks in a pub on the corner of Military road and the Brook because they were cheaper there!

I'm puzzled about the pub. Barnards Army & Navy Tailors were on the corner. There was a pub called the 'Eagle'? a few doors away in Military Road, could have been that.
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #21 on: January 11, 2010, 20:52:05 »
I got the name Fullagar's Yard from the 1907 map of Chatham. I think there are a lot of differences between that and how it was in 1939, but not much difference between 1939 and now. I have no recollection of a hotel near to Meeting House Lane, for instance. I would like to see a modern map overlaid on the 1907 one so we could see where the Pentagon is in relation to Fair Row.

Look at: http://cityark.medway.gov.uk/query/results/?Mode=ShowImg&Img=/cityark/Scans/Unofficial_or_Privately_Originated_Collections/DE0402_Couchman_ephemera_and_MSS_/DE0402_16.html/DE402_16_16.jpg

Picture 22 shows as it was in 1939 or thereabouts. Hinds was, I think, a well known pawnbrokers as well as jewellers. Pictures 1, 20, and 21, and perhaps others, show 'turn of century' views and make interesting comparisons.

I can't remember going to either of the cinemas and I can't say when they closed, except that it was post-war as Lyn L says. For some reason some cinemas were called 'flea pits' but I don't know if they were of that kind.
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Offline Lyn L

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2010, 19:53:15 »
The cinema in Fullagers Yard was the Invicta, don't know when it stopped showing films but it was 'the' place to go when I was a Mod in the 60s, we saw great bands there. I have a library book at the moment which shows the demolition of it in 1987, all for a car park ! The book is called a Century in Chatham and shows pics of all sorts of buildings which have now sadly all gone. If I can scan the pics I'll try and post them.











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Offline numanfan

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2010, 19:50:54 »
Peter, the cinema next to Holland & Barrett's was indeed the National. Images 5 & 7 show the cinema in the 1920's & last year:

http://www.move2medway.co.uk/index.php?main=results&id=134

Keep the memories coming, very interesting.
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Offline Stewie

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2010, 18:40:05 »
Thankyou Peter for that vision.
I am intersted about the position of the  cinema located "in the passage between Waterstones bookshop and where Woolworths was (Fullagar's Yard?)" because I have heard this space also descirbed as a dance hall which was popular with the forces personnel and with a bit of a 'reputation' for fights. This must have been post war or probably the fifities, when presumably the old cinemas were in decline and maybe it is the same building modified.
My father says he went dancing at the town hall, but used to get drinks in a pub on the corner of Military road and the Brook because they were cheaper there!
The thing that fascinates about the buildings and being able to recognise them is the presumption that they would be less colourful at this time (before the fad for DIY), and not modified away from their original construction, giving a more consisitent approach to a terrace or row.

Offline peterchall

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2010, 17:48:33 »
Stewie, now to answer some of your queries.

In the part of Chatham High Street between Military Road and its junction with the Brook, I don't think you would see much difference. The Pentagon has replaced the maze of streets round Fair Row but the shops fronting the High Street are much the same.

Most of the shops have, of course, changed hands and most of what were pubs are now shops. There were two cinemas, one in the passage between Waterstones bookshop and where Woolworths was (Fullagar's Yard?) and I think the other was the shop next to Holland & Barrett's. One was the 'Invicta' and the other the 'National', but I can't remember which way round. On a Saturday afternoon it would have been crowded with shoppers and it was also open to two-way motor traffic, and it was such a situation that caused most of the casualties when Canterbury was bombed and machine-gunned on 31st October 1942. Between the Brook and Luton arches there was the 'Regent' and 'Ritz' cinemas that have now gone, otherwise the small shops are much the same. Going from Military Road towards Rochester there are many changes but none, so far as I can remember, due to bombing. The 'Theatre Royal' has just been demolished of course and, about where Gray's is now, there was the 'Empire' theatre and the 'Picture House' cinema underneath it, reached by a passageway down the side.

Regarding customs, things were much more formal.
There was no fear about being in the High Street at pub closing time. There was always civvy police, Military Police and Naval Pickets (is that the right name?) about. Older persons were usually addressed as Mr or Mrs especially by children and teenagers. When I was a student (after the war) at Medway College I addressed my lecturer as 'Sir' or Mr Goodyer. A few years later I became a lecturer myself and he was my colleague - it was some while before I could bring myself to call him 'George'. Men always removed their hats when in somebody else's house and often raised their hats on meeting a lady. Swearing in public was restrained and NEVER would you use the F-word in mixed company.

Is today's informality better because it allows more freedom to communicate? When I was in the RAF in 1950-1952 I was posted to a new unit and went to report to the CO. I marched into his office and saluted, and he said "you can cut that b****y lark out, we're not like that here". I found that disconcerting; I don't think I was alone among the rankers in not knowing quite where I stood with him. During the firemen's strike in the 1970s the army took over one of the classrooms at Gravesend College for their Green Goddess crews. I was surprised to hear the soldiers call their officer, admittedly only a 2nd Lt, by his first name. What do our forum members who are, or were, in the forces think?

I hope that's dealt with the streets and customs, and I'll be back later with more.

Peter.
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seafordpete

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Re: Home Life in WW2
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2010, 14:43:29 »
You can search by date of death on http://www.hut-six.co.uk/cgi-bin/search39-47.php
I  ahve found if you put too much info on there it dies, so date & country only  is best, then just pick through the list for civvies or whatever. Pete

 

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