On 8 October 1939 Winston Churchill wrote to the Lord Privy Seal, Sir Samuel Hoare "Why do we not form a Home Guard of half a million men over forty, and put all our elder stars at the head and in the structure of these new formations." Following the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in early May 1940, the fear of invasion mounted and the need for a home defence force became more urgent. The newly formed Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) came under the control of General Kirke, Commander-in-Chief Home Forces. It would consist of volunteers who were either too young or too old to join the regular army, or were in reserved occupations.
Training was carried out by the Somerset Light Infantry, but initially, as is well known, men were often drilled with broomsticks in lieu of weapons or else a motley collection of old shotguns, fowling pieces and other improvised weapons.
A few units were equipped with .303 rifles but there were never enough to go around. Also, following the evacuation of the BEF, the prime objective was to re-arm the Army. The initial allocation of rifles to Somerset was set at 200 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition for the 6,000 men enrolling during the first week. Emergency orders were placed with Canada for 75,000 Ross rifles of World War One vintage, and with the United States for 100,000 .300 P14 and P17 rifles. The organisation and administration of the volunteers was taken over, on 15 June 1940, by the Territorial Army Association.
Stoke St Gregory Home Guard, outside the front wall of Stoke House
Front Row: B Hubbard, I Keirle, C Musgrove, R Staple, R Boobyer, E Chedzoy, V Musgrove,
2nd Row: S Dare, A Chedzoy, A Nicholas, P Coate, P Woodland, G Patten, F Frampton, M Patten, S Boobyer
3rd Row: W Dunnell, A Slade, C Yarde, H Cox, M Morris, F Coate, P Peach, F Duddridge
F Champion W Musgrave
4th Row: F Hembrow, H Adams, L Venn, C Keirle, D House, F Chedzoy, C Doster, G Hearn
M Garland, V Boobyer, F Stokes, S Dare
Top Row: E Staple, R Broom, B Hembrow, B David, F Chedzoy, L Chedzoy, F Hembrow, E Garland
George Hearn, and Don Boon were two members of the Home Guard. George had been refused admission by both Army and Navy on health grounds. When he was interviewed in 1995 (*) he remembered travelling to Langport to practise firing on the rifle range. They were equipped with rifles, a Thompson machine gun and a mortar adapted to fire grenades. Their battle cry was that they would kill all enemy. They had to practise shouting this as part of their training.
Their main weapon, however, was their local knowledge, knowing every bit of land and water in the surrounding area.
The railway, at Bull Place brisge and at Athelney level crossing, were important spots in their patrolling area. The railway was extremely busy, and most transportation of war supplies, troops, and munitions took place under cover of darkness. Lookouts and observation posts were supposed to be bullet-proof, but Stoke's answer to this was to drag an old hen house to the top of Garlands Hill
Don Boon in Home Guard Uniform
George also remembered a bomb being dropped in Wrantage that destroyed the school, and a land mine in Burrowbridge. On one occasion he and fellow platoon members rode their bikes over to Andersea to admire some unexploded bombs in deep craters!
The platoon was commanded by Leslie Hembrow and Percy Woodland. Leslie is quoted as making it clear that "under no circumstances was Stoke going to be under Curry"
Leslie Hembrow is wearing the hat in the photo with other family members.
* Interviews were carried out in 1995 by Sue Hembrow. Please get in touch if you feel there are any inaccuracies