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by Mr. Donald Robert Church

This fascinating story about the Home Guard in Bedford and the role of a very young member is part of an edited oral history interview with Mr. Donald Robert Church conducted by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum in January 2006. It forms part of the BBC's Archive of WW2 memories. Please see the foot of this article for full acknowledgements.


I was born on 21st March 1925. My family were living at the very beginning of the war in Kelvin Avenue along Elstow Road way. Then we moved not very long after the war broke out to 147 Cardington Road. I would have been 14 when the war broke out in September 1939. I went to the Silver Jubilee School and then I finished school at 14 and went to Turner’s for a short while, the sack people where the bus station used to be alongside the bridge, almost at London Road. Then I went from there to the Igranic. I was at the Igranic when the Germans defeated France and then we retreated through France. (The German offensive began 10th May 1940 into Belgium. Operation Dynamo the seaborne rescue of British troops from Dunkirk took place between 27th May — 4th June 1940 saving some 338,000 Allied soldiers.) I worked in the Igranic itself and I worked in the Section where they used to make Control Panels for certain electrical jobs and I used to put nuts and bolts and washers on threads all ready for packing, on to panels and things. I was only 15 then, I was learning.

And they then formed, as soon as they got the chance, they formed the Local Defence Volunteers. They were called the L.D.V. for a very short while. At that time I was barely 15. (The L.D.V. was formed on Tuesday 14th May 1940). Then they called for volunteers for the L.D.V. I volunteered, I know I wasn’t quite old enough, just over 15 and there was such a panic — you can imagine, I mean the country was in a terrible state. There was no food, we were literally on our backs. And so they panicked, the Army had mostly been destroyed. I mean all we’d got — as the Army retreated through France and back into England which was about 300,000 troops I would think. But the point was — there were no armaments, they’d got nothing because they’d left most of it behind. So they decided, as I remember, that they had to do something. They went to different places and they went to the Igranic and they said, ‘We are forming the Local Defence Volunteers for this area.’ They wanted them to guard the area, not only because they suspected the Germans might try and invade, even if they didn’t they would try and put fifth columnists in.

So the L.D.V. were formed to defend the places of importance which as far as I can remember was, Allen’s one, Igranic for another, the Grafton Works and of course Meltis (formerly Peek Freans) because Meltis was producing food. Our Section was put together to defend in particular the Igranic and Peek Freans and the area covering Elstow Road and all round there. So I volunteered! I can’t remember for absolute certainty but they made one Officer and took him from the Igranic. Also the Commander for our area was a man named, I think his name was Nicholls and I think he was either Assistant Manager or Manager of the Meltis. That is vague, so I can’t be 100% certain. Well, then I volunteered to the Officer at the Igranic, he had been made Lieutenant, and he took my name and then I was a L.D.V. man. I had to go to his office and he took my name, address but I don’t think he took my age, well he must have known I was young. Anyway I was accepted as far as I was concerned but a few days later he sent for me in the Igranic. And I will always remember I walked into the same office and stood in front of him and he said, ‘Church, I am very sorry’ he said, ‘we will have to decline, we cannot accept you into the L.D.V.’ And I said ‘Why, Sir?’ and he said, ‘you are not 17 yet, you are too young!’ (The enlistment age range was to be 17 to 65). Well, a young boy — I cried! Then I turned and I went back to work. I went home and I remember that I was very upset, very silly of me, but very upset. He saw that I was upset and I don’t know how long it was afterwards — but only a few days — he again sent for me and he said, ‘Church, on this one occasion we are going to accept you.’ So as far as I was concerned I was the youngest L.D.V. in Bedfordshire, maybe in the whole country, I don’t know! Anyway that’s how it all started.

The funny thing was that it wasn’t properly formed, not even then. Then maybe a week or two weeks after that the orders came through - all recruits had got to assemble at the Igranic. It was in the afternoon and they said, ‘Bring some bedclothes as a precaution but you will be sleeping in your clothes. You will be staying here overnight in the Igranic’ and he said, ‘now, bring whatever weapons you can find.’ You must have watched ‘Dad’s Army’? I have to say ‘Dad’s Army’ was exactly - at the beginning - like the L.D.V. I always remember because we lined up and we were a platoon, a platoon I think if I remember correctly was about 16 soldiers and we all had to line up, stand to attention and we’d all got weapons. And the weapons I remember were: one had got a Japanese chopping type of tool, one had got a long piece of fencing pole with a point on the top, he’d got that. One had got a shot gun, one had got a long bladed knife and I don’t know what I’d got and I think one had got a chopper. But I can’t remember what else they brought but they all brought something. As we stood to attention along came the Commanding Officer, he gave us a good talking too, telling us what we’d got to do. He said, ‘Well I can’t give you any arms, we’ve got no arms at all. You’ve only got what you stand up in’ he said ‘and very soon now you’ll get a badge to put on your arm with L.D.V., that is the only badge we can give you. But as soon as possible you will get the uniform.’ He said, ‘Now you are on duty tonight and you’ve got to patrol the Igranic grounds’ — it was near the railway. And so we patrolled the grounds through the night. Two at a time for two hours and we’d go back into this little room at the Igranic that they’d put bunks in and we slept there that night.

That’s how it went on and that’s how it continued to go on. And then quite some three or four weeks, I’m pretty sure it was after three or four weeks we got our badges that we were all very proud of. We put these badges on and of course we all wanted to know when we were going to get our guns and so forth. But quite some time after that the first things we got were our hats would you believe. We all got the hat, not the tin hat it was the ordinary uniform hat. We had to wear that. Well you can imagine lining up can’t you with our bits of defence weapons in our hands and our cap and that’s how it all started. Like everybody else, when you are young we felt that we were in danger, even when you were youngsters, even at 15 you realised that it was very, very serious. I don’t think anybody really understands how serious it was. That’s the reason why I joined the L.D.V. Then not long after that we became — I don’t know how it came about but they weren’t very happy with the words L.D.V. it was then changed to what you know now as the ‘Home Guard’. (Churchill changed the name from L.D.V. to the Home Guard in July 1940).

We’d got the hats in the Home Guard and we’d got the L.D.V. things. Now you might want to know - one day the second in Command from Meltis - he was a real military man and he used to train us all in the martial arts, jujitsu and stuff. Of course I was only 8 stones 6lbs and I used to get one of my mates in combat. He came to us one day and he said, ‘We’ve got manoeuvres at the weekend’ so we said, ‘right!’ He said, ‘Now then, we’ve got manoeuvres and you have got to go over to defend Kempston.’ He said, ‘But there’s Home Guard from the other side (I think it was out Kempston way) and they are going to attack Kempston.’ He said, ‘Now then’ he said, ‘we’ve had you all trained’ he said, ‘I want to see a few fisticuffs’ he said, ‘I don’t want you to be babies. If you confront the enemy I want you to use what I’ve trained you to do.’ So there again I thought, 15, what am I going to come up against! So I remember we went to Kempston. It was on one of the roads a little bit out in the country and there we where, we were defending Kempston. And the whole time I was defending it I thought if somebody came along and I have to do jujitsu I’ll be the last one to get it. Anyway we didn’t meet anybody, they didn’t penetrate Kempston and we won the battle!

I’d probably been with them then quite a few months and we began to get our kit and it came in bits. We got our uniforms and then we got our rifles, we got the old .303 I think they were called. We had by now had the rifles for quite some time but we couldn’t use them because there were no bullets. We then got a lot of bullets and they said, ‘Now then so many of you are going to Yielden’ (which is out towards Rushden) and there was a rifle range. Now then you’ve got to remember by this time I’m 16 and the rifle was as big as I was and we had to go to Yielden. So we all went out to Yielden and of course so many of us lined up, laid down and you’d got Regular Army men training us to fire the guns. I was laying down, I’d got a sack in front and I’d got the gun on the sack and I’m laying down there and I was thinking I’ve got to pull the trigger. I could see when the others had fired it, it kicked back and I’m thinking, oh I’m not half going to have a bad shoulder! I’m laying there with the gun and I’d got it on the target and I heard the others banging off and I couldn’t pull the trigger! And the Corporal said, ‘Church! Pull your rifle!’ So, I’m laying there, I said, ‘Excuse me Sir, I can’t pull!’ He said, ‘Squeeze boy, squeeze!’ And I’m squeezing and there’s a little pressure on the trigger - you feel that pressure and then you get to the harder pressure and it was the second pressure I was having trouble with. He was swearing and cussing and I’m laying there, 16 years of age and I thought I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to be here! I pulled the trigger and I thought I’ve got to fire it and I pulled it and it went BANG and the blooming thing shot back over the top and I got a very badly bruised shoulder. But after that I got quite good at firing.

I enjoyed the camaraderie because believe you me it was a very, very desperate time. Even I at my age I realised that we were in a very desperate situation. I mean my Dad - I was born in the Army - to all intents and purposes I am a Bedfordian. I’ve lived in Bedford all my life and the only time I haven’t been there is now and when I went in the Navy for four years and when I was first born. I was born in a military hospital, St.Margaret’s at Aldershot. My Dad had been a regular soldier and I used to go to camp with him as a little boy and I knew quite a bit about the Army. I went as a young lad of around about 12 to camp. When he came out of the Army in peacetime, before the war, he was in the Territorials and he used to have to go for training even though he’d been a regular soldier and he was now a civilian. He used to take me to Worthing every year and they used to go on the firing range, they used to go for practice with the Terriers and he used to take me. I was a bit of a comic as a kid, I used to fool about and I’d got away with impersonating people. One person I could impersonate very well was Gracie Fields and I used to sing Gracie’s song and as far as I remember I used to do it very well. I used to get half way through and then I’d pack up but anyway we were down at the training camp and we were in this big marquee and they were all having their food, the soldiers, the Terriers. Of course they all knew about this so they made me stand on top of one of the benches and sing Gracie Fields. And I’ll always remember at 12 years of age I got a very big round of applause and I got quite a few coppers and after that they got me up once or twice."

But anyway by this time - Dad’s Army was typical at first — but after a few months it became very, very efficient and I’m sure they would have given a very good account of themselves because they did become very good, they were real military men in the end. But we still kept getting ammunition and stuff in dribs and drabs.

And once again we had instructions that we’d got to defend Bedford, the Home Guard had got to defend Bedford against the military and this was against the regular soldiers. They were going to attack Bedford and they didn’t know which way they were going to come. So as far as I remember all the Home Guards attached to Bedford defended Bedford from all angles. By this time we were getting more ammunition, we’d got our guns and we’d got what they called a Northover projector. Now what it was, they couldn’t give us real equipment but somebody had invented this and what you did you made a Molotov cocktail, put it in the top and fired it like a mortar gun. It would fire the bottle, it would hit the tank and it would explode and we’d got one. Now we had to defend Cardington Road this time and I think by then we were living at 147 Cardington Road. But coming out from Bedford a little bit past 147 up to Fenlake Anchor it was all country and near the Fenlake Anchor there was a big mound and that was in a field. We were stood along that road near the Fenlake Anchor where there wasn’t much at all except fields and there were I think three or four of us going to defend that road there. And what they put was the Northover projector on the side of the road and that was pointing outwards you see and that was supposed to defend against any tanks or anything else. Two of us would be relieved and two of us would stay and we’d both got our guns. Now this was an all night and all day operation, it was a weekend if I remember correctly and we were both standing there and now by this time I was about 16½ and I had learnt to fire the gun. I was quite well equipped and we’d got these guns and we’d got to stop anybody trying to get into Bedford. We stood by the Northover projector, I stood on one side of the road and my mate stood on the other. In the distance there was a motor bike coming, tearing down and when he got nearer we could see that he was a Despatch Rider. So, we stepped out in the road when he got near and the usual thing, ‘HALT, who goes there?’ As if you didn’t know! He could see us and he pulled up and he was standing, straddling the bike and we said, ‘Would you get off your bike please?’ And he said, ‘No!’ We asked him questions, I forget what the questions were, he said ‘Will you stand aside?’ He said, ‘I’m not on manoeuvres’ I said, ‘yes you are, the Army is attacking Bedford and we have not got to let anybody in’. He said, ‘I’m telling you, I’m nothing to do with manoeuvres, I’ve got a despatch here for so and so’ and I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t let you by until we have informed our Commanding Officer’ and I said, ‘if you move I’ll shoot!’ I hadn’t got any bullets! And he just stepped on the bike and shot through the two of us, nearly knocked me over and off he went and that was the end of that, he got through! We found out afterwards that he wasn’t in on the manoeuvres but he got very angry. But we couldn’t have done anything. Well, you couldn’t imagine a 16 year old boy with a gun, I hadn’t got any bullets I couldn’t use any bullets, they didn’t give them to you on manoeuvres. I mean I daren’t hit him or anything. In fact it happened so quickly I thought what am I going to do? I want my Mum! And he’d gone.

We had, during the time that I was with them - it must have been at least two years — I admired them so much because they were all sorts. I mean you’d got youngsters and I don’t think I met anybody as young as me and I’m sure I was the youngest ever to be in the Home Guard. We had old men but they were determined and they were prepared to do anything and they became very, very efficient. Although the Dad’s Army was typical right from the start but eventually they became a very professional force and they served their purpose.

© Donald Robert Church 2006

This article appears within the BBC's WW2 People's War website under the heading "WW2 People's War - My War Years in Bedford and the Navy - Parts One and Two" by Donald R. Church.
WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the BBC and to the author for the creation of this record under terms which permit its reproduction on this website.