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A SURREY PLATOON:
THE ADVENTURES OF Pte. P.
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"BJNT" recorded these wonderful anecdotes especially for staffshomeguard.co.uk in the summer of 2005. It is with the deepest regret that we can now only publish them posthumously, following the author's death on 9th October 2005. Just as he dedicated his stories to the memory of Private P. and his own father, so now do we, as we read and enjoy them, remember an enthusiastic student of British military and maritime history, a true Englishman of goodness and humour and a dear friend. We are most grateful to BJNT's family for allowing us to publish the stories.
Webmaster.......9th January 2006.
The following lines are written in fond memory of "Private P.", a member of my father's Home Guard platoon in Surrey. This part-time warrior and staunch defender of the district was a shortish, roundish, bespectacled, dignified, professional gentleman, an agreeable man with many virtues. I do not want it felt that I am trying to take the P. out of Private P. when I relate the following adventures; rather, I remember him with true affection and dedicate these stories to his memory and to that of my father.
BJNT, Surrey...........15th August 2005
THE KNIGHT'S BANNER
My late father (one of those not called to the Colours because his lungs bore the scars of childhood t.b.) determined to "do his bit" for the War Effort by joining both the Home Guard and the volunteer Fire Watch Squad maintained at his offices in the City of London. In due course he was promoted to the exalted rank of Corporal and in that capacity was responsible for a sub-section of the local Surrey Platoon, a sub-section comprising four of his neighbours (in addition to himself), among whom existed the friendly relationships of men who had assisted each other in such arcane matters as the construction and erection of Air-Raid Shelters, blast walls, sandbagged doorways and other more optimistic and even less effective measures against the might of Hitler's Luftwaffe.
In celebration of the supposed end of the Battle of Britain in the autumn of 1940, a Church Parade and Thanksgiving Service was to be held at our local church and it was Father's duty to get himself and his fellow-sectioneers to the church on time .... Duly summoned, Privates B., G. and W. mustered in the street; sadly, however, Private P. was not with them, having fallen foul of a particularly persistent 'tummy bug' as a result of an over-indulgence in one of the less attractive elements of the food rationing of the times.
The time for departure to the church had almost arrived, those present having already pushed out their trusty old bicycles for the journey. When Private P. at last appeared, triumphantly arisen from his sick-bed, it was to find that HIS bicycle had contracted a puncture - a real blow-out job - in the rear tyre. Amidst much invective and frantic rearrangement of the contents of his garage, Private P. managed to extricate his wife's long-neglected bicycle, (complete with wickerwork baskets front and rear and a skirt-guard of cordage shielding the rear wheel) for use as a substitute conveyance.
At this point it should be explained that the Family P. occupied a nice, large, semi-detached and newly built house which, for reasons known only to the builder, occupied an unusually narrow plot for its size, such that the garage lay 'down the garden' and somewhat behind the house itself. There was a long sideway, with double doors adjacent to the front of the house in addition to the gates at the pavement's edge. Mrs. P. was in the habit of hanging her washing on lines which ran the length of the side of her house, between the double doors at the front and the garage at the rear. A lady of generous proportions, Mrs. P.'s washing tended to reflect that fact and on this occasion there flew proudly among the lesser items her Size 42D bra in palest pink.
By the time Private P. had extricated his wife's bicycle from the heap in the garage, dusted it off and pumped up one tyre, my father and the remaining members of the section had grown tired of waiting and had pedalled off up the road. In his haste to catch them up, Private P., ancient Lee-Enfield short barrel .303 rifle slung across his left shoulder, stormed off up his driveway in pursuit of his comrades. Unfortunately, as he passed below the clothes line, the foresight of his rifle caught the back-strap of his wife's bra, plucking it from the line so that it dangled behind him like a forlorn trophy as he rode out into the road.
Distraught at the loss of her bra, mindful of the impact of having to replace it upon her dwindling store of clothing coupons, and conscious of her husband's position in society - for he was a respected local accountant and Pillar Of The Church - Mrs. P. rushed from her house into the street, calling out:
"Arnold, Arnold, come back, come back, my bra, my bra!" (a lament which excited the interest of those elderly neighbours amongst whom such an expression caused erotic dreams to surface).
Meanwhile our warrior-knight was pedalling furiously off up the road on his borrowed steed, head bent in concentration over the basket before him, his Fair Maiden's token now streaming proudly out behind like a medieval banner. He had no time even to turn his head. But chivalry was demanded of a gentle-knight and the Fair Maiden deserved a response.
"Can't stop now, deah," quoth he with ne'er a glance over his shoulder, "I'm on the King's business".
THE SOLDIER'S BEST FRIEND
The same Surrey Platoon of which my Father and Private P. were both members, found itself engaged in the mysterious delights of overnight-time manoeuvres, in which it was supposed to defend the village from a clandestine attack by German paratroopers landing on the adjacent commonland. Entering into the spirit of the occasion No.1 Platoon 'blacked up', using soot from the home chimneys, so as to resemble the Black and White Minstrel Show, darkened its teeth (not difficult for many of the older members), dulled the brasswork, clutched their short-barrel Lee Enfield .303 rifles (WW1 vintage) and an allowance of percussion caps - these on a string which, it was alleged, would fire (on pulling the trigger) if threaded through the rifle in such a way that one end of the string dangled from the barrel and the other end dangled by the bolt…….repeated experiment throughout the night proved that this was a false theory……. the only sound which was heard was the muttered cursing of those who fell into the brambles and briars that now surrounded the neglected bunkers of the public golf course...........the officer in command of the HG Platoon, accompanied by an independent Observer (actually a Major of a smart Highland Regiment, still convalescent following his heroics in the defensive fall-back upon Dunkirk) strolled about among the "defenders" offering advice and criticism whilst, at the same time, beginning to wonder where the so-called attacking Force, of pseudo-German paratroopers had got to? In the event but at that stage unknown to all, the attackers' transport had, owing to a navigational error of which German paratroopers would have been unlikely to be guilty, dropped them off at the wrong end of the wrong common, so they take no further immediate part in this affaire.
Our friend Private P., however, leapt into prominence at the very moment when, following upon the heels of his section-leader, my Father, he sought to leap silently over a ditch full of water that traversed the golf course at this inconvenient spot. In making a loud crash-landing upon the opposite side of the ditch, Private P.'s finger inadvertently tightened upon the trigger of his rifle, with the result that, somehow or other, his entire ration of percussion caps fired off in one magnificent staccato salvo of the kind that would awaken the dead, let alone the inhabitants of the greater houses that bordered upon the common lands. The complaints received from those rudely awakened were as nothing to the complaints of Private P.'s startled colleagues, and especially those of the Commanding Officer and his 'friend', the Observer who, at this stage, was as yet unaware of the failure of the enemy to materialise upon the scene. It having been forcefully pointed out to Private P. that he had ruined the entire exercise, jeopardised the civilian population and rendered the nation liable to an unopposed invasion, at the very least, the entire party decamped to the designated pick-up point from which the H.G.'s transport was supposed to lift it at the end of the exercise.
Inevitably, of course, the transport was late. The pick-up point itself was a long-abandoned 'corral' in which, in happier times, local riding clubs used to forgather prior to embarking upon cross-country horse rides and other splendid activities of a healthy kind. It was dark. Very dark. A chastened Private P. leaned his rifle against the fence adjacent to the tree under which he had decided to conceal himself from the wrath of the all-powerful Sgt. Major. He found one bent cigarette remaining in an ammunition pouch, where it had been stored for a True Emergency, and this was indeed one such; but as you would have assumed by now for clearly it was one of THOSE nights, the emergency cigarette was not accompanied by the necessary match (safety or otherwise). So Private P. wandered off in search of a 'light'. At this moment the errant transport arrived and amid cries of 'hurryupandgetamoveon' and similar exhortations there was a general rush for the trucks.
But the Fates which watched over Home Guard activities had even now not quite finished with our hero. Sadly for him and despite all his panic and perspiration and pleas for delay, Private P. was entirely unable, in the dark, to rediscover the tree under which he had been concealing and consoling himself. Nor, worse, the fence that was adjacent to the tree. Nor.....oh, the ultimate nightmare!..... what was still leaning against the fence, silent and abandoned - that precious, lovingly maintained, 'guard it with your life', 'never let it out of your sight', 'it's your very best friend and don't you ever forget it, laddie' .303 Lee Enfield rifle.
BJNT, Surrey.............15th August 2005
© BJNT 2005