The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson - memories of the Home Guard

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

RETIRED Hanging Heaton milkman, Ronnie Ellis, remembers as a youngster the happenings which occurred in the village after war broke out in 1939.

Many of the men joined the so-called Dad’s Army, and although Ronnie was only a boy, he volunteered to be part of it.

Vital Units: This picture isn't of the Hanging Heaton Dad's Army during the Second World War, of which Ronnie Ellis is writing, but the one from the village next door 'Shaw Cross. They all did a good job which ever village they belonged to. Picture kindly loaned by Roy Elliot.

Vital Units: This picture isn't of the Hanging Heaton Dad's Army during the Second World War, of which Ronnie Ellis is writing, but the one from the village next door 'Shaw Cross. They all did a good job which ever village they belonged to. Picture kindly loaned by Roy Elliot.

He recalls a story his father told him of the night his party were on duty when the moon shone brightly and there were just a few passing clouds overhead.

The air raid siren had sounded and everyone had gone to their air-raid shelters, and the people on Home Guard duty had scurried off to their posts.

No-one had been sure which area was going to be bombed because the enemy aircraft flew over this area on their way to attack cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds.

If any aircraft came in range, the Ack Ack guns sited on top of Caulms Wood would open up.

The Home Guard would go to their positions, and the air raid wardens, based in the primary building of Ebenezer Methodist Church, would report there.

Ronnie’s dad, was a member of the Commonside Street Fire Party, who met in the walk-in cellar of Albert Lyles’s house, opposite old Mrs Harris’s shop.

Their job was to keep an eye open for incendiary bombs which could set buildings alight, and they also had to tackle the small outbreaks of fire with stirrup pumps and sandbags.

They borrowed Ronnie’s home-made trolley in which to carry sandbags, water, and stirrup pumps around the neighbourhood.

The men worked in threes, keeping an eye on all the empty properties, while the occupants were in the shelter.

One night, Harry and two other men, Clifford and Cooper, heard an enemy aircraft flying over, closely followed by searchlights probing the sky and the blast of gunfire from the gunners up Caulms Wood.

The men sheltered in Mrs Harris’s shop doorway as bits of shrapnel dropped into the street while the moon kept hiding behind the clouds.

They had seen many flashes in the sky and wondered if the Ack-Ack gunners had scored a hit on a German plane.

They continued scanning the sky when Cooper suddenly shouted – “Look up theer. It’s a ruddy parachute.

“The lads up at Caulms Wood have hit a plane, and one of em’s jumped aht.”

Clifford said: “We’d better report it double quick” but Harry, still gazing upwards, said: “Silly sod. It’s bloody moon, part hidden by a cloud.

“Haven’t tha got thi specs on ye blind wart? Get off home and get ‘em on.

“We’d have looked a reight set of chumps back at base for reporting summat like this.”

Ronnie heard many similar stories throughout the war, but the following is something he experienced personally.

He writes: “Just after the war started, street fire parties were formed along with all the other home defence organisations.

“The Commonside one was based in a walk-in cellar under Albert Lyles’ house, and all our equipment was stored there, including steel helmets, stirrup pumps, buckets, shovels and sandbags.

“There were about eight local volunteers who manned the post, and they were responsible for making sure each household had a sandbag, bucket and stirrup pump, ready for when the air raid sirens sounded.

“Dad had volunteered to make sure all houses in Greenwood Buildings and Nursery Wood Road had got their firefighting equipment

“As an eager young lad, I said I’d help him.

“I had a four wheeled trolley which Granddad Bramley had made for me, and this was used to cart all these items to the houses.

“We completed all the issues to Greenwood Buildings, and started on Nursery Wood Road which was an unmade road, and very uneven.

“We worked steadily, and on our fifth journey, we had only Holdsworth’s small farmhouse and a row of four cottages to visit

“Like most of the pre-war terrace houses in those days, the toilets were outside, usually at the bottom of the garden.

“To save a trip to the loo on cold winter’s nights, many people kept a white pail behind the door, and this contained the contents of the chamber pot, which were awaiting transportation to the outside toilet the next morning.

“Dad sent me to knock on the last door, and he followed with the stirrup pump and sandbag. I gave a hard knock, and the door opened.

“I was just about to say “We’ve brought your.......” when suddenly I was drenched by the evil smelling contents of the white pail.

“Although I was only 12, I let out a yell, followed by many colourful words.

“I was absolutely wet through, and had to walk home in that state.

“Dad was annoyed with the people at the house, but he also made sure he was not too near me as we made our way home.

“He told me to strip off in the front garden, and put all my clothes in a bucketful of water, and then covered me in a blanket until mother boiled a kettle of water so I could give myself a good wash.

“We had no bath in those days, but after a good going over with carbolic soap, I began to smell a little sweeter.

“I suppose it was all in the line of duty!”

Tonight (Thursday, February 14) at 7.30pm, at Dewsbury Minster Church, Tim Lynch will be presenting an illustrated talk on “The Armistice and Coming Home to a Land Fit For Heroes” on behalf of Dewsbury Sacrifices.