Posts Tagged ‘Army’

Inside the real life Dad’s Army training camp

February 3rd, 2016

Faced with all these leaderless recruits, the newly launched news magazine Picture Post decided to take matters into its own hands. Along with the rest of the media, it was forbidden by the Ministry of Information from reporting on almost anything directly related to the war. So, in the spirit of trailblazing tabloid journalism, the Post decided to make the news itself. In the process, it showed the War Ministry what it really ought to be doing – and set up an amateur training school for the eager volunteers and, years later, provided Jimmy Perry and David Croft, co-writers of Dad’s Army, with the storyline for the “Battle Camp” episode.

The Post set up its battle camp in the grounds of Osterley Park, a large Georgian estate to the west of London, funded by proprietor Edward Hulton, where volunteers could be trained in what editor Tom Hopkinson described as “’do-it-yourself’ war”.

As de facto guests of the estate owner, the Earl of Jersey, and unattached to the official war effort, they could be easily – and exclusively – photographed for the magazine. Hopkinson later recalled: “Hulton phoned the Earl and he came round at once. Yes, of course we could have his grounds for a training course; he hoped we wouldn’t blow the house up as it was one of the country’s showplaces and had been in the family for some time.’’

Trainees, or “first-class irregulars”, were instructed in the use of guns and grenades, camouflage, scouting, stalking and patrolling, self-defence and “ungentlemanly warfare”, such as attacking people from behind. The structure of the school was deliberately democratic. It provided a few hours of training a week for anyone prepared to learn the essentials of street fighting and guerilla warfare. There was to be no compulsory uniform, rank, parades or drill, no bayonet practice – and no living in.

The teaching staff were equally irregular. Camouflage techniques were taught by Roland Penrose, the surrealist painter, while Stanley White, leader of the Boy Scout’s Association – who had himself been taught fieldcraft by Robert Baden-Powell – gave instruction in “confidence and cunning, the use of shadow and of cover”. Bert ‘Yank’ Levy taught knife-fighting, while Hugh Slater, the man responsible for shooting practice, “when not fighting wars, is a painter and journalist”. Future Labour MP Wilfred Vernon was, “a mixer of Molotov cocktails, inventor of new bombs and rather mad”, according to Slater’s wife Janelia.

And, for three months, it really worked.

“The response was instant and fantastic,” wrote Hopkinson. “Our school could have been filled three times over.”

Naturally, Osterley also provided the Post with plentiful copy. Interspersed with photos, staff profiles and passionate op-eds were instructions on “Making Your Own Mortar for 38/6”, and the advice that “since powder taken from fireworks is not reliable”, they wrote, “we made our own gunpowder”.

As for weaponry, the Post again took matters into its own hands and arranged for a consignment of arms to be sent from the United States. “A shipload of assorted guns, revolvers and ammunition arrived for us in Liverpool,” said Hopkinson, “varying from gangsters’ tommy-guns to ancient buffalo guns and long rifles from the Louisiana Civil War of 1873. They even included ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt’s favourite hunting rifle.”

Captain Mainwaring will be played by Toby Jones

As a Quaker, Roland Penrose was a pacifist, but when he was approached by Hopkinson to teach disguise and camouflage techniques, he was happy to agree. “For two years, I was occupied playing boy-scout games with the Home Guard, giving lectures and demonstrations all over England and Wales in preparation for the invasion that never came,” Penrose wrote later. He put his experience to good use, writing the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage pamphlet which was later handed out to all army trainees on enlistment and contributed to the eventual redesign of military dress.

One of his best-known camouflague experiments involved his wife, the photographer Lee Miller. On a warm summer’s day, Miller and Penrose went to see their friends, the Gorers, in Highgate, north London, taking with them a large tub of olive-green ointment.

As he later wrote: “Lee, as a willing volunteer, stripped and covered herself with the paste. My theory was that if it could cover such eye-catching attractions as hers from the invading Hun, smaller and less seductive areas of skin would stand an even better chance of becoming invisible.” A photograph shows four characters splayed on a hot summer lawn, Penrose bare-chested, the Gorers uncomfortable, and Lee, naked, olive green and covered in shrubbery.

“Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy”

The school was headed by Tom Wintringham, a veteran of the International Brigade who like many of the staff had direct combat experience from the Spanish Civil War and who was practiced in guerilla warfare techniques. He was also a bona fide Marxist, whose explicit aim was the overthrow of democratic government and its replacement with a Communist state.

In the end, the War Office solved the ‘Wintringham problem’ by taking over the school itself and building on its early successes. After three months of prominent coverage in the Post, and having trained several thousand volunteers, Osterley had done its job.

And that might have been that, if the strange history of the Picture Post battle school had not been spotted by a couple of foraging scriptwriters a few decades after the end of the war. As it turned out, Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy. Those few vital months gave the Home Guard a kick-start – and Dad’s Army its inspiration.

• Bella Bathhurst is author of The Long Shot: The Story of the Picture Post. Dad’s Army is released on February 5


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Don’t Panic! Real Dad’s Army was ‘ruthless guerrilla force’ say historians

January 29th, 2016

The BBC television series and other depictions have done a disservice to the real Home Guard, which was composed of deadly serious volunteers who believed invasion was imminent.

Many of the guard were in fact fit young men in reserve occupations which meant they could not join the regular forces, Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the museum said.

He said: “I think the popular culture depiction has done them a little bit of a disservice. In a lot of cases, it was more a lads’ army, than a Dad’s Army.”

Documents and artefacts outlining the reality of the Home Guard will go on display when the museum reopens in November after a two year refurbishment.

Records show half of some units were aged in their mid-20s or younger. Of the older men, a significant proportion had combat experience from the First World War.

Dr Johnston said: “These were very serious people and these were very serious times. It’s easy to look back and laugh now at people making their own weapons, but it was a desperate time in 1940.”

The Home Guard, which was originally called initially the Local Defence Volunteers, was formed on 14 May 1940. By the end of July there were more than a million volunteers.

With regular forces taking priority for equipment, the Home Guard volunteers were at first poorly armed with their own weapons or obsolete firearms. The original idea was that the guard would act as a secondary defensive force behind the Army, guarding roads, canals and airfields.

But they were soon converted to a more aggressive role to deal with a potential German invasion, Dr Johnston said.

The German invasion plan ‘Operation Sea Lion’ called for a landing force of 67,000 German soldiers along with an airborne division to parachute in land beyond the British beach defences.

The German forces planned to push north and encircle London. The German plan estimated that if they advanced as far as Northampton, the UK would surrender.

If the Home Guard were to stand and fight well-trained and well-equipped German troops who had pioneered and mastered Blitzkrieg warfare, they would suffer enormous casualties for little gain it was decided.

So the guard was reimagined as a guerrilla force that would limit the German advance.

Dr Johnston said: “They would be a secret army, sabotaging and attacking the enemy from the rear, slowing them down to buy time for the regular Army to regroup further inland and re-establish defensive positions.”

The Home Guard drilled twice a week, took part in regular camps, and was trained by the regular Army. Within a short space of time it was probably the equivalent of today’s Army Reserve, he said.

Life in the Home Guard was also dangerous with 1,206 members being killed in the war.

Though the invasion never came, the Home Guard remained active in British defence and manned anti-aircraft guns. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dr Johnston said: “Had the invasion come in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard would undoubtedly have fought with great commitment but probably been able to accomplish little. But the longer the delay in the planned German invasion went on, the stronger the Home Guard, and British forces overall, became, and better able to resist any prospective assault. They were a vital part of Britain’s defences throughout the war.”


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Wiltshire Army town builds war memorial without names of dead ‘for fear of getting spellings wrong’

November 9th, 2015

The town’s mayor, Cllr Chris Franklin, said: “The memorial committee’s decision to omit the names seems to be purely based on it being too much of a risk.

“The war memorial must have the names of those people born and bred in Tidworth who went to war and never came home. The memorial is putting right a glaring omission. It is about our boys who gave their lives in battle.”

“The normal saying is, ‘when you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today. The clue there is ‘tell them of us’ – if there’s no names they can’t tell us”

Cllr Chris Franklin

Town councillor Andrew Connelly said: “Put the names of our war heroes on it – they should be remembered by name.

“The people for whom it has been erected will now never be remembered. That defeats the whole purpose of the memorial. I am absolutely furious.”

Daz Stephenson, a member of the committee, said “We’ve done an awful lot of work looking into the names, however there’s a lot of obscurity and we don’t want to get it wrong.

“We would prefer to hand over the memorial next year and leave it up to the town council to do that research and make the decision to put the names on or not.”

Gallery: Moving war memorials around the world
Anti-Tory protesters deface war monument on Whitehall

But Cllr Franklin said: “Quite a bit of research has already been done and adding the names later would be a bit of a damp squib.

“We’re coming up to Remembrance and the normal saying is, ‘when you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today.

“The clue there is ‘tell them of us’ – if there’s no names they can’t tell us.”


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Polish army will be drafted in to settle Nazi gold train mystery

September 1st, 2015

Meanwhile authorities have blocked public access to the site following a suspicious forest fire over the weekend.

At a crisis meeting on Tuesday morning, police, the town council and the local forestry commission agreed to seal off the area.

Police and technicians have now erected signs warning would-be explorers not to trespass in the area.

The embankment by the Wroclaw-Walbrzych main line considered to be the favourite for the train’s location in the town of Walbrzych, southern Poland, was badly scorched along with 219 square yards of forest and bush.

The blaze was only contained when five fire engines were scrambled to the scene after the alarm was raised at around 8pm on Sunday night.

Locals come to take a look at the believed location of the the Nazi 'Gold Train'at Walbrzych

On Friday a Polish official confirmed that an object had been found which may be the fabled Nazi ‘gold train’.

Piotr Zuchowski, head of conservation at Poland’s culture ministry, said his officials had seen radar images of a train discovered by two treasure hunters who had been tipped off to its location by one of the men who hid it.

“A man on his deathbed gave the people looking for the train the information they needed to find it,” he said, describing the find as “unprecedented”.

The Polish culture ministry later said on Tuesday it would no longer comment on the train, saying in a statement that all questions should now be referred to the Dolny Slask authorities.

Both Walbrzych and Dolny Slask authorities have previously said they remain sceptical about the train and had seen no conclusive evidence of its existence.

Since the end of the Second World War rumours of Nazi gold train disappearing without trace have flourished in the town of Walbrzych, in south-west Poland, close to the border with the Czech Republic.

Although the train’s cargo is as yet unknown, Polish officials have confirmed that the two treasure hunters will be in line for a finder’s bounty.

Mr Zuchowski said: “If it is confirmed, the train is carrying valuable items, the finders can expect a 10 per cent finder’s fee, either in the form of a reward from the ministry or from the owners of the property.

“Of course any items of value will be returned to their original owners, assuming we can find them.”

Meanwhile experts have claimed that the apparent discovery of a Nazi train thought to be packed with looted treasures could be the first of many, suggesting just a fraction of Hitler’s vast tunnel complex in the country has so far been discovered.

Walbrzych in western Poland has been gripped by the decades-old mystery of missing Nazi gold trains since officials said on Friday they are ’99 per cent certain’ that a hidden train has been discovered by treasure hunters.

Matt cartoon, 1 September


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Army experts safely destroy WWII Bermondsey bomb

March 25th, 2015

Army experts safely explode the bomb at a quarry in Kent. Credit: Ministry of Defence

SAT Lester, of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Royal Logistic Corps, said: “This bomb was a live munition in a dangerous condition. It had been disturbed by some pretty heavy building machinery, which is never a good thing. Bombs don’t like being bashed around.

“But once we’d uncovered it, we knew what we were dealing with and it was just a question of solving the puzzle quickly so we could get it away and the good residents of Bermondsey back in their homes.

“We knew we had to get it away to dispose of it safely because trying to deal onsite with a bomb that size, even under a controlled explosion, would cause significant damage to buildings, (and) property, and the risk of major loss of life in such a highly populated part of the city was very high.”

Buildings around The Grange were evacuated as British Army bomb disposal experts and engineers built a protective “igloo” around the 5ft (1.5m) device to protect the surrounding buildings in case of accidental detonation.


Bomb disposal teams from Shorncliffe Troop 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Royal Logistic Corps and Sappers from 33 Engineer Regiment Explosive Ordnance Disposal were involved in excavating the device (MoD)

The igloo was created from Hesco blast walls, like those used to build Camp Bastion and other military bases in Afghanistan during the conflict there.

The bomb was excavated last night by teams who had previously worked on Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It was then transported to a site in Kent owned by Brett Aggregates for the detonation, allowing people in Bermondsey to return to their homes last night.

On Wednesday night, Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, tweeted: “Thank u 2 members of the Armed Forces & all involved in moving the £UXB 2 Kent today & grateful 2 local £Bermondsey residents 4 patience.”


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Army sets up Chindits-style social media unit to ‘fight in information age’

February 1st, 2015

Modelled on the Chindits, a specialist unit which fought in Burma during the Second World War, the new unit’s focus will be on “unconventional” non-lethal, non-military methods such as “shaping behaviours through the use of dynamic narratives”, an Army spokesman said.

The spokesman said: the brigade “is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare”.

“It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent and it draws heavily on important lessons from our commitments to operations in Afghanistan amongst others.”

The brigade will be based at Hermitage, Berkshire, with detachments at other MoD sites, and will operate across the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, as well as training and working with other nations and across UK government departments.

It will build on “the spirit of innovation and offensive spirit of the men and women” who served in the Chindits between 1942 and 1945.

In 1943 the elite guerilla unit deployed deep behind enemy lines to fight in Japanese-occupied Burma with a mission to disrupt communications and supply routes fuelling the Japanese war effort.

The Chindits were named after the Chinthe – fierce lion-like creatures that stood guard at every Burmese temple – and the 77th Brigade’s cap badge will feature the mythical animal, according to reports.


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Gang rips medals from army veteran on his way to Remembrance Sunday service

November 11th, 2014

Mr Gill had been walking through Lund Park, Keighley, as he has done for years, at 9.15am on Sunday when the attack happened.

He was wearing his khaki beret, navy blue blazer, maroon and grey striped tie – all three of which bore the regimental badge and the motto ‘Victory Favours the Brave’, with a poppy pinned to his chest and the United Nations Cyprus and Northern Ireland medals on his right lapel.

Mr Gill only recently returned home from hospital following an operation to fit stents in his heart and he is currently on 13 tablets a day for his condition.

He said: “I was walking to the cenotaph in the centre of town for Remembrance Sunday, the same route I have taken every year for as long as I can recall.

“I’d stopped in Lund Park to look at the embers of a fire which had been lit near a sign when out of nowhere I was grabbed or hit from behind.

“My beret was knocked off my head and I stumbled to the ground. I tried to stay on my feet because I didn’t know what would happen if I went to ground.

“I had not seen the gang of about six to eight Asian lads before this and I think they had been hiding in bushes.

“I had not seen or heard them or done anything to intimidate them. They were laughing and joking and speaking in a foreign language, not in English, so I don’t know what they were saying.

“I was shaken and couldn’t understand what was happening. They had taken my beret as a trophy and they were tearing it at like a pack of dogs with a piece of meat. They thought it was funny.”

Mr Gill said that the gang “ran off laughing and joking” out of the park near the bowling green, before he realised his medals were also missing.

“My poppy had been ragged at but they had not managed to steal that,” he said.

“My lip was cut and I was shaken. I can only think I was targeted because of what I was wearing because it was not a mugging or robbery, because I had £200 in cash on me and they didn’t take that or ask for money.”

Mr Gill, who lives alone about 200 yards from the Lund Park gates, said the gang were aged 16-17 years old and he did not recognise any of them.

He dusted himself down and continued his walk to the cenotaph for the 11am act of remembrance.

“There I met my nephew and I told him what had happened and he told me to report it to the police. I didn’t want to make a big fuss about it, but I thought I should report it to prevent anybody else being harmed,” said Mr Gill, who attends monthly regimental meetings at the local Territorial Army Centre.

“After the Remembrance Sunday service I got home at noon and went straight to bed, I was that upset.”

Mr Gill joined up in 1966 and rose from Private to Sergeant until he left following 18 years’ service.

He then got a job in security. He served in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Gibraltar, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland, where he lost comrades.

He has lived near Lund Park for 60 years and has seen its gradual decline.

“It really has deteriorated. It used to have tennis courts and people played football there, the duck pond has gone and fires are being lit. The bowling green and pavilion have high security fencing to protect them from vandalism,” said Mr Gill.

“I used to have no fears about walking through the park, but I am now reluctant to use it – but if I don’t continue to go in they have won, haven’t they?”

Mr Gill said some of the gang were wearing hoodies, but because of the suddenness and shock of the attack he could not describe them in any better detail.

“I want my medals back, I was proud to earn them and wear them. I also want my beret back, but I think that has probably been torn to bits,” he said.

Inspector Sue Sanderson, who leads the Keighley Area Neighbourhood Team, said: “We would appeal to anyone who saw a group of Asian youths acting suspiciously in the park at around the time of this incident, or anyone who may have seen them leaving the park afterwards.

“We believe there would have been other people around at the time, perhaps also making their way to the Remembrance Day service.”

The police are treating the crime as a robbery, and Insp Sanderson added that although Mr Gill was not injured, “the victim is understandably shaken by the loss of his beret and his medals”.

Edited by Melanie Hall.


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Army Cadet suffers burns in blowtorch attack after selling poppies

November 3rd, 2014

The cadet, who was wearing his camouflaged uniform, suffered minor burns to his face and singed hairs in his face and right forearm, Greater Manchester Police said. He and his family are in “total shock”.

Police said that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was staggering.

Detective Inspector Liam Boden said: “This is an absolutely appalling attack on a young man who was raising money to help remember all those who gave their lives fighting bravely for their country.

“At this stage of our inquiries, we’re keeping an open minded as to what motivated the offender to commit such an act.

“Given the initial description we have of the offender, it may be that he was under the influence of something but whatever his motivation, his violent actions could have scarred this young man for life. Although he has suffered some minor injuries, it is pure luck that he did not sustain more serious burns to his face and body.

“Understandably both he and his family are in a state of total shock and cannot believe someone would do this.

“We need to find whomever is responsible for this crime and I would therefore appeal to anyone who has information that could help. This happened at a very busy time in the city centre, near a main bus route, and there could be lots of people who saw this man staggering around.

“If you do have information then please come forward.”


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'No withdrawal': WW2 scrapbook reveals defiance of real-life Dad's Army

March 27th, 2014

Experts said the soldiers would have had a “cat in hells chance” of repelling an invading force from the tiny New Forest village of Beaulieu, with a population of around 500.

But they planned to “harass” and “hinder” the enemy while obeying their orders to “hold their position to the last man and last round.”

Their sacrificial efforts were meant to give the regular British forces time to manoeuvre into a position where they were better placed to thwart the attack.

Lt Col Crofton, who died in the 1950s, was second in command of the 9th (Forest) Battalion, and later commander of the nearby 28th (Bay) Battalion.

His scrapbook contains dozens of previously unseen official documents – stamped “secret” – that he produced for his troops from September 1943.

It contains defence plans, letters, and orders showing a series of machine gun posts, tank traps, road blocks, snipers and a mine field.

One of the book’s most detailed plans is a hand-drawn map showing how the picturesque village of Beaulieu was turned into a defensive garrison.

In the event of an invasion, a group of 44 men were to be stationed at five pillboxes, roadblocks and numerous firing positions from local buildings.

The firing positions included the Montagu Arms – now a Michelin Star restaurant and hotel – and a wall with firing holes at Beaulieu Abbey.

Some remains can still be seen today, including four of five bunkers which can be seen in the village’s former dairy, mill, and garage.

One typed document – headed New Forest District Defence Scheme and with a red “secret” stamp – outlines the troops’ responsibilities.

It reads: “The task of all tps (troops) under Comd (command) is to prevent enemy seaborne and or airborne raiders damaging vital Installns (installations) or equipment, and to destroy, harass, and delay any enemy who set foot in HAMPSHIRE.

“All tps will be allotted a definite role and will hold their positions to the last man and last round.

“THERE WILL BE NO WITHDRAWAL.”

The Home Guard were defending Fawley oil refinery, road and rail links, and fuel supply lines through the New Forest National Park.

Major Edward Crofton, Lt Col Crofton’s son, has loaned the scrapbook to the New Forest Remembers World War II Project run by the New Forest National Park Authority.

Gareth Owen, from the project, said: “We’re very grateful to the Crofton family for this unique collection full of top secret orders and maps that probably should have been destroyed once it was read.

“Yet they were kept and they offer a real insight into how the Home Guard operated in the New Forest.

“The image we have of the Home Guard, due largely to Dad’s Army, is of a shambolic if well-intentioned group playing at being soldiers.

“However the documents in the Crofton book show how well-organised and dedicated the Home Guard were and how they were willing to give their lives to delay the advance of any invading German force.”

He added: “They were of a mature age and not suited to jumping in an out of trenches but they were highly skilled individuals.

“It is unlikely they would have been much resistance to an invading force, but they would have harassed them enough to have delayed their progress, and could have given them a black eye.

“That would have been crucial in giving the full time British forces enough time to get into position further back.

“Some of the Home Guard would have known they did not have a cat in hell’s chance of beating the Germans, while others believed they could have sent them packing.

“To say they were like lambs to the slaughter is unfair, but it is likely they would have suffered casualties and were clearly prepared to sacrifice their lives if needed.”

Major Crofton, from Petersfield, Hampshire, said: “A lot of the documents in the book were marked top secret so they probably shouldn’t have been kept.

“But knowing my father I don’t think many would have questioned him hoarding them.

“I’m very glad they were not binned. We’re very lucky.”

In the past two years, the New Forest Remembers World War II Project has unearthed more than 1,300 previously-unseen documents, maps and photos as well as record more than 72 hours of oral histories.

The entire project, including the contents of the Crofton book, has now been digitised into an online archive.

Julian Johnson, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “The project has been a great success.

“Fascinating tales of royal visits, prisoners of war and secret bombing tests have come to light to give us a fuller picture of that time.

“The digital portal will provide a lasting legacy for future generations to discover more about this fascinating period.”


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