Urgently required…

Photograph of Reigate Cadet Branch of Red Cross,1939 (SHC Ref:3195/2)

Photograph of Reigate Cadet Branch of Red Cross,1939 (SHC ref: 3195/2)

The people of Surrey soon found themselves involved in all aspects of what came to be known as the Home Front. Organisations such as the Womens Voluntary Services (WVS) and the Red Cross played a vital role in evacuation, emergency feeding, ambulance driving and first aid.

Cartoon, nd [13 Jan 1944] (SHC Ref:1532/9)

Cartoon, nd [13 Jan 1944] (SHC ref: 1532/9/1)

This cartoon demonstrates how husbands learned to cope whilst their wives got on with war work.  The original watercolour comes from the personal papers of Miss Helen Lloyd, WVS Centre Organiser, Guildford Rural District.

Germany’s invasion of France and the Low Countries, which began on 10 May 1940 and was known as the Battle or Fall of France, led to the mass evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and French troops from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo.

One and a half million men and women volunteered for fire watching and ARP duties at the outbreak of war, but by May 1940 the new government had to react to the real threat of invasion.

Photograph of the 53rd Surrey Battalion Home Guard, Weston Green, nd [c.1939-1945](SHC Ref:4463/2/1b)

Photograph of the 53rd Surrey Battalion Home Guard, Weston Green, nd [c.1939-1945] (SHC ref: 4463/2/1b)

For the first time since Napoleon, a volunteer civilian army, officially called the Local Defence Volunteers, was raised.  Veterans of the First World War and men in reserved occupations seized the chance to ‘do their bit’.  Churchill’s reference to them in July 1940 as the ‘Home Guard’ immediately caught the public’s imagination.

“In the spring of 1940, the day after Anthony Eden announced the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV, later Home Guard) I volunteered at Norbury Police Station.  At first we had little or no equipment and an armband and we did a lot of drill and training.  Later we were issued with uniforms and a Remington rifle and 5 rounds of ammunition and were given shooting practice at Bisley.  We did manoeuvres on Mitcham Common and nightly manned a pillbox inside May & Philpotts Estate Agents office in Norbury.

The high spot of my time in the LDV was an exercise to capture the anti-aircraft battery at the Westminster Bank sports ground in Norbury.  Two of us hid under cover on top of the local florists van while he delivered flowers to the site and were able to creep in and demand they surrender.  To a 17-year-old this was good fun despite the fact that we were at war.”

Ian Broomhead of Norbury, who joined the RAF in 1941

Issued with armbands and instruction manuals, the men often had to improvise as equipment was scarce.  Lacking a car, Chertsey Company organised a bicycle patrol through Chertsey, Thorpe and Lyne.

Photograph of the 'pump crew' taken at Hersham Fire Station, Molesey Road, [c.1939-1940](SHC Ref:7652/1/2)

Photograph of the ‘pump crew’ taken at Hersham Fire Station,
Molesey Road,
[c.1939-1940] (SHC ref: 7652/1/2)

Thousands of volunteers joined the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), far outnumbering the paid firemen.  Often without uniforms and housed in improvised stations, the AFS were resented as untrained amateurs by the fire brigades but in the worst of the Blitz, ‘the flames fused the AFS and the regular firemen together in unity, to form a new class of never resting sleepwalkers’.

Ernest Blackman joined the AFS in c.1938-1939 and, during his term of service, was sent both to London and Southampton during the raids on those cities in 1940.  Shown are Mr Blackman (front right, with No.6 written on his bag), four of his fellow crew members (including Bud Fisher, rear left, with No.27 written on his bag) and equipment.

“When War came, perhaps it was natural that many of those who had served in World War I became anxious to train and volunteer for National Service It so happened we were told by a neighbour that some rifles might be available on application to the local military establishment.  I hastened there and was gladly surprised to be allotted six rifles.  The Local Defence Volunteers were gathering themselves together whilst we formed a squad, mostly of old soldiers, who put themselves under the instruction of our Commissionaire, Sergeant Major Stratford, DCM.  Within a few days we felt that the war had been lost for we were instructed to return our rifles to the depot from which they had been drawn.  In fact, they should not have been issued to us at all because they were the property of the Admiralty!”

Extract from ‘Broadford Diary, 1927-1983’ by D F Brown (1983) about working life at Vulcanised Fibre Ltd, Broadford Mills, Shalford, Guildford (SHC ref. 1765/box 1)

Photograph of pillbox in Horne, Tandridge, 2007 HER (Historic Environment Record ref:6538)

Photograph of pillbox in Horne, Tandridge, 2007 HER
(Historic Environment Record ref: 6538)

Pillboxes were small, reinforced defensive buildings built during the Second World War at strategic locations, used to provide a line of defence, called a stop-line, to stop invasion forces.  This photograph is of a Type 24 pillbox of irregular hexagon shape, which was designed to be bulletproof and shellproof with its very thick walls.

Find out more about Surrey’s pillboxes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *