Contributed by: Canterbury Libraries
People in story: Ken Palmer
Location of story: Whitstable
Background to story: Civilian Force
Article ID: A8498938
Contributed on: 13 January 2006
To those of us in the ‘Front Line County’ during World War Two, the Battle of Britain and the Home Guard were inter-related and difficult to separate much of the time.
I was in ‘B’ Company. 4th (St Augustine’s) Battalion. Kent Home Guard. From June 1940 until the end of October 1941, when I moved to Slough to work on ‘Gods Wonderful Railway’ I continued my defence activities there are until ‘Stand Down’ in November 1944 when I was a bombardier in the 101 Bucks. Home Guard attached to 194(M) “Z” Anti Aircraft Battery, 5 H.G. A.A. Regiment, 38 BDE. We were then equipped with 64 “U2P” Projectors, Rockets, a Bofors Quick Firing Gun and some stripped Lewis Machine Guns, for site defence, but that is another story.
My late father Lieutenant L.A.Palmer was ammunition officer for the local Company of 25th (Post Office) Battalion Kent Home Guard and was one of the first to join up when the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers) was announced. I joined ‘B’ Coy of the unattached 4th Bn. Shortly afterwards, still only sixteen years of age, and so unable to bear arms until my seventeenth birthday in September! I did duty as Platoon Orderly during this time “running in” period and also learned the rudiments of Arms Drill, etc.
In those early days our arms were mostly old SMLE ‘24’ Pattern .303 rifles, plus some Canadian Ross Rifles which had a kick like a mule as I learned very early on! By this time the Battle of Britain was in full swing and we had received a supply of ‘Springfield’ P17 (year of issue) of .300 calibre, courtesy of the US Government. Apparently surplus stock from World War One, they were packed in grease and Armoury Sergeant Johnson (ex Met Police and Guards in the First War, complete with Kitchener moustache, but nature’s gentleman in every respect) with his helpers had to scour every one through with a hot iron before they could be distributed. Having proved my capabilities to Sergeant Major Richardson, the exigencies of the service dictated that all those in similar position be issued with a rifle to keep at home, and so, I got mine a little in advance with my sixty rounds of ammo and a bayonet to go with it! Looking back it is quite probable that had ‘Gerry’ invaded as everyone expected, once that meager allocation had been expended, we would have been reduced to the ‘cold steel’ fortunately the worst did not happen.
Our H.Q. was at the Drill Hall, Cromwell Road, in Whitstable, where our C.O. was Major Norman Thompson (alias Norman Dennis, a local actor and the Company Sergeant Major E.R. (Redge) Crowe who, amongst his less serious duties, dispensed excellent cheese rolls in the canteen! This latter upholder of company discipline was fond of the ‘amber nectar’ and one recalls Christmas 1940 when he made the customary rounds of the various Posts — our Platoon one was Road Block 42, at Chestfield Railway Bridge, also at Long Rock Old Coastguard Station, on the cliffs at Swalecliffe. I was on duty at the former and well recall his arrival there, obviously been Royally regaled with liquid refreshment en route! We carefully emptied all the dregs from various drinks in one large mug, which he cheerfully downed without any visual effect, either before or afterwards, then went on his merry way…
Our duties on that particular road block were to check the I.D. cards of all passing through, either afoot or awheel, and the latter included the No 33 local bus to and from Chestfield — with rifle and fixed bayonets we took much delight in being exceptionally thorough with ‘locals’ whom we didn’t like very much, or who made themselves objectionable in any way!
I must regress: Sunday, 15th September, which was my seventeenth birthday, and in every way a most auspicious occasion, as anyone around then will recall only too well. Two Platoons were on ‘Holding Duty’ at the Drill hall and for several hours, we watched with much interest the flight of Luftwaffe Squadron after Squadron passing overhead, en route to London Docks. It came to a point that our C.O. Major Thompson felt that it was most unwise for all of us to be congregated under one roof — if anything dropped, Whitstable would have been bereft of half its protectors at one foul swoop! So he ordered ‘collective dispersal’ under the hedge surrounding the Recreation Ground outside; thus I spent my teatime on my seventeenth birthday.
Later on we had lone ME109’s and ME110’s, plus some FW190’s (German fighter aircraft) making ‘nuisance raids’ coming in and retreating just above rooftop level to miss our radar and dropping the odd small bomb in the process. One morning some of us were in the canteen (yes — cheese rolls, but not the same ones!) When we heard the approach of a single-engined aircraft. We cocked our ears but Sergeant “Pincher” Martin (a local school teacher) said quite confidently “One of ours”. Of course it wasn’t! A few moments later, just after the plane had passed overhead, there was a dull thud about half a mile to the east. We rushed outside to look and there was a plume of smoke and dust rising from the other side of the Canterbury & Whitstable railway line. The bomb had landed alongside a house in Clare Road, bringing down part of the house; the owner, a taxi driver called Ashby, was pulled out covered in dust, and shocked but not seriously hurt. His widow still lives nearby in Railway Avenue.
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 bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar. This contribution is published here under the ‘Fair dealing policy’. Copyright remains with the contributor.