This exercise involved a number of HG units from surrounding villages as well as the town company and was deemed by HQ to be of such importance that it merited the assignment of a senior officer to command and manage the exercise.
The town company had been given the task of defending the gasworks and the attacking forces had been drawn from the surrounding villages. The attack was timed for about mid-morning and I was assigned to a ‘gun’ emplacement on the east side of the gasworks, it was a cheap mortar for lobbing shells at the enemy. My task was to front load the ‘gun’ with dummy shells and I realised that speed was essential if I was to avoid injury in the process. There were four manning the gun, two HG men and two lads Eric and myself. The rest of the company were located mainly on the south side defending the entrance to the gasworks, with MW in command.
Being summertime it became quite warm as the sun rose and we overlooked a field of corn which was about two feet high so we pressed it down to sit on and enjoy the weather. One of the HG men told us to ‘look out’ for the enemy by observing the scene at the far end of the cornfield. It was not long before we noticed movement in the bushes and Eric was despatched to report this to MW. MW returned with the Major, who was equipped with a pair of field glasses.
‘Right’ said the major, pointing to a gap in the hedge about 50 yards from our site, ‘when they reach this point I want you to fire two rounds into their path to shake them up a bit’. The HG men replied ‘Yes sir’, and the officers departed.
Meanwhile the enemy were continuing their slow progress surreptitiously along the line of the bushes causing Eric to exclaim ‘Ere Arfur, they think we can’t see them’ and we both collapsed with laughter in the corn. , The HG men told us to ‘Pack it in lads, this is a serious business and they are in for a shock when they get nearer to us so concentrate on your duties’ At this time MW appeared on the scene making it quite clear that he would give the command to fire, he had acquired the Major’s field glasses for the purpose. The moment came, MW yelled ‘Fire’, I thrust the dummy shell down the tube and threw myself down on the ground putting my hands over my ears anticipating a bang and lying next to Eric who had not overcome his giggling,. There then occurred what I can only describe as a sharp puff and the dummy shell emerged from the tube to flop to the ground about 10 yards away. ‘That’s no bloody good’, barked MW ’Try again’. The second attempt was to prove even more disastrous, the shell never emerged from the tube after an even weaker puff. MW, his face red with anger, drew the HG men aside and gave them a ‘dressing down’ before marching them off to join the main defence force leaving us to ‘fend for ourselves’. We watched them as MW reported to the major, who snatched his field glasses off MW and turned away to oversee the frontal attack.
The first of the attackers were now reaching the end of the bushes. Their arrival was greeted by the Major who was adorning some of them with red labels with the word DEAD on and green labels with the word INJURED on. I have to believe that he had assumed our mortar had caused these casualties and that they were out of the reckoning. It was understandable that the enemy resented this and some heated discussions were observed between them and the Major, ending with some of them ripping off their labels, throwing them in the bushes and the Major marching away in high dudgeon. At the same time the rest of the attacking force were gathering in substantial numbers for the main assault on the gasworks behind the altercation described above and the Major hurried away to an interaction with MW on the defence. We could only observe from a distance so I have to surmise at the nature of the discussion but it brought a surprising result. From behind the gasometers appeared a secret weapon , the local fire engine with MW directing it. At the same time the attackers rushed from the bushes waving their guns, sticks and a variety of other weapons only to be met with a powerful jet of water from the fire engines hosepipe. I leave the reader to imagine the effect of this weapon as most of you will have seen it in action by the police in street riots on the TV. After a sufficient dowsing of the attackers the Major again rushed in with his labels and planted them on the men.
It seemed to me, bearing in mind the extent of this activity that the defenders had won the day. The unfortunate attackers were able to dry themselves off to a large extent in the summer sun before making their way back to their villages for Sunday lunch. Eric and I, being evacuees, crossed over the railway to our billets recalling the events that we had witnessed interspersed with bursts of laughter leaving the officers in deep argument over the final outcome.
The final instalment of Arthur’s stories, commemorating 50 years of Dads’ Army, is published in the Sources blog next week.