Dad’s Army and Dulwich
by Brian Green
Earlier this year a manuscript was sent to the Dulwich Society by a descendent of Dr Guy Bousfield who lived in Dulwich at the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1972 a small library of books was cleared from a house which he had owned in West Sussex. Among some of the more interesting volumes, was found a diary for the year 1940, with entries made between 6th July-31st December 1940 and two additional entries for 1-2 January 1941 in the memoranda pages at the back. The period covered by the diary was The Battle of Britain.
The entries related to periods of guard duty of the Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard) at the post at Dulwich Golf Club and are written in different hands, presumably by the sentries themselves. The diary has been transcribed, retaining as much as possible of the original apart from some rudimentary ‘tidying-up’ so as to make the text as readable as possible.
Dr Bousfield, one of the unit’s original members, was an habitual collector of anything interesting that caught his eye, and quite probably, when perhaps a more official log was introduced, he simply ‘acquired’ the old record with a view to preserving it for his own purpose. All one can say to this is “Just as well he did” because hardly of any of this material has survived.
What the diary lets us see is how individuals behaved in periods of quiet as well as imminent danger. Like most sentry duties, a great deal of the time, certainly in the opening two months covered by the diary, was uncomfortable and boring. Duties for each two man guard were from 10pm- 2am and 2am to 6am in July which by the following January had been modified to that of a single sentry from 22.00 (note the introduction of the 24 hour clock) with guard duties lasting only an hour and a half; except of course that because of nightly air-raids there were constant alerts when the whole guard was turned out, so sleep became a matter of the odd cat-nap. And then, when dawn broke normality returned; the members of the LDV, now renamed The Home Guard, took up their daily civilian jobs and the golf club ground staff reported for work in maintaining the course.
At the beginning of the war there had been some scepticism in military circles that Britain might be evacuated but the spring of 1940 witnessed the fall of Belgium and the Netherlands and the invasion of France and Norway by Germany and alarmed the government. The Local Defence Volunteers (nicknamed Look, Duck, Vanish!) were formed by a government official announcement made on 13th May 1940 inviting men aged between 17-65 who were not in military service to volunteer to defend their country against invasion and enrol at the nearest police station. Two days earlier an article in the Sunday Pictorial asked if the government had considered training golfers in rifle shooting to eliminate stray enemy parachutists! When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister he ordered the Local Defence Volunteers to be renamed The Home Guard and the announcement was made on 22nd July 1940. It was not a popular decision in the opinion of some in the War Office largely in view of the fact that 1 million LDV armbands had been printed and there was concern over the ad hoc organisation of the new force.
A number of the members of the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club responded to the invitation to join the LDV, and must have suggested that their clubhouse at the top of Grange Lane with its wide-ranging views over London would make an excellent defensive and vantage point. Of course the appeal of using their beloved clubhouse as a barracks and perhaps protecting it from intruders must also have been irresistible. Also, the unit had certain exclusivity in its early days; at least four of its members were doctors. In addition to Guy Bousfield, there was his friend and colleague, Dr King-Brown, with whom he was conducting research into the treatment of diphtheria by delivering immunity without the use of injections, through the taking of sweetened pastilles and with whom he also shared the same dug-out when on guard duty. Another doctor was Dr Bertie Rosborough, a local GP who lived in Half Moon Lane, and also a Dr McGrath. For a time Lionel Logue, speech therapist to King George VI was a member of the unit. Then there was Frank Egan, a wine importer who lived at Bell Cottage, A.S. Ellyatt, the developer of houses in Village Way and Burbage Road and one of several local builders who volunteered. There was also R T Brunton who lived in some style at nearby ‘Stonehills’ in College Road. The more talented golfers included H B Tiley, who after the war would become Club Captain, although several others shared this honour in other years and one was elected Club President. Their names are commemorated on the boards in the present Clubhouse.
The introduction of the LDV coincided with a period of anxiety about the presence of Fifth Columnists everywhere and it is likely that the members of the newly formed unit were all terribly keen to do their bit to combat this perceived danger. The new organisation, even after it was named the Home Guard, did not give its members any rank until 1942 all being termed ‘Volunteer’ and one suspects that the unit was run more like a committee. Unlike Captain Mainwaring, no individual self-appointed himself as the Commanding Officer, although Guy Bousfield must have taken the lead to some extent, even if it was only to start the diary. To show the accuracy of the TV series ‘Dad’s Army’ written by Jimmy Perry and the late David Croft, the Dulwich unit also had the local undertaker, Mr Yeatman as a member while another, reminiscent of Private Godfrey, was still waited on at his home by his elderly uniformed maid. Derek Mills as the youngest member was the equivalent to Private Pike. Andrew Rankine, another founder member who later joined the regular army, was in tears of laughter when he saw ‘Dad’s Army’, he told his nephew Ian,” That’s just how it was”.
Rather like the friction which existed between the ARP warden and Captain Mainwaring’s Warmington-on-sea Home Guard unit, the real-life one stationed at the Golf Club had an uneasy (at times) relationship with the regular army’s anti-aircraft battery which was sited only about a hundred yards away – “Very bad blackout observed in R.A. (Royal Artillery) hut opposite ridge at top of 4th fairway from 10.35pm-10.55pm. Proceeded on numerous occasions to corner of hedge on 5th fairway by path without at any time challenge from R.A. sentry. Battery could easily be entered at any time from this direction. Phoned police at West Dulwich to request Yellow Warnings be telephoned.” A more fractious incident occurred a couple of months later, at the height of the Blitz. During an Air Raid Alert voices were heard by the sentry in the darkness of evening : “On investigation two guards were challenged and stated they were looking for Sgt Quinn – shortly afterward another person was challenged and who stated he was Sgt Quinn – no one on duty knew him, and his statement was confirmed on ‘phone’ to Battery – Sgt was a little peeved at being held for identification, but incident ended amicably and in an orderly like way.”
Perhaps the ultimate put-down was over the use of the indoor loo in the Clubhouse. Volunteer Ellyatt wanted to know if the searchlight personnel operating the Locator Post had permission to use this loo which was clearly a Home Guard perk. The answer was an emphatic “no” written in the Log in pencil – “outside Lav..”
In another incident, a few nights after some mysterious gun shots were heard in Dulwich Woods, there was concern about a potential intruder or Fifth Columnist and a curious figure was seen moving towards the Club House. When challenged there was no response – but the figure, on investigation turned out to be the Club’s horse, used for pulling the mower.
In addition to the neighbouring Royal Artillery anti-aircraft battery, there was also nearby a Royal Air Force barrage balloon site manned by WAAF personnel. The Home Guard liaised with both of these. Suspicious lights, individuals and notification of bomb damage and unexploded bombs were reported to the police.
Lights which could attract the attention of enemy bombers were a source of constant concern and rather than wait until the police investigated the source, those on guard normally carried out their own search. Usually, when the unit investigated the incidents they were found to be illuminated road signs which could not be switched off, or temporary red lights warning traffic of bomb craters in the road.
By the time the Battle of Britain had broken out, the unit was armed with rifles and was issued with thirty rounds of ammunition each night from the store which was contained in a cigar box at the Clubhouse. One night in September at around 9pm a parachute mine was seen falling close to the 7th green and was followed by a large explosion. Two minutes later lights were observed showing at The Grange in nearby Grange Lane. Lights showing at the Grange had been a constant source of annoyance to the unit, and now with damage to the Clubhouse caused by the parachute mine, it was no doubt felt that a German bomber had seen the lights below and released his bomb. Messrs Egan and Dean who were on duty were despatched to investigate and rather precipitously, shot the offending lights out. There is no entry in the diary of the reactions of the owner of The Grange.
That incident did not conclude concern about The Grange, which was actually the nearest building to the Clubhouse and only a few hundred yards from the unit’s dug out. One member was convinced that the high white gable of the house was visible to enemy bombers on moonlit nights and a danger to the battery and suggested to the commanding officer that it should be camouflaged. Col. Cooper approved this suggestion and asked it to be recorded in the Log – a copy to reach him….eventually.
Of course in the midst of the Blitz all comparison with TV’s ‘Dad’s Army’ ended . The Dulwich Home Guard unit at the Golf Club had a grandstand view over London from their height of some 250’ above sea level and overlooking London. There is a graphic entry for Monday 9th September when an air raid warning sounded soon after eight o’clock in the evening. Guy Bousfield who was on duty recorded in the Log:
Many heavy air attacks from W by N to N.E. along a line across the Thames. Heavy fires apparently beyond Blackfriars, Tower Bridge, and over docks caused at intervals and blazing till dawn. At 03.55hrs a very violent but short conflagration occurred in N.E. illuminating whole sky, suggestive of large gasworks. Batteries came into action against enemy aircraft caught in searchlights on several occasions. The shooting was very accurate.
“Sunday 15th September 1940 21.15 hrs unexploded bombs dropped direct hit Dulwich College - 23.25hrs unexploded bomb _ to 1 mile away – 23.30hrs ‘Molotov Bread Basket (a large bomb containing numerous incendiary bombs) W.N.W – 23.40hrs same again S.W. far off – 23.44hrs same again S.W. by W far off – 23.58 brilliant flashes illuminating sky behind fires N.W. lasted 3-4 minutes – 00.23hrs bomb fairly near Post.
Hostile plane activity during night; very active AA (anti-aircraft) fire. Dug-out sump had to be pumped out. Water coming in down wall near telephone.”
There is a curious entry on 8th October – Note: Attention is drawn to the increasing rustiness of the Club rifle & it is suggested that oily rags should be available for use in wet weather. The note implies that a sole rifle was the unit’s only weapon. The note was presumably seen by Col Cooper, who on a visit a couple of nights later requested that copies of the Post nightly reports be sent to HQ weekly. Did it expedite the arrival of new and more effective weapons? Hardly, Harvey Packer complained that the rifle issued to him a few days later, (Eddystone No.497454) had a defective spring in the cocking –piece and was useless. As winter drew on more weapons became available and bayonets were issued and a demonstration given on a Browning automatic rifle “….the main features grasped by all”.
There were certainly plenty of opportunities for the Home Guard to blaze away with what serviceable weapons they had. The main object of their aim was the flares dropped by the Luftwaffe to illuminate potential targets and to identify barrage balloons. Flares were shot out over the Clubhouse by the unit in October. The nights were clear and there was moonlight, ideal conditions for enemy bombers and the neighbouring AA battery was in action every night. A close call came on 14th October when two bombs exploded within a mile to the south. A Messerschmitt 109 dived fairly low over the Post just afterwards. There was great enemy air activity that night and to make matters worse a barrage balloon came down on the 13th fairway and the unit had to secure it. The Home Guard joined the RAF and Royal Artillery sentries in continuing to bang away at falling flares.
The quality of the unit’s dug-out was somewhat lacking. The corrugated iron over the entrance reflected the moonlight and a suggestion was made that it should be painted instead of relying on a mackintosh cape for camouflage. The suggestion was naturally referred to HQ. The dug-out also had a propensity to flood during rain and had to be pumped out. To add to the discomfort, the hose attached to the pump split one night making hand baling a necessity. As the nights grew colder a paraffin stove was relied upon for heating but on occasions the supply of paraffin failed to arrive.
About the last week of October another Molotoff Breadbasket exploded on the golf course, scattering some 100 incendiaries over a wide area. Several were extinguished by the guard and the battery. The Log, written up by Volunteer Fogg, who was clearly an Alfred, Lord Tennyson fan notes “…H. G. Welsh, with fires in front of him – fires to the right of him – and fires to the left of him, rushed forward carrying two buckets of sand, jumped a ditch and fell into a bunker straining both ankles severely. After receiving First Aid he carried on conscientiously with his turn of duty…”
Heavy night-raiding by the Luftwaffe continued. On 8th December there was an Alert as the guard took over at 7.30pm which lasted until 10.00pm. The unit fired their rifles at the planes overhead. Many incendiaries dropped at 11.50pm and midnight: at one time 12 fires were counted: one particularly bad one in the neighbourhood of Lordship Lane: one in the neighbourhood of Brixton. The Grove Lane was hit & St Giles Hospital. High Explosive dropped in Dulwich Park. This was as heavy a night’s activity as there has been. (signed R S S Mitchell)
As Christmas 1940 approached there was a light snowfall and plenty of aircraft activity on the 23rd December with bombs apparently being dropped on the Course. An inspection was made and some debris was found in a ditch near the 12th green. The neighbouring AA guns maintained their firing through the night. Christmas Eve’s guard was shared by Messrs Rankine, Ellyat, Bousfield, King-Brown and Inglis. There was no alert and nothing abnormal to report. When the new guard took over on Christmas Day they enjoyed a similarly quiet and peaceful night. Very heavy raids resumed on 27th December. Interestingly, New Year’s Eve passed with no air raid warnings or anything to disturb the peaceful night.
The diary ends on 2nd January 1941 with the entry “Wot about a new diary?”