Horncastle Home Guard No. 5 Platoon photographed in June 1941 outside the old Grammar School (now the School House Coffee Shop)
Air Raid Precautions
Although it would be some time before a bomb dropped, even before the war had started the town had been making preparations for air raids that would affect every resident.
Report from the Horncastle News 2nd Sept 1939:
“Horncastle ARP machinery and emergency evacuation procedures were speedily completed this week and householder have been equipping their homes and making arrangements for an emergency.
Many loads of sandbags arrived in the town on Thursday and in the evening the air raid wardens were heavily engaged in protecting the report posts etc. The hospital has been fully protected.“
People packed into the Queen Street Methodist schoolroom for a talk by the Chief Air Raid Warden to hear about the types of bombs they could expect, the need to blackout windows, and what precautions to make at home to protect themselves with gas masks and shelters.
The town was divided up into sectors and all householders were requested to be fully acquainted with the warden for their particular sector and to keep the published list available. The ARP Wardens were asked to implement a continuous watch.
Chief Warden was Major LW Sharp and the Assistant Warden was AE Wyles.
“AIR RAID WARNINGS
PENDING OTHER ARRANGEMENTS,THE GAS WORKS BUZZER WILL BE USED FOR AIR RAID WARNINGS.THE ‘WARNING’ SIGNAL WILL BE INTERMITTENT BLASTS.THE ‘ALL CLEAR’ WILL BE ONE LONG BLAST
R Chatterton, Chief Executive Officer”
Everyone was required to cover all windows, doors and other openings by sunset to ensure that no light was visible outside. The Horncastle News reported that:
“There was a tremendous rush on paper blinds and brown paper last week-end and many people in Horncastle completed their preparations…There are, however, some in the town who appear to have done nothing at all. They must for the safety of the town might depend on the completeness of a black-out during an emergency and it is the duty of all householders to make every preparation to screen all lights completely. In fact it is compulsory on all households to do so”.
Shop keepers were advised to ensure that no lights showed from their premises especially when the doors were opened for customers to enter or exit. They were advised that glass and skylight must be painted over and that materials used for screening should be meshed backed to prevent the fall of glass.
In 1940 when the first bombs began to fall in the county (read about the Horncastle raids here) the police were inundated with reports about suspicious lights in the sky, with fears that enemy agents and fifth columnists might be directing the Nazi planes to targets in the county’s towns. Church spires, water towers and RAF look-outs were manned across Lincolnshire to try to pin down the culprits. No truth was ever found to the rumours, and it reminds us how worried people were.
Although today it is often forgotten, during the war everyone was given an identity card and it was compulsory to carry them at all times. It was a criminal offence not do so. The rules applied to everyone, even children.
In 1939 any commercial firms that had the name of the town in their name or advertising, should have it obliterated if it could be seen from the air. Then from 1940 all signs indicating the names of towns and villages were removed in order to delay confuse the enemy in the event of invasion.
The war also meant arrangements had been made for the Horncastle War Memorial Hospital to stockpile additional equipment and increase the number of beds following an order to all voluntary hospitals by the Ministry of Health. There were also appeals for at least 10 first aid volunteers who were needed urgently to be trained up and prepared, this being before the days of paramedics, and when Horncastle had to call upon the services of the British Red Cross who provided an ambulance garaged at the Ship Inn.
The Ministry of Agriculture set up local committees to coordinate matters such as the ploughing up of grasslands, labour questions, supply and use of agricultural machinery and distribution of foodstuffs to ensure effective control of prices and distribution. In the event of rationing of petrol, special permits were to be made available to farmers who need it for land use.
A Home Guard Unit was also set up in the town. This was Home Guard No 5 Horncastle Platoon under the Command of E Nicholl. Little information seems to have survived about the Horncastle platoon, but weekly orders for both the Home Guard and the ARP were published in the Horncastle News.
Today it is hard to think of the Home Guard without reference the Dad’s Army sitcom, but its purpose was deadly serious. With Horncastle’s volunteer militia (B Company of the 4th Battalion the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment) called up and on active service overseas, the defence of the town if invasion came would have fallen to them. Membership was open to men above or below conscription age, or unfit or exempt from service.
Speaking on the 14th July 1940 Winston Churchill spoke of the Home Guard:
“These officers and men, a large proportion of whom have been through the last war, have the strongest desire to attack and come to close quarters with the enemy wherever he may appear. Should the invader come to Britain, there will be no placid lying down of the people in submission before him, as we have seen, alas, in other countries.
We shall defend every village, every town, and every city.”
As is well known, at first at least they were poorly equipped, making do with any old sporting gun or revolver they had to hand, or improvised weapons. We have a photograph in the Town Archive showing the Home Guard on rifle practice at Belchford range. Other photographs believed to have been taken after the war show the platoon in training in the countryside around the town.
In 1941 Women were being encouraged to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and to take over some of the work of men on the land and in industry. In September shop girls between the ages of 20-25 were withdrawn from work in any but food shops and called up for the ATS or to work in munitions and war work factories. You can find out more about the work of the Women’s Land Army here.