Historian shares tales of his father’s time in the home guard, March’s own Dad’s Army, during the Second World War

March Railway Home Guard 1940-1945.

March Railway Home Guard 1940-1945. - Credit: Archant

A historian has spoken of his father’s experience in the home guard during the Second World War.

Peter Wright’s father Arthur Wright was employed by the LNER and later British Railways from 1926 to 1967.

The home guard was formed in May 1940 to counter the threat of German invasion. Mr Wright’s father joined on July 15 1940 and served until it was stood down on December 31 1944 when the threat had passed.

Mr Wright said: “It really was Dad’s Army then. I can remember my father saying that at his first parade, he was the only one with a firearm, only because he took with him his own shot gun that he used for shooting pheasants and rabbits. Everyone else had a broomstick.

“Eventually, they were all provided with rifles and basic training. One of the local locomotive department’s senior officials had apparently been an officer in the army during the first world war and was keen that his men should be as effective as possible.

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“They were given training on the army firing range at Waldersea, near Coldham. My father recalled that on the first occasion he took up the position that he was used to when out in the fields shooting game.

“A well directed army boot hit him powerfully and painfully in the rump, accompanied with the retort that ‘You’ll never hit anything laying like that!’

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“However, when the target cards were retrieved for examination, he was the only one who had recorded a hit.

“I also recall him telling me that they had a corrugated iron hut at the loco for use of the home guard. One day, one of the unit accidentally discharged his weapon in the hut. Fortunately, the bullet did not hit anyone, but left a neat round hole in the roof. The noise was deafening.”

Mr Wright’s older brother Alec Wright also has vivid memories of his father’s time in the home guard.

He said: “My older brother recalls that on a Sunday lunch time, father was in the Wades Hotel having his usual pint. He was approached by a soldier who was having to wait at March to change trains.

“He asked where he could get something to eat. Father took him home, to Elm Road, and provided a place at the Sunday lunch table.

“My brother also remembers the regular army being billeted in tents in a grass field where Berryfields now is, and in the Temperance Hall, behind the Station Hotel and also in St. John’s church Hall.

“He also recalls the planes forming up over March ready to launch the attack at Arnhem. Apparently some gliders became detatched and came down locally, one in the High School playing field and one at Coldham.”

Mr Wright has provided the Cambs Times with a photograph taken by Alice Askew in September 1940. It was taken at the north end of the locomotive running shed, known as the new shed.

Mr Wright said: “Behind the men is a coal wagon clearly painted ‘SWANWICK’, undoubtedly the name of the colliery owners. “It is providing fuel for the railways own independent power generation plant behind the brick wall, known to all the railway staff as the power house.

“To the left is the tender of one of the old GER’s main line engines, lettered LNER.”

THE MEN IN THE PHOTO: Back row [from left], W. Hammond, N. Steward, E. Cracknell, Arthur Wright [loco fitter], H. Boyce, J. Hill, George Pilch [boilersmith], G. Smith, A, Marshall, C. Ward, W. Suttle [footplate?], W. Mailes, Second row, B. Casey [footplate], S. Henson,

Ernie? Ogden [footplate?], E. Gotobed, H. Banyard [footplate?], L. Gotobed [footplate?], J. Blake, A. Sawkins, Bert Galley [footplate], R. Cross [footplate?], C. Breeze, D. Ellis, Third row, G. May [Moye?], G. Saunders, P. Walsh, C. Eaton, J. Feary, T.[Ted?] Brand [fitter?], Ernie Hansell [loco fitter], W. Barker [footplate?], Charlie French [loco fitter], T. Culpin, J. Freeman, Front row, C. Hurst, P. Elborn [Elbarn], T. Sayer or Sayers, Harry Ash [charge hand], S. Allen, E. Watson.

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