Monday, 20 October 2014
Crieff’s “ Dad’s Army “ – the Home Guard of World War 2
Crieff Home Guard
After the onset of WW 2 , the safety of small towns such as Crieff was in the hands of what was termed the LDVF – the Local Defence Force Volunteer This somewhat cumbersome title was changed on the 9th of August 1940 to the Home Guard . The BBC series Dad’s Army ran from 1968 to 1977 with a number of well known “ vintage “ actors of the time including Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring ( pronounced Manner - ing ! ) , John Le Mesurier as Sergeant Wilson, Clive Dunn as Corporal Jones and a host of others . This sit com was based very much on the belief that the Home Guard was made of bumbling incompetents who were either retired or were in reserved occupations .My own father who was employed in the general office of a large steel manufacturing company in the West of Scotland fell into the latter category and I know how seriously they took their task in their contribution to the Nations defence .
I have in my possession a document entitled “Diary of the 3rd Perthshire Bn ( Battalion ) H.G ( Home Guard) “ and sub titled “ Historical Notes- December 1944 “ . On the basis that the document is some seventy years old , I am of the belief that I can disclose some of its contents without danger of being to The Tower for High Treason !
In addition to the Diary , I had the privilege of interviewing a local Crieff man , the late Johnnie Brough , as part of an Open University Oral History course I was undertaking back in the 1990s . Johnnie had suffered a disability as a result of polio as a child and was rejected for army service . He opted to join the Home Guard and some of the tales he related were perhaps not suitable for inclusion in the official Diary !
I have chosen , nevertheless , to select some exerts from the Diary which perhaps reflect what it was really like to be in the Crieff and neighbouring areas Home Guard away back in those far off days . This part of Strathearn was a busy place with numerous regiments based in and around Crieff including a Free Polish Army Unit at the Hydro which had been commandeered for military use , the RASC in the Taylor’s Institute School ( the school had been moved in with Crieff Primary ) . After that came a Battalion of the Enniskillen Fusiliers, a Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment as well as a Battalion of th Cameronians . There were troops at the Market Park where the Canteen was located as well as Nissan Huts erected at the Bridgend . A prisoner of war camp was located at Cultybraggan for German soldiers whilst in Crieff , Italian prisoners of war were housed .
In May and June 1940 the LDVF was raised in this part of Strathearn and was termed “No. 3 Company, No. 9 Group LDVF “ which was later to become the “ 3rd Perthshire Battalion Home Guard “.The Auchterarder Platoon covered Auchterarder , Strathallan ,Duppplin and Dunning and Gask and Aberuthven .It was under the leadership of JC McIntyre assisted by N McLaren , Sir JD Roberts , ADC Main and GA Buchanan , Across the Strath in Crieff the initial set up was led by DW Crighton and the three Crieff sections by RJB Sellar, JM Scrimgeour and SDW Stewart . In addition there were three other sections based at Amulree Madderty and Trinity College
( Glenalmond ) .
By all accounts the local Home Guard were well set up in terms of arms and equipment but initially this was not the case . According to Johnnie Brough all they had were pikestaffs – long tubes of steel with a pin stuck in the end . The only rifles they had were Lee Enfield relics from World War 1 supplied by Morrison’s’ Academy OTC ( Officer Training Corps ) ! They seemed , however, to be very much involved in routine training and participation in combined exercises with the regular army. The Diary mentions a number of incidents which no doubt raided the blood pressure of the elderly members of the platoon . In the early days of the war the Home Guard / LDVF investigated a report of parachutists in the hills behind Glenalmond . This turned out to be the RAF practicing the dropping of supplies by parachute ! In 1941 the Strathallan Platoon turned out to search for a parachutist in the immediate vicinity after a number of reports were received . It turned out to be a false alarm as the culprit was not a human being but a stray barrage balloon !
To keep the men on their toes regular exercises were held in the area . The Diary recounts a particular one in March 1942 : “ Exercise ‘Pongo’ saw B Company attack A Company at Findo Gask Aerodrome in which rapid reinforcing was attempted by mobile Platoons against a threat by paratroops . An engagement at the edge of the aerodrome resulted in a useful lesson being learned “ What the lesson was it does not state but I am sure it was all worthwhile !
A somewhat more bizarre tale was told to me by Johnnie Brough : “ I can remember something big was happening and two Divisions came down from the North of Scotland . They sent us to Gask School on Saturday and Sunday .We had sandwiches and our dixies .We tried to cook on the stove in the class room but it would have taken a year to brew up and cook . One of the boys said there were lots of bricks lying outside so we went out and built fire . We took some coals from the head mistresses room and piled on the logs . Black out or no black out , we all had our tea outside . What a night ! At the same time we had been told to keep our eyes on the road passed the House of Gask which crosses the bridge where the main road to Perth goes . We blackened our faces and hid behind the hedge . A bloke on a bike came along and one of the lads jumped out . The poor man got such a fright that he leapt from his bike into a ditch . “ A thought it was a ******* ghost ! “ , he blurted out . I think he had had a wee drink or two ! “
How many men were involved in the Home Guard during the War ? The Diary tells us that 1944 there were 207 men serving in Crieff, 116 in Auchterarder and some 664 in the other parts of the district to the east of Crieff. Interestingly , the Comrie and St Fillans areas appear to have been attached to a different Battalion than that of Crieff.
I ran a blog in July 2012 concerning , the oldest member of Crieff Home Guard , Alexander “ Snacks “ Taylor which makes fascinating reading :
Alexander Taylor was seventy-seven when war broke out. Despite his age he managed to enlist and in doing so succeeded in becoming the oldest person in uniform in the British forces
Taylor had served in the Boer War as well as WW1 and lived with his family in the Drill Hall in Meadow Place where he was employed as an instructor . After this he moved to Mitchell Street and became a tobacconist in High Street where Boots the Chemist is now located .
In conclusion let me list those mentioned in the Diary who received Certificates of Commendation for Good Service in the Crieff Home Guard
Major ADC Main 1944, Lieut A Dow 1942, Sgt W Shand 1944, Sgt Gilfillan 1943, Sgt S Christie 1944, Sgt J Clark 1944, Sgt J Ferguson 1944, Sgt R Murdoch 1944, Sgt T Rintoul 1944 and Private J Urquhart 1944.