Thursday, 27 September 2018

Platoon ... As You Were!

Readers can always detect when life becomes extra busy for local historians, whatever they are doing: the number of blogs per month falls.  This September has been one of the busiest on many fronts, and only one blog has so far been posted.  So just in time I am able to sneak in another one!

The previous post revealed previously unseen photos of the Home Guard, submitted by reader Tony, whose grandfather featured in the images.

You will recall that we were left with a few questions; namely, the identity of the unit, the particular event, the location of the urban space with the bus stop, and of the more rural one with the avenue of trees in the background.

de Havilland's Home Guard unit at Hatfield Park.
Thanks to Tony's uncle, who has now also seen the pictures, we  have answers to all four queries.  The event was the occasion of the final disbandment ceremony for the Home Guard in 1945.  No doubt these ceremonies occurred in most districts – there was certainly one in Market Square, St Albans.  Hatfield held its  ceremony in Hatfield Park; it is believed the units of the town  marched past the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.  This gives our clue to one photograph.  Crowds of people are lining a wide path watching the Home Guard units march past.  Those with an intimate knowledge of the park may well identify the avenue of trees.

de Havilland Home Guard unit at Hatfield Station.
Following the march-past this particular unit arrived at the forecourt of Hatfield Rail Station.  A map of the time reveals this was the site occupied by the present, and pleasant, modern station building and car park alongside Great North Road.  No wonder I did not recognise it with its little buildings around the open space.

Finally, Tony had let us know his grandfather had worked at de Havilland's during the Second World War.  That was the final clue, for it was indeed the de Havilland Home Guard detachment.

The discovery of these photos and the background knowledge is important.  Few HG official records remain, and almost no  members of the HG are now around.  So whatever memories they shared are now our responsibility to record and share.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Platoon ... Halt!

Let's face it, most of us are quite willing to give up an unspecified amount of time to volunteer for what we believe is a good cause.  Even this week a railway company is asking for volunteers to become Station Ambassadors at a few of its otherwise unstaffed stations.  In the 2012 Olympics there were 70,000 games makers without whose dedication the Games would not have been possible in the planned form.  Most major events since then have also seen large numbers of smiling volunteers.

It's not a new concept; volunteering has a noble and ancient history, often borne from loyalty, from protection and security, and from expectation.

The call also went out by Secretary of State Anthony Eden in May 1940.  The country needed volunteers to help defend the Home Front; he eventually got well over a million members of the Local Defence Volunteers, later known as the Home Guard.

The remaining numbers who served are so few now, and most of the accounts of their training, duties and encounters have now either been told or lost; and the official logs and other records of membership and service have long since been destroyed.  But with such a large active volunteer sector, most families resident in Britain at the time and since can count at least one, and possible many, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents who were for various reasons unable to become part of the regular fighting Services, but who were proud members of 'Dad's Army', as it was nicknamed.

Children's parade in Wynchlands Crescent, possibly 1945 and possibly linked to a street party.

One of those remarkable discoveries occurred recently when regular SAOEE site visitor Tony uncovered 1940s photographs which included his grandfather with his platoon.  A platoon group shot is accompanied by others of the group on parade.  There are bystanding crowds and we therefore assume the occasion might be either on establishment, or when the HG stood down at the end of 1944, or perhaps when finally disbanded in December 1945.  We know that Tony's grandfather lived at Oaklands, and there is also a wonderfully happy photo of a children's parade in Wynchlands Crescent, with two of their number holding a 'God Save the King' banner.

We have not yet identified the location of the parade – but it was clearly on a bus route!

There were many HG units in St Albans, but it does seem likely that this was one based in or near Oaklands, or perhaps a works unit for de Havilland's, where Tony's grandfather worked.  Still a mystery are the locations of these parades, especially the urban open space with advertisements and a bus stop (above).  If anyone recognises the place, even though it may no longer exist, we would welcome your input.  And there is just a chance that you might recognise a 'private on parade' or a junior in Wynchlands Avenue.

Was this part of the same parade? With so many spectators it was a popular open space.
Assuming everyone was present this is the complete platoon.  These pictures were often taken at a HG training hut,
but we don't yet know where this one was.  Any ideas?

It is a great little collection which can fortunately now be shared with a wider audience.