Home Guard photograph brought back so many memories
PUBLISHED: 17:34 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010
William Smith had sat in the waiting room of his local doctor s surgery many times, but had never taken much notice of the pictures on the walls. Until a couple of months ago, when the 71-year-old s attention was drawn to a black and white photo of a gro
William Smith had sat in the waiting room of his local doctor's surgery many times, but had never taken much notice of the pictures on the walls.
Until a couple of months ago, when the 71-year-old's attention was drawn to a black and white photo of a group uniformed men. As he drew closer one face looked particularly familiar. Staring back at Mr Smith was his very own father.
The photo was taken in Rectory Road, Dagenham during the Second World War, when Mr Smith's father, also called William, was a member of the 11th City of London Fusiliers Home Guard.
Mr Smith says he was certainly surprised to come across the picture, which has been hanging on the wall in Dagenham's Church Elm Lane health centre since it opened in 2005.
He said: "I couldn't believe it. I never really look at the walls, but then I happened to notice the men in uniform and suddenly I'm looking right at my dad!"
In 1940, along with more than a million other British men who were ineligible for military service, Mr Smith's father volunteered to help defend his country against a possible German invasion.
Mr Smith said: "As he was 53 at the time he was too old to enlist in the forces, so instead he joined the Home Guard. I was a child then, so he didn't tell me much about what he got up to. But I know he went on patrol around the area a few times a week."
Keen to find out more about the Dagenham Home Guard Mr Smith contacted the POST, in the hope that someone would come forward with more information if the photo was published. He also mentioned that the picture was donated by a Bert Wheaton.
The POST managed to track down Mr Wheaton, who actually lives just around the corner from the clinic and is in the photo himself. The 92-year-old said he joined the Home Guard when he was 24 after being told he was not allowed to go off and fight because his job which was vital to the war effort.
He recalls: "I went along to join up for military service and the man asked me what I worked as. I explained that I was employed at the Ford factory as an engineering blacksmith and he said 'Forget it!'
"I was very disappointed. All my brothers were called up and I felt terrible that I was the only one who didn't go. It was something I often regretted."
Mr Wheaton said that when the threat of a German invasion grew and the government called on men join the Local Defence Volunteers (a name which Winston Churchill later changed to the Home Guard) he enlisted straight away.
"When I heard Hitler was marching closer I knew I had to do my bit. I went to Marsh Green School in Rainham, where they were recruiting, and signed up for the home guard. I remember thinking at the time 'at least I'll have a gun'."
He was soon placed with the Dagenham division in Rectory Road. He recalls regularly patrolling the streets, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious and when houses were evacuated he would guard them to keep looters away.
Mr Wheaton remained at Rectory Road for about a year, but when the bombing of London began he asked to be transferred to a rocket site at Parsloes Park.
He says: "We would man the rocket projectors during the night to give the regular army a break. The rockets would be fired into the sky to stop any enemy planes flying over London.
"I'd often work at the factory during the day and then man the guns through the night. So there wasn't much time to sleep. We would play cards sometimes though, when it was quite."
Many people now associate the Home Guard with the 1960s and 70s TV comedy series Dad's Army. However Mr Wheaton wasn't too impressed by show.
"That Dad's Army didn't do us any favours" he says "The Home Guard wasn't a joke. It was serious. You had to do what you were told - we were under normal army rules. And it was heavy and hot work much of the time. We had a lot of respect from the people in the area."
Mr Wheaton says that although he would have liked to have gone off to war like his brothers and many of his friends, he feels proud to have served in the British Home Guard.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Barking and Dagenham Post. Click the link in the orange box above for details.