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Charles Toase interview: Father in the Home Guard

I understand your father was in the Home Guard. Can you tell us something about it?

Yes, he joined the Home Guard as soon as it was formed. It was called the Local Defence Unit, I think, or Local Defence Volunteers. As soon as there was an appeal from them he joined, that was the Home Guard in Wimbledon. Because he had had some experience after the First World War when British troops went out to Palestine, he had been in the Signals. So he was promptly appointed second in command of the Wimbledon Home Guard Signals unit. Signals in those days were mostly telephones and motor bikes rather than radio. I got involved – I shouldn’t have done, as a schoolboy – but I went out with him laying telephone lines across Wimbledon. It was great fun climbing over the fences of people’s back gardens and so on, linking up St George’s Road with King’s College School and that sort of thing. I have given some of his records to the Museum.   

The Signals unit was based in St George’s Road. The Home Guard was based in the Drill Hall in St George’s Road but the Signals were opposite in one of the tall houses that then belonged to Ely’s and were used as their staff accommodation. In the basement of that were the Home Guard Signals. They also had motor bike dispatch riders which was another means of communication and anyone in the Home Guard who had a motor bike and could ride it was recruited into that.

One of my memories is of my father doing a mock call out, anticipating an invasion as was expected then. Sitting in our living room in the house in Cambridge Road, Father would ring the telephone exchange which was manual then – no dialing and there was an operator you spoke to – telling them to clear all lines, which he had the authority to do, and ringing various people in the Home Guard who had telephones – which not very many people did then. They then got on to other members who didn’t have phones and on to people with motor bikes who went round and collected people and they all assembled like that. That was what would have happened in the case of a German invasion.

Fortunately it never came to that and it was just the practice. But I was very impressed as a schoolboy hearing my father who had the authority to do this sort of thing. To clear the telephone exchange of all other calls was really rather impressive.  The Signals were very much dependent on such telephone lines as had been laid and also simply on motor bikes.

At that time there was not only the Home Guard but there had been the Blitz of firebombs on the City of London and there were a lot of worries about this from the beginning of the war. It had been anticipated because I can remember one of the earliest things we had were stirrup pumps where you had a little pump which you worked with your foot to squirt water in the case of fire. But the firebombs that the Germans produced were much more dangerous than that and they rained them down on the City and did a great deal of damage. So a system of Fire Guards was set up and everyone who worked in the City and most other places had to do a turn of duty staying overnight at their place of work watching out for the firebombs. Father did that because he worked in the City of London and then he had the Home Guard as well. He also had his normal full-time job too so we didn’t see a great deal of him as a result.