A story passed down
Updated: Apr 28
Julia Bluett's family lived in Higher Denham from the 1930s to 1980. Her father, Bill Raynham, worked at Denham Film Studios and during the second World War he was a member of the local Home Guard.
In 1995 William wrote an account of his time with the Home Guard for his granddaughter for a school project. He died in 1997 in Cornwall. Julia and her sister have kept his story and have now invited us to publish it saying that they know that their father would have been happy to have shared it here.
1940 was a hot dry summer when the Germans under Hitler invaded France and drove out our British soldiers with grievous losses.
Nearly half a million men were rescued from the Dunkirk beaches and brought back to England across the channel by a great fleet of small ships, many provided and manned by private owners.
I saw some of these soldiers waving from the trains that passed through Denham Station – their uniforms hanging from the train windows to dry as they were transported to camps inland.
The country was in grave danger of invasion and Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, broadcast an appeal on the radio to the public for men to go to the nearest Police Station and volunteer to join a force that was to be called the Local Defence Volunteers.
I was working on night shifts at Denham Studios and when I finished at 7 am I cycled to Denham Police Station which consisted of a wooden hut on the Oxford Road.
I saw the sergeant on duty, explaining that I had called to join the Local Defence Volunteers. He said that he had heard no broadcast and asked his mate if he had. He said no as well. After sometime they reluctantly agreed to take my name and address and I got on my bike and rode home for breakfast and sleep.
I always did believe that I was the first man in Denham to join the LDV.
Sometime later I was enrolled and given an armband inscribed LDV. They said “if you have a gun bring it with you”. Some chaps had air rifles and one had a 410. I bought an old double-barrelled 12 bore shotgun which was looked upon with disfavour by the old soldiers. (Bill Raynham is in the middle row of his Home Guard Group second from the right. Anyone recognise other members of the group ?)
However, it was put to good use later when we produced rabbits and an occasional hare shot during night patrols on Denham Golf Course. The Golf Course was high up and we could look down on all the surrounding countryside and even see the lights of London.
Uniforms and equipment were slow in coming and when it did it was a varied collection of items, some had half a uniform and some didn’t fit. Eventually all were fitted out and ready for action. There was a great shortage of guns and rifles and the first rifle I was issued with was the Ross self-loading. This was soon changed to the American P40. Ammunition was scarce – only 5 rounds per rifle at first. By this time the title LDV had passed away to be renamed the Home Guard.
We were quartered in many and varied places, unoccupied houses, one was an empty restaurant, the Village Hall, then Lord Vansittart’s cellars (Lord Vansittart owned a big mansion surrounded by acres of garden and a 10 foot high brick wall).
We spent the night in these places and then came home or went to work. These duties came about twice a week. Apart from this it was rifle drill, parades and field exercises.
We also manned a concrete pillbox above Martin Baker’s which made and still makes aircraft parts, especially the ejector seat, and as such was a very important German target. Four of us slept there once a week in rotation.
There was one young chap who was always up to mischief and had been warned about the misuse of his gun. One night as he climbed into his bunk in the pillbox he managed to discharge a round inside. That bullet ricocheted several times around the walls without touching any of us. Needless to say he never came near us again.
Other nights were spent in a hut on the Golf Course. From here one could see the anti aircraft activities and bombs falling in the distance.
One night while two of us patrolled the Golf Course a low flying German plane came over and did a bomb run over Denham Studios. The plane dropped a lot of incendiaries and set fire to the offices and theatres. We could have shot that plane down. We had a Lewis machine gun on a tripod – but no bullets! It was bright moon light and we could see the barrage balloons in the distance over London.
Sunday mornings were the time for major exercises and I call to mind one in particular. Our section was instructed to drive out an “enemy” who had got into Denham Village and was supposedly setting fire to the buildings. Many others were engaged in rounding them up and forcing them up towards the Oxford Road. We were followed up by the old Denham Studios Fire Engine – a monster Leyland with solid tyres and manned by the Auxiliary Fire Service. The exercise was finished outside the Plough Inn (which was not unusual) and many thirsty souls made their way to the bar for well-earned refreshments.
As a grand finale, the Fire Engine left the pub on its return to its base at the Studios. The driver failed to negotiate a corner and it ploughed through Lord Vansittart’s boundary wall and came to a halt in the well maintained gardens.
Thankfully no one was injured and the fire engine seemed none the worse for wear. I don’t know who paid for the wall. Perhaps it was deemed War Damage!
Denham Home Guard supplied by Julia Bluett
Sir Anthony Eden - Walter Stoneman, via Wikimedia Commons Images
Invasion of France - Wikimedia Commons Images
Pillbox - Gaius Cornelius, via Wikimedia Commons Images
Lewis machine gun - Frank Hurley, via Wikimedia Commons