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L Hinds

(Chemistry, 1943-1945, 1948-49)
Regales of perils of digging trenches in the Royal Parks

During World War II some of us spent time on the little-known Home Guard Anti-Aircraft controlling the rocket projectors in Hyde Park.

Worthing, 1995There were sixty-four rocket projectors, each carrying two rocket-propelled three-inch shells. Perhaps the rockets frightened the German raiders and made them stay above our ‘ceiling’ of 20,000 ft. but as far as we were concerned our one-night-every-eight duties could have filmed for ‘Dad’s Army’ – except it was all done in total darkness! After all, we were only yards from London’s Park Lane and I found it difficult to feel threatened. We did hear shrapnel – mailing from conventional anti-aircraft batteries – slamming into the mud or clanging on the projectors. I protected myself by disobeying orders and putting the steel shield over your head instead of at 45 degrees (as you were supposed to do) to ensure I was covered!

Another danger in the Home Guards was if one of the two rockets misfiring. This occurred as the second shell fuse could be started ticking by the blast of the first rocket. After 20 seconds the shell would go off, two feet from your head, even if you had shouted ‘Misfire!’ and stood your ground as ordered. I had a private arrangements with my No. 2 that if we got one misfire, we would run like hell and if nothing happened, creep back a few minutes later, hoping we could find our projector in the inky darkness!

The episode that was most like ‘Dad’s army’ than anything else was in four acts; one night the site was inspected by a senior Army Officer. “where are your ground defences?” he said, “you need to dig slit trenches”. We had no small arms anyway but the next night the fresh Home Guard racketeers dug slit trenches to defend the site from attack – in Hyde Park!

The next night bought a completely new set of chaps. When the air-raid siren went off everybody poured out of their huts to find their projectors, in pitch darkness, as usual. Inevitably, more than one fell into the slit trenches and one broke his leg. At the enquiry it was pointed out that the slit trenches were necessary for ground defence but there was no answer to the question: “What? In central London?!” The next night the trenches were filled in!

  © 2007 Imperial College London

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