I’ll describe the marvellous institution of Cluttons of 1940 in detail elsewhere, but refer to it here to set the scene of the Westminster Home Guard. Someone misguidedly told me that going to university during the war was a waste of time, with evacuation the degree would be worthless and I would probably be called up halfway through the course. WRONGGGG!! But the decision was made and I was articled as a Valuation Surveyor to Cluttons. – the most august Surveyors in Britain, The building, near the Victoria Tower at Westminster, of redbrick and cream sandstone, is at least 150 years old. That first day is impossible to describe – the transformation from the schoolboy to the worker The building itself had a faint aroma of polish and leather bindings, not unpleasant, which imparted a feeling of familiarity. There was a little self-contained flat at the top of the building, where ‘Skipper’, the Janitor lived with his wife. Skipper was ex- regular army. His additional duty was to train the section of Home Guard which had been formed from members of staff and a few from other offices. Sam Clutton, a Partner, was the officer in charge and actually had converted a Rolls Royce into a troop carrier, for us, his little band of followers. We paraded in the basement like ‘Dad’s Army’, had bayonet practice and the sergeant’s description, instructions and logistics were so bloody and graphical, I opted for the Navy on the spot. In the office basement Skipper had erected a firing range and had fitted some 1914/18 0.303 rifles with Morse tubes so we could fire 0.22 ammunition. The basement ran some considerable distance under the building so we were able to lie, kneel, stand and fire at targets which were stationary and moving. Apart from the odd exercise, the visit to see the Northover Projector and standing guard on Buckingham Palace our duties were mainly to swell the numbers of the Grenadier Guards in blockhouses round Westminster.
THE VERY ODD HOME GUARD EXERCISE Our office platoon, of the Westminster Battalion, had to perform exercises, which could take place in parks, on Wimbledon Common, anywhere. Of them all this was the oddest. They generally consisted of creeping about in an ill-fitting uniform with an empty rifle, drinking tea at an all night stall with big wedges of sandwiches and /or a pink and white coconut cake to fill the corners, and riding in the back of the Rolls. However, one night we were told we were going to enter into an ‘exercise’ with another HG unit from, I believe, Transport House. The idea was we would be the invading army and were to attack HQ, which was to be Transport House, while they, the enemy defending Transport House, would stop us. I used to play games like that when I was in short trousers I forget the details but several things stand out clearly; there were no ground rules laid down about how the sortie was to be carried out, we were formed into groups of about four and sent out to follow different routes. We set off. Half way between our office and theirs, standing in the centre of a square, was a church that had recently been severely bombed. My mate and I, with a couple of others, started walking towards our objective and it soon dawned on us that there was absolutely no hope of passing undetected in those streets unless one could hide. There were a few buildings with steps leading down to a basement entrance, but they were traps for sure. Then we saw the church. Immediately we realised that if we could climb into the half-torn bell-tower and stay there undetected, the defenders would pass us by, which is exactly what happened, although our perches were precarious, to say the least, and today the Health and Safety Act would preclude soldiers from being allowed to take cover like that for merely a practice, We duly arrived at our goal and said that we had captured it. This was obvious as there was only one man there manning a telephone, and there were four of us. When we retired to the basement of our office we felt pretty satisfied with our evening’s work.
During the following week all hell broke loose. We thought we were going to be praised for initiative and inventiveness, instead we were castigated by the powers-that-were for not playing to rules they had thought up after we had beaten the enemy, though not by Sir, who agreed that we were right. The British Military seem to be totally crazy and have strange ideas about war. I sometime wonder if it has dawned on them even now, as it seems to have done on most other nations, that the idea is to kill the other side by any means at all and not get our own chaps killed at all – after all dead is dead. I often think they have always had it the other way round – ‘it’s not cricket, old man, to hide in a church.