Excerpts from a talk given at the Bygone Days Exhibition in the Victory Hall, Lapford, on Friday 21st January 2000 by Mr Bill Manning.
A skilled farmworker of years ago could plough a field, make a hedge, make a load of hay or corn, thatch a rick, and make the spars to thatch the rick. The skills today are more if you can drive a tractor with one hand and operate the hydraulic lift with the other. The pride is not there now. In the old days the horses were kept well, clean, their harnesses shone. Nowadays people take delivery of their tractors and they don’t see a drop of water until it is scrapped.
Regarding Mr Chamberlain returning from Munich with a piece of paper waving “Peace In Our Time” – The war came about because of some obsolete treaty with Poland. The biggest disappointment in the early days was the sinking of the Royal Oak. The first things we became aware of at the start of the war were the blackouts and the factory air raid siren. It used to go off at 8 o’clock every Monday morning for a practice. Lorries from the Ambrosia factory all went off at night to various places, some went to Eggesford Forest and were parked amongst the trees.
The first we saw of Dunkirk were train loads of troops passing through on their way to Barnstaple but we didn’t know at the time what was going on. I suppose that was when the LDV was formed. This later became the Home Guard. One of our first duties was to set up roadblocks. We went to Bury Cross. Two lorries were there in the lay-by. I think there were about three of us there and by some means we had a Lee Enfield rifle with about five rounds. Our instructions from the Captain were “Stop them all, get them out, open the boot, and if they won’t stop let them have it!” I don’t think we saw more than one or two cars anyway. No one back then had any petrol. One poor fellow said he had been stopped about eight times coming from Barnstaple.
The other thing was the church bells were silenced at that time. All signposts were removed so it was very difficult to find your way around in daylight let alone at night.
I cannot remember the sequence but somewhere along the line we began to get a little weaponry and uniforms. We had no blanks for our mock battles but a string of snaps. We used the old school as a drill hall. Mr. Runciman was our Captain, Mr Parish our Lieutenant, and Company Sergeant Major Rice visited from Chulmleigh. Our Area Commander was Major Rodwell from Morchard Bishop. The clothing store was a shed which has recently been pulled down just opposite the entrance to Vine Cottage. The bomb store was an Anderson shelter past Pope’s Lane in the quarry on the right. Grenades weren’t primed.
You could lob them about thirty yards. We used to lob them into the quarry. Their fuses were seven seconds I think. One of our chaps hit the overhanging branches. We used to do all our square bashing in the hall and occasionally some target practice with a .22 rifle. The .22s carry a mile. Sometimes in the summer we went out into the fields, up against a hedge. Friday night was drill night. We had two dispatch riders, various defence positions. We had dug out one in the corner of the school field along Eastington Road and another behind the hedge near the vets’ surgery. We did finally get ten rounds each. Occasionally the bus arrived to take us to the range at Chulmleigh with the butts, shelters, and 4’ targets along the back of the hill. Markers would be there with a white disc on a pole to show us where our bullets struck. We might have been firing from 300 yards, more likely it was about 200 yards. The World War rifles weighed about 11 lbs. Not all were made by Enfield. Towards the end we had a day out at Saunton Sands, where we practised firing our weapons and bomb-throwing mortars under Army instruction.
There were two Platoons in Lapford, one in the village and one at Ambrosia. There was such a rivalry between the two that I think, if we had been invaded, we’d have been fighting each other instead of the Germans.
There were four Home Guards patrolling the village at night until danger of invasion had passed.