DURING the Second World War, people from all walks of life did their bit for the country in whatever ways they could – among them, helping to protect key installations like locks, bridges and weirs on the River Thames as members of the Upper Thames Patrol (UTP).
Herald reader Simon Plummer from Queensway, Lower Sunbury learned that his grandfather Reg Plummer was a member of the patrol – which was part of the Local Defence Volunteers (later the Home Guard) – and he wondered whether I could shed some light on the waterborne activities of this force.
Simon said: “my grandad, who was born in 1900, moved to Staines in 1939 at the outbreak of the war and joined the Laleham Home Guard. He spent some time with the river patrol covering the stretch between Shepperton and Penton Hook. He recalled that he and his pal, Sewell, spent time fishing during their duty nights! Later on, the patrol erected posts in the river to try to prevent landings by float planes. They way he talked about it made it sound just like Dad’s Army – but there was always a serious element to it.”
“But that’s really all I know about his wartime exploits. Like many people of his generation, he didn’t seem terribly keen on talking about what he did during the war.”
Okay, Simon, well hopefully I can fill in some of the blanks – and perhaps other readers can assist as well.
The Upper Thames Patrol was given the responsibility of guarding installations on the non-tidal Thames all the way from Teddington to Lechlade with the river divided into different sections. The part between Shepperton and Staines was the responsibility of the 31st Middlesex Battalion of the Home Guard and the patrol made use of privately-owned motor boats and cabin cruisers that were co-opted for wartime service.
The UTP’s primary role was to ensure that bridges, locks, weirs, pumping stations and the like were safe from enemy attack and to achieve that the 1,082 men involved had the princely number of 474 rifles and a few hand grenades – one wonders what might have happened if the German Wehrmacht had actually landed on the river!
Apart from their defence role, the patrol were also responsible for ensuring that moored boats were immobilised and that the blackout was strictly enforced along their stretch of the river. Any chink of light would reflect on the water providing valuable information to German bombers.
Peter Bailey from the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society and Ralph Parsons from Spelthorne Museum have both been most helpful in providing background information.
Peter (who kindly provided some of the photographs to illustrate this article) told me the UTP covering Shepperton to Staines was based in a Nissen hut at Chertsey Lock. Ralph, meanwhile, recalled that the UTP used to keep one of their boats in a backwater off the Thames close to what is now Woodhaw off The Causeway by the Runnymede M25 bridge.