DES Davidson from Shepperton has contacted me about my column describing the activities of the Upper Thames Patrol, a branch of the Home Guard during the Second World War, who were given the responsibility of defending the locks, weirs and bridges on the river.
Des, 86, who lives in Wadham Close, tells me that the piece brought back all kinds of memories of his own time with the patrol.
He said: “I remember I lived in Sunbury at the beginning of the war and I joined the Local Defence Volunteers at Sunbury police station in June 1940. Me and a couple of pals, who also lived in the village, were told to guard Shepperton Lock which we did a couple of times a week by cycling down there from home.”
But for those who might be thinking that life for the lads of the Upper Thames Patrol was a breeze compared with those on the front line, Des has a salutary tale to tell about a German air raid that took place on November 29 1940.
“At around 9pm me and Home Guard colleague Noel Dunthorne were cycling to duty at Shepperton Lock after a couple of beers at the Magpie pub when the Luftwaffe dropped a stick of bombs on Sunbury which set fire to some haystacks at Miskins Farm in what was then Watersplash Road. I was friendly with the farmer, Mr Miskin and his daughter, Bim, so we went to see if we could help them fight the blaze.
“Another load of bombs came down including more incendiaries one of which exploded as I was trying to extinguish it and my left foot was quite badly injured. I ended up being taken to the Salvation Army headquarters in Sunbury which was being used as a casualty clearing centre. Eventually, in the early hours of November 30, an ambulance took me to Ashford Hospital. Mind you by then the fog was so dense with a combination of weather and smoke that someone had to walk in front of the ambulance for the entire journey. I ended up staying in hospital for three months.”
Des recalls that several people died in the raids which also destroyed several houses, shops and the original Running Horse pub.
Another UTP veteran is Denis Andrews, who now lives in Shepperton, but who recalled that at the age of 15, he also joined the patrol as a member of the division covering the stretch of the river between Teddington and Kingston and spent much of his time guarding Teddington Lock.
He said: “We used to be on duty from 7pm until 6am which was a long old spell but we felt we were doing our bit for the war effort.”
Denis also recalled that life in the UTP could have its dangers.
“We were sitting in our headquarters building at Turk’s in Kingston and one member of the group, Corporal Walker, was unloading his rifle when it went off and the flash from the muzzle burnt my coat. The bullet must have missed me by inches,” he said.
Thanks for sharing those memories, Des and Denis.