Teacher’s 1940 diary conjures up uncertainty and boredom of doing your bit on the home front

Hemel Hempstead Home Guard  with spigot mortar on Harrison's Moor, Boxmoor.
Hemel Hempstead Home Guard with spigot mortar on Harrison's Moor, Boxmoor.

Anyone familiar with the opening credits of TV sitcom Dad’s Army will have a basic understanding of the early days of the Second World War.

After the German forces swept through France in June 1940, followed by the miraculous evacuation of British land forces from Dunkirk, mainland Europe was controlled by the Nazis. The Battle of France was over, and the Battle of Britain was about to begin.

One consequence of the imminent threat of invasion was the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), later known as the Home Guard.

At the beginning of June 1940, Ernest Maurer, born in Sheffield in 1906, took a post at Corner Hall Senior School in Hemel Hempstead, teaching English and commerce.

Ernest sent regular and descriptive letters home to his fiancée, who was teaching in Sheffield during the war.

To aid the war effort, Ernest joined the local LDV and the following are extracts from his letters.

June 24: “The train was very busy and there were people standing in the corridor for quite a good part of the way….

“We went along merrily until we reached Berkhamsted.

“I told you about machine gun posts, well, here the road was barricaded, just a narrow gap left and we were held up by the military, about half a dozen soldiers with fixed bayonets, who stopped everything and asked to see identity cards.

“It is apparently a regular practice on the main roads around here. I don’t know what happens if you haven’t got your card…”

June 30: “Another quiet night. This morning we had an LDV parade and things were sorted out a bit more.

“The squad has now been split into two sections, so we shall not be on duty so often.

“Our ‘post’ is in the corner of a field with an old barn where things are stored, a few fruit trees and usually a couple of horses grazing – very rural.

“It is at a crossroads and we have a sandbagged dugout affair to shoot through if necessary.

“Also we have to take turns to man one of these road barriers examining identity cards…Are you still turning out for the ARP? It is a lovely hot day again…”

July 2: “This marvellous summer continues. I suppose it will just about decide to pour on Thursday night – that is my night on duty at Piccotts End.

“If there is an air raid warning, we have to turn out and trot up to our Bury Hill post and deal with Goering or anybody else who happens to be around…

“I have not found ‘playing at soldiers’ at all tiring yet, as I have not lost any sleep, and if an air raid does come, it will be much better to have something to do instead of just sitting about here doing nothing…”

August 4: “I have got the trousers towards my uniform now. The rest will be coming in instalments.

“We are officially part of the army now, so I am liable to be shot at dawn if I do not behave myself!”

September 16: “Tonight, I have been helping to dish out boots to the Home Guard.

“If this war only lasts long enough, I may get my full equipment!”

September 17: “I heard this morning that a bomb fell in the next road and flattened four houses…

“Another dropped a bit further on and demolished a solitary cottage which was quite pretty, and another made a hole in the park.

“Two people have died from the effects and there are about ten injured, which I think is amazing, as the houses are just heaps of rubble…”

The letters go on to cover the Blitz, air raid shelters, constant air raid warnings and the effect on school lessons, and have been published by Dacorum Heritage Trust in a booklet, Local Home Guard Experiences of Ernest Maurer, by Freda Maurer.