Jennospot 12 Home Guard Boating
Durin’ the war, most of the men (them wot was mostly young an’ fit any’ow) got called up ter fight in the Army. Them wot was left over, granddads, cripples, the ‘alf blind, an’ such loike, ‘ad ter go inter a sorta part-time army wot was called the ‘Home Guard’. They used ter run around doin’ manoeuvres, an’ such, an’ ‘elpin’ out the police. Oi remember one toime when they ‘ad ter ‘elp the police wiv a search in the river. This is ‘ow Peter described the beginnin’ of it:
We saw two uniformed Home Guard men with a hand-cart coming down the hill in front of the Parish Hall. The cart was carrying a bulky load that protruded a long way over both ends of the cart. The two men were having difficulty controlling the awkward vehicle on the steep slope.
I recognised the Home Guard members as Mr Earthy, a fellow singer in the church choir, and the elderly Mr Hibberd. I wondered who was looking after Mr Hibberd's general store in The Street while he was on Home Guard duty. Probably it was closed.
‘Hello Mr Earthy,’ I called. ‘Why didn't you use your lorry instead of the cart?’
‘Got no more petrol left— won't get any more for another week yet. Used up all my ration, Oi did, after that bombin' up by your way. Mr Hibberd here kindly said as how we could use his cart.’
They stopped the cart and Mr Hibberd took off his cap to wipe his forehead.
‘What do those three marks on your sleeve mean, Mr Earthy?’
Mr Earthy looked proudly down at his arm.
‘Them's moi sergeant's stripes. Mr Hibberd here has two— for corporal.’
Mr Hibberd nodded and gazed at me short-sightedly through thick spectacles: ‘Which means that on duty— like now— I have to do what he says; but not otherwise. Aye— mostly it's otherwise.’
‘Come on Bill,’ said Mr Earthy. ‘Pull. We haven't got all day.’
‘It's my cart. I'll pull when you start to push.’
They got their awkward load under way again but stopped at the gate leading to the towpath and exchanged a self-conscious salute with the sentry on guard duty there. They trundled the cart through the gate, lifted off its long flat load and laid it down on the grass.
‘Looks like a weird sort of raft,’ I said to Winnie.
‘I can see four paddles,’ she said.
‘Wouldn't want to go out on the river with that. It’d tip up at the least movement.’
‘No, look— they're unfolding it. It's all joined together by canvas. It's a sort of boat. They're putting boards in for seats or something.’
The three men appeared to be having difficulty, however, in fitting the boat together. No sooner did one part seem correct than another would collapse.
‘Let's go over and help them,’ I said. ‘They might tell us what they are going to do with it.’
We ran down to the gate giving on to the towpath but Mr Earthy saw us coming. ‘You can't come in by here,’ he said somewhat sharply. ‘Stay you out on the road.’ He then relented a little. ‘Oi'm sorry,’ he said, ‘but we've got roight strict orders. Nobody can come down on the towpath without official permission. We're doin' military manoeuvres between here an' Spruffton— could be dangerous for the public.’
‘Military manoeuvres my foot,’ I replied. ‘Come off it Mr Earthy. We know very well you're working with the police search. What are you going to do with the boat?’
‘That Oi can't be tellin' you. Official secrets you know. You wouldn't hardly want the Germans to get their hands on what we’re looking for, would you?’
‘The Germans Mr Earthy?’ said Winnie. ‘More likely you mean some scabby Englishmen who would be more than happy to get their thieving hands on it.’
‘Aye lass— you're not wrong there. It's just that Oi'm not at liberty to be tellin' you so. But if you're a mite wise, you'll stay away from the river for a day or two. An' be sure you tell your friends the same.
‘Oi've got to go now. We've got to be gettin' this here boat into the water and test it so's we can start searchin' the bottom tomorrow when them buckets get here. Remember what I told you now. Keep away from the river.’
(Gang Rivalry chapter 3)