Private Pike and the Pevensey Home Guard


The sergeant-major of a visiting regiment joined with three home Guards in staging a four-man Commando raid on the French coast. They had been having a lively party at the New Inn, and after closing time they went down to the beaches, where they set sail in a small rowing boat. They carried with them Sten guns, rifles, ammunition and a quantity of beer. But the expedition was thwarted. The boat was only about a mile out to sea when in was caught in the beams of a searchlight.”


This story comes from a pamphlet called These Aged Walls, an

account of the Pevensey Home Guard. The pamphlet (given to us by David Brook, the local historian) tells how the locals were swift to join the new organization in 1940.  Some locals were in the New Inn (now called The Smugglers) listening to the radio when they heard that a force of Local Defence Volunteers was to be formed. At exactly that moment a policeman arrived with application forms. Men signed up on the spot, led by Lieutenant A G Read, who soon commanded the Pevensey Platoon.


Lieutenant Read owned and managed the Saxon Nurseries at Hankham, but devoted a considerable part of his life to the Home Guard. He was assisted by his Intelligence officer, Mr A E Bodle of the New Inn. Read's first task (in May 1940) was to prepare to defend the area “from Rockers Brook to Langney Point with indents to Ha

ilsham. For this purpose his platoon was given ten old type rifles and a hundred rounds of ammunition. In those days there were regular stand-tos and the volunteers spent long house – often as much as sixty or seventy hours a week – on service.”  In addition to his ten rifles, Lieutenant Read built a stockpile of Molotov cocktails. Soon, however, the Pevensey guard were equipped with proper weapons: they were, after all, in the front line.

An important role in the early days was to provide local knowledge to regular troops. Pevensey Castle was put under the control of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. The locals were briefed “to act as scouts and guides for the castle garrison. Two local men were always on hand, men who knew the marshes like no others in the country, and under their surveillance the DCLIs set out to map the locality, and plan the intricate system of defence.”

The DCLI, of course, transformed the castle into a stronghold by building modern pillboxes into the fabric of the ancient walls. And from an early stage the local Home Guard was given a full role in manning the defences. “For two hours at sundown and again at dawn trained soldiers and Home Guards manned the defence positi

ons at action stations. Rifles were loaded and held at the ready.”

Later on the castle was used by Canadian troops preparing for the Dieppe raid, but the Home Guard were still active. They had their familiar role of patrolling the bridges and railways. In particular they were concerned that the Germans should not sabotage the radar station at Wartling.

Our picture of the Home Guard is, of course, coloured by Dad's Army. There were mock battles held for training purposes which would do credit to Captain Mainwaring:

Once a whole division of Canadians attacked and be sheer weight of numbers managed to get inside thee Keep, where the defenders were always in command of a good stock of beer. Have a drink said the Home Guard to the “conquerors”. The Canadians accepted. “Right” said Lieut. Read to the umpire. “That beer was poisoned. Now what about it?” The Home Guard won that battle.

There are some other hints of the TV program: the ancient Private Godfrey  may have his counterpart in Pevensey's Private Waterhouse, a man of 86 who lied about his age in order to qualify for the Guard. Best of all, the long list of Pevensey Home Guards  includes one Private A C Pike.

We may have a picture of the Home Guard as consisting of old men and young boys. It is worth remembering that many of the volunteers were men in their early middle-age who had been on active service twenty years before. Our Private Pike,  is undoubtedly  the A C Pike of Pevensey Bay,  who had  served in the Great War with the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire regiment. These men were too old to be storming beaches, but had the experience and temperament to man the defences. All of them went on duty each day with the understanding that the invasion might begin on their watch.

The pamphlet says that “when the platoon was visited by Mr Churchill, in 1940, he agreed that it was one of the best in the country.” This is an extraordinary claim, which is not remembered locally.

One memory which is shared, however, concerns Lieutenant Read. “At six o clock one morning Lieutenant Read, firing a light machine gun, succeeded in hitting a German aeroplane returning fron a raid on London. The plane fell but the Home Guard of Pevensey was never officially credited with its “kill.”



 The black and white photograph (which is not in Pevensey) shows WWI veterans joining the Local Defence Volunteers. It is reproduced courtesy of the Imperial War Musem.






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