John Bailey

Recollections of wartime service in the Home Guard and the Navy.

The Home Guard

John was born in 1925 and was a teenager when the Second World War broke out. Initially he lived in Charlton where the bombing and air raids were heavy, although he adjusted to this. The relatives whom he lived with were unable to care for John – subsequently he moved to the Oval where he lived with other family members.

John wished to join up but was not old enough and his application was initially rejected. He received advice from the Ministry of Labour and was apprenticed as an engineer. However, John persevered and was eventually accepted into the Home Guard, where he was able to contribute to the war effort at a local level. They were not assigned weapons – instead he was given a broomstick! John was attached to the Brixton Home Guard – exact numbers of Home Guard stations are difficult to estimate as prior to the formation of the General London Council, there were approximately 127 local parishes.

Service life in the Navy

In 1942 John joined the Navy – he had told recruiters that he was older than he was and aged 17 he was posted to the Mediterranean. John had considered that the Navy would be the safest option but he changed his mind when he boarded the ship and witnessed the guns firing. He served in the Motor Convoys and recalls one particular battle when the fleet had moved into position to take on the remnants of the French fleet. John remembers that there was some tension between French and British forces after France was occupied by German troops, although this is not widely discussed. John also served at Trieste. The ship was small and much of the labour which he undertook was manual. He travelled to numerous islands and assisted with mopping up small pockets of German and Italian resistance. The Navy was constantly under threat from the German Air Force and was frequently bombed.

Shifting perceptions

John feels that some of the civilian negative sentiment which was directed at the RAF was unfair as they were accused of failing to undertake their duties effectively. However, John recalls that the bombs which fell were ‘out of this world’ – the RAF was also in danger and had to take this into consideration. John recalls that perceptions were continually altering throughout the course of the war, particularly after the Battle of Britain.

A more unpleasant side of British society

John also recalls the more unpleasant side of British society, which he witnessed when he served in the Home Guard. This counteracted many of the rosy images which were designed to boost British morale and were reinforced through popular propaganda. Whilst the majority were law abiding, John feels that if an area had a poor reputation it attracted more civilians exhibiting unscrupulous behaviour which exacerbated the problem. John feels that given the circumstances this is perhaps somewhat inevitable.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 05/04/2012.