When Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941 Churchill had ordered defensive measures against an invasion of England to be stepped up. If Russia collapsed as quickly as the Germans expected then an invasion in the autumn of 1941 looked likely. That threat had now passed but it still seemed very likely that Soviet Russia would be overcome and that there would be a very real threat of invasion in 1942.
At 39 Richard Brown was too old for military service and as an engineer he was engaged in building defence equipment for submarines. Like many men of his generation he was a member of the Home Guard, the part-time volunteer force that would augment the regular Army in the event of invasion. On the 6th December 1941 he took part in an exercise when the Ipswich Home Guard had to defend the town against an ‘enemy force’ that attacked in Bren gun carriers, representing tanks. Richard Brown was manning the telephone exchange but he saw enough to get an impression of how effective the Home Guard might have been:
I got the first report through the report centre and had to wait 32 minutes before finding the six available lines disengaged and had express reports waiting too. While hanging on I heard the police had nobbled a fifth-columnist officer and had arrested him.
He yelled to two passing carriers who rescued him firing blank rifle shots. The police tried to truncheon one stopped carrier and I could stand the other chaps’ comments no longer. I dropped the damn phone, and my sense of duty, and had a glimpse in time to see the police attack repelled by rifle and revolver fire. One poor devil had a blank charge in the eye at about 1 ft range, and came to our post half-blinded.
The carrier passed, reports came in and eventually I got through to report centre. That seems a weakness which has been shown up very well. They must have more than six lines to deal with a blitz. I think there were 800 incidents over the whole weekend.
I came home to tea at 1715 hr and returned at 1800 hr to find the post surrounded, the enemy in charge and established at the Royal George, sentries along Sidegate Lane and Colchester Road with Brens in gateways and a soup kitchen in Bertie Beechener’s driveway. Our phone was officially out of order so we were instructed to man the post with two wardens till further instructions and discharge the others.
Was due on again at 1400 hr but found the post locked and the exercise over, and wasn’t sorry. I heard later that the enemy actually captured the post after we left at 0800 hr and made the wardens prisoners, even marching one over from along Colchester Road.
They couldn’t get out except by taking off their denims, coats and helmets and promising to take no further action in the affair, so I escaped something. Wasn’t sorry, having spent 11 hours there out of 20, and was real glad of a bath.