The Jersey Militia in World War 2

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This article by H M Vatcher was first published in the 1951 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The organisation of the Militia which we had in 1939 was quite different from previous establishments. It was in 1928 that the old form of conscription, which had persisted through more than three and a half centuries, was abandoned for voluntary service, and all costs of the force in which the British Government had previously assisted, were thrown upon the States. And so a force with an establishment of some 250 men, divided into a headquarters, a rifle company and a machine gun company, all volunteers, was formed, and, as previously enrolled for the defence of the Island only.

I may say that in spite of all efforts the scheme was only a partial success, owing to the impossibility of getting sufficient recruits. Arms and equipment were good. People used to say to me "Of what use is the Militia?" and I used to reply "In time of war it can be used to guard vital points. It is a cadre and we endeavour to train men so that on expanding we would have ready-made officers and non-commissioned officers; but in the event of France being occupied by an enemy I doubt if it could do very much." And so it turned out, almost as I had said.

Although the force was small, all ranks were exceedingly keen, and in addition to their two weeks training the lads spent many evenings at their arsenals throughout the year trying to fit themselves for the task which lay ahead of them.

Mobilisation order

On 1 September 1939 orders were received to mobilize the Battalion and all ranks were warned to report to their respective arsenals the following morning for medical inspection and the drawing of arms and equipment. It assembled at the Town Arsenal in the afternoon and marched to Fort Regent, where it was quartered until the demilitarisation of the Island. Conditions at Fort Regent were not good when we took it over, but improvements were made as time went on, and on the whole I think it was the best headquarters available for the work to be done.

The Battalion's role was to provide guards for vital points at the Airport, Plemont, Fliquet, and the Harbour, with anti-aircraft posts at Fort Regent and South Hill. It also had to provide a mobile platoon available to strike at a moment's notice in any part of the Island. The Battalion then settled down to a life of extreme regularity and almost monotony. On account of the shortage of numbers, we were hard put to it to fulfil the necessary complement of guards. The men were very hard worked and we aimed at each man doing one night on guard and two in bed, but in the winter of 1939/1940, on account of sickness, men were getting only every other night in bed.

There was no leave, and we could only allow one sleeping-out pass per man once in about seven weeks. The feeding was done by a contractor (Orviss), who did it well, but we suffered later on by our lack of knowledge in running our own messing.

The German attack on the Low Countries opened on 10 May 1940, and by June the Hun was beginning to overrun France and was causing considerable anxiety. On 10 June orders were received to put the Island in a state of defence covering the evacuation from the French coast. The machine gun school stationed in Alderney was ordered to Jersey as reinforcements, and they landed on the 17th. Machine gun posts were placed covering the bays of the Island, also two batteries of Bofors anti-aircraft guns arrived from England on a Channel ferry boat. There was great excitement everywhere, as people thought the Island was to be held, but on the night of 18-19 June orders were received that the Island was to be demilitarised and by 20 June all troops had re-embarked for England.

I took the demilitarisation order myself, as I had been spending every night at HQ for the past week, decoding on account of the shortage of staff, and was only getting about two hours sleep every night. In the morning I saw His Excellency the Lieut-Governor, Major-General J M R Harrison, and asked if the Militia might go too, as I did not wish there to be any question of us laying down our arms. He referred me to the Bailiff, who agreed that we should go. I then managed, with the help of the Staff Captain (Major Clarke), to earmark a potato ship-the good ship Hodder.

Laying up of the Militia colours

Volunteers

At 2.30 pm I paraded the battalion and explained the position. (You will remember that the force was for the defence of the Island only). I then asked those men who were willing to go over to England with me to fight, to take one pace forward. The whole Battalion then advanced one pace and automatically took up their dressing - so that was that.

Packing up then began in earnest, new clothing was issued, and the men were given a two-hours embarkation leave. During the evening I telephoned to the War Office and informed them that the Royal Militia Island of Jersey was embarking for England on the following day. I do not know which Department of the War Office I eventually managed to connect with, but anyhow it worked and when we reached England they knew all about us.

At 0800 on 20 June loading started. Everything useful was put on board, including all arms, ammunition, blankets, rations, etc, also the Regimental Colours and the Mess Plate. We also shipped three Regimental lorries and several officers' cars. It was fortunate we did so as these were our sole means of transport for the next five months. Pay was drawn from the bank and also an extra week's pay, which also was fortunate, as it took some time to arrange pay in England later on.

At 12.55 the Battalion had completed embarkation and at 1500 the Hodder sailed with 11 officers and 193 other ranks, and this was the first time in History that the Royal Militia Island of Jersey had sailed from this Island as a unit. An amusing episode happened before we sailed, when I told the captain of the Hodder to cast off, he said, "Where am I to go to, please?" I said: "I don't know, but where can you go in England?" He replied: "I have the course to Weymouth and also to Southampton," so I said: "Make Southampton, but for heaven's sake keep well out from the French coast and don't try to go up the other side of Alderney."

It was an uneventful voyage, which was a good thing, as the decks were crammed and we could hardly find room to mount the Lewis guns as anti-aircraft defence. A considerable number of civilian passengers consisting of wives and children of officers and other ranks were also on board.

Arrival in Southampton

At about 0900 21 June the Hodder dropped anchor in Southampton Water and later on drew into the docks. The Battalion disembarked and moved into a transit camp at Southampton. The men looked very smart marching through Southampton and several people remarked to me that they had not seen troops like that for some considerable time. On 24 June the Battalion moved to Golden Hill Fort in the Isle of Wight and was temporarily attached to the 50th Battalion the Hampshire Regiment.

The Home Office wired to me asking if Major L T Anthoine, my second in command, could return to Jersey to wind up his Constable's duties. He went over the same evening and was unfortunately caught by the Hun Occupation and so spent the rest of the war in a Prisoner of War Camp in Germany.

And now came a very difficult period. As the battalion was constituted for defence of the island only, it did not come into line with the Regiments of the British Army. I then managed to get an interview at the War Office through the help of Major Bonham-Carter (a relation of the Sumners of Belle Vue) and after considerable discussion it was arranged that the Battalion should be formed into the 11th (Royal Militia Island of Jersey) Battalion the Hampshire Regiment, so it still carried its designation.

There were endless problems. All officers had to be re-commissioned, the men reattested, pay and service had to be adjusted, but after considerable trouble these problems were somehow solved. We were then given an operational role and were responsible for all the high ground which runs like a backbone through the Isle of Wight. Our headquarters was first of all at a farm named Great Whitcombe, and later at Rafter's Holiday Camp, at Wootton, where we held a platoon in reserve.

Shortly after taking up our new headquarters at Wootton, Capt Crill rejoined us and took over the duties of Adjutant from Capt Voisin. Capt Crill had served in the Militia for several years and had been with us at Fort Regent, but before the Island was demilitarised had transferred to an anti-aircraft unit in England. Unfortunately he lost his life in France in the later stages of the war.

The Battalion had a very difficult time at the start as the men were living right out in the open, with no shelter whatsoever. As I said previously, the men had never cooked for themselves and at the beginning we had to obtain the assistance of the Medical Officer (Capt J J W Evans) to cut up the meat, as we thought he ought to be well fitted for the job. But very quickly everything got into shape and we managed to secure a few tents for the outposts. Some of the outposts had to be supplied with water transported in lorries during the whole time we occupied them.

On 20 July we had a visit from the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and, on behalf of His Majesty the King, he conveyed to the Commanding Officer and all ranks the best wishes of His Majesty, as follows:

King's greetings

The Lord Lieutenant of the County of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight paid a visit to Headquarters of this Unit to-day, and on behalf of His Majesty the King, conveyed to the Officer Commanding and all ranks the best wishes of His Majesty.

By August the Battalion had settled down and was working well, but we were short of many things and so was everyone else. The Battle of Britain was on. There were daily battles over our heads, often the Hun planes flew low over our heads and we got in some shooting at them. We saw Southampton and Portsmouth being bombed and often burning. We were in a state of readiness throughout the whole period and it was an extremely anxious time.

Creech Walk Camp 1941

Order of the Day

Here is a portion of General Auchinleck's Order of the Day :-

11th (RMIJ) Bn The Hampshire Regiment,
Appendix to Part I Orders dated 20 September 1940
Special order of the day by Lieut-General C J E Auchinleck
Commanding in Chief, Southern Command
1 - The enemy is said to be ready to invade this country. He seems to have enough aircraft, ships and troops to attack in strength on a wide front should he care to risk it
2 - To invade us he has first to cross the Channel in the face of continuous attack by the Navy and the RAF. He has then to land on open beaches well covered by the fire of weapons of all sorts and exposed to the attack of our bombers. His is one of the hardest tasks an army can be asked to do and he knows it. He knows, therefore, that to have any chance of success at all, he must surprise us in one way or another
3 - In his efforts to surprise us:
(a) He may choose rough weather in which to cross the Channel, hoping that we will have relaxed our guard
(b) He may try to cross by day under cover of his fighter and bomber aircraft, or under cover of fog and mist, hoping we expect him only to cross at night and attack in traditional fashion at dawn
(c) He may pass by the obvious beaches and try to land on the more difficult places, hoping that we may think them impossible for boats or that the cliffs behind them are unscalable. (Wolfe at Quebec)
(d) He may very likely use smoke and gas, or both. in the hope of blinding and confusing our forward troops and thus making their fire useless
(e) He may use gas spray against our reserves in the hope of disorganising them and preventing them from carrying out their task
(f) He is likely to use his dive bombers against our positions in the hope of paralysing us, as he did the Norwegians, Danes, Dutch, Belgians and others
(g) He is likely to use every device to get his tanks and light artillery and mortars ashore quickly, and we must expect to see large ships run aground so that he can disembark directly from them
(h) He is likely to land troops by parachute and from troop carriers in the rear of our forward troops with the object of diverting them from their proper task of preventing landings on the beaches
(i) He will try to land advanced detachments from the air or from the sea dressed in our uniforms, of which he has thousands of suits, in the hope of dis organising our defence and defeating us by treachery
(j) He will try by spreading lies, rumours and false orders, to break up our defence and shake our confidence in ourselves
4 - We, knowing what to expect, will not be surprised. If the enemy cannot surprise us, he is beaten before he starts. To avoid any chance of being surprised:
(a) We must be on our toes all the time, in dear weather or fog, wet or fine, rough or smooth, dark or light. We must never relax our watch at any point from Bognor to Bristol
(b) We must give the enemy full credit and expect him to do the desperate and dangerous thing. He is a desperate man
(c) We must keep our powder dry, our weapons bright and our equipment, especially our anti-gas equipment, in tip top condition and ready at all times for instant use
(d) We must meet his air attacks without a moment's hesitation by the heaviest possible fire from all available weapons, and confuse the aim of his airmen by using every trick to conceal our positions from them
(e) We must never take anything or anyone for granted, but must at all times take every possible step to make sure that friends are friends and not enemies disguised as friends. Strangers in or out of uniform must be looked on as possible enemies till they have been proved to be friends
(f) We must at all times be ready to defend every post and every position from attack from any direction. and must always be on the watch against attacks from the flanks or rear
5 - We must remember:
(a) That the experiences of the BEF in France showed that the bark of the dive bomber is much worse than its bite
(b) That gas is a feeble weapon against vigilant troops who know how to protect themselves against it
(c) That an enemy trying to invade this country starts under a tremendous handicap and has to face unknown dangers and hazards. He has every reason to have doubts and fears. We have none
6 - Forewarned is forearmed, and no trick or ruse will avail the enemy if we remember that there are only two orders which really matter and from which nothing should distract us
For those in front line positions "Hang on!" For those in reserve "Push on!"
C J E Auchinleck," Lieut-General, Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command
HQ Southern Command,
Salisbury
20 September 1940.

One night we had showers of incendiaries rained on our HQ at Wootton. We all turned out and extinguished them in record time. For this we were warmly commended by the Chief ARP Officer and the Brigadier.

New arrivals

The War Office had promised to send me all refugee Jerseymen who had left the Island, as soon as they were trained, and now they began to arrive. Unfortunately we did not get all of them, as some of the Regiments with whom they were being trained were loth to part with men like these and kept as many as they could. However, our strength now began to come up to some five hundred, nearly all Jerseymen.

Of course we were all very anxious for the Battalion to go on active service abroad, and I had tried my best to arrange for this to be done when the time came. Unfortunately someone at the War Office did not see eye to eye and took the view that it was a bad thing for a unit made up from men all coming from the same place to go into action, as in the event of it being cut up, the loss in casualties would all fall on that place. Perhaps he was right, but we did not think so at the time.

When winter came we withdrew from our Posts and started training in earnest. New equipment began to arrive, which we were very glad to see, as up to this time we only had the weapons and equipment we had brought over from Jersey. Intakes from the Hampshire Regiment began to arrive. We had now got all the Jerseymen we were going to get, and the remainder were to be Hampshires.

Move to Gosport

In February 1941 we moved to Gosport, Lieut-Col. H G Lindley then took over command and I went as Local Defence Commander to a series of large aerodromes in the Midlands.

The Battalion after this spent a considerable time training and then men began to be drafted from it to other battalions on active service, mostly in Africa, and to all intents and purposes it filled the role of a training battalion until the end of the War. Of course, Jerseymen in it became fewer and fewer, but right up to the end it possessed a nucleus of Jerseymen, most of whom were WOs and NCOs and the backbone of the Battalion.

I would like to mention the laying up of the Colours in the Bishop's Chapel at Wolvesey Castle on 7 November 1941. It was a very impressive ceremony, and Sir Horace de C Martelli and Sir E N Broadbent, who had been Lieut-Governors of Jersey and Guernsey respectively, were present. We have photographs of the parade and the ceremony in the Regimental Album, as well as photographs of the officers' and sergeants' messes. From these some idea of the size to which the Battalion had then grown may be obtained.

Well, this small Battalion of ours played its part. It did nothing very spectacular as a Battalion, but it did all and more than it was asked to do, and did it well. Individual members drafted from it to corps and regiments overseas distinguished themselves in many parts and on nearly if not every battle-front, fully maintaining the high traditions of our Regiment and the good name of the "Jerseys" as soldiers in every part of the world. I think the Island should be exceedingly proud of them.

It is interesting to note that out of the 193 other ranks who embarked on the ss Hodder, 13 attained commissioned rank and 70 others received promotions to ranks higher than those they held on 20 June 1940.

Our losses were:

  • Killed in action or died on active service - 8
  • Wounded - 6
  • Prisoners of War - 4

States meeting

At a meeting of the States of Jersey on 21 February 1946, under the presidency of C S Le Gros, Lieut-Bailiff, a letter from the Adjutant General of the Forces to the Lieut-Governor of Jersey, was read by the Greffier of the States, as under:

The War Office,

London

14 February 1946.

My dear Grasett,

I am writing to you regarding the 11th (Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey) Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment.
As you are no doubt aware, this unit was formed in June 1940, and was composed initially of officers and other ranks of the Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey, who reached this country before the occupation of the Island by the enemy, and of Jersey men who were transferred from other British Army units.
While serving outside the Channel Islands, the members of the Militia were, of course, serving on voluntary duration of war engagements, but all Jerseymen were permitted to wear a special cap badge which indicated their origin.
The Battalion was formed as a Home Defence unit, and was reorganized as a Field Force battalion very shortly afterwards, although it did not actually leave this country.
The Battalion has given splendid service in whatever role it has been called upon to perform, but now that the Army has achieved its main task of defeating the enemy, it has to face contraction from full war strength to the numbers required for occupational and normal garrison duties, and I regret that the time has come for the Battalion to be disbanded.
Although very few Jerseymen are now serving with the Battalion, I wish, before the final orders for its disbandment are issued, to place upon record my deep appreciation of the fine spirit shown by the Jerseymen, both officers and other ranks, who left their homes in the Channel Islands to carry on the fight against the enemy.
Would you be good enough to convey these sentiments to the States of the Island.

Yours ever,

R F Adam

Officers and other ranks of the Royal Militia Island of Jersey

20 June 1940

  • Lieut-Col. H M Vatcher, MC, ED, Commanding Officer
  • Major L T Anthoine, E.D., Second in Command
  • Major J J W Evans, Medical Officer
  • Capt R E B Voisin, Adjutant and Quartermaster
  • Capt H. G Le Brocq
  • Lt G Rice
  • Lt W S Woolley
  • Lt L R O Falla
  • Lt G Fenton
  • 2nd Lt T C Forbes
  • 2nd Lt J Robertson
  • WO1 (RSM) J H McLean
  • C/Sgt(CQMS )E A Free
  • C/Sgt(CQMS) J C Gilley
  • C/Sgt(CQMS) W H Gough

Sergeants

Cox, B G, Ozouf; C P, Rogers, D H J; Le Couilliard A G; (ORS) Pepprell, A J; Taylor, G A; Herauville, H E L

Corporals

Bechelet, C F; Godfray, T C; Ruellan, A M; Breuilly, J A; Le Breuilly, A; Stolworthy, R R; Fennell, F J; Noel, H J; Walker, A W D; Flanagan, W J; Pomroy, R C

Lance-Corporals

Ahier, R F; Fenneli, A Y; Stackhouse, R; Baal, C P; Lewis, E F; Tardivel, D G; Balston, C H; Mauger, P F; Tarr, H A; Blampied, A; Quenault, W (DCM); Travers, E A J; Cartwright, E C,

Privates

Acourt, H; Boudier, W G; Day, A C; Adams, F W; Bradshaw, P. J; Day, S G; Ahier, R C; Bree, C P; Despres, G O; Allo, M R; Bressat, G. E; Dimond, C. J; Amy, A T; Brisset, D; Dorey, J F; Aubert, P Le B; Britton, D S; Drouet, B G; Aubin, G E; Brown, A E; Drouet, C D C; Balston, D G; Buesnel, G F; Dumond, J E; Barbet, C P; Callis, E E A; Duthiel, J. T; Barnes, C C; Carre, E F; Dwyer, B; Barter, C W H; Carre, F. A; Elford, H A; Beck, A J; Carter, E. W; Elliott, E R; Beckford, C G; Clasby, W. G; Esnouf, S F; Beckford, C W; Clifton, A; Esnouf, W G; Beckford, R C; Cotterill, W; Eve, R A; Becquet, A M; Coffield, R L; Eve, R C; Bertram, A C; Crees, A E; Fairhurst, J; Bideau, A G; Crocker, R M; Feu du, R H; Binet, H J; Crumpton, G L; Fleuret, H G; Blampied, G R; Crumpton, H J; Four Du, J W;Fuszard, W H; Jehan, W J; Mills, G D V; Garratt, F W; Jouany, G E; Milon, A F; Geary, D V; Journeaux, C F; Mimmack, D; Geary, J E; Keen, H W; Morfoot, H; Giot, E W; Kelly, R; Norman, G W; Godel, F J; Kirwan, P B; Patch, C R; Godfray, L G; Laugee, R C; Perchard, R W G; Gruchy de, W C; Le Breton, W G; Perchard, S C; Guilleaume, P F; Le Clercq, G P; Petree, J F; Guilliou, E; Le Clercq, H W T; Pettiquin, M J; Haines, W H C; Le Couilliard, E R; Pezet, H F; Hansford, G W; Le Maistre, C; Picot, M G; Hardern, F; Le Marchand, J G; Picot, P M;Harper, W G; Le Marinel, J J; Podger, G E; Haugh, C; Le Marquand, E; Pratt, C J; Hempstead, N J; Le Marquand, J; Pryor, R D;Henry, C M; Le Marquand, P J; Rault, E M P; Henwood, E C; Leonard, C A; Richomme, F C; Hillion, A J; Le Put, G A; Roscouet, H F R; Hodge, J de G; Le Quesne, G; Rose, F A; Holley, P E F; Le Roux, R B; Ruellan, E; Hooke, W D; Lewis, K; Sallain, E J A; Horwell, J W; Liot, A T; Saunders, E W; Howe, A A; Mallet, R B; Seguss, F A; Illien, J; Manton, P G K; Shaw, J F; Jarnett, D E; Matson, R C P J; Sibley, G L; Jegou, F P; Middleton, W E; Smith, A; Spriggs, J F; Surguy, R; Voisin, G H; Stenou, F J; Thomson, R E N; Wason, C R; Stevens, R O; Tregidgo, J H; Whitel, H J; Sumner, D D; Urvoy, D J; Whitley, C J; Surcouf, P F; Vibert, G W;

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