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WE all know and love the bumbling antics of TV's Dad's Army. But in reality the Home Guard, after a shaky start, fulfilled a vital role by releasing fighting troops for the front line. Not least here in Buckinghamshire, as historian and writer John Taylor recounts...

Home Guard - Playing a vital role in releasing troops for front line

In photos taken before or around the 1920s wooden poles carrying telephone wires can often be seen.

As telephone traffic increased so did the number of wires required and cables began to be laid underground.

But being smaller they required the telephone signal being boosted and amplifying 'repeater stations' were built along the telephone trunk routes, typically 45 miles apart.

The repeater station at Fenny Stratford was completed in 1924 with main national phone cables passing through the building.

When WW2 broke out the need to protect such premises - especially given the lines laid to Bletchley Park and other sensitive installations - was considered and provision made, north and south, to tap into the trunk line should it be damaged by bombs.

This was justified when four bombs fell near the suitably named Dropshort Farm.

When the Home Guard was formed in 1940 the Post Office authorities realised the essential need to maintain telephone and communication facilities.

Because of their specialised knowledge PO employees were restricted to joining Post Office Home Guard units with safeguarding PO property a priority.

At Bletchley this saw a platoon attached to B Company Home Guard with the HQ at Bedford forming part of the 6th Cambridgeshire (34th Post Office) Battalion.

The Post Office platoon came under the Bletchley Garrison Commander and they received the same training as other Home Guard units.

A Mr Herring and Mr Bedford allowed the use of their land for a rifle range and assault course. For those assigned to guarding the repeater station there was Sten gun practice.

In the middle of 1940 the King's Liverpool Regiment, was stationed at Bletchley Park and eight men under a Corporal were sent to the repeater station on eight hour shifts.

An Austin 'Tilly' brought meals and the men had a small gas cooker and ring but local children would also fetch them fish and chips from Thurlows (now Napoli's) as well as beer from The Bridge Inn!

In return the soldiers let them play with their caps and equipment.

One of the children, Michael Wright - who still lives in Bletchley - is seen above parading proudly with his rifle on the canal bank.

In another photo he stands at ease with private Sid Lucas.

A talented artist, Sid would sketch away the hours including the portrait of a GPO Home Guard sergeant.

During the war there a lot of activity on the canal and children would be given welcome (given sweet rationing) chunks of glucose as workmen unloaded barges for the Valentin, Ord and Nagle refinery.

Soldiers also found a ready, if unofficial, supply of coal for the guardroom stove from the barges although getting it required nightime raids using a makeshift raft - which eventually sank.

In 1942 the Suffolk Regiment took over guard duties and they were later replaced by Royal Military Police 'bluecaps' who had a blue badge with VP for Vital Points.

They were more officious than their predecessors.

As for Sid Lucas he later served with anti-aircraft units and a Mobile Field Bakery until discharged in 1944 when he went back to being a butcher.

He died aged 78 in Birkenhead in 1993.

The Home Guard was formed on May 14, 1940 as the Germans were pushing into Belgium and France. 150,000 were expected to answer the call for volunteers. At its peak 1.8m men were serving.

Home Guard soldiers were officially aged between 17 and 65.

They were too young or old to serve in the regular forces or were in 'reserved occupations'. More than 1,600 members were killed on duty.