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by David Rose
In early June 1944 as Allied forces made final preparations for the invasion of France, Home Guards were taking part in ‘The Battle of Guildford’.
It was, of course, not a real battle, but a demonstration by several platoons of Guildford’s Home Guard who faced an imaginary airborne attack by ‘the enemy’.
It took place in Shalford Park on Sunday, June 4, 1944 – two days before D-Day itself. The event was in the style of a mini military tattoo. It marked what was the start of the fund raising Salute the Soldier Week, and the fourth anniversary of the Home Guard.
The guest of honour was the War Secretary, Sir John Grigg MP, who inspected members of the 4th (Guildford) Battalion Surrey Home Guard.
The Surrey Advertiser reported that a large crowd was present, adding: “The visit of the War Minister and high officers was not only a compliment to Guildford but another honour for the town’s Home Guard battalion, which has won recognition as a very efficient unit. The distinguished visitors were impressed by the general bearing and evident ability of the men, both in the ceremonial and in the displays that ended the parade, and they highly complimented the battalion and all concerned on an excellent turnout.
The commander of the Guildford battalion was Colonel Guy Westland Geddes. He had retired to Warwicks Bench, Guildford, in 1934 after 34 years of military service.
After the war he wrote a book, The Guildford Home Guard, that records its activities from June 1, 1940, through to it being disbanded on December 31, 1944.
Of the events in Shalford Park (which Geddes calls ‘Shalford Flats’) he writes: “Rescue party teams demonstrated with their lorries how to get casualties out of a bombed house (which had been erected for the purpose by the Borough Engineer). Trailer pump teams came into action and demonstrated how to put out a fire in the burning building. Machine guns gave a display of coming into action. Smith guns came into action with live shells, engaging moving tanks cleverly designed by the Borough Engineer. ‘The Battle of Guildford,’ in which Home Guards disguised in the uniform of German airborne troops attacked a perimeter line held by Home Guards. The object of this part of the demonstration being to show the action taken by the battle sections and their role. The finale. The battalion formed up in line, with rescue party and trailer pump teams on the right, and with machine guns and Smith guns on the left flank. The battalion presented arms.”
God Save The King was then sung. The Band of the 30th Queen’s Regiment played the battalion by in the march past and also gave a selection of music during the display.
The Surrey Advertiser’s report concluded: “In ‘The Battle of Guildford’, sections came into action against airborne invaders dressed in Hun uniforms, who were soon checked and either ‘killed or captured’, to the evident pleasure of the crowd of onlookers.”
David Rose is always interested in hearing people’s local wartime stories, or seeing any related photographs. Leave a post below or email firstname.lastname@example.org