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John Proudlock's War

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project John Proudlock reminisced about his time as a Home Guard Despatch Rider. This is his story:

John, his two brothers and a sister originally lived in Cornwall Street.  His father worked at I.C.I. Billingham;the family moved to Haverton Hill for a few years then moved back to Cornwall Street.

John was apprenticed to the Central Marine Engine Works (CMEW) and, as he was classed as an essential worker, he was not allowed to enlist in any of the armed services.  Instead, he chose to join the Despatch Riders Group attached to the Home Guard.

The Home Guard firing practice was carried out at the back of the Spotted Cow public house at Elwick.  Targets were set up on a concrete block, still in situ, and the apprentices threw ‘Blacker Bombards’ at the targets - these were anti-tank mortar bombs.  There was also an Army munitions store on the site!  After practice the group would retire to the Spotted Cow for a drink.

John was a busy man.  He carried out guard duty on the North Sands, close to the Spion Kop Cemetery (the beach was covered in barbed wire to deter invaders), standing in the pillboxes along the sand dunes.  His rifle was not loaded but the ammunition was close to hand. 

A typical week would be: all one night on Home Guard Duty, all one night as Fire Watcher on St Cuthbert’s school roof and one night training.  Sunday was Parade Day, something he enjoyed doing, motoring round the neighboring villages (the petrol was supplied by the Motor Transport Department in the Armoury).  He also attended night school as part of his apprenticeship; he was paid one penny a week.

After the war he was at sea for two years and married on his return home.

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