Memories of May 1941
I remember the 10th May 1941 as if it were only last week. I had just qualified as Sergeant Cameraman for the newly formed AFPU and was tasked with my first assignment: a MoI bit on the Home Guard in some godforsaken part of Scotland.
The Home Guard chaps were pretty much what youâ€™d expect; rural types who clearly knew a lot more about farming than they did about soldiering. Their â€œshoulder armsâ€ brought to mind those stick jugglers you see in Hyde Park. Nevertheless, they seemed to be decent fellows and they all certainly looked the part. I attended a lecture by their Captain, a somewhat buffoonish character who explained to his men what a German paratrooper might look like. In the afternoon the platoon set up a firing range where they demonstrated fairly passable marksmanship with a variety of SMLEs, No.4s and even a Sten gun.
In the adjacent field a Major with the Royal Signals was attempting to decipher the intricacies of two pairs of field telephones without much success. Oddly enough, one particular Home Guard chap seemed to know an awful lot about how to get the blasted things to work, however in true Army fashion he was detailed to hammer stakes into the ground instead.
At about noon we all heard an almighty crash and explosion. I followed a section of Home Guard as they swept the area looking for the source of the excitement but to no avail. On arriving back at camp one of the Signals chappies became very agitated, insisting that heâ€™d seen German soldiers moving on the opposite hillside. It didnâ€™t sound a particularly plausible story but I went along with the section sent by the Major to investigate. Amazingly the report turned out to be quite correct and it seemed as if this was the beginning of the long feared invasion. We encountered enemy at a number of locations and some fierce firefights ensued in the fields, roads and hedgerows of rural Scotland. This was certainly a lot more than Iâ€™d bargained for and made for some jolly good film footage.
When I eventually made it back to the Home Guard HQ some hours later I was astonished to see a rather arrogant character dressed in Luftwaffe uniform who claimed to be Rudolf Hess. He was in an awful funk, claiming that the German paratroopers had been sent to bring him back to Berlin. We agreed to move him to a safer location and had him swap uniforms with one of the Home Guard to throw the enemy off his scent. I accompanied our chaps as we trekked for what seemed like miles, avoiding the Germans and eventually finding Hessâ€™s hidden dispatch case containing detailed plans of something called Operation Barbarossa.
Unfortunately in all the excitement, Hess managed to give us the slip and later handed himself into a yokel called David McLean. Once the Duke of Hamilton got his hands on Hess all the business with German paratroopers was swept under the carpet to avoid a general panic. My film was impounded and we were all warned by Dougie Hamilton not to breathe a word of what had happened. It just goes to show that you canâ€™t trust anyone educated at Eton.