« Meeting Royalty | Main | Dog Days At The Green Market »

Shalom and Sheiks: 16 - An Insane Idea

...Our battery was composed of four Troops, each of twenty rocket projectors, thus a salvo blasted off 160 rockets at once. The object was not only to shoot down aircraft, but also to make a bomber change course when on a bombing run due to the box-barrage effect. In this way we could protect very important locations such as the War Office, the Admiralty, Lords Cricket Ground and the Windmill Theatre with its nude revues...

John Powell volunteers to man a rocket anti-aircraft battery.

To read earlier chapters of John's memorable life story please click on Shalom And Sheiks in the menu on this page.

During the Blitz, some of the Whitehall Warriors in the War Office, surfacing no doubt from yet another rather heavy, after-lunch, semi-somnambulant stupor, had the most insane of all their ideas. They decided, between hiccups and a few baritone belches, that if volunteers could be obtained from Dad's Army to man the rocket anti-aircraft batteries in London, then the Royal Artillery gunners could be released for active duties elsewhere.

Applications flooded in, (mine included) not, unfortunately, let the truth be known, through any particularly zealous patriotism on the part of the applicants, but because it involved only one all-night parade a week instead of the three evening ones.

With the others, I reported to a Drill Hall for a few evening training sessions, at the end of which we were unceremoniously stripped of our lofty rank of Private and bestowed with the equally lofty rank of Gunner. This metamorphosis was evidenced by the shoulder insignias handed to us; they depicted a bow and arrow pointing skywards. They should have left it at that.

The rocket projector, with a two-man crew, was a ramp onto which No.2 loaded two rockets and controlled the height elevation of the ramp by turning a wheel.
No.1 took orders over earphones and controlled the direction by pushing the projector, by means of a bar, round a circular turntable, about one foot off the ground.

The whole contraption was very simple, which is, maybe, why the Whitehall Warriors thought that Dad's Army would be able to cope. The rockets were something that we volunteers had not taken into consideration. They were six feet long, made of metal, but they were not heavy they were very, very heavy.

The lavish monetary expenditure on my education at Tonbridge now bore fruit. I very quickly and astutely worked out that No.1 was the better position to have, where the earphones not only kept your ears warm on a freezing cold night but more importantly, because No.2 had to lift and load the two heavy rockets onto the ramp to be fired by the projector and in so doing became a candidate for a hernia.

It will probably be no breach of the Official Secrets Act now, to disclose that our battery was situated near the Marble Arch comer of London's Hyde Park. We were alongside the army heavy anti-aircraft battery and we shared their radar, Command Post to receive orders over the headphones. And off duty we shared their ATS girls in the NAAFI canteen.

Our battery was composed of four Troops, each of twenty rocket projectors, thus a salvo blasted off 160 rockets at once. The object was not only to shoot down aircraft, but also to make a bomber change course when on a bombing run due to the box-barrage effect. In this way we could protect very important locations such as the War Office, the Admiralty, Lords Cricket Ground and the Windmill Theatre with its nude revues.

So Dad's Army took over - the old soldiers with World War I ribbons and beer bellies prominent, and those in reserved occupations, together with teenagers, as I was, waiting impatiently to join up.

Right from the start there was a hoodoo on our Unit. Time after time we fused the rockets, loaded, aimed and then, 'Stand By' to be followed not by 'Fire!' but by 'Stand Down', and then the inevitable 'Unload'. It was especially frustrating because all the Units parading on the other nights had been in action. On arrival in the evening, we had practice drill on the projectors until dark.

There were always minor accidents when we ran for the projectors. Everyone tried to win the race to be No.1, so there were many dead heats when two beer bellies collided in the No.1 position; but all recovered afterwards in the canteen, when they tried a little flirting with the ATS girls.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.