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A Scout in Reading during the Second World War

Second World War
An air raid warden from the Second World War

Reader Alan Sandall, who is 94,  has been reflecting on his Second World War memories. Here’s his fascinating recollection                           

War came into my life as a 12-year-old Boy Scout several busy days before the September 3 declaration, 1939.

Hapless young boys and girls, labels tied to their clothes, for identity, and clutching tiny bundles of possessions, came to our church hall in Reading. Evacuees escaping the expected blitz bombing of London.

My job to help guide them to homes – and new “mums and dads”. I rode with the Mayor, in his posh limousine, taking him to back streets he would never visit.

I caused panic when I unloaded his newly issued Service gasmask as one of the bundles.

I hotfooted to retrieve it.

There was no wireless at the hall, so I pedalled home to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement.

I remember vividly, without real understanding, my father’s concern. He knew about war, wounded and taken prisoner in the First one.

Dramatically, the siren sounded for real. 

Everyone was ordered off the street by the air raid warden.

A strange new sight, sweating visibly in his yellow gas protection suit, topped by steel helmet, as he tried to persuade people to go indoors.

Back at the hall, I noted wandering dogs would not eat biscuits provided.

School was closed.

My books taken home tied in an insecure bundle, with strong string we had all been instructed to carry in expectation.

Two schools crammed into mine when it reopened, the other became a military hospital.

Scouting continued, leaders in the forces, senior teenagers kept meetings going.

One evening an Army officer marched in. He spoke of the Dunkirk crisis.

A civilian army, Local Defence Volunteers  (LDV, and soon renamed Home Guard) was being formed to resist invasion.

“Would Scouts be scouts for the LDV?”

We all said yes.

“Would two start now?”

My hand went up. I went home late, I joined before Dad.

Organised confusion as any weapons and more volunteers were sought. There were few telephones then and Scouts became human versions, cycling miles.

I watched pillboxes being dug out, learnt to strip a Lewis machine gun, throw a Mills bomb.

The need for Scout messengers ended.

As patrol leaders two of us kept another troop alive until super leader arrived.

Five of us became King Scouts, tough in wartime.

The sky in the east became vividly red at night. I put on my Scout uniform and joined the Auxiliary Fire Service, at 14, in the thick of the 1941 bombing. With my badges such as, Ambulance, Fire fighter, Handyman, I was not asked birth year.

Officially a messenger, immediately trained as a fire fighter.

I would rush to fire station when siren sounded; night duty at station meant hazardous turnouts in overloaded cars, or cycle thrown on top of all equipment if it was a lorry.

I started work at 16, lucky to survive a daylight bombing. In National Fire Service appointed Senior Leading Messenger for Fire Force 15, the three counties of Berks, Bucks and Oxon.

Then, Royal Navy, secretarial staff of Admiral at Gibraltar.

Yes, so many memories.

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