Ralph Cyril Bugler (1924 – 2017)

RALPH CYRIL BUGLER (born in 1924 died 2017)

Talking about the Home Guard in WW2

Oral History Transcription below

RALPH CYRIL BUGLER (born in 1924 died 2017 )

No date, place or time of interview recorded.


RB I was born in North Street Beaminster and, apart from being away for nearly two years at Her Majesty’s expense, I’ve always lived in Beaminster.

JC Whereabouts in Beaminster were you born?

RB North Street, opposite the Manor House.

JC And your parents and other brothers and sisters?

RB Yes, my parents were…………….. well my father was born in Beaminster, my mother was born in Bridport and my brother and sister were born in North Street, Beaminster.

JC The period of your life I’d like to talk to you about is the Home Guard. How old were you when you joined the Home Guard? How did that come about?

RB Well, you tell me when the Home Guard was formed. Was it about 1940?

JC It was just after the beginning of the war they asked for the Local Defence Volunteers to be set up.

RB Yes, that’s right, they had no uniform.

JC And were apparently given an arm band eventually?

RB That’s right. LDV. And they had pitchforks.

JC Right, now was that the stage when you joined or did you join later than that?

RB No, I think they would not have let me in until I was 16. Perhaps nearly 16 because my best friend, school friend, he was a military man and everybody knew everything so they would not have had me and the Postmaster’s son when we were 15. But I expect we were about 16. 1940.

JC You joined in 1940. What was the set up in Beaminster for the Home Guard. Did it have a title and who commanded it?

RB Well, to be fair, I think Major Hornor commanded it but the structure of it, from the officer’s point of view, wasn’t important to me at the age of 16. I had a motorbike, perhaps that’s why they had me. So I was a Dispatch Rider. But by the time I joined it we had got through old fashioned rifles, well they had, and we were by then properly uniformed with boots and leggings and Canadian Ross rifles which were very good. Shooting different ammunition than ours. They were .300 instead of .303 so that was when I joined and Ron Colborne joined. We had, of course, been drilled at school and knew about firing rifles and marching and …………….

JC So did you belong to a training corps at school?

RB Yes, Cadet Force. Yes, our headmaster was Major Porter and he was a military man. He was quite interested in military matters and a little bit interested in education. In fact if anyone did well in the services he was excited about that. Probably if they went on to Cambridge and got a degree he was rather less interested in that. (Laughter)

JC So you had your uniform, you had your rifle. What were you supposed to do and when were you supposed to be doing it?

RB We marched and learned things at the Drill Hall in Stoke Road which has been dismantled and replaced quite recently by another structure. But we were ready to fight and I’m a little bit disappointed at the reputation that the Home Guard have got as a result of ‘Dad’s Army’ because………… and yet, on the other hand, they made people think about it. But our local Home Guard, probably 50 or 60 of us, more than half of them I would think were WW1 veterans and they were in their 40s and 50s and they’d fought in the trenches. They knew all about machine guns, they knew all about being shot at and their friends dying and I think that if, or when as we knew the Germans were coming, when the Germans came they would have given a good account of themselves because……………….

JC So it wasn’t a game.

RB No, it wasn’t a game. It was deadly serious. And they would have suffered heavy casulties but so would the advancing troops because you can’t advance over open country without losing a fair proportion of even experienced infantry men.

JC So when you went on duty, was that at the end of your working day? And was that every day? I mean, how often were you expected to be on duty

RB Well we went on duty after tea and we went to the top of the hill by Beaminster Tunnel and looked out for ……………… we were in a field and we were looking from Gerrards Hill which is out Stoke Abbott way and we could see the sea and we could see perhaps seven or eight miles either way and we were there for reasons which were just ……… we were there. There were tens of thousands of people there, all over the south west, and we were looking for parachutes and planes which came down and things like that. But our main duty was going to be fighting. Everybody knew, that was older than me I think, in the 40s, that we were going to lose the war. But they were going to give a good account of themselves. No-one said they were going to lose the war but until Churchill rattled everybody, and spoke wonderfully, most of the adults knew that we were going to lose. But none of these chaps that were senior to me in the Home Guard……………….. they were ready for it. They expected to fight and they would die.

JC Well there was a serious invasion scare in 1940 where quite honestly, as far as I can see from what I’ve read, it was expected that the Germans would land imminently.

RB Yes, we turned out for that.

JC You turned out for that and were there any defences around the town for that?

RB Well there were tank traps and things but you see the big buildings like the Mill up Whitcombe Road – theres a two or three storey mill, and the hedges you see. They’d learnt from fighting in France that defences were no good. It was leafy hedges that caused the trouble and in a defensive situation there were banks and hedges and everybody knew every field. So apart from the mill up there, and the telephone exchange which has now been sold, and of course these ……… I remember these troops coming out in the night and then it was all ‘stand down’. You know, they were all coming, but they didn’t come.

JC Were there many air raid warnings in Beaminster during the war?

RB Routinely yes. Routinely – and the siren, perhaps that was the latter end of the war is, or was, down at the museum. Outside I think. And I remember I prevailed upon them to paint it a few years back.

JC To stop it rusting into oblivion.

RB Yes. that’s right.

JC Do you remember the names of some of the others who were in the Beaminster Home Guard with you? You mentioned Ron Colborne………………….

RB Well there was Major Hornor, Ron Colborne’s father……. There’s a picture, have you got the picture or not?

JC I haven’t seen one yet, I’m trying to find one.

RB Well there’s a picture, I could turn it out.

JC Well that would be absolutely fantastic because I haven’t found a picture yet of the Home Guard.

RB It’s a picture of them outside the Drill Hall. You know I could probably name a dozen or so but I don’t like to do it because, without looking at the picture, I should……….. they’d say ‘well you forgot my’……

JC So maybe, at a later stage, if you’re able to look out the picture we can identify at least some of them because it would be a lovely acknowledgement in the exhibition to those who served in this capacity.

RB Yes, by the time I’d been in there for a while, by the time 1941 came, in the early time – I was in a reserved occupation here but there was an arrangement whereby if you wanted to fly in the Air Force, or go down the coal mines, you could join up irrespective of what your parents said. Once you were seventeen and a quarter. So when I was seventeen and a quarter, I toddled off down to Taunton and signed up for flying duties in the Air Force. My father was very upset and my mother much more so. They didn’t say so but they were and, for about a year, I went away. When I got to Taunton they said ‘You seem to have a good education Bugler’ and I said yes. You know that didn’t mean anything to me because no-one had ever said, like going to a university or anything like that. In those days I was coming into the family business if I wanted to. Father never asked me to but I followed on and so they said ‘Well we’d like to send you to a university’ so I went to Durham for a six month short course which was the first year at university college at Durham. And from then on I went into Air Force training and got to Canada but I was pushed home, not exactly invalided out, because about an hour or two’s aerobatics and I was sick. Felt sick. So I came home.

JC Yes, I’ve read about that. Air sickness was really quite a problem for some of the forces.

RB They did say I could go to Pensacola, which is a place in Florida, and fly flying boats but that was no good. That was just anti-submarine things and there was no fighting involved there so I said no, I’d go home. Well then they said ‘You’ll have to be demobbed’, and that was that. So I came home, probably about 1943 early, something like that, and went back to the business of course. One had to be returned like a bag of potatoes to where it came from you see. (Laughter)

JC And you rejoined the Home Guard as well at that point did you?

RB I’m not sure about that. No, the Home Guard had ceased to become of any real importance by then because, apart from parachutists and things, there was never any likelihood of the Germans invading by then. I’m not saying it didn’t have a purpose but there was no urgency about it.

JC And were you in Beaminster during the time when the bomber came down? Because I’ve heard that the Home Guard, and others, actually saw the plane that came down.

RB Yes,they were on top of the hill by Beaminster Tunnel and I was in the other shift. And one of the local officers, you know, we all said we must go up there. The military as far as I remember allowed Home Guards to sort of guard the scene, as it were, and they went up there ostensibly to recover the bodies and bury them but they wouldn’t let us go because we were too young. And because they wanted to go.

JC Was anybody at that stage aware of this secret Home Guard unit, the Auxiliary Unit that existed both in Beaminster and of course there were others locally weren’t they?

RB We weren’t supposed to be ………………….

JC Well, that’s the point and I’m still baffled at how something could be a secret in such a small place.

RB But there were times when ammunition, grenades and things, were transferred and John Wakely and anybody who could ride a horse, Captain Chadwick and …………….., they sort of disappeared and really we ought to have been on exercises together and marching together. But anyhow, they were the Mounted Home Guard, a special unit, and they went away up to Stinford Lane and buried themselves in the woods and made a dugout which is still substantially there.


JC So there was an awareness that there was maybe something going on that wasn’t entirely covert?

RB If you were in the Home Guard, and I don’t think at that stage we had females in it, but if you were and you said ‘What the bloody hell do they do then? They disappear. Where do they train? We don’t see them on the range’. They’d say well that’s all secret, you know? Special arrangement, and well you didn’t question it. I expect more people knew than were supposed to.

JC The surroundings. I’ve looked at some research that Robin Pearce has done who wrote ‘Dorset Attacked / Dorset Defended’ and some of the other local things searchlights and things like that. Were they around the hills, I mean were you aware of that sort of thing?

RB Well there was a trailer with RAF Personnel on the top of Beaminster Down and that was not secret. That was highly secret. You didn’t even mention it but of course we got to know the chaps and they used to send out…… presumably……… we always thought they were for picking up aircraft coming in but I don’t think so. I think they were sending out accurate radio beams and there was another one maybe in Bournemouth and another in the Isle of Wight and where they criss-crossed and formed a little triangle that was where our point on where the bombers had to fly. But the personnel were stationed in the town and they used to entertain the local ladies…………….

JC It must have been a very different town with forces billeted here even before the Americans came. And then when the Americans came………….

The forces were billeted here about 1939, late, and we had a garage at the top of the road where our two windows are, and there were petrol pumps there and there was an Army Territorial Unit billeted here including one which my mother had in our house and the Territorials were billeted here very soon. To begin with they didn’t have complete uniforms. They had their own cars, but they commandeered one of our three petrol pumps and dished out coloured petrol to the Territorial Units.

JC And in terms of things like air raid precautions in the town. Was the blackout followed very seriously>

RB Oh yes. Everywhere. Complete. Yes, if you’d have opened the back door and come out on the street, somebody would have shouted out because gradually there were quite a large number of air raid wardens and a complete fire service, of which my father was the head.

JC Indeed, that’s very interesting because I’ve been reading a bit about the Beaminster Fire Service in the old Beaminster Rural District Council and Parish Council meetings and I’ve yet to talk to a fire person who could tell me what the set up was.


RB Well the fire service was first called the AFS, the Auxiliary Fire Service, and then the National Fire Service. And they had one full time fireman seconded to them fairly early in the war and he would train them and do the administration and they were always on call.

JC And what kind of appliances did they have and where were they situated at that stage?

RB They had a trailer pump which was trailed behind a big vehicle and which was, of course, very efficient for pumping water. With a big engine on it. Two or three father’s employees joined the fire service. Not necessarily for altruistic reasons but because they………….. first of all they had to do something. They were already in a reserved occupation and, to be in a reserved occupation and a member of the AFS, meant that His Majesty wouldn’t have laid hands on them too quickly. You see the females were called up as well not just men. You mustn’t forget that. These Army, Land Army Girls were well, quite a few of them would have been volunteered into it.

JC And presumably some of the young women of the town would have gone into the ATS, the WAAFs and the WRNS and the other services. But it’s interesting having something at last about the fire service during the war because clearly it would have been important.

RB Plenty of pictures about of them.

JC Of the Auxiliaries?

RB Yes.

JC Right, I’m going to have to pester you for pictures Mr. Bugler. (Laughter)

RB I’m not quite sure who was the oldest fireman who is still alive. You’ve no doubt spoken to Cecil Poole opposite the Museum?

JC I haven’t yet because…………..

RB He’s quite good in the mornings but his memory, which was wonderful at one time, isn’t quite what it was and it might worry him if you push him too hard.

JC Well this is why I’ve been reticent in approaching himself.

RB That’s his grandaughter-in-law, the one there, the one that let you in. Her father was a fireman, she could tell you a bit about him. Cecil Beviss (spells out name) I think. She was a Beviss before she married.

JC But indeed it’s quite interesting to think how all these services would have got………………………… Was there any firewatching done do you know, during the war. Because you read in documents that it became a legal requirement for places to have firewatchers.

RB Yes, there was firewatching but not quite so intensive here as it would be, say, Weymouth or Exeter. There were firewatchers and there was…………. that was the ARP…………………. and then there was the fire service and the Special Policemen. Well, they were just the normal police force supplemented by Specials.

JC Again, were those volunteer posts?

RB I think they were all volunteers but if you were certain ages gradually you were encouraged, or forced, to volunteer for something.

JC So nobody could really just sit around watching the war.

RB Not easily no.

JC That’s just been absolutely smashing. I’m most appreciative of your memories of that.

(Confused talk, tape switched off then back on again)

RB Well, I told you when I joined they made me a Dispatch Rider but the local Commander was, I think he might have been the M.P. at the time, Sir Philip Colfox. I went down and he said ‘Can you ride this thing Bugler?’ I said ‘Yes sir’ ‘Do you want a test?’ Well, I said, ‘I’ll ride round the orchard if it’s any help to you’. Well of course I’d ridden vehicles since I was 12, driven vehicles, and I rode it round his orchard – frightened him! ‘Ah, you’ll do’ he said.

But the other thing is Ronald Colborne who is still alive, and has moved to Charmouth, he and I were, when we were in the Home Guard, we were volunteered (I use the expression because you don’t exactly volunteer) he and I were then about 18ish. They took our measurements and then one day they dressed me up in a German airforce uniform, a genuine one off a captured person, and him up in an army uniform. We were taken to Beaminster Down and marched, we walked, down the hill into Corscombe and we were told not to speak any English at all of any sort but if anybody asked us who we were we were to say ‘Polish, Polski, Polish’. We marched all through Corscombe, one or two people spoke to us, and then we came out the other side. The officers had been following along behind at a discreet distance in case there was a dispute and then they took us up to Wynyards Gap which is a pub you may or may not know, by now, just outside South Perrott and then we walked back through Chedington. There was a girls college there evacuated from London, something like Whitelands or something like that, but it was a secretarial college and we went in there – ‘Pole, Polski’ that was all right. Went into the classes. The girls were very appreciative anything like this, about 18 or 21, learning shorthand……………… and then teacher sort of came up and said, you know, ‘Vous et?’, ‘Francais?’ we said ‘Polish, Polski’ and of course the lady teacher, who’d come down from London, was no fool so she said something like ‘You’re bloody Germans’! And she got a black round ebony ruler and whacked me on the arm. You know those heavy round rulers? So then Ron Colborne’s father and Captain (? unclear) appeared from nowhere and the whole thing was …………….. But it was only the girl students who twigged it that we were not ………………..

JC Everyone else had accepted you.
(confused text)

RB Free French there were, Polish people and all sorts of people, and long as we didn’t attempt the language you see but………………… the German airforce uniform in particular looked very much like ours, much better made and finished and cut than ours. Beautiful uniform it was. German officers’ uniforms were better. They were marvellous. Then they took the uniforms away from us and away we went. We had hats, you know, no identification nothing like that. Father didn’t approve of it.

JC And the purpose presumably…………….

RB Well, to see whether, if parachutists were dropped, whether the people would realise that they were not friendly.


JC Clearly a bit more training was needed! (Laughter) To get people aware of it.

RB I think, perhaps, one or two months had gone by maybe and people were beginning to realise that the Navy had smartened up, the Airforce was not too bad and the Germans could not risk an invasion without being repulsed. I think. But anyhow, father didn’t grumble, mother didn’t grumble but I think they must have thought…………… I bet they ticked off Mr. Colborne who was Postmaster.

We also…….. Beaminster Down during the war, you know where I mean? Well that’s now a big arable area but then it was absolute gorse bushes, rabbit holes, places where peoople cut turf. It was a complete mess and wilderness and so they built a few sandbag zigzags and we used to go up there throwing grenades you see. Hand grenades. And of course we could throw them a nice long way because we’d been cricketing. I remember going up there one day and one was in the zigzag, say this was the zig portion and the zag was coming back here, and you were told to pull the pin and then count to three and throw it. (Presumably gestures with hands) And they didn’t go off for 10 seconds. Well that’s all right. But there were some very, very experienced……….. well I think they were regular soldiers used to bring on boxes of grenades and there were strict instructions what you were to do if there was anything went wrong. One of our chaps dropped one in the trench. (Laughter) Gosh, you’ve never seen…………. there were only two in there at a time with the sergeant who was teaching us how to throw them ……………….. he whipped round his…………… we were sort of here you see and then then was zigzagging and we whipped round the corner and bang, the thing went off! Of course no harm was done because of the deep trench you see. In fact it wasn’t exactly a trench, it was a trench cut about two feet in the ground and about five across. (Laughter). So we went up there throwing grenades. That was another thing.

I told you about Ron Colborne and I marching down to Chedington. Funnily enough, rifle shooting at Higher Barrowfield Farm where I live, up Stoke Road, we used to go beyond that and down towards the river which is the public footpath to the top of Gerrards Hill which local people called Chartknolle, and we used to shoot across the river 200 yards into the butts, as they called them, which were in the side of the hill which were permanent butts which had been there between the wars. They were huge targets about as big as that window there, and they would wind the target down and then with hand signals, you see out of sight of the shooting, they would know that one was on the bull and if it was the inner one it was (?unclear) and if it was a magpie it was………… you twisted it round and round.

JC So hang on, what was a magpie?

RB Well black and white. And if it was in the outer, it was, you know, you put them out like this (obviously using hand gestures) and if it was a totem (? unclear)….. But funnily enough where you went to our farm from Stoke Abbott Road that’s about 800 or 900 yards and in the Boer War, and afterwards, in the late 1800s grandfather, on mother’s side, used to shoot from there and then they had 600, 400 and 200 but that was all abandoned after WW1 because they realised that rifles were totally innacurate at anything over 200 yards. So the butts were, some of them, dismantled after WW2 (?) but the 800 yard shooting and the 600 yards shooting and the 200 yards shooting, what they used to do was to line up 8 soldiers and shoot at 800 yards and then, accidental, there’d be a sudden spread of shots and it was a bit dangerous the other end. But the machine gun made all that out of date. Machine guns would shoot off 40 or 100 rounds and then, in WW2 Home Guard days they were beginning to learn that it really wasn’t much good, unless it was a stationary target, shooting at more than about 20 yards because when you’re on the move 20 yards was, you were reasonably safe, a chap shot at you from 20 yards. If you stopped and shot steadily you’d probably hit his body but if he’s on the move he’s not going to hurt you. Only later in WW2 was the value of the automatic carbine, which the Americans carried, a sort of later version of the tommy gun, the Germans cottoned on years before we did but the Germans were armed with automatic carbines but our people all had Lee Enfield rifles. But it was funny that shooting varied but we were, our shooting pracice was at 200 yards but it really just as well have been 40 yards.

I told you we had battle dress? Well then sometime during the war, well when we were in the Home Guard, there was a fire alarm, probably by the siren, and Colborne who lived in the Post Office and most of the telephone messages went through there, they said it was in the Drill Hall so Ron Colborne and I and, maybe, his father we whizzed up there and there was a fire in the roof of the armory where the ammunition and the grenades and all the rifles were kept. Somehow or other the fire brigade didn’t seem to be up there quick enough so Ron Colborne and I got up on the roof and ripped the galvanise off and somehow or other we…………….. some water had been brought in………….. we managed to put the fire out substantially before the fire brigade arrived. But that was rather foolhardy thing to do because grenades and plastic explosive was in there.

The other thing was, Tunnel Road corner just up the road here where the wonderful silly little roundabout is, on the right there before you came here, there was a huge tree there – I expect it was 150 ft. high. That’s gone now but in the garden on the right hand side, right within 30 ft. of the roundabout, Major Hornor who’d served in the Indian Army many years in the war, he had collected up a huge store of plastic explosive and grenades and sticky bombs, and he had them stored in an open fronted shed in his garden which was no more than 10 or 12 ft. from the road and I expect there must have been several hundredweights of explosive there which would have been quite enough to blow up everything within about 40 or 50 yards completely, besides blowing windows out over a quarter of Beaminster. But that was within, right by the roundabout. He kept it there because he knew when the trouble started it was no good having to drive to Melplash to get the plastic explosive or anything like that. You had to have it there, he lived there, much better to be very close to it so that if it did go off you wouldn’t really know anything about it rather than losing and arm and a leg 100 yards away.

So anyhow, the regulars came along and the police and eventually they made him have it taken away. But I doubt if many people in Beaminster knew that that’s where we used to get our…………. plastic explosive was something like frozen margarine you know, you could knead it in your hands like pastry and then you’d stick it on a door and then you’d put a detonator in there, or some electrical gadget, and it would blow the door, blow a wall down you see. But you could shape it and put it in like that (probably demonstrating) you could jump on it, no danger. Not like dynamite. That was that. But it’s only these things comde back when you think about it. I say in Beaminster, and plenty of places beside, Home Guard was not to be sneezed at after it had got its uniforms and its organisation up together. We used to march around and march to Bridport……………………..

JC There were Home Guard training schools……………… I know Osterley Park was one of the big training schools. Did anybody go from Beaminster to any of that or was it all sort of in house training?

RB I don’t really know. They would have been officers and senior NC0s but I feel that, or I remember that, most of our officers who were about 48 to 60, most of our officers wouldn’t have taken too kindly to that because it was only 20 years, 22 years before that they were slogging it out in India or being shot at in France you see. If they were………….. because there’s a gap in my knowledge after about 1942, mostly after that it is only from hearsay. I don’t think you’ll find very many people who were around. Ron Colborne went off into the navy (the other one that marched through Chedington with me), he lives in Charmouth, but he’d remember more I expect because he was militaristic and I really wasn’t. I was more of a mechanical man but he was a good shot and his family ………………… His father was a senior NCO, served in Ireland and was there when the post office blew up in Dublin.

JC Somebody did mention to me that his father, virtually, did the day to day running fo the Home Guard?

RB That might have been Jim Colborne, the third brother who lives opposite The Knapp. Colborne told me that he’d got a bit of a wheeze that something was going to happen while he was guarding the post office in Dublin and, I don’t know if you know Dublin, but it’s a heavy pillared sort of place just outside the post office and the IRA decided to blow it up, or take it, and Colborne had a detachment of his troops there, fairly close, and he thought when this went off he’d get some pictures, you know with a little camera, and be able to sell them. So he duly came up with these, besieged the place, and troops who should have been there defended it and they never occupied it. Colborne got all his pictures and was very pleased with this all ready to sell them to…. or a newspaper take them……. trouble was when it came to, he hadn’t taken the lens cap off. (Laughter) He didn’t get any pictures. He was so (? unclear text for a while) and Colborne lived there from mid 30s to quite late, 40s or 50s I expect, 50s, 60s.

I think we’ve more or less………….? You can always give me a ring if you want corroboration of anything else.

JC Well that’s absoluely fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. Much appreciated.