Ernest Maurer was born in March 1906 in Sheffield. His parents were Ernest, a ledger clerk, and Lucretia.
Ernest trained as a teacher and at the beginning of June 1940 he was appointed to a post teaching English and Commercial Studies at Corner Hall Senior School, Hemel Hempstead. During his time in Hemel he corresponded with Alfreda L Butt, his fiancé, who was teaching in Sheffield. They were each frantically worried about the safety of the other throughout 1940. Ernest was close to where a month later the Battle of Britain and later the Blitz would take place whilst the industrial City of Sheffield was heavily bombed.
In Hemel. Earnest joined the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV),2 shortly to be renamed Home Guard.
Although worried, probably frantic at times amid the danger, there was humour in the situation. Ernest also recalls the beautiful summer of 1940.
Sunday, 2nd June
…. On the train coming here were large numbers of Air Force lads weighed down with full kit, and when the train stopped at Bletchley a train full of soldiers came through.1 They all seemed very bright and cheery ….
I walked from the station along an avenue of chestnuts, pink and white, with broad stretches of grass around and the stream and canal running through the Common – open land like a village green – in the town, with cricket pitch marked out and white canvas sight screens and trees circling it, looked nice and peaceful and Englishy …. I think I’m going to like it here – if Hitler will leave us alone.
Monday, 24 June
[After spending a weekend at home in Sheffield.]
The train was very busy and there were people standing in the corridor for quite a good part of the journey. The lost time was made up quite well and we got into Aylesbury about on time. It is about a five minute walk to the bus, and I had three minutes to do it in, but I managed to raise a trot with my little bag and staggered up to the bus as he [the conductor] was ringing off. Then we went along merrily until we reached Berkhamsted. I told you about machine gun posts, well here the road was barricaded, just a narrow gap left, and we were held up by the Military, about half a dozen soldiers with fixed bayonets, who stopped everything – cars, bikes, buses – and asked to see Identity Cards. It is apparently a regular practice on the main roads around here. I don’t know what happens if you haven’t got your card …
It looks like being a nice “raidy” night. I hope you won’t be disturbed.
Tuesday, 25 June
‘twas too true alas! I thought they couldn’t resist a raid last night and at 1:15 am the sirens wailed dolefully. The “All Clear” went at 3:45. I expect you would be disturbed …
I may be wandering around at nights soon, as I have filled in my form for the LDV2. Mr. Davies, one of our Staff who had been a Captain in the Army during the First World War and is Adjutant of the LDV for the District, asked me to do some typing for him, – Instructions etc. – and at the same time I got a form. Now I await further developments …
Sunday, 30 June
… Another quiet night. This morning we had an LDV parade and things were sorted out a bit more. The squad has now split into sections, so we shall not be on duty as often. Our “post” is in the corner of a field with an old barn where various things are stored, a few fruit trees around, and usually a couple of horses grazing – very rural. It is at a cross roads – or cross lanes rather – and we have a sandbagged dug-out affair to shoot through if necessary. Also we have to take turns to man one of these barriers examining Identity Cards etc about once a week, 9 pm to 5 am. I think my turn will be Friday night. Are you still turning out for ARP3 … It is a lovely hot day again. I should guess you will be sitting out in the garden near the pond, reading Galsworthy and maybe dipping into strawberries …
Tuesday 2 July
… This marvellous summer continues. I wonder if you are having scorching days like we keep getting … I suppose it will just about decide to pour on Thursday night – that is my night out at Piccotts End on duty. According to the present rota that will come once in six days. In addition we have two “stand-by” nights. That means if there is an Air Raid warning we have to turn out and trot up to Bury Hill post and deal with Göring or anybody else who happens to be around. My nights this week are Monday to Wednesday. Monday was undisturbed. I hope Wednesday is too …
I have not found “playing at soldiers “ at all tiring yet, as I have not lost any sleep, and if a raid does come it will be much better to have something to do instead of just sitting about here doing nothing.
Saturday 6 July
… Thursday night at Piccotts End passed off quite peacefully. It is a pretty little spot, and where we were there is an old mill and a house at one side of the road, and a doctor’s house at the other, with fields all around. Our “quarters” were in a doctor’s garage, where some bunks have been fitted up. There were eight of us working in pairs, and a corporal. We started at nine o’clock and the first hour was divided into quarters so that everybody had a chance to visit “The Windmill” before ten o’clock. Then the watches were every two hours until 5 am, when we dismantled the barricades and beat it for home. My “mate” and I were on the first and third watches and had four “captures” – people without Identity Cards. We just have to report them. None of the other sections had any. One of mine was a Lieutenant Commander of the Navy. In this morning’s paper I notice he has been awarded the DSO.
It was a lovely evening and the sunset was a silvery, golden one; then the stars came out one by one, and later there were lots of them. There was a big elm near-by us, and it seems to get taller and nearer as the light faded. After midnight there was nothing at all on the road except a police car and it was a fine dry night. It made me think very much of “A Night Among The Pines”, from “Travels with a Donkey” by Robert Lewis Stephenson … If all the nights are as good as that I shall not mind. In fact I quite enjoyed it …
Tuesday, 10 July
… In the Home Guard we have cut out the night patrol, but we are expected to attend our own post – Bury Hill – on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Sunday morning. Last night we played at soldiers, creeping about the orchard and landing in beds of nettles. I dropped down by an old tree stump and levelled my rifle and it was immediately covered with ants. It is a great life! On Sunday morning we are to be “attacked”. That should be exciting. No doubt it will pour with rain.
Sunday, 4 August
… We had the “raid” this morning and defended our post most successfully. I had a very peaceful time. I was squatting behind some nettles and tall grass by a garage, covering a small back lane, but none of the “enemy” came near.
I have got the trousers towards my uniform now. The rest will be coming in instalments. We are officially part of the Army now, so I am liable to be shot at dawn if I do not behave myself.
Wednesday, 7 August
… I see the “blitzkrieg” is now supposed to be due for this weekend. It has been promised a few times now. However, as Hitler promised his bunch it would be over by 15 August I should think he would have to do something soon.
Tuesday, 13 August
… There has been plenty of aerial activity over here lately, bombers and fighters going to and fro …4
Sunday, 18 August
… This morning I went up to Home Guard again, but it was not very exciting. We were supposed to be defending the town against parachutists who had been dropped out Piccotts End way. They were represented by Boy Scouts who had to try and get through. I spent the morning at the foot of a large chestnut tree beside the river in the park, and saw various couples wandering off on Sunday walks, but no sign of the “enemy” until I returned to the post. Tomorrow night I am on Guard at the Waterworks. It is another all night guard, but this time we do our guard singly, not in pairs, so I will have the opportunity to soliloquise … I hope the moon is out like it was last night. We have got passed the middle of August and some of the leaves are beginning to turn. It seems a shame to wish away this lovely summer …
Tuesday, 20 August
We had a quiet night at the Waterworks. I was on from 10:15 pm to 1 am. It was cloudy and rather dark at first, but later the moon began to break through and shone for periods between the clouds. The guard seems rather a ridiculous business, because the path round the works lies among heaps of bricks, coal, huts and bushes, and if anyone really meant business he could find many lurking places from which to hit out at the guard, or just wait until he passed round the other side.
Friday, 6 September
… So it will not be much good going to Home Guard in the evenings because it is getting dark earlier. Our latest instructions are not to turn out for a “warning” unless we hear otherwise …
This morning we were half way through assembly at school and had reached the stage where a presentation was about to be made to I.., who is to be married tomorrow, when the caretaker appeared and whispered a few magic words to the Head, whereupon we all marched off to the shelters, no sirens were sounded, but a distant droning could be heard, and standing outside one could hear a distant thud …
The leaves are beginning to turn now, and some of the trees are already looking as though splashed with gold. There are a lot of chestnut trees about here and now they are heavy with nut cases. There are some fat acorns too. The moon is beginning to grow. It does seem a shame that such lovely days and nights should be spoiled by shadows of fear and destruction …
Sunday 8 September
… I hope you are not worried after news of yesterday’s London raid. I am quite alright.5 The sirens sounded a little while ago … Last night we could see a red glow quite plainly in the sky, to the south east in the London area and knew that something pretty big was on. When I went to Home Guard this morning I heard that some of them were called out last night.
… This morning was quite good. We had a bit of cross country work, and if I had had a basket I could have picked a few pounds of blackberries. There are lots of thick hedges covered with them.
Friday, 13 September
I was on the Waterworks last night. My watch was 1am to 3:30 and I did not get much sleep before it and only about two hours after. We finished at six o’clock, and when I got back here I was locked out! I didn’t bother disturbing them, but got a deck chair out of the shed and sat listening to the morning birds and some not far distant pigs. Mrs L (my landlady) nearly had a fit when she got up and saw me sitting there …
Monday, 16 September
… Tonight I have been helping to dish out boots to the Home Guard. I have brought home a pair which I’m sure weigh two hundred-weight6. When I have broken in my feet to fit them they should be all right for hiking and gardening! If this war lasts long enough I may get my full equipment. …
At school a number of fellows have been sticking splinter net on the windows to prevent glass from flying about if it breaks in a raid. There are quite a few windows throughout the school …
Tuesday, 17 September
… It was not quite so peaceful after all. I suddenly awoke about midnight and heard a whistling – (where is that going?) – the Wump! and another. Excited noises broke out and I decided we had better get up … I learnt this morning that a bomb fell in the next road, about a hundred and fifty yards7 away from here, and flattened four houses. I should not have gone to bed quite so blithely if I had known. Another dropped a bit further on and demolished a solitary cottage which was quite pretty, and another made a hole in the park. Two people have died from the effects and there are about ten injured, which I think is amazing, as the houses are just heaps of rubble …
Friday, 4 October
It is a black night, pouring with rain, and the fourth warning of the day has sounded. Things have livened up lately; we now get three or four warnings each day, and in the night there have been a fair number of bumps and rattles, but none on the doorstep so far. Mrs L8 reckons that she has not undressed for bed for more than a fortnight … I have been to the quarter masters store again this week and have managed to get a nice new uniform – a proper woolly one, not one of the overall type …
Monday 7 October
… The sirens are going “many times and oft”. During the weekend we rather lost count and would sometimes ask “Is the warning on or off?” We have had three today and she blows again. It is now 7:45 pm and round about eight o’clock has been a regular thing for the past week. But last night was an exception I had to go on the Waterworks again. During the morning I had got a cap, groundsheet and haversack to go with my uniform, so I was able to don full war paint for the first time. When I was dressed up Thomas said, “You look about six feet three inches now”, but I felt like something out of “Comic Cuts.”9 However, it must have scared “Jerry”, as we had the first quiet night for quite a while – not a single warning or disturbance of any kind. Mrs L8 even got undressed for the first time for a fortnight and slept through the night. Such is the confidence I inspire!
My spell on Guard was from 10:15 pm to 1 am. It was a squally night with occasional showers and when the sky was cloudy, as it usually was, it was pitch black and you could not see further than two or three yards. Very cheerful! However, there was one patch when the sky cleared completely and myriads of stars were visible. There was the old Plough, the Pleiades, Taurus, Cygnus and when we packed up at six o’clock Orion had risen from his bed and was marching westwards, leading the dawn across the sky. As I looked at them it struck me what grains of sand are Hitler and Mussolini in the framework. But a grain of sand in the wrong place can be very irritating. But then again, I believe it is the irritation of a fragment of grit which leads the oyster to produce the pearl, so it may be that this evil is to produce something very fine and beautiful. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy”.10
Our mid week HG parades cannot of course take place in the dark, but on Wednesday evenings we are to meet at the Heath Park Hotel11 for talks and lectures. This week I am to be taught how to read a map. That should be interesting. [Earnest is already proficient at this!] In addition I keep putting in a bit of extra time as Quartermaster’s assistant counting bootlaces, unpacking uniforms etc.
Tuesday 8 October
… It is getting monotonous and it does seem a waste of school time spent in the shelters, but there is not much we can do – the lighting is so poor for one thing.
Monday, 14 October
… On Wednesday, we are to have some Home Guard “Night activities” for the whole district. I am a “parachutist”. Several of us are supposed to have landed in the country a little way out of town, intent on damaging vital Public Services. The HG are to turn out to round us up and prevent us doing any damage. I hope it does not pour with rain …
Tuesday 15 October
… We have been doing a bit more popping in and out of the shelters today – three times. It does mess up the school work and it is beginning to show in the discipline … I got a nice khaki overcoat today, but I am afraid I shall have to clean my own buttons. …
[Freda had written in one of her letters that she had been cleaning the buttons on her father’s Home Guard uniform]
Wednesday, 16 October
What a night! After a somewhat noisy night last night we had a very quiet day without a warning. Just after tea it began to rain and has thrown it down ever since. My Home Guard uniform has received its baptism. I got all dressed up, uniform, greatcoat, groundsheet cape and gum boots and set off for the rendezvous. Eight of us had gathered and were dripping nicely when word was brought that the practice was off.
Incidentally, instead of being moonlight it is pitch black. The warning sounded before I set off, and while we were waiting we heard a plane and the first distant “crump”. On the way down he planted at least twenty around and I kept waiting for the next to drop at my toes, but it did not, and I arrived back here and changed into my civilian clothes … Since I returned he has kept dropping them steadily, knocking at the front door and rattling the window …
[This was the time when London was being blitzed and Hemel Hempstead became flooded with evacuees. Ernest writes of trains coming from London in the evenings with people pouring out, and with 10,000 extra population adding to the normal 20,000. He says, “You can guess the place is rather full.”]
Monday, 4 November
Guy Fawkes day tomorrow. I hope there are no “fireworks” … Tonight I was quietly marking some books when “Bumpty, bump, bang!” – window and furniture rattled and immediately afterwards the sirens wailed out … Mr Davies has informed me that I am now to consider myself on the Headquarters Staff of the HG12 instead of in my old section – sort of Quartermaster’s assistant now – officially …
Tuesday, 5 November
I have just returned from the HG12 office … The sirens went about half an hour ago and coming back I could see a few “rockets” and “Roman candles” and hear a few “bangers” …
“I am so relieved that you are now on the Headquarters Staff and I shan’t have to think of you somewhere in the dark, cold and wet, listening to bombs dropping around. I’d much rather think of you surrounded by “boots, buttons and bayonets”
So life went on. Then on the night of Thursday, 14 November the country was horrified by the terrible “blitzkrieg” attack on Coventry, when wave after wave of bombers wreaked such destruction. Then came the similar attack on Sheffield on Friday, 13 December and Ernest frantic with anxiety for his loved ones. When he came home for Christmas holiday, when incidentally Christmas dinner for the lucky ones still with a roof over their heads had to be cooked on an upturned radiator, and saw the devastation, he had visions of a Nazi victory at the worst and at best being far away from his dear ones when they were in danger. Hemel Hempstead was too far away at the moment, though the inevitable would come when he was called up. Consequently in March 1941 he applied for and obtained a post back in Yorkshire (in Doncaster) and he saw no more service in Hemel Hempstead Home Guard.
Ernest and Freda Butt were married on 6th April 1942.
When the call-up age for teachers was increased Ernest joined the Royal Corps of Signals.
After the war he resumed his teaching career. The couple spent some time in Stourbridge, where two daughters were born, and then in 1950 they moved to Huddersfield where they have remained ever since.
Coincidently, the younger daughter moved to Berkhamsted in 1983 when her husband was transferred to work in London.
Reference: Local Home Guard Experiences of Ernest Maurer by Freda Maurer, 940.548, Local Studies Library at HALS, County Hall.
- This was the time of the evacuation from Dunkirk.
- Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). On 14th May, 1940 Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for War, made a radio braodcast appealing for voluteers between the ages of 17 and 65 to join a new force to defend the country, the LDV. Initially the men had no uniforms and little equipment. This is reflected in Ernest diary entries. By July nearly 1.5 m men had joined the force. On 23rd August Winston Churchill changed the name to Home Guard.
- ARP – Air Raid Precautions wardens would patrol the streets to make sure no lights were visible; sound air raid sirens and report and deal with bombing incidents. In 1941the organisation’s name was changed to Civil Defence Service.
- The “Battle of Britain” with daily raids on London and other major cities was in full flow by mid August.
- This was the first of 57 successive nights of raids on London.
- Two hundredwight is approximately 102 kgm.
- One hundred and fifty yards is 137 metres approximately.
- Mrs L was Ernest’s landlady.
- Comic Cuts was one of the first weekly comics, initially published by Alfred Harmsworth, later Associated Press from 17th May 1890.
- The correct quote from Hamlet is “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (science)
- Hemel Heath Hotel, 1 St Johns Road, Boxmoor. In the 1939 register Alfred George Phipps was the propriator.
- Home Guard