71st Middlesex HG HAA Battery

Ken Finding was prompted to write to the Acton History Group after reading about Gunnersbury Park in The Acton Historian 52. His memories of the Park appeared in issue 53 in May 2012.

71st Mx HG HAA Batt“I recollect the time I discovered the Park at about the age of seven after moving to Acton from Yorkshire. I revelled in exploring the grounds on my bike, the stately buildings, model boats on the pond by the Temple, fishing in the lake at the southern end for which one had to have a licence. In those days, the sun always seemed to shine!

In 1941, at sixteen, I lied my way into D Coy 10th Middx Batt Home Guard, stationed at the TA HQ in Horn Lane, and I made friends with Derek of a similar age in the same platoon. Early in 1942, we discussed what we should do now that Hitler had turned his attention to Russia and the threat of invasion had lessened. The Luftwaffe was still overhead at night so, eager to see some action, however slight, we applied to join an anti-aircraft battery as applications were now being accepted from members of the Home Guard.

To our delight we were posted to one of the Gunnersbury Park 3.7inch anti-aircraft guns, the others being manned by the gunners of the Royal Artillery. This four gun battery was situated in the north west corner of the park and surrounded by barbed wire. The only access was from the car park via a rough concrete road past the guard and the row of wooden huts, containing the Royal Artillery headquarters, barracks, cookhouse and the two large vehicle sheds. All that remains today is a short section of the road at the far end of the car park.

We were still only seventeen, but nobody queried that as eleven Home Guardsmen embarked on intensive training and were eventually sent to Bradwell on the east coast for live firing of the 40lb shells out to sea. Over the next two years, we saw intermittent action during air raids on the capital, culminating in a very hectic weekend following the opening of the main flying bomb campaign, Thursday, 15 June 1944.

After a very busy night shooting at these strange craft with and which took no evasive action, Friday dawned with a clear blue sky punctuated by puffs of black smoke from our exploding shells. By 10 am, empty shell cases littered the gun pit and paint was blistering on the gun barrel as we, the Home Guard detachment, were stood down. Apparently, we were exceeding our hours of duty. Our loud protests were to no avail and we were ordered off the site to resume our normal wartime jobs. However, on Sunday morning, the call went out for us to report immediately to the battery. We were to relieve the gunners as they had been in continuous action ever since Thursday night without respite. When we arrived, we were shocked at their appearance. They were marched off to showers, food and 24 hours rest and so tired that I doubt that they noticed us waiting to take over. We set to, clearing the gun pits of shell cases, cleaning the guns and restocking the bunkers with fresh ammunition.

To my knowledge the Gunnersbury guns, indeed the guns of London defence, never fired again. In addition to bringing down a V1 over London that might have passed over, (not a good idea), we were showering Acton and the surrounding boroughs with shell splinters. The main defence was now being set up along the coast – a combination of fighter aircraft, AA guns firing proximity fuses, and balloons, which in the following weeks proved to be more and more effective in bringing the V1s down in more open countryside, or, better still, exploding them in the air.

As the months of 1944 went by, we still manned our gun, which by now was radar aimed and fully automatic. With guns loaded, the battery would train on an incoming flying bomb until it dived to the ground, whereupon all guns would be unloaded and the live rounds returned to store. I would occasionally see the plume of black smoke where the bomb had landed framed in the barrel of the gun. All very frustrating.

Apart from that small piece of road, nothing now remains of the HAA Battery to remind me of bitterly cold duty nights spent manning the gun, drinking hot cocoa from a pail, or trying to sleep in the barely heated Nissen hut alongside.”

Ken also told us that he has a detailed report of incidents in and around the park during the war years sent to him by Derek Goddard. Derek’s father lived in Popes Lane in a house backing on to the park, and kept a record of all that he witnessed. Mr Goddard reported that in 1996 he was asked to write up this record of his father’s recollections for Gunnersbury Park Museum. Ken also has a copy of a photo taken by a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft of the Brentford area in August 1940 on which Gunnersbury Park and the four gun battery can clearly be seen. The Brentford Water Works, now the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, is outlined in the photo, possibly for future attention by the Luftwaffe. He remembers that each evening, before the arrival of the enemy during those dark nights, the tall stack tower at the works, now under a preservation order, was used for calibrating all four guns.

Thank you to the Acton History Group for permission to use this article