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Story of how one Suffolk Home Guard was formed revealed in secret WWII diary

Anthony Eden called for volunteers to deal with parachutists.

Herbert Steward, Norman Dickinson, William Banham and Bertram Gissing signed on.

These are the opening lines of a ‘secret diary’ revealing the formation the World War Two Home Guard in Hoxne.

Hoxne Home Guard had around 100 members when it disbanded in 1944. Picture: Hoxne Heritage Group.
Hoxne Home Guard had around 100 members when it disbanded in 1944. Picture: Hoxne Heritage Group.

The diary, was written by Henry Palgrave Raven, a former First World War Army major, who lived in the village at the time.

It begins on May 14, 1940, but on August 16, 1941, it suddenly stops.

“We don’t know why it stops or what happened to Palgrave Raven,” said Graham Thornett, of the Hoxne Heritage Group.

David Hyde, chair of Hoxne Heritage Group with the WWII diary. PICTURE: Mecha Morton
David Hyde, chair of Hoxne Heritage Group with the WWII diary. PICTURE: Mecha Morton

“What we do know though, is that the war diary is extremely unique as a piece of history, documenting a critical stage in this island’s history.

“If the authorities had known about the diary at the time, serious questions would have been asked about both its compilation – and containing such sensitive information, its very existence."

The diary fist came to light 18 months ago. It was being kept by the grandson of the Denham Home Guard section leader, a relation of Mr Thornett.

The secret WWII diary.
The secret WWII diary.

It was offered as one of the artefacts to be displayed during a forthcoming series of exhibitions about Hoxne during World War Two.

It will now be one of the cornerstones of the first of a series of exhibitions by the Heritage Hoxne Group, marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, and which will be held at St Edmunds Hall, Hoxne, this Sunday, September 8.

“Palgrave Raven has documented the formation of the Home Guard in such detail that we even know how many buttons there were on their battle dress," said Mr Thornett.

"It also talks about the top secret Auxiliary Unit, created by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the SAS of its day, and records suspected sightings of parachutists in Mellis, Botesdale and Denham.

“If it had fallen into the hands of the German forces, it could also have been very compromising, indeed.”

In 1940, East Anglia was on high alert with German forces expected to invade at any time.

The Hoxne Home Guard grew quickly with around 50 volunteers signing up within 24 hours.

Information could have been compromising.
Information could have been compromising.

“German troops were thought to be planning to arrive on the coast from the ports of Belgium and Holland," said Mr Thornett.

“By late 1940 the Luftwaffe had not broken the RAF so the invasion was postponed, but not abandoned, until Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941.”

The 77-page diary, is neatly handwritten written in fountain pen in a hardbound notebook.

It also covers the issuing of rifles, the training of men, the preparation of ‘Molotoff bottles’, the setting up of road blocks and other defences.

St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church, Hoxne, was used as a lookout position, mostly at night. Over the summer of 1940, the volunteers reported a great deal of aerial activity with sirens audible from Diss and Eye, and anti-aircraft fire from batteries towards the cost.

The diary doesn’t, however, cover the formation of the Hoxne Women’s Home Guard.

"We do know a little about Palgrave Raven which we will be revealing at the first exhibition. His diary is something, special unique, and as a piece of history, something we will cherish.” David Hyde, chair of the Hoxne Heritage Group.

The diary will be on display at the first Hoxne Heritage Group exhibition on Sunday, telling the story of Hoxne through the war years.

Copies have also been sent to the Suffolk Regiment and The Imperial War Museum, London.

The free exhibition also documents recollections of villagers, artefacts from the time and roll of honour of all those villagers who served in the armed forces, Home Guard and Armed Air Raid Precautions

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