Arthur Webber and the Home Guard

Arthur Webber is known to us all and has many memories to share. Whatever is going on, he has done it. Cricket, Home Guard, YFC, special policeman, rearing poultry, thatching ricks, harbouring deer, working at the market. During the war he mapped all the wells in the area in case the Germans poisoned the water supply; in the 70s he directed weekend traffic in Dunster. He has a reputation as a gardener, photographer and has done tapestry. But singing is his first love. He says there’s not a tune in the hymn book he doesn’t know something about. A true countryman.

The Second World War seems a long time ago and one wouldn’t expect Cutcombe Parish to have too much involvement but you would be surprised. In earlier months I have mentioned German and Italian prisoners of war working around the Parish. This month I have taken the opportunity of reproducing extracts from Birdie Johnson’s interview with Arthur. Our thanks to them both for allowing permission. 

When war broke out Arthur and his brother Sidney joined the Home Guard. They would have to do night duty then come home and start work on the farm.
There were about 20-30 in his Home Guard, with an officer in charge, who usually came from Minehead. He did a course on bombs, and became the one who would deal with any unexploded bombs in the area. On an exercise in a quarry in Dunster, an anti-tank bomb that was supposed to blow up on a rock did not go off, so the officer decided Arthur had to tackle it. He had to lay the fuse and walk quickly to find cover before it exploded. Bossington beach was used for bomb training – he thinks there may still be some bombs there!

He was considered too valuable to agriculture to be called up to the regular army and was provided with a thresher and tractor by the Government that was small enough to be used on Exmoor’s smaller farms. It was his job to take the thresher around to the various farms in the area.

Another of his jobs in the Home Guard was to draw up a plan for the Americans showing them where all the wells in the area could be found because the Americans thought the water supply might be poisoned by the Germans. The Americans found a supply that used to go down to Quarme and took the water up onto the hills where they were camped. One night the Home Guard were invited up to the American camp for dinner – he remembers having a particular type of sausage there he had never tasted before.

There was a hump on the road to Wheddon Cross known as the ‘Colonel’s Bump’ because the soldiers both British and American would drive as fast as they could over it trying to get their jeeps to leave the ground.

American tanks were a common sight and did some damage to the railings near Watercombe – this is still visible today!

The Americans set up their guns near Dunkery Beacon and fired shells to Larkbarrow, eventually destroying it. The flash could be seen from the village followed by a bang a few seconds later. When the war was over there were shell holes left all over the place and they became full of water.
British soldiers were stationed in the Moorland Hall for a while.

The Home Guard knew D Day was coming because of the increase in military traffic in the area. They were sent up to Health Poult for night duty because they could see the bombs better from there. One night he saw 3 bombs land on Dunkery because the pilot had been unable to unload them on South Wales for some reason. The road over Dunkery was closed because of bomb damage. You can still see the holes on Dunkery now.

One night a British plane came down near Cutthorne. The pilot had bailed on the other side of the Exford road and was brought back to Wheddon Cross.
One Sunday seven American airmen parachuted out of a plane, one was found just opposite Cutcombe Church and the others further down the Avill Valley and in Wootton Courtenay. While out in a potato field he saw Spitfires shoot down a German fighter plane over Porlock marshes – there is a memorial there now to mark the spot. Another German plane came down in Bridgetown, where searchlights were positioned on his brother’s farm.

They also captured a barrage balloon over their fields which had come over from South Wales. They wound the slack of the balloon’s wire round some big trees to make it stop.

The archive is accompanied by the book REFLECTIONS, life portraits of Exmoor, in which photographer Mark Rattenbury’s intuitive photographs capture an element of the contributors’ personalities