Although vaguely aware of the political scene, noting events like the 1926 General Strike and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it was not until the burning of the Reichstag (the German Parliament building) in 1933 that I really paid much attention to politics, particularly international politics.

Reference had been made to Adolf Hitler in the national press.  He had formed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party some years earlier and had written a book on his aspirations (“Mein Kampf”).  Germany had been left in a very bad economic state after its defeat in the Great War of 1914-18. 

Reparations demanded by the victors were crippling and poverty became rife throughout the land. In this atmosphere, extremist parties bred and flourished.   In order to gain a following it was necessary to find a scapegoat for the country’s ills.   Thus the Jews came to be blamed for the collapse into near anarchy and Hitler and his mobsters set about persecuting them.

The Weimar Republic, which came into being after the fall of the Kaiser in 1918, was too weak to stop the rot and the burning of the parliament building heralded its demise.    Hitler and his storm-troopers took over the government of the country.    He assumed the role of Chancellor and the Western world slowly woke up to the danger facing them, Germany ceased to be a member of the League of Nations, a body formed after the Great War to ensure there would be no repetition of that catastrophe.

In 1936, Hitler ordered his troops to march into the Rhineland territory transferred to France in 1918.   He formed an alliance with the Italian dictator, Mussolini, and together they helped General Franco take over power in Spain.   In 1938 Austria, Hitler’s birthplace, was annexed and the Sudetenland (the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia) was overrun in September 1938 under an agreement signed in Munich by Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister), Edouard Daladier (the French Premier), Hitler and Mussolini – this was intended to give Europe “Peace in our time”.    From then on very few people trusted Hitler, and it was not long before their fears were justified because, six months later, he annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia.

I was studying for the Intermediate examination of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants at the time and, at the same time, spent many hours considering what I could do for my country.    I felt convinced that war was coming and could not concentrate on my studies, which suffered as a consequence.    As a result, I failed the 1939 examination.

In the 1930s successive governments had allowed the country’s defences to run down until they were in a perilously poor state so, during the early months of 1939, the government agreed to two measures to meet the possible threat to our security.   Namely, conscription for men aged 20 and the doubling of the Territorial Army.   I was 22 so would not be conscripted and the alternative seemed a good way for me to satisfy my need to be doing something constructive against the Fascist menace. One evening, after the close of business, an officer from the local T.A. (Major C.A.C. Turner) came to speak to the staff in the Town Hall about the need for men in the Essex Yeomanry, and I resolved to join as soon as possible.

Thus it was that I became a lowly Gunner in the 2nd/339 Battery, 104 (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, R.H.A., later to be re-named 413 Battery, 147th (Essex Yeomanry) Regt., R.H.A.   Hundreds of men joined at the same time and, as a result of the pressure, the medical examinations we had to pass before joining were not all they should have been.    It was, in fact, so superficial that one of the recruits who had only one lung (it subsequently transpired) was passed A1, and died three months after the outbreak of war.    It is interesting to note that 19 of the 57 members of the Borough Treasurer’s Department joined the Essex Yeomanry following Major Turner’s visit.

This Officer, who was charged with the job of raising a Battery of 200 men for the Yeomanry, visited most of the large offices and banks in the town and successfully recruited all the men he needed in about one month.    This new Battery, designated 413 Battery, became operational early in May 1939, when we all turned up for our first parade.    We had no uniforms of any kind.

Felix Roland Johnson’s Soldiers Service & Pay Book. Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.
Felix R. Johnson’s Service & Pay Book.
Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.

Senior Non-commissioned officers (N.C.O.’s) from the first line Essex Yeomanry Regiment (the 104th) were seconded to the new formation, and they all looked very smart in their uniforms.   I was surprised to find that some of them were employed by the Borough Council, Battery Sergeant-Major Mitchell among them.   In civilian life he was foreman of the Highways Department’s tarring gang.   He was a real character, of Pickwickian build – he was soon affectionately nicknamed “Bubblyguts”.

We were introduced to the officers in the Battery and allocated to our various duties.   I had no special qualifications so I became the loader of No.1 gun in B Troop.   Those who worked for Estate Agents became Surveyors; those employed by the Electricity Department became signallers; any who were able to drive became drivers; and the rest, apart from two or three picked for office duties, became gunners.    At that time there was no question of discovering the aptitudes or I.Q. of the men; no tools were available for the purpose. However, we were all green and happy to be doing something.

During the first few weeks, we spent some time on the Artillery Barracks square – marching up and down; turning about; and generally getting used to obeying the orders of our N.C.O.’s, much to the amusement of the Regulars stationed in the barracks.   It was some weeks before we saw a gun, as there were only four 4.5″ Howitzers available for the use of the new recruits, one Battery of which was stationed in Old Harlow.   When the guns finally arrived we discovered they were ‘For Drill Purposes Only’. 

11 June 1939. Felix attended an Essex Yeomanry  Church Parade. Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.
11 June 1939. Felix Johnson attended an Essex Yeomanry Church Parade, Thornwood Common, Epping. Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.

In June we received the first part of our kit, which consisted of battle dress and trousers, forage cap, socks and boots. I remember proudly donning mine and riding off on my bicycle to the Drill Hall. It was a very hot day and I had to stop for an ice cream en route to cool myself off. Some of our Gun Drills, with imaginary guns, took place in Mumford’s old factory buildings in Culver Street, which had been empty for several years.   It stood on the site of the Culver Precinct retail development.  

Summer 1939. Gt. Horkesley: Felix (front, 2nd left) & fellow Essex Yeomen. Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.
Summer 1939. Great Horkesley, Essex.
Felix (front, 2nd from left) & fellow Essex Yeomen.
Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.

The officer in charge of ‘B’ Troop was Captain George Perkins, a veteran who had served with the White Russian Army in 1919. He was very well liked and respected by his men.    He had connections with a London brewing company and owned a large house at Great Horkesley.  In August he took ‘B’ Troop over to Great Horkesley for an exercise in the grounds of his house, during which our recently issued tin hats were used for the first time.    The exercise ended with a splendid feast in his house.

In the same month, Hitler invaded Poland and it became clear to us all that war was almost inevitable.   We were due to go to our first training camp in September but, in the last few days of August, some of our Unit were ordered to report to our recently acquired Drill Hall on Hythe Quay, Colchester to prepare for mobilisation. This took place on September 2nd 1939.  Thus my days as a civilian were over for some years to come.

August 1939. B Troop, 413 Bty., 147 Essex Yeomanry Field Reg., R.A. at ‘Woodside’, Gt. Horkesley. ‘Woodside’was owned by Troop Commander Captain G. A. Perkins. Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.
August 1939. B Troop, 413 Bty., 147 Essex Yeomanry Field Reg., R.A.
‘Woodside’, Gt. Horkesley (owned by Troop Commander Capt. G. A. Perkins).
Courtesy/© of The Felix R. Johnson Collection.

[N.B. The photograph above, was taken on the day that members of B Troop, 413 Bty., 147 Essex Yeomanry Field Reg., R.A., were first issued with their helmets. HAJ]

[N.B. “Troop Commander Captain George Perkins” was George Algernon Perkins, born 18 March 1896 at Uffington, Shropshire.  George was baptised on 22 June 1896 at Uffington, Shropshire.  He was the son of London-born parents Southwark Brewery owner Algernon Edward Perkins and his wife Meriel Gundrede (nee Leighton).  His maternal grandfather was Sir Baldwyn Leighton, 8th Baronet & Conservative Party M.P.   George, through his mother, Muriel, was a descendant of King Henry IV.

1901 Census:      Exeter Road, Bournmouth, Hampshire. Living with mother [“Living on Own Means”]; two older sisters; a “Governess”; a “Nurse, Hospital”; a “Nurse, Domestic”; and two “Nursemaids”.  Father was at 12 & 13 Grafton Street, Mayfair & Knightsbridge. “Brewer”. With a “Housekeeper”.

1911 Census:      ? As yet, not discovered.

1920, 26 Nov:     Initiated into the Freemason Jerusalem Lodge 197, London {Clerkenwell?): Profession – “Brewer”; Residence – “Altrincham” (Trafford, Greater Manchester); Age – “24”.

1924,10 Sept:     Married (in Norwich, Norfolk) Marjory Emily Morse, whose father was Lt. Col. Arthur Francis Morse. George and Marjory had one daughter Alison Marjorie Gundrede Perkins, who was born 8 August 1926 in Kensington, London; and one son John D. L. Perkins, who was born in Norwich in 1929.

1939 Register: “Woodhouse [area]”, Nayland Road, Great Horkesley.  “George A. Perkins”. Personal Occupation: “Army Officer”.   With wife Marjory Emily, whose Personal Occupation was Living on “Private Means” plus the note “St. John Ambulance Brigade”]

1980, 8 Oct:         George Algeron Perkins “of Bure House Lamas Norwich” died. (Bure House, The Street, Lammas, Norfolk).

See for pic of wife Marjory and Meriel plus HAJ]