The Holding Battlion – Chequers & Churchill

Malcolm Hancock MC, his time in The Holding Battalion – Reel 12

Q: What happened following your period of service with The Coats Mission?

MEH: Well the Coats Mission eventually, I left it before it was disbanded and went back then to the Holding Battalion which was at Regent’s Park.

Q: What were your duties?

MEH: Our duties there were . . . the formation of the Holding Battalion was for the purpose of keeping, at Regents Park, trained men ready to be sent to provide reinforcement drafts to the battalions which were serving abroad, and they were all highly trained soldiers. Amongst other duties we had to do there were finding the Guards, the King’s Guard for Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace and also we had to find the Guard for the Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers. Both of those were jobs which we undertook with the greatest pride and it meant a good deal of hard work but the officers in particular very much liked going down to Chequers where, particularly when the Prime Minister was there, Mr Churchill was there at weekends. We had very strict discipline of course, security was very much observed. The officers occasionally were asked to have dinner at Chequers with the Prime Minister which I well remember of one occasion, one dinner party I was asked to go to, was attended by Lord Louis Mountbatten and I remember the Prime Minister having  along conversation with him at the dinner table about Lord Louis’ father who, at the beginning of the First World War being of German origin was treated very badly and I got the impression, as the conversation went on, that the Prime Minister in some way or another had a very great liking, not only a great liking for Lord Louis, but that he wanted to help him as much as he could and he did, I think, help to promote him in the Navy to large extent. But those were interesting times and we used to go occasionally in the evening to the cinema show which the Prime Minister held at Chequers. He had a special room for it up there and he loved to go and see these films, I can’t remember what they were, they were sort of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin films, that kind of form of relaxation which of course he thoroughly enjoyed, always in his boiler suit [laughs] and I remember on one occasion, during the film, a message came to the Prime Minister, he left the room rather hurriedly, came back and said, Great news, the King of Italy has abdicated, which was, I suppose, one of the turning points of the war. [Not the official abdication as that was in 1946.] But those were great times.

Q: Can you remember anything else about Churchill? What impression did you form of his character or anything you remember about him at all really?

MEH:  Well he impressed me and I’ve no doubt many other people with the tremendous force of his personality and he gave one the impression that he was in absolute charge of the whole thing which is a tremendous undertaking. But he had a constitution like iron and was able to deal with all of it. Not only did he deal with things of enormous importance but also minute detail as well. It was rather interesting for me that his ADC during the whole of the war was an uncle of mine by marriage, my wife’s uncle, Captain Thompson [Commander “Tommy” Thompson]. Now he’s been in the Marines service before the war and Churchill had known him quite well and when war started he said, I must have Tommy as my ADC, I can’t face the thing without him, must have him. And the result was that Captain Thompson was with him all during the war and I used to meet him quite a lot, not only when he was actually with Churchill but of course as one of my family, it was particularly interesting.

Q: What were the military details of these guards you actually put at Chequers and Buckingham Palace? How were the guards actually organised? Can you remember?

MEH: Oh well, the Buckingham Palace and the St James’s Guard were such as are carried on today when the Changing of The Guard takes place in the yard of Buckingham Palace or St James’s Palace and then the new Guard marches off and the other Guard marches back and you hand over the Keys.

Q: Were you in ceremonial uniform?

MEH: Not during the war no, we were in khaki drill. We carried the colours but there was no ceremonial dress of any sort. The arrangements at Chequers were slightly less formal of course. There was a series of slip trenches in strategic positions again and done with as much security as possible but that wasn’t quite all that easy there. I know it would have been quite a contention but there is a public footpath that goes right across the Chequers Estate which cannot be closed. It seems an extraordinary thing that anyone could have gone along that footpath quite close to where the Prime Minister was. We had to post sentries of course, day and night, and we had to constantly do the rounds and see that they were alert and so on. I don’t think the men enjoyed that very much, they much rather have been at Regent’s Park Barracks near the bright lights of Camden Town.

Q: What was your next posting following the holding units?

MEH: well the next posting I had was to an organisation called Auxiliary Units.

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