From grammar schoolboys to defenders of the city

Southsea Common, autumn 1939
Southsea Common, autumn 1939
Nelson's column at Portsdown Hill

WATCH: The original Nelson's Column

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The 214 Battery, seen in training in one of the pictures on these pages last Friday, was commanded by Roy Willis, a maths master at Portsmouth Grammar School between 1925 and 1970.

He took command of 214 Battery (of the 57th Heavy AA Regiment RA, TA) in 1931 and encouraged many grammar school leavers to join, not only out of patriotism, but to enjoy the social and sporting life in the Territorial Army.

LUFTWAFFE LOOKOUTS AA spotters and mascot

LUFTWAFFE LOOKOUTS AA spotters and mascot

By the time the battery was mobilised in August 1939, out of 235 officers and men about half were former pupils of the school, many of whom were later commissioned.

The reunion photo featured last week was taken in, I believe, 1988 (rather than 2012). Of the 22 ex-Gunners present, seven were Old Portmuthians, all of whom were recruited by Roy Willis. They are RA Hoar, AN Clark, HA Gill, JE Smith, C Corner, PS Horn, and GH Kinch.

The last named, Gordon Kinch, was commissioned on the outbreak of war.

The battery played its full part in the defence of Portsmouth and the south coast from 1939 to 1941, and then served in North Africa and Italy from 1942 to 1945 with the 8th Army, not only as anti-aircraft but in the dual role as field artillery against enemy batteries, mortars, tanks and troop concentrations.

JOURNAL An extract from Gordon Kinchs diary with a record of a big raid in August 1940

JOURNAL An extract from Gordon Kinchs diary with a record of a big raid in August 1940

Gordon kept an album of photographs that recorded his unit’s time on Southsea Common and with the 8th Army.

He was promoted to the rank of major and was a regular at reunions until his death in 2003.

n Today’s photographs are reproduced with the kind permission of Gordon’s daughter Caro Steward.

SPORTING 214 Battery footballers on Southsea Common in October 1939

SPORTING 214 Battery footballers on Southsea Common in October 1939

CITY DEFENDERS Officers and sergeants of 214 Battery on Southsea Common in 1939

CITY DEFENDERS Officers and sergeants of 214 Battery on Southsea Common in 1939