The Gold Rush. The Battle of Mons. The Mounted Home Guard.

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

An amazing story of one Dartmoor family

In February, the Moorlander ran a photo given to us that showed Dartmoor’s own Mounted Home Guard patrolling during in the midst of the Second World War.

We knew one of the men to be Chagford’s Thomas Fitzpatrick. However, we were unfortunately unable to identify the rest. That was until we received a letter from Mr John Arden who told us that the man leading the charge was one Major Albert Arden – his father. What unfolded from meeting John was one of the most astonishing family stories we have ever heard.

In a lovely little cottage and farm, just outside Holne on Dartmoor, we started our conversation talking about the fact that his grandad had been involved in the Gold Rush during the late 1800s – an event which saw an estimated 100,000 prospectors flock to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada. Though long lost, he remembers seeing pictures of his grandad stood with guns and spades in the heart of the Klondike.

His grandad, Hugh Stanley Wise, a wealthy man, was one of the first people in the United Kingdom to own a motor car in the early 1900s. His sizeable house in Lustleigh was used as a rest home for veterans of the First World War. Though John isn’t 100% sure, he suspects his wealth came from having been one of the more successful prospectors in the Gold Rush.
The heart of the conversation with John revolved around who he affectionately called Father – Albert Arden.

Albert was one of the first British servicemen to see combat during the First World War, having joined up in 1914 and served at the now infamous Battle of Mons – the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force – and was eventually awarded the Mons Star.

In fact, John explained that during the early part of the battle, his dad was walking down the road with his fellow soldiers when they came face-to-face with a load of German cavalry, creating mass confusion as neither side had yet ever fired at each other.

Albert would go on to serve in the North West frontier of India, saying that the Indian men he served with had made their own rifles and were better than the British! But, like many veterans of the time, Albert wasn’t one to talk too much about his experience.

Especially as he would have been one of the few to have survived the whole duration – making it to the rank of Major by the end.

Upon his return to Dartmoor at the end of the war, Albert bought Stiniel, a farm just north of Chagford that is so large that it has now become its own hamlet.

It is from here that Albert helped to restart the Mid-Devon Hunt – helping the event to prosper – and carrying the horn right up until 1952.

When war broke out again in 1939, Albert, with characteristic bravery, was once again one of the first people to try and relist. However, he was turned away due to his age – something which he was pretty ‘p****d off’ about.

Instead, he would go on to help set up the Mounted Home Guard for Dartmoor, which was made up of 15 or 20 volunteers who were either too old to enlist, were in a reserved occupation or both. To begin with, they had very little in the way of equipment. In fact, in the photo shown, they are all in their civilian clothes without any helmets.

It wasn’t until Albert and a wealthy Dartmoor man called Rory Philpots got together that they were able to buy all the volunteers deerstalking rifles to replace their own shotguns because, to quote Albert, they wanted to ‘shoot the Germans before they shot us – and keep as far away from the b******s as we can!’

In continuing to reminisce, John remembered a story that would fit straight into a script of Dad’s Army, when, during one particular evening sometime around 1940, there were rumours circling that the Germans had invaded Dartmoor and had landed somewhere near the Warren Inn and were heading toward Moretonhampstead.

John’s parents were one of the few families to have a phone, and so it was his mother that answered this urgent call while his father was out patrolling. At the time, she happened to own a sports car that she had bought from a former pilot. Upon taking the call, she and another First World War veteran armed themselves, jumped into the car and drove to Bush Down.

In the darkness, they saw some shadows in the distance climbing up a ditch. In response, they shot as many rounds as they could from their rifles but no Germans appeared.

The next morning they drove back-up to see what they had shot at and found three dead sheep!

In order to keep in shape just in case the Germans did invade, the Mounted Home Guard had to partake in training exercises against the regular army who would occasionally act as invading German soldiers.

During this one war game, the Home Guard managed to coax the ‘invading’ army down a very narrow road – before trapping them with two felled trees in front and behind. Once trapped, the Home Guard bombarded them with rotten potatoes – the closest things they had to grenades!

The referee declared it a total and utter victory for Dartmoor’s mounted Home Guard.

Like the various divisions up and down the country, the Home Guard was disbanded at the end of the war and Major Albert Arden returned to his farm and his hunt – a hero.

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