Shropshire History

Shropshire

Home Guard

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On the night of 14th May 1940, Anthony Eden made his first speech as Secretary of State for War. Part of this speech was asking for volunteers for the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV).

 
“We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance that an invasion would be repelled doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed. In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give your name at your local police station, and then, when we want you, we will let you know”

 

The name was changed from Local Defence Volunteers to Home Guard in July 1940 on the instructions of Winston Churchill, who felt that the original name was uninspiring. Originally all members of the Home Guard were volunteers but in 1942 the National Service Act made it possible for compulsory enrolment to be applied in areas where units were below strength. As the age limit for conscription into the normal army was 18, and the Home Guard was 17, conscripting 17 year olds into the Home Guard was seen as a good way to train youngsters in a military environment before they were called up for service in the regular army.

 

The Government expected 150,000 men to volunteer when Anthony Eden made his broadcast but, within 24 hours, 250,000 men had put down their names and by the end of June 1940 the number of volunteers was just under 1½ million. The number never fell below 1 million until the Home Guard was disbanded. Members of the Home Guard were either in reserved occupations, too young or too old to serve in the normal army and approximately 40% of volunteers were First World War veterans.

 

Although the Home Guard had sections, platoons, companies and battalions, they were organised differently from the regular army. In the regular army sections, platoons, companies and battalions are formed on a number basis so that when you compare the size of companies in different infantry battalions, normally they would be about the same. Home Guard battalions were formed on an area basis, normally covering towns or districts. This meant that a battalion in one town could be four or five times larger than the battalion in a neighbouring town. Within each battalion, again platoons and even companies were formed on an area basis, covering specific parts of towns or districts.

 

     

 

There were no uniforms at first and volunteers wore an armband that said "LDV". At first the LDV were poorly armed, since the regular forces had priority for weapons and equipment. The LDV's original role had largely been to observe and report enemy movements but it swiftly changed to a fighting role. Many of them had brave but unrealistic ideas of fighting German soldiers with pitchforks and shotguns. Some even had a home-made pike made from a bread knife tied to the end of a broom handle. It is just as well that they never had to fight with these.

 

 

The Regular Army standard weapons were the Lee-Enfield .303” rifle, 9mm Sten Sub Machine Gun, Bren .303” Light Machine Gun and Vickers .303” Medium Machine Gun. Only a few of these were issued to Home Guard units until towards the end of the war.  Many officers from the First World War used their Webley revolvers and some units produced home-made armoured vehicles by adding steel plates to cars or lorries. The US National Rifle Association collected and shipped large numbers of privately donated rifles for use by the Home Guard. The problem was that they were of different calibres and there was much confusion over which bullets to use. Within a few months proper uniforms and equipment were issued and large numbers of the M1917 Enfield rifle were purchased for the Home Guard. These used a .30” bullet which was totally different from the .303” bullet used by the standard British Army Lee-Enfield rifle. A 2” wide red band was painted around the stock as a warning since a .303” bullet would load but jam the rifle. For automatic fire, the obsolete Lewis Light Machine Gun was issued. When Lend Lease happened in 1941, Home Guard units started getting American Thomson sub-machine guns and Browning automatic rifles.

 

Webley .455” Revolver

 

Lee-Enfield .303” Rifle

 

M1917 .30” Rifle

 

Browning .30” Automatic Rifle

 

Sten 9mm Sub machine Gun

 

Thompson .45” Sub Machine Gun

 

Bren .303” Light Machine Gun

 

Lewis Light Machine Gun

 

Vickers Medium Machine Gun

 

The Home Guard also inherited weapons that the regular Army didn’t want or no longer required, ie

 

29mm Spigot Mortar

spigot mortar

Also known as the Blacker Bombard, this was an infantry anti-tank weapon devised by Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Blacker in the early years of the Second World War. It was introduced at a time of a grave shortage of weapons but was not popular and only accepted after the intervention of Churchill. Although there were doubts about the effectiveness of the Bombard, many were issued but none saw combat.

 

Sticky Bomb

 

Officially known as the Grenade, Hand, Anti-Tank No. 74. It was developed after Dunkirk to fill an urgent need for anti-tank weapons. The grenade consisted of a glass sphere containing nitroglycerin, covered in a powerful adhesive and surrounded by a sheet-metal casing. When the user pulled a pin on the handle of the grenade, the casing would fall away and expose the sphere. Another pin would activate the firing mechanism and the user would then attempt to stick the grenade onto an enemy tank with sufficient force to break the sphere. After it was attached, releasing the lever on the handle would activate a 5 second fuse which would then detonate the nitroglycerin. The grenade had several faults, the worst ones being a failure to stick to dusty or muddy tanks and its tendency to stick to the user’s uniform. Between 1940-43, approximately 2½ million were produced.

 

No 76 Special Incendiary Grenade

 

This was an incendiary grenade made with  yellow phosphorus, benzene, water and a 2” strip of raw rubber, all in a half-pint bottle sealed with a stopper. When thrown against a hard surface, the glass would shatter and the contents would instantly ignite, liberating choking fumes of phosphorus pentoxide and sulphur dioxide as well as producing a great deal of heat. It was produced in vast numbers and by August 1941 well over 6 million had been manufactured. The grenade could either be thrown by hand or fired from the Northover Projector.

 

2½” Northover Projector

 

This consisted of a hollow metal tube attached to a tripod, with a rudimentary breech at one end. Projectiles were fired with the use of black powder ignited by a standard musket percussion cap and it had an effective range of between 100-150 yards. Although it was cheap and easy to manufacture it did have several problems, ie it was difficult to move and the No 76 Special Incendiary Grenades it used as one type of ammunition had a tendency to break inside the breech, damaging the weapon and injuring the crew. Production began in late 1940, and by the beginning of 1943 nearly 19,000 were in service.

 

3” Smith Gun

 

The weapon consisted of a 3” smoothbore barrel approximately 54” long and mounted on a carriage. It was tipped onto one end in action and was capable of firing both anti-tank and anti-personnel shells to ranges of around 300 yards. It was a heavy and awkward weapon to move around and it developed a terrifying reputation for killing its crew. The gun was not introduced until 1942 and only came with 6 shells. One of the advantages was that it could be turned over onto its wheels and towed behind a normal car or van

 

2 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun

 

The gun was initially developed as the weapon for the Cruiser Tank Mk I but in 1934 it was adapted as an anti-tank gun. The carriage had an innovative three-legged construction. In the traveling position, one of the legs was used as a towing trail and the other two were folded. When the gun was positioned for action, the legs were laid along the ground and the wheels were lifted up. This gave the gun good stability and it could be traversed 360o, allowing it to quickly engage moving vehicles from any direction. The barrel had a diameter of 40 mm and the shell weighed 2 pounds. By 1940, however, it was largely ineffective against German tanks.

 

Initially, women were not allowed to join the Home Guard but in 1942 the Women’s Home Guard Auxiliaries were formed and women were able to work in an administrative capacity. The only uniform that they were supplied with was a small bakelite brooch, with the initials WHD on it, but most bought their own uniform.

 

  

 

The Home Guard was stood down on 3rd December 1944 and became an inactive reserve unit. It was officially disbanded on 31st December 1945.

 

 

 

The Shropshire Home Guard

 

The local Home Guard units were attached to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and wore their badge. They were split into 11 battalions numbered 1-11 and the county of Shropshire was termed as a Zone. It was part of Welsh Border Sub-District of the Mid-West District and was split into 4 Sectors, each responsible for one or more Battalions.  The organization was as follows :-

 

(note that only a few of  the platoons are identified)

 

Shropshire Zone HQ

1 Claremont Buildings, Shrewsbury

Commanding Officer – Colonel Turnbull

 

Oswestry No.9 Sector

2nd Battalion

HQ – Walford Manor, Baschurch

Battle HQ – Queen’s Head Hotel, West Felton

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Morris Eyton

A Company (Ellesmere) - Drill Hall, Birch Rd

B Company (Baschurch) – Public Hall

C Company (Felton Butler) – Nescliffe Hotel

D Company (West Felton) – Queen’s Head Hotel

E Company (St Martin’s) - Derwen Farm

F Company (Oswestry) – Drill Hall

G Company (Trefonen) – The Vicarage.

 

Shrewsbury No.10 Sector

1st Battalion

HQ - Morris House, Wyle Cop

Battle HQ – Shire Hall

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Dann

A Company (Shrewsbury Central) – Coleham Riding School

B Company (Shrewsbury South) – Brook House, Meole Brace

C Company (Shrewsbury East) – 1 Monkmoor Rd, Monkmoor

D Company (Shrewsbury North) – West Midlands Electricity, Ditherington

     Sentinel Wagon Works Platoon - Sentinel Factory

E Company (Shrewsbury West) – 40 Wood St, Coton Hill

     Corporation Lane Platoon (Coton Hill Farm)

K Company (Shrewsbury School) - Junior Training Corps.

 

3rd Battalion

HQ – Corbett Estate, Market Drayton

Battle HQ – Old Hall, Cheswardine

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Lees

A Company (Woore)

B Company (Hinstock) – Hinstock Manor

C Company (Market Drayton) – The Towers

D Company (Shawbury) – Foulkes Grange

E Company (Hodnet) – Old Auction Yard

F Company (Wem) – Drill Hall

     5th Platoon (Burlton & Loppington)

G Company (Prees) - Prees Hall

H Company (Whitchurch)

J Company (Ightfield).

 

Wellington No.11 Sector

5th Battalion

HQ – Drill Hall, King St, Wellington

Commanding Officer – Col Oldham

A Company (Wellington) – 20 Church St

     Wellington Railway Platoon

B Company (Oakengates) – Priorslee Hall, Shifnal

C Company (Dawley) – Town Hall

G Company (Works)

     Blockley’s Brickworks Platoon (Hadley).

 

Members of the Wellington Battalion being inspected in 1943 by Lt Gen Schreiber

 

6th Battalion

HQ – The Firs, Buildwas Rd, Ironbridge

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Viscount de Vesci

A Company (Broseley)

B Company (Burwarton)

C Company (Ironbridge & Buildwas)

D Company (Madeley) – Market Hall

E Company (Much Wenlock) – Talbot Grange

 

10thBattalion

HQ – 4 Bradford St, Shifnal

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Foster

A Company (Shifnal) – Drill Hall

B Company (Albrighton)

C Company (Sherrifhales)

D Company (Kemberton) – Parish Rooms

E Company (Ryton) – Beckbury Hall, Beckbury.

 

11th Battalion

HQ – Harper Adams College

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Lovatt

A Company (Newport) – Newport Grammar School

B Company (Edgmond) - National Institute of Poultry

C Company (Roden)

     1 Platoon (Rodington)

     3 Platoon (Withington)

D Company (Great Bolas)

E Company (High Ercall).

     2 Platoon (High Ercall)

 

South Shropshire No.12 Sector

4th Battalion

HQ – Lyth Hill

Battle HQ – The Vicarage, Bayston Hill

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Gatacre

A Company (Atcham) - Mytton & Mermaid Hotel

     Upton Magna Platoon

B Company (Cressage) - Village Hall

C Company (Cross Houses) - Fox Farm

D Company (Bayston Hill) - Memorial Hall

F Company (Pontesbury) - Lion Hotel

G Company (Minsterley) - Mount’s Nursery, Pontesbury

H Company (Wollaston) - Salopian Stores, Westbury

J Company (Chirbury) - The Herbert Arms

K Company (Hanwood) - Lower Edgbold.

 

7th Battalion

HQ – Market House, Craven Arms

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Benson

A Company (Church Stretton) – 59 High St

B Company (Craven Arms) – Coton House, Clun Rd

C Company (Corvedale)

D Company (Clun)

E Company (Bishop’s Castle)

F Company (Ludlow) – 10 Church St

G Company (Clee Hill) – Tilderstone, Bitterley

     Bitterley Platoon

     Clee Hill Platoon

     Corley Platoon

     H Company (Burford) – Ladyfield Farm, Caynham

I Company (Bucknell).

 

8th Battalion

HQ – Drill Hall, St Mary’s St, Bridgnorth

Commanding Officer – Lt Col Foster

A Company (Bridgnorth East) – 7 Underhill St

B Company (Bridgnorth West)

C Company (Quatt) – Dudmaston

D Company (Claverley) – Sandford Hall

E Company (Worfield) – Wyken House Dairy

F Company (Highley) – Drill Hall

    15 Platoon (Highley)

G Company (Cleobury Mortimer) – Fox Inn

H Company (Middleton Scriven) – South Endon Farm.

 

 

North Wales MT Column

 

There were also two separate Home Guard units that were not under the direct command of Shropshire Home Guard.

 

9th Battalion

This was created in September 1941 and recruited from Post Office employees. They had a specific task to protect telephone exchanges and repeater stations in Shropshire, Hereford, Powys and Montgomeryshire. They also protected the wireless transmission station at Criggion.

A Company

B Company

C Company

D Company

E Company.

 

Great Western Railways (GWR) Midlands & North Battalion

This was created in January 1943 and recruited from railway workers. They had a specific task to protect railway lines, bridges, tunnels and buildings.

4th Company (Shrewsbury) – consisted of 355 railway workers from Shrewsbury, Craven Arms, Ludlow, Market Drayton and Wellington.

5th Company (Wrexham) – included railway workers from Oswestry.

 

Gazetteer of Sites

 

Bryn-y-Wystyn Observation Post (SJ328235)

Site of a Home Guard observation post at Bryn-y-Wystyn, on a small rise in open land two miles south-west of West Felton.

 

Church Stretton HQ (SO45279357)

Site of the Home Guard headquarters at 59 High Street.

 

Draycott Weapon Training School (SO812928)

Training centre that was used as a Home Guard weapon training school.

 

Ellesmere HQ (SJ397348)

Trimpley Hall was briefly used as the Home Guard Headquarters in 1940 and had been used as a hospital during the First World War. It has now been demolished.

 

Hodnet HQ (SJ62042818)

Site of the Home Guard headquarters at the Old Auction Yard on the outskirts of Hodnet.

 

Ludlow HQ (SO51117466)

Site of the Home Guard headquarters of F Company of 7th Battalion of the Home Guard at 10 Church Street, Ludlow.

 

Shrewsbury HQ (SJ48781254)

Home Guard headquarters for Shropshire. Located at No 1 Claremont Buildings, Claremont Bank, Shrewsbury.

 

Shrewsbury HQ (SJ49101375)

Large farm house, yard and outbuildings with walled garden used as the Home Guard headquarters of E Company (Corporation Lane Platoon) 1st Battalion from 1940. Located at Coton Hill Farm, Corporation Lane, Shrewsbury.

 

Shrewsbury HQ (SJ49601214)

Headquarters for A Company of 1st Battalion Home Guard. Consisted of a small guardhouse, gates, indoor drill hall and offices. Demolished in 1998. Located at the Riding School, Coleham.

 

Stokesay Court Training School No 3 (SO44447864)

Training centre at Onibury that was used for tactics and leadership instruction for Home Guard units. 

 

Walford HQ (SJ43842033)

Walford Manor was home to Colonel Morris-Eyton, Commanding Officer of the local Home Guard Battalion, and was used as the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion.

 

Welsh Frankton Observation Post (SJ36393314)

Welsh Frankton church tower was used as a Home Guard observation post in 1940.

 

West Felton HQ (SJ33912684)

The Queen’s Head Hotel was the headquarters of D Company 2nd Battalion Home Guard. The adjacent canal bridge was a local strongpoint manned by the Home Guard. This may have been obstructed but the old bridge was swept away and replaced by a new one.

 

Yarnest Wood Training Area (SJ415323)

A Home Guard training area that was in use during World War II. It is located at Yarnest Quarry, east of Lee, and was used by the Ellesmere Home Guard for weapons training.