Tewkesbury's Home Guard (part 1: 1940-1941)

by Mick Wilks
It is now 70 years since that momentous summer of 1940, when a German invasion of Britain appeared to be imminent and when the British government called for men to join the ‘Local Defence Volunteers’ (later the ‘Home Guard’) to help defend the country. It is timely to reflect on the effort and sacrifice that was made by firstly the volunteers – but later conscripts – to guard our homes while preparing for battle.[1] I am, therefore, especially grateful for the first-hand experiences provided by former Home Guard members, Edward Lane (Forthampton), Harry Workman (Healings Platoon) and Fred Remmer. 

1940 - The Formative Year of the Force

The following extracts are from a broadcast by the then Right Honourable Anthony Eden, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War in the Churchill cabinet, made in the evening of Tuesday, 14 May 1940, just after the nine o’clock news. 

"since the war began, the government has received countless enquiries from all over the Kingdom from men of all ages, who are for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service and who wish to do something for the defence of the country. Now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services ... The name of the new force … will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name ...  describes its duties in three words. It must be understood that this is, so to speak, a spare-time job, so there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation ... In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give in your name to your local police station and then, as and when we want you, we will let you know ..."

The announcement set in motion the formation of the largest, unpaid, part-time, defence force Britain has ever seen. The broadcast was made within hours of the capitulation of Holland which, together with Belgium and France, had been attacked by German forces in the early hours of 10 May. Four days later, the battles in France and Belgium were not going well for the allies and the possibility of a subsequent attack on Britain became more likely. The loss of Belgium and much of France to the Germans, together with the subsequent withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk and other ports on the French coast, in late May and early June, increased the probability of an enemy invasion. The impact of Anthony Eden’s broadcast had been immediate, widespread – and far exceeded the government’s expectations. The government thought that about 150,000 men would volunteer nationally – but within 24 hours over a quarter of a million had come forward and in six weeks, one and a half million.[2] In Tewkesbury, the local newspaper was able to report that more than 50 men had volunteered by the Friday following Eden’s broadcast and that men were still calling at the police station to enrol, encouraged by the then Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, the Duke of Beaufort, and the local branch of the British Legion.[3] 

The scale of the response to Eden’s appeal had clearly surprised the government which now had to fulfil a promise to organise, arm and clothe the new force. This would take some time and, initially, the government relied on the Lords Lieutenant and the Chief Constables of each city and county, as well as the large number of retired, or reserve, military officers, who were among the first to volunteer, to organise the men in their localities. It was, then, intended that there should be no military hierarchy in the LDV – all men would be volunteers – and so county and local ‘organisers’ were appointed to form squads, sections and divisions in areas based upon the police administrative divisions. The police not only handled the initial registering of volunteers but also had the most essential role of vetting each of them to ensure that they were upright citizens and not enemy agents.[4] For the then Tewkesbury Section, Mr. Albert H. Berry was appointed to lead and organise the volunteers. He was described by the local newspaper as “an old and experienced soldier”. He quickly arranged rotas of duty and parades for the section, although it was noted by the newspaper that there was a shortcoming in the number of traders among the volunteers, who, being on the spot by day and night, could quickly assemble to deal with raiders.[5]

The response to Anthony Eden’s appeal had also shaken the Germans, whose reaction was immediate and threatening:

"The British Government is committing the worst crime of all. Evidently it permits open preparation for the formation of murder bands. The preparations which are being made all over England to arm the civilian population for guerrilla warfare are contrary to the rules of international law. German official quarters warn the misled British public and remind them of the fate of the Polish ... gangs of murderers. Civilians who take up arms against German soldiers are, under international law, no better than murderers, whether they be priests or bank clerks. British people you will do well to heed our warning."

The British government, therefore, moved quickly to legalise the new defence force by passing, on 17 May, The Defence (Local Defence Volunteers) Regulations, 1940, under the provisions of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1939. The regulations made it clear that the LDV were members of the armed forces of the Crown and subject to military law as soldiers. An amendment of the Regulations also gave the LDV the power to arrest anyone found contravening the regulations by giving information to the enemy, interfering with essential services, improperly using a wireless, improperly taking photographs, entering prohibited areas, harbouring prisoners, looting or publishing false reports. To identify themselves as LDV, the men were provided with an identity card signed by the Chief Constable. How much this legal status would have influenced any invading German soldiers faced with men initially dressed in civilian clothing with only an armband declaring that they were LDV is questionable! 

On 25 May 1940, the Register’s ‘Military Correspondent’ reported on the threats to Britain from enemy parachutists and described their methods of operation including: organising a Fifth Column;[6] creating panic and confusion and spreading false news; harassing lines of communication; damaging power stations, wireless and telephone exchanges and storage dumps; and signalling to aircraft. Defence involved patrolling and mopping up the enemy with the utmost speed of movement. Amongst many other things (and clearly based on the continental experiences, particularly in Holland) the correspondent referred to the enemy wearing clothing other than uniform and seizing civilian cars for transport![7] Constant vigilance was, therefore, needed and he warned the LDV that enemy parachutists, described as 'young desperadoes' in parties of 10 to 50, needed to be quickly captured or exterminated! In the same paper, this message was backed by the Sub-Controller of Air Raid Precautions, Alderman R.A. Gaze, emphasising the risk that they may land and make use of vehicles and recommending that all practical steps were to be taken to prevent this. Advice was given on disabling vehicles not in use by, for example, removal of the distributor cap.[8]

Reflecting the general anxiety in Britain at this time, the King called for a national day of prayer on Sunday, 26 May. The local newspaper reported that there was a large congregation at the Abbey for this event.[9]

The War Office, wishing to gain some sort of control of the LDV, which at this stage was largely a collection of locally controlled ‘private armies’, issued the first of its instructions to the new force during May. Entitled Local Defence Volunteers Training Instruction No.1, it dealt in some detail with the establishment of roadblocks and the defence of villages. This printed instruction, which would be distributed down to local organisers, was the first of 68 issued by the War Office over the life of the LDV/Home Guard, as it sought to coordinate the operations and, consequently, the training needs of the force. LDV Training Instruction No.2 quickly followed and dealt in some detail with the role and status of the LDV.[10] To represent the new force at government level and at Army Council meetings, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall was appointed the first Inspector General of the LDV on his return from France, where he had been Chief of Staff to Lord Gort, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. Other IGs would follow.[11] 

Albert Berry, describing himself as the commander of the Tewkesbury LDV Section in brief weekly orders set out in the Tewkesbury Register, divided the section into six numbered sub-sections, each of which would take turns on a daily basis in carrying out the duties (naturally unspecified in the newspaper) now required of the force. Each sub-section would also be responsible, in turn, for nominating an orderly for the whole week. From my general research, the duties of the orderly would include manning the telephone in the headquarters and raising the alarm, if necessary. The duties of each sub-section would include manning observation posts (OP) and, at this stage, the rudimentary road blocks needed for vehicle and identity checks; ensuring parked cars were properly disabled (owners would be prosecuted if they were not); guarding so-called ‘vulnerable points’ such as power stations, telephone exchanges, water and energy supplies; and road and rail communications – indeed guarding all of the essential services needed for civilised life and to continue full production of war materials, all of which could be either sabotaged or used by enemy agents. One of the great strengths of the LDV was that the men were familiar with the area in which they operated and would, therefore, have a distinct advantage over the enemy, particularly at night. Where British regular forces were operating in the area, the LDV would, therefore, be required to provide guides.

Based on the then recent experiences of German operations in Norway and later in Holland and Belgium, the critical time for an enemy parachute attack was reckoned to be before dawn or after dusk. Consequently LDV patrols would be conducted throughout the night, on a two hours ‘on’ and four hours ‘off’ basis. No orders or details of the responsibilities of the Tewkesbury LDV have so far been found but, again based on my research of units elsewhere, it can be assumed that any high land or building, such as the Abbey tower, would be used for observation purposes; local lanes and alleyways would be regularly patrolled, identity check points established at each road entrance and exit to the town, while vulnerable points to be guarded would include the rail and road bridges over the rivers around Tewkesbury, the railway station, the Mythe Waterworks and Healings Mill. Tewkesburian readers could probably add others. 

Protecting the production of flour at Healings Mill would have been vitally important, especially since imports of foodstuffs were limited by the German ‘U-boat’ campaign against our merchant shipping. Harry Workman was one of the first to join the LDV at the Mill, where there were enough men to form a large section that could be counted in tens. This would become a platoon in the fullness of time.[12]

Edward Lane of the Forthampton LDV recalls taking his turn at guard duty at the Mythe waterworks, another vitally important facility for public health.  His duty would involve being away from the farm for a number of nights in the week; added to this would be training sessions. He recalled the tiredness that he felt at the time, sometimes nodding off while doing the milking.  This weariness was not unusual amongst the LDV who were working long hours on the land in the rural areas, or working 12 hour shifts in the munitions factories in urban areas and then doing their defence and training duties.[13]

Only one of the observation posts established by the Tewkesbury and area LDVs has been positively identified as being on the high land adjoining Forthampton village, where a rudimentary shelter from the elements was constructed for the men on duty.[14] Edward Lane  remembers that a room was also set aside at the nearby Hill Farm where the men on duty could rest and prepare meals while awaiting their turn at the Observation Post [OP].

The Tewkesbury Ham would have been quickly recognised as a potential landing ground for enemy parachutists, followed by air landed troops, wishing to capture the road bridges over the Rivers Severn and Avon and, besides the grid pattern of trenches that were dug to damage enemy aircraft attempting to land, there would have been various defence positions around the Ham to be manned. Harry Workman remembers participating in manoeuvres on the Ham, no doubt to practise manning these positions.

Should an enemy attack have developed, the LDV would also have manned the various other defence posts around Tewkesbury, which were being constructed through the summer of 1940 and into 1941, by Royal Engineer led parties of Pioneer Corps troops, civil engineering companies and local authority direct labour. In this they would have come under the command of an officer of and been assisted by the regular troops at the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) Depot at Ashchurch.[15]
Training for the new force, including drill, would have been started by Mr. Berry almost immediately, to instil discipline in the men and the ability to follow orders without question. For this purpose (although again not specified in the local newspaper) he called for parades at 7.30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at No 33, High Street.[16] This was a public house, known to the LDVs as ‘The 33’, but otherwise known as ‘The Shakespeare’, Albert Berry being the licensee there.[17] I can only surmise that the men would practise their drill on the road outside, where the High Street is reasonably wide. It was estimated that some 40% of the volunteers had served in the Great War. Old soldiers, like John Moore’s 'Pistol, Nym and Bardolph' would have relished the opportunity to get their hands on a service rifle, using their field craft skills honed by years of poaching and to take on the old enemy again![18]  

At a meeting of LDV leaders on 5 June 1940, General Ironside, General Officer Commanding Home Forces, explained the role of the new force, but he was painfully aware of the shortage of weapons available to the LDV and extolled the virtues of the ‘Molotov Cocktail’. This was a bottle filled with resin petrol or tar that, if thrown on top of a tank, would ignite: “if you throw half a dozen more on it, you will have them cooked. It is quite an effective thing”. He said that about 80,000 rifles had been issued, with more coming, and asked the LDV not to underestimate the shotgun: “I have now coming out over a million rounds of solid ammunition, which is something that will kill a leopard at 200 yards ... In a city, I do not want a high velocity rifle being let off; that is not the place for it. In dusk, in the evening and in the woods, a shotgun is about as useful a weapon as you can possibly want”. He also promised uniforms very soon.[19]

Later in June, Sir Edward Griggs, Under Secretary of State for War responsible for LDV affairs, also made a broadcast dealing with the role of the LDV and making an appeal for 12-bore shotguns to be loaned to ‘the country’ by handing them in to the local police station, pointing out that the King had already handed over several of his possessions. Griggs emphasised that shotguns had been used to great effect in the last war and proved in close quarter fighting elsewhere.[20] The ‘Pistols’, ‘Nyms’ and ‘Bardolphs’ of the district would already have, and be proficient with, shotguns.[21]

July 1940 saw the arrival of the first consignment of rifles from America to add to the miscellany of weapons, many of them donated by private individuals, that had thus far found their way to the LDV ... It also saw a change in name for the force. Winston Churchill had for some time considered that ‘Home Guard’ was preferable and, after some sharp correspondence with Anthony Eden who was keen to keep the title ‘Local Defence Volunteers’, had declared that “I am going to have the name ‘Home Guard’ adopted”. The decision was announced on 23 July.[22] On the same day, the War Office sanctioned the designation of battalion, company commanders and platoon commanders and so an establishment more akin to the regular army would be created. Gloucestershire formed nineteen battalions of Home Guard, nine of which were located in the Bristol area. The battalion which concerns us became the ‘1st Gloucestershire (Cheltenham) Battalion Home Guard’, with its headquarters [HQ] at Cheltenham College.[23] ‘A Company’, commanded initially by Lieutenant Colonel A.W. Malet, which then had its HQ at Bishops Cleeve, was responsible for the whole of the rural area north of Cheltenham, including Tewkesbury.[24]

There were many in the Home Guard who thought that foot drill was unnecessary and wasting time that could be better spent learning field craft and how to shoot straight. Significantly, this included a number of ex-Spanish Civil War veterans, who had already learnt the German methods of waging war and the means of dealing with them. Consequently, July saw the establishment of an unofficial training school for Home Guards by some of these veterans, including Spanish miners who were experts in the use of explosives! This was at Osterley Park, on the western outskirts of London, where Home Guards were taught in a few days the rudiments of ‘ungentlemanly warfare’. The War Office, worried by the possible subversive influence of these ‘communist hooligans’, soon took over the school but, seeing the value of it, emulated it with others established elsewhere in the country. Nevertheless, until it was closed down, the Osterley school received representatives of most Home Guards units and even some regulars, who came away from the school full of ideas and optimism about tackling tanks, booby trapping, field craft and camouflage, which they were then able to pass on to their fellow volunteers.[25] Some of the Spanish Civil War veterans were later to publish a number of books on these subjects, while their leader, Tom Winteringham, wrote a number of articles in the Picture Post on the use of this new ‘people’s army’ and his methods of defence. New Ways of War followed, published by Penguin. What with the War Office instructions, which incorporated many of the ideas propounded by the Civil War veterans and readily available books and magazines, Home Guards were not short of advice on how to tackle the enemy! 

On 27 July, Albert Berry’s weekly orders in the local newspaper now required the men to parade as often as possible for training at the miniature range.[26] Although not detailed, this is a reference to twenty-five-yard range practice with ‘.22’ rifles and probably at an indoor range at the Drill Hall. Most drill halls had one, together with the necessary small-bore rifles, used by the Territorials long before World War II.

The war, however, was no longer ‘Phoney’. Although in August the air Battle of Britain was being fought mainly in the skies in the southeast, aircraft from the Luftwaffe were already making night bombing raids on the aircraft industries in the Midlands and North. This enemy activity would intensify during the coming winter, but, to crank up anxiety in Britain’s defence forces during that momentous summer, large numbers of empty parachutes were being dropped at night by the Luftwaffe on its way to and from bombing raids. This caused a number of emergency call-outs for Home Guards in the Midlands, who would spend their nights searching for the elusive enemy parachutists and agents.[27] It is small wonder then that Harry Perry, of the Forthampton unit, spotted what he thought was a parachute in Bushley Park, while patrolling one moonlit night. He raised the alarm but, after an extensive search, the ‘parachute’ proved to be a sow and her litter lying in a group and looking very like the white patch of a collapsed parachute. This would be one of a number of such emergencies experienced by the Forthampton men, which would include the night the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb at The Moors, Corse Lawn! 

August saw the first reference to ‘musketry’ training in the weekly orders posted by Albert Berry. This quaint terminology, redolent of a bygone age, was commonplace in the Home Guard. It refers to full-bore range firing and suggests that the ammunition supply for the American ‘P17’ rifles was now sufficient to allow for some outdoor shooting practice. A range for the Tewkesbury Home Guard was established in the Marl Hole at Forthampton. This former marl working was located just outside the village on the left-hand side of the road to Corse Lawn and accommodated an estimated hundred-yard range. It has now been filled in. The weekly orders also included references to ‘Field Work’ and ‘Bombing’, the former, perhaps, reflecting the influence of the Osterley School, while the latter was a Great War term for grenade throwing. Grenade practice was conducted on the Ham or at nearby Bushley Green, in Worcestershire, where the Bushley Platoon (part of the Upton upon Severn Company under the command of Captain Morgan of Hill House) had established a grenade range in a nearby quarry. Edward Lane recalled going up into the Cotswolds for grenade training. He also told me that bayonet practice was conducted in the orchard opposite the church in Forthampton, where a sack stuffed with straw was the ‘victim’!

Both Fred Remmer and Edward Lane related to me the story of the rifle competition at the Marl Hole, where Dick Smith, the local gamekeeper who was a good shot, rather fancied that he would win. He was leading the competition until Jack Williams, a farm labourer working for Edward Lane, fired. He had trained as a sniper with the Gloucestershire Regiment during the Great War and, when he took his turn, placed all five of his shots in the ‘bull’ thus winning, much to Dick Smith’s disappointment! 

The Home Guards were not the only ones to become jittery during that summer. Military Intelligence had received information that enemy paratroopers were moving into France and invasion barges were seen to be concentrating in the ports nearest Britain’s southeast coastline. These developments and a change in bombing tactics by the Luftwaffe from raiding RAF airfields to an attack on London, seemed to add up to the likelihood of an invasion and the code word ‘CROMWELL’ was signalled to military units throughout Britain. This signal was to signify that an invasion was imminent. The effect was to see all leave stopped for the regulars, mobile counter-attack columns put on two hours’ notice and Home Guards manning their defence posts for 24 hours, before a signal was received to stand down. A lower level of alert was maintained for a week and, although the Germans didn’t come, it was later seen as good practice![28]

Whether it was this emergency, or a desire of the War Office to see more control over the issue of equipment to the Home Guard, the growing chore of administering the force was removed from the local organisers and given to the county Territorial Army and Air Force Associations. At the same time cap badges were supplied to the volunteers to add to their field service caps and reflect this affiliation to their county regiments. The Territorial Army had been mobilised in September 1939 and marched off to take its place in France with the British Expeditionary Force, so the drill halls were now unused and many were available for indoor training and lectures by the Home Guard during the coming winter, as well as the storage and distribution of weapons and other equipment. It is likely that the drill hall in Red Lane, Tewkesbury, was handed over for use by the Home Guard at this time. Consternation would be caused later, when Major Healing authorised the opening of a large hole in the outer wall of the hall to admit the newly delivered Smith Guns.

After its locally organised and ill-equipped beginnings as the LDV, the Home Guard was now starting to adopt the organisation and take on the appearance of regular soldiers. In Part 2 we will study the increasing weaponry and efficiency of the force, the introduction of conscription and the demands on the force to assume more home defence responsibilities, before its demise in November 1944.
John Dixon

Addendum

In the original published version of this article in Bulletin 20 the author referred throughout the piece to the OC of the Tewkesbury Home Guard as Arthur Berry. Further research shows this was an error perpetrated by the Tewkesbury Register of 12 & 19 October 1940 in an article entitled 'TEWKESBURY ON THE AIR' listing participants including Arthur Berry [sic] (secretary of British Legion And Commander of Home Guard). The compere then introduced Mr ARTHUR Berry 'old soldier' ... although retired was still putting in service as Secretary to the British Legion and HG Platoon Commander. Mr Berry then  broadcast a message to the forces: 'I am one of the old Gloucesters myself … etc ....' " .

The author is correct that Mr Berry was also licensee of No 33 but did not realise that it was not ARTHUR but ALBERT HENRY Berry. His obituary confirms this [Tewkesbury Register 07 Aug 1954 p1/4]: "Albert Henry Berry: Licensee of Shakespeare Inn for 15 years from 1938 ...  22 years’ service in the Army, Gloucestershire Regiment … for 19 years as an officers' mess steward, serving in France, Egypt, Singapore and India. WWII Lt. in Home Guard and Secretary of the British Legion. 1948-1951 elected to Town Council."  

After retirement in 1953, he moved to Farnborough and died at Winchfield Hospital, Hampshire, near Aldershot aged 63.

[John Dixon, President and Editor in 2011 who missed this unintentional error.]

References

1.This article is intended to expand upon the Home Guard element of the author’s article, ‘The Unfought Battle of Tewkesbury’, THS Bulletin 19 (2010). I gratefully acknowledge the help of THS Editor, as well as the staff at the Tewkesbury Library, the Tewkesbury Museum, the Gloucestershire Archives and Alison’s and Cornell bookshops in the High Street.
2. Charles Graves, The Home Guard of Britain (Hutchinson & Co Ltd, London, 1943), which provides the background information.
3.Tewkesbury Register and Gazette [Register] of Saturday, 18 May 1940.
4. The author’s research of Home Guard records held by the former Army Medal Office at Droitwich. These may no longer be accessible.
5. Register, 15 June 1940.
6. The ‘Fifth Column’ was a wartime phrase used to describe enemy agents. It stemmed from comments made during the Spanish Civil War by the Nationalist General Mola, who had boasted that, in his attack on the Republican held Madrid, he had four columns marching on the city and a fifth column within the city!
7. The German Brandenburg Regiment had dressed in civilian clothes, or the uniforms of the opposition, in order to gain an advantage during the early campaigns of World War II and was successful in many of their operations as a result. See Gordon Williamson, German Special Forces of World War II (Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2009).
8. Register, 25 May 1940. Ald. R.A. Gaze was Mayor of Tewkesbury during four terms from 1937-1941. In the edition of  15 November 1941, The Editorial paid tribute to the retiring Mayor hoping that “his health would be restored after it collapsed under the stress of his many duties”. [Editor]
9. Register, 1 June 1940
10. The National Archive [NA] files WO 199/872B – Home Guard Instructions.
11. S.P. Mackensie,  The Home Guard – A Military and Political History (Oxford University Press, 1995).
12. Harry Workman, telephone conversation, May 2010.
13. Edward Lane, former Forthampton Home Guard, interview, 4 October 2010.
14. Fred Remmer (former Home Guard elsewhere), interview, 30 September 2010.
15. See the author’s article ‘The Unfought Battle of Tewkesbury’, THS Bulletin 19 (2010) for some of the defences which have been identified. That article was short-listed for the County Jerrard Award. [Editor]
16. Register, editions throughout the summer of 1940.
17. According to B. Linnell (Tewkesbury Pubs) it was  “a middle class ‘market’ pub with longer opening hours”; until 1940 it offered bed and breakfast at 6s. per night and full board 50s. weekly. The pub closed in 1964 and was demolished in 1971. [Editor from the Woodard Database]
18. John Moore, Portrait of Elmbury (Collins, London, 1966).
19. A full transcript of Ironside’s lecture was sent to all LDV units. A copy can be found on NA file WO 199/872B – Home Guard Instructions. It is also set out in full by Graves, above fn.2.
20. Reported in the Times, 17 June 1940.
21. Register, 6 July 1940.
22. NA file PREM 3/223/2.
23. L.B. Whittaker, Stand Down (Ray Weslake Military Books, Newport, 1990).
24. For the sake of completeness, it should be emphasised that ‘B Company’ was based at Charlton Kings and ‘C Company’ in Cheltenham. Other companies would be formed later. Gloucestershire Archives [GA] Ref. GA Short History of the 1st Gloucestershire Battalion Home Guard – MI1.  
25. fn.11 above, & Major Sydney Carter, A History of Evesham Battalion Home Guard (Evesham Journal Press, 1944).
26. Register, 27 July 1940.
27. & 28. NA file WO 166/1226: War Diary of the Central Midland Area, 1940-41.


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