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Home Guard

Annie Murray

knowlegable brummie
Hi Chris,
Thanks for the quick reply. I understand about the HG hours - actually the other info would also be useful. I am writing about the 1940s at present.
Annie
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Pedrocut - thanks for the interesting cutting. It provides us with a few more fragments of information about the Birmingham Home Guard. Captain Stevens and Lieutenant Wood are listed the previous year as members of the 33rd Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion of the Home Guard. Sergeant Pinfold was obviously in the same Battalion.

The 33rd was very probably a Battalion comprising entirely LMS employees (more than 1000 of them) and with the responsibility for defending all the most important facilities of that Company – sidings, engine sheds, stations, workshops, equipment, bridges and so on - throughout the entire city. In that, it would have been a little different from the normal Birmingham Home Guard unit which would have been responsible for a defined, much smaller, geographical area.

Interesting that these three men – presumably all Brummies – had all found themselves serving in the Ox and Bucks during the Great War and then come back together in Home Guard service in Birmingham. It would be interesting to know the story behind that.

Anne Murray – hope to give you some general information about Home Guard working patterns in the next few days.

Chris
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
HOME GUARD WORKING PATTERNS

Annie Murray, I promised to give you some hints about likely patterns of working for Home Guard members who were Cadburys employees. Sorry for the delay but the whole subject is an even more complicated one than I originally thought. To do it justice would be quite a lengthy research exercise and even then, in the absence of detailed documentary evidence including personal Cadburys memoirs, would involve almost entirely "likelihoods" and "typicallys" rather than "definites". I don't think there exists anywhere a well-researched and authoritative summary of this aspect of the Home Guard. So I shall just have to give you a few fragments of information which may (or may well not!) be sufficient for your purposes. If any aspect of them is not, please follow up with more specific questions.

The Home Guard was a huge operation involving around 1.7 million men (and a number of women), all of them allocated to more than 1000 Battalions around the country, each of which would have been split into Companies, Platoons and Sections. The responsibility of each Battalion would have been to undertake, first, very specific, regular functions including the guarding of Vulnerable Points (buildings, bridges, railway sidings, road junctions, factories, power stations etc., etc., etc.) and general observation, patrolling and reporting. No doubt every single unit had a slightly different set of circumstances to cope with. And the second responsibility was to ensure that the Battalion was as proficient and well-trained as possible for whatever might face them: this was done by intensive training, throughout the years of the Home Guard's existence.

Most Battalions were responsible for a defined geographical area and undertook normal general service, infantry duties. Some Companies and Platoons comprised entirely the employees of organisations such as factories and were part of the local Battalion. Their duty was, first and foremost, to defend the factory premises and facilities.

In a large city like Birmingham many of these subunits were part of a Battalion which comprised entirely a number of factory units, spread over a wider geographical area. In Birmingham there were several Battalions of this type. One of these Birmingham battalions was the 45th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion which was made up of a number of factory units in one area of central Birmingham. A history of this Battalion was published in 1945 ("The History of the 45th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion Home Guard" by E. D. Barclay) and was until, fairly recently, as rare as hen's teeth and about as expensive. Fortunately in recent years it has been republished by The Naval and Military Press and is available at a reasonable price. It's a very good review of how a number of these factory units were organised and ran. It's a shame that Cadburys is not amongst them but one can't have everything! And of course a factory and site like Cadburys are different from those of an engineering company in a central Birmingham side street. But perhaps you can read across quite a lot of the principles which emerge.

The service lasted for four and a half years and during that period policies changed and with those changes came different duties and patterns of working for units and for the individuals within them. This included the role of factory units although their main responsibility, of defending their employer's facilities, remained unchanged. At the very beginning, in the summer of 1940, patterns of working were very intense, perhaps taking up almost every minute of a man's spare time. My own father (responsible for a general service platoon) wrote about the first couple of months: "We make the most of every available minute and arrange parades every night, but as the same men turn up every time we drop to three parades per week and get satisfactory attendances". (Home Guard membership was entirely voluntary up until the beginning of 1942). At that time it was all about performing basic observation duties - "We have been mounting Night Guards in our stable guardroom since 12th June. One N.C.O. and six men per night, each man doing one night in six. Two hours at dusk and dawn on O. P. duty, the remaining hours on patrol or sentry-go" - and frantic, intensive training to remind Great War veterans of what they used to know and to instruct youngsters and others from scratch. "We work on musketry, loading and sighting, field work and the parade ground, the duties of sentries, and then more musketry".

And a bit later:

".....Night guards have become more active. The guard report book tells of many things: of quiet nights and exciting nights, of planes overhead, of bombs and heavy flak, incendiaries and fires, flares from the air and from the ground, suspicious light flashes and signals and of hours spent in investigation, often without result; of patrols contacting searchlight units, neighbouring detachments and Civil Defence. It tells of long night watches, frequently without sleep and in an atmosphere polluted by a smoky stove ........ It does not report, however, the full day's work done yesterday or the full day's work which will commence when the guard is dismissed and at a pressure only known to those who took part in the post-Dunkirk industrial drive......" (I have a lot more like this on a fairly typical first six months as everything broadened and intensified).

As things settled down into 1941 I can imagine a pattern having emerged within a factory unit of every Sunday being devoted to parades, drill, general training and exercises, all supplemented by perhaps two or three evenings a week of training and/or overnight guarding duties.

Obviously the usual Home Guard routine of evening training sessions would not be appropriate for those on shift work in factories and there is evidence that the evening sessions were sometimes transferred to a morning so that men who had been on the night shift could still receive appropriate training.

I am not sure how responsibilities within a factory for firewatching - especially in 1940/41 - overlapped with Home Guard duties and the extent to which they ran in parallel.

At the beginning of 1942 things became more formalised. At that point conscription was introduced and with it came clear statements of minimum hours to be served. Every Home Guard was obliged to serve at least 48 hours every four weeks. Western Command (responsible for the Home Guard in much of the western part of the country including Birmingham and the West Midlands) also issued an order which stipulated that a minimum proportion of this total (about one third) should be devoted to training. I suspect that all this might well have been a formalisation of what had become a fairly typical working pattern over the previous 18 months.

Sorry that these are just fragments but I hope that they'll give you some indication of what life must have been like. Like you I am always astonished at the extent to which men of this generation managed, somehow or other, to balance the needs of their work, their families and their voluntary service in an organisation like the Home Guard. (I have even read stories of men combining HG and ARP duties). I'm old enough to have had a glimpse of all this myself but had no understanding of the pressure which my own father was under at the time, especially in the earlier days. How on earth did they all do it?

Chris
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Another useful booklet on the subject of HG factory units is "The Royal Leamington's Spa Home Guard Factory Units of WW2 – A Personal Diary" edited by David G P Morse, 2020. This is the diary of a man who served in one of the Companies of 1st Warwickshire (Warwick) Battalion - "B" Coy. comprising solely eight local factory units.

(The factory units which comprised the 45th Battalion whose History I mentioned previously were: Birmingham Gazette, JB Brooks, Buck & Hickman, WW Greener, H P Sauce, Newey & Taylor, Norton Motors, RT Shelley, Tubular Furniture, Benton & Stone, Webley and Scott, Ansells Brewery, W J Whittall and Sons, Atkinson's Brewery, GEC Witton, Sanbra and Wolseley Sheep Shearing).

Chris
 

Annie Murray

knowlegable brummie
HOME GUARD WORKING PATTERNS

Annie Murray, I promised to give you some hints about likely patterns of working for Home Guard members who were Cadburys employees. Sorry for the delay but the whole subject is an even more complicated one than I originally thought. To do it justice would be quite a lengthy research exercise and even then, in the absence of detailed documentary evidence including personal Cadburys memoirs, would involve almost entirely "likelihoods" and "typicallys" rather than "definites". I don't think there exists anywhere a well-researched and authoritative summary of this aspect of the Home Guard. So I shall just have to give you a few fragments of information which may (or may well not!) be sufficient for your purposes. If any aspect of them is not, please follow up with more specific questions.

The Home Guard was a huge operation involving around 1.7 million men (and a number of women), all of them allocated to more than 1000 Battalions around the country, each of which would have been split into Companies, Platoons and Sections. The responsibility of each Battalion would have been to undertake, first, very specific, regular functions including the guarding of Vulnerable Points (buildings, bridges, railway sidings, road junctions, factories, power stations etc., etc., etc.) and general observation, patrolling and reporting. No doubt every single unit had a slightly different set of circumstances to cope with. And the second responsibility was to ensure that the Battalion was as proficient and well-trained as possible for whatever might face them: this was done by intensive training, throughout the years of the Home Guard's existence.

Most Battalions were responsible for a defined geographical area and undertook normal general service, infantry duties. Some Companies and Platoons comprised entirely the employees of organisations such as factories and were part of the local Battalion. Their duty was, first and foremost, to defend the factory premises and facilities.

In a large city like Birmingham many of these subunits were part of a Battalion which comprised entirely a number of factory units, spread over a wider geographical area. In Birmingham there were several Battalions of this type. One of these Birmingham battalions was the 45th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion which was made up of a number of factory units in one area of central Birmingham. A history of this Battalion was published in 1945 ("The History of the 45th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion Home Guard" by E. D. Barclay) and was until, fairly recently, as rare as hen's teeth and about as expensive. Fortunately in recent years it has been republished by The Naval and Military Press and is available at a reasonable price. It's a very good review of how a number of these factory units were organised and ran. It's a shame that Cadburys is not amongst them but one can't have everything! And of course a factory and site like Cadburys are different from those of an engineering company in a central Birmingham side street. But perhaps you can read across quite a lot of the principles which emerge.

The service lasted for four and a half years and during that period policies changed and with those changes came different duties and patterns of working for units and for the individuals within them. This included the role of factory units although their main responsibility, of defending their employer's facilities, remained unchanged. At the very beginning, in the summer of 1940, patterns of working were very intense, perhaps taking up almost every minute of a man's spare time. My own father (responsible for a general service platoon) wrote about the first couple of months: "We make the most of every available minute and arrange parades every night, but as the same men turn up every time we drop to three parades per week and get satisfactory attendances". (Home Guard membership was entirely voluntary up until the beginning of 1942). At that time it was all about performing basic observation duties - "We have been mounting Night Guards in our stable guardroom since 12th June. One N.C.O. and six men per night, each man doing one night in six. Two hours at dusk and dawn on O. P. duty, the remaining hours on patrol or sentry-go" - and frantic, intensive training to remind Great War veterans of what they used to know and to instruct youngsters and others from scratch. "We work on musketry, loading and sighting, field work and the parade ground, the duties of sentries, and then more musketry".

And a bit later:

".....Night guards have become more active. The guard report book tells of many things: of quiet nights and exciting nights, of planes overhead, of bombs and heavy flak, incendiaries and fires, flares from the air and from the ground, suspicious light flashes and signals and of hours spent in investigation, often without result; of patrols contacting searchlight units, neighbouring detachments and Civil Defence. It tells of long night watches, frequently without sleep and in an atmosphere polluted by a smoky stove ........ It does not report, however, the full day's work done yesterday or the full day's work which will commence when the guard is dismissed and at a pressure only known to those who took part in the post-Dunkirk industrial drive......" (I have a lot more like this on a fairly typical first six months as everything broadened and intensified).

As things settled down into 1941 I can imagine a pattern having emerged within a factory unit of every Sunday being devoted to parades, drill, general training and exercises, all supplemented by perhaps two or three evenings a week of training and/or overnight guarding duties.

Obviously the usual Home Guard routine of evening training sessions would not be appropriate for those on shift work in factories and there is evidence that the evening sessions were sometimes transferred to a morning so that men who had been on the night shift could still receive appropriate training.

I am not sure how responsibilities within a factory for firewatching - especially in 1940/41 - overlapped with Home Guard duties and the extent to which they ran in parallel.

At the beginning of 1942 things became more formalised. At that point conscription was introduced and with it came clear statements of minimum hours to be served. Every Home Guard was obliged to serve at least 48 hours every four weeks. Western Command (responsible for the Home Guard in much of the western part of the country including Birmingham and the West Midlands) also issued an order which stipulated that a minimum proportion of this total (about one third) should be devoted to training. I suspect that all this might well have been a formalisation of what had become a fairly typical working pattern over the previous 18 months.

Sorry that these are just fragments but I hope that they'll give you some indication of what life must have been like. Like you I am always astonished at the extent to which men of this generation managed, somehow or other, to balance the needs of their work, their families and their voluntary service in an organisation like the Home Guard. (I have even read stories of men combining HG and ARP duties). I'm old enough to have had a glimpse of all this myself but had no understanding of the pressure which my own father was under at the time, especially in the earlier days. How on earth did they all do it?

Chris
Hello Chris.
Many apologies for not replying sooner - apart from the feeble excuse of trying to move house at the moment I also must have missed an alert about this. I massively appreciate all the research and thought you have put into this. I am used to working with fragments a lot of the time - often with a sense of getting glimpses and never quite knowing enough but having to make something out of what there is anyway - that's what you get if you try and write about the past, but in a city as fast moving as Birmingham, all the more so! I am sure bits of this will be really useful and add to the fragments I already have. Like you, I wonder how on earth these people managed - did they ever sleep? Many many thanks Chris - truly grateful. I don't know if you want to give me your full name so I can thank you properly in the book?
All best,
Annie
 
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