All guns blazing with Lancaster Home Guard from 1940

War historian Shaun Corkerry takes a look at the Lancaster Home Guard of 1940

By Shaun Corkerry
Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 3:45 pm

In my first article we left the City Battalion of the Lancaster Home Guard at the end of 1941.

By this time, the weapon supply for the Home Guard had improved, and 1942 saw the issue of Sten guns (which continue to enjoy a mixed reputation) and Smith guns later in the year.

There is also evidence in the local newspapers (from Morecambe) of the issue of Blacker Bombards around May 1943! These may not have come to the City Battalion, but I will describe them anyway.

The Smith gun looked strange but was designed so it could be towed by a light car and then turned through 90 degrees.

The Smith gun looks strange but was designed so it could be towed by a light car and then turned through 90 degrees - the wheels were then used for traverse and as a rudimentary overhead shield.

The Blacker Bombard was a spigot weapon.

Spigot mortars are mortars of an unusual design - rather than a tube attached to a base plate, it consists of a rod or “spigot” attached to the plate.

The tube used to concentrate the explosive gasses created to launch the mortar shell is attached to the projectile instead.

General Johnson, V.C, speaking to company officers during his inspection of Lancaster Home Guard. Behind the General is Lieut. Colonel Black, commanding officer.

By 1943 airborne raids were considered to be the most practicable method which could be used by the Germans to invade or annoy this country.

The City Battalion therefore received radio in May 1943, and two-pounder anti-tank guns in March 1944.

Though long superseded in the regular army these 40mm weapons still had an impressive performance.

Machine guns were the reliable water cooled M1917 Browning, again from the USA.

The Blacker Bombard was a spigot weapon. Picture is of the bombard on portable mounting, showing position of team on firing.

There is also evidence that Bren guns were issued to the City Battalion later in the War.

Organisationally, the 3rd and 4th Battalions were moved to 22 Home Guard sector.

Practical training continued and ranges were used at Crag Bank and Littlefell for live firing of rifles and grenades.

Camps were held to conduct training at all levels mainly at Crag Bank, and the local papers show several of these being carried out.

A more informal group is shown by these off-duty Home Guardsmen at Barton Road, c. 1944. (Photo courtesy of Alan Nowell)

The Guardian reported on another exercise held at Crag bank in mid-June 1943.

There was a visit from Major General Johnson VC and other high-ranking officers.

It was noted that an assault course was laid on “for younger members”!

In March 1944, the Guardian reported on a much bigger two-day exercise which simulated an airborne assault on a city with two bridges!

The main vulnerable points in Lancaster were thought to be the railway control section at Castle Station, Carlisle Bridge, and the supply reserve depot.

As the war progressed, it became clear that an invasion by the Germans by sea or air was unlikely, and in November 1944 the Home Guard was ordered to stand down - not disband - this was to follow later.

After three years, now they are fully trained. Wings for Victory week parade, 1943. (Courtesy of Lancashire County Council's Red Rose Collections)

On Sunday 3 December, stand down parades were held.

On stand down, then, the 3rd Battalion comprised: HQ Company, A Company, B (Post Office) Company, C Company, D (LMS Railway) Company, GPO Company and 2201 MT (Motor Transport Company). Platoons within Companies were often designated unofficially for the workplace they were recruited from, for example, Jas. Williamsons, Waring and Gillow, and Lansil to name but a few.

In addition to the Lancaster Parade a national parade was held in London on the same Sunday.

Three local men from the 3rd attended this.

It should not be supposed that Home Guard service was free from danger - over the course of the war 1,206 men of the Home Guard were killed on duty or died of wounds. A further 557 suffered serious injuries, mainly from air and rocket attacks.

The Home Guard evolved into a well-equipped and well-trained army of 1.7 million men.

Men of the Home Guard were not only made ready for invasion, but also performed other roles including bomb disposal and staffing anti-aircraft and coastal artillery.

The Home Guard also increasingly provided useful training for younger men before their call-up to the Army.

What reward did Home Guardsmen receive? Those who served for three years or more received the Defence Medal (this has a green ribbon with a red stripe in the middle and black stripes either side) and all received a commemorative certificate - the one shown here was issued to Richard Bindless of the Galgate Platoon (which was part of the 4th Battalion, to be covered in the next article).

From early 1944 Service chevrons were also issued, and you can see these below: one chevron is issued for each year of service. (You may come across these in a drawer or tin box!) These were worn on the lower sleeve.

Approximately 1,000 medals and commendations were awarded to members of the Home Guard. 137 of these were awarded for brave conduct, the rest were awarded for meritorious service; four were awarded posthumously. At a local level 9 members of the 3rd Battalion were awarded Certificates of Merit awarded by the GOC Western Command. Colonel Black received a Certificate of Good Service.

As 1945 wore on and the war ended, the Guardian reported the formation of Home Guard associations and social clubs, as many sought to retain their ties of comradeship. The Lancaster City HG Old Comrades Association was duly formed in January 1945, and there was also a rifle club section formed in June that year.

Final disbandment of the Home Guard took place on December 31, 1945, and that was the end of the story… or was it?

Next time - the 4th Battalion, Women Auxiliaries, and a surprise revival!

The stand down parade in Lancaster - a seldom seen picture of the event.
From early 1944 Service chevrons were also issued :one chevron is issued for each year of service. (You may come across these in a drawer or tin box!) These were worn on the lower sleeve.