Lancaster's Home Guard during World War Two

War historian Shaun Corkerry gives an outline of the local Home Guard units formed in World War Two in the area

By Michelle Blade
Friday, 11th March 2022, 3:45 pm

In this and- hopefully -forthcoming articles, I will attempt to give an outline of the Local Home Guard units formed in the Second World War in our area.There is much to get through and we can do no more than give a snapshot of activities.We saw in the last article how the Lancaster units of the Volunteer Training Corps were formed.Between the wars nearly all the auxiliary forces raised during World War One were disbanded apart from the Royal Defence Corps, which limped on until 1936.In September 1939 Winston Churchill called for the creation of a ‘Home Guard’ (his choice of name), but with the chance of invasion of Britain (at the time) being slight, no serious consideration was given to the plan.The Army tried to utilise over aged men by forming National Defence Companies in November 1939.These were formed into battalions attached to regular Army regiments and renamed “Home Service Battalions” to guard vulnerable points and prisoner of war (POW) camps in the United Kingdom - but there was still a need for more men.By May 1940, however, the German invasion of the west had started and there was a real fear of German parachute attacks on Britain just like there had been on Holland and Belgium.On May 14 1940 Anthony Eden spoke on the radio and announced the creation of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV).Males between the ages of 17 and 65 were asked to report to their nearest police station and sign up for service.Within the first twenty-four hours 250,000 men signed up (some left for the Police Station before the end of the broadcast!) By the end of May there were 400,000 in the Local Defence Volunteers, and this had risen to 1.5 million men by the end of June 1940.The LDV unit in Lancaster was formed on May 25 1940 in the Police Parade room of Lancaster Town Hall.Within weeks the strength of the Lancaster Battalion was 1600 men.The Local Defence Volunteers were quickly re-named the Home Guard and after an initial period of organisation the units settled into two battalions. These both wore the King’s Own cap badge (when uniforms were available to wear them on!).One battalion became the Lancaster City unit, and the other was a grouping of units in the rural areas outside Lancaster.In March 1941, the Lancaster units were finally numbered as the 3rd County of Lancaster (Lancaster City) Battalion Home Guard and the 4th County of Lancaster (South Lonsdale) Battalion Home Guard.The initial organisation of a Battalion was settled as four companies each of six platoons (a platoon was around thirty-two men at the time, but Home Guard units could be bigger or smaller depending on how big the village or locality was!)The first commanders were Colonel J A Black (late of the Machine Gun Corps) who commanded the City Battalion and Colonel Bois, who commanded the rural Battalion -later the South Lonsdale Battalion.Training began in earnest but there were all sorts of problems of course with uniforms, weapons and all the supplies needed for a modern army: It was not until September 1940 that the Home Guard in Lancaster were issued with Battledress uniform for instance.Assortments of weapons were turned up from museums and school OTC (cadet) units as well as bulk shipments from the USA of various personal weapons.On August 18 1940, the invasion threat was so serious that the City Battalion started digging trenches for the city defence perimeters and the associated outposts.From October 1940, the Battalion also took the duty on of maintaining a guard on Carlisle Railway Bridge which carried the main railway line.This duty was typically a job for a Platoon.The City Battalion also had a Watcher’s Platoon under the Bishop of Lancaster, The Right Reverend Pollard.They were part of HQ Company and manned the Ashton Memorial observation post. The Lancaster Guardian published a picture of all the local Clergy in the Home Guard in April 1941 - they included Corporal the Reverend Harpur of Priory Church, Private the Reverend Bissett (Presbyterian) Lance Corporal the Reverend Murdo McLennan, and the Vicars of St Thomas’s, Christ Church andSt Ann (now the Dukes theatre).As time went on the status of the Home Guard was regularised: Army ranks were finally authorised for Home Guard officers on February 1 1941. (Luckily, as Platoon Commander Mainwaring doesn’t quite have the same ring!)Nationally, In May 1941 the King congratulated the Home Guard on its first year of service - it was accorded the privilege of mounting guard at Buckingham Palace the same month.The Lancaster City Battalion continued to progress and now had transport, tommy guns and grenades.The unit also played host the Post Office Company - in alldefence schemes the Post Office Company was to defend the General Post Office area and the repeater Station at Scotforth.The Guardian reported a large exercise in August 1941: the report -called “Invaders came, saw and were conquered” - was also used to issue a call for new recruits.

Skills such as street fighting and defence of a bridge (un-named) as well as the mopping up of enemy parachutists were practised.The same issue ran a story about three generations of a Lancaster family serving their country.Private Edmund Bell of the Ramparts claimed to be Lancaster’s oldest Home Guard.He joined the Volunteers in 1888, and in 1914 as a member of the National Reserve was guarding German POW’s at Caton Road.Later in 1917 he was commended for saving life at the White Lund explosion. He was awarded the rare Meritorious Service Medal in 1919.In yet another family feature, the Guardian reported on the continuing Home Guard service of RQMS Byrne of 27 Ryelands Road, who had joined the Volunteers in 1893, going on active service in the Boer War, then to France in 1915 with the 1/5 th Kings Own and had subsequently stayed in the Territorials until 1932.His combined service in 1943 was 50 years in the reserve forces.He worked for Williamsons in his spare time!Decorated Old Soldiers were of course plentiful in the Lancaster Home Guard.On April 24, Private A Halton VC joined the City Battalion. Born in May 1893 at Carnforth, Albert was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during an attack near Poelcappelle in October 1917.After the war Albert worked for many years at the Lansil Works in Lancaster until his retirement in 1961.Also in the ranks was Walter Fuller DCM, serving as a Lieutenant.Walter was born in Scotforth in 1896, attended Bowerham school and worked at Lune Mills - in 1939 he was living on St Georges Quay and working as a chargehand on the Railways.He won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in Autumn 1917 whilst serving with the 5th Battalion of the Kings Shropshire light infantry.In mid-August 1941, the City Battalion paraded on Giant Axe field and were inspected by Air Vice-Marshal Mc Claughry DSO, MC, DFC.The Guardian reported seven hundred men on parade.The Air Vice Marshal remarked on how far the Home Guard had come in 12 months - and you can see from the picture how right he was. By the end of 1941 not only had uniforms and steel helmets been provided but also gas masks, grenade launchers, rifles, and machine guns. (Many rifles came from American Great War stocks -typically Enfield P14 and P17 patterns.)In October 1941, a full-scale exercise was mounted in Lancaster involving the Home Guard, the ARP and the fire and civil defence services.The Guardian reported “the use of flash bombs, smoke canisters, blank shot and tear gas in certain portions ofthe city gave an air of realism to the proceedings.”In November 1941, a major change occurred - conscription was introduced to ensure the Home Guard was fully staffed.Volunteers became Privates and were expected to undertake 48 hours of training per month on Guard duty or face a fine of £10 or amonth in prison!This also meant that in addition to young men who were underage for the regular forces and who volunteered for the Home Guard, that younger men could be “directed” to Home Guard units if they were not required for the regular forces.Now may be a good time to leave the Home Guard before reaching the pivotal year of 1942.I will continue the history of the City Battalion next time and in later articles cover the South Lonsdale Battalion and its rural units.*The King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum website (http://www.kingsownmuseum.com) has some amazing pictures of the local HomeGuard units.“The Home Guard” (Neil Storey-Shire publications), “The Real Dads Army” from Key Publications and “Britain’s Home Guard” by John Brophy are all good starting points.

The first church parade, September 1940.

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The photo says it represents three Lancaster generations serving their country in 1941.
May 1940, how it all began. The local defence volunteers.
Bishop, clergy and ministers set the good example. The Guardian, Friday, April 17, 1942. From left: The Bishop of Lancaster, city clergy and ministers who are serving in the Home Guard. Most of them have been members since the inception of the L.D.V in 1940.
An inspection at Giant Axe in Lancaster.