MEMORIES and INFORMATION - 32nd Battn. - 2
   MEMORIES OF "B" COMPANY
    (STREETLY AND LITTLE ASTON)


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Memories of "B" Company, 32nd (Aldridge) Battalion South Staffordshire Home Guard, in Streetly and Little Aston between May 1940 and June 1942

By Graham C. Myers (1922-2002)

 
We are indebted to the family of Graham Myers for permission to publish this memoir. The author enlisted in the Home Guard in the earliest days at the age of seventeen at the same time as his father. He served in "B" Coy. in Streetly and Little Aston as a private until his call-up on 11th June 1942 when he joined the Royal Artillery. He is seen right as a cheerful, trainee bombardier in the summer of 1942.

The following memories were recorded in 2001. They are part of the introduction to a remarkably detailed memoir which he wrote of his 8th Army service, first in Tunisia, then in Sicily; and finally during the long, painful fight up the Italian peninsula, village by village, from Reggio di Calabria in the south in September 1943, via Monte Cassino and Rome, to his last action near the River Po at the end of April 1945. But his first military experience was in the more familiar and friendly territory of Streetly and Little Aston……

 

By 1938, war clouds were gathering. The official Declaration of War came on 3rd September 1939, and there followed a period of several months, the so-called "Phoney War". This came to an abrupt end in May 1940, when the Wehrmacht overran France and the Low Countries. By the end of that month, the Dunkirk evacuation was under way, and a call went out on U.K. radio for all able-bodied men to enrol as volunteer members of the Local Defence Volunteers, by reporting at their nearest Police Station.

Father and I duly did so, and I still have a typewritten post card which reads:

A later communication reads:

                                          LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS,
                                                                                    STREETLY

                                                                             June 6th 1940

A Meeting of all Members of the above will be held at the Headquarters, (Little) Aston Stables at 8pm on Saturday June 8th.

Will those unable to attend at that time please make an effort to be present at the same place at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

As Members of the L.D.V. are not expected to give all our time by night to the Movement, it is important that as many as possible should be enrolled to share the duties involved.

Will you therefore please ask any of your personal friends or acquaintances who might be willing to join, to submit their names to the Local Police Station, Streetly.

We shall require many more Volunteers if we are to do the work satisfactorily.   

                            

                             (Signed)........ J. W. ATHEY
                                      (Major) Sub-Group Commander

                                                                            
That was the start. Besides the frequent parades, the duties included patrols, and the manning of an observation point at dusk and dawn, performed on a rota basis by an NCO and about six men. This would come round to each of us every few days. The brief was to watch out for enemy parachutists or other signs of imminent invasion, and if we saw any, to dash to the little church nearby and ring the bell or bells, as a warning to the local populace. The look-out site was upon the roof of Little Aston Hall, gained by ascending two or three iron ladders secured to the exterior walls. At that time, the Hall was still privately owned and occupied by a certain Mrs. Ada Scribbans, the wealthy widow of a local bakery proprietor. The platoon headquarters was in a disused part of the old stable block, which opened out on to a sizeable square, useful for parades. One side contained a large garage, inside which stood two black Rolls-Royce motor cars, bearing the number plates ADA 1 and ADA 2. I never saw these outside, and assumed that they had been laid up "for the duration". The stables served as guardroom and as the platoon office, and was soon furnished with wooden wire bunks where the guard could rest when not on sentry duty. Later, a telephone was installed, and other equipment was provided as time went by.

During the first months, the threat was real, and the atmosphere deadly serious, but, in retrospect, now has elements of a pantomime scenario, with the relevant episodes of Dad's Army and similar productions seeming remarkably true to life. A rudimentary command structure was established very early on, and in the scheme of things, the local force was designated 32nd (Aldridge) Battalion of the South Staffordshire L.D.V. The final part of the title was soon changed, it is said on the intervention of Churchill himself, to the more inspirational "Home Guard". The Battalion comprised about seven Companies, each covering a specified area: "A" Coy. based in the Pheasey/Barr Beacon locality; "B" Coy. to the Staffordshire part of Streetly; "C" Coy. was Brownhills, and so on. Our own Company, "B", was divided into three platoon sectors. No. 1 were at Mill Green; we in No. 2 looked after Little Aston, and No. 3 had the now largely built-up zone between the Hardwick Arms and the county boundary to the south. That was the configuration as I recall it, but there may well have been modifications as time went by.

At the first meeting of No. 2 Platoon, to which I had been assigned, we all gathered at Little Aston Hall stables, and the first priority was to select a Platoon Commander. Major Athey, Officer Commanding "B" Company, enquired: "Any man here with army experience and who owns a car?" And thus it was that a few minutes later, an infantry private of the previous war, (my father), was taking his first parade. A second-in-command, and NCOs, were created by similar means, although all needed to have had previous military service.

As might be expected, in the earliest weeks there was a general lack of equipment and weapons, but the shortages were overcome as time went by. The first uniform was merely a khaki-coloured cotton armband, inscribed "L.D.V." but supplies of khaki denims arrived within a few weeks, and by the winter we had proper Army battledress and even greatcoats. I never encountered the legendary sight of individuals armed with pitchforks and broom handles, but the shortage of weapons caused great problems at the outset. Around August, some rifles arrived, and there were soon enough to arm the whole unit. These were not the standard issue, .303-inch calibre, but Browning .300-inch of U.S.A. origin. The two types of ammunition were in no way interchangeable, and could readily be distinguished by their appearance, but care was necessary with the rifles, where the two types were superficially rather similar. I believe that the American ones were made more identifiable by means of a painted red band.

From the very beginning, there were parades every Sunday, as well as on several weekday evenings, during which the basic military qualities of marching and arms drill were demonstrated and practised. We received intensive instruction in such infantry skills as fieldcraft, musketry, and camouflage. Besides the nightly look-out, guard and patrol duties at Little Aston, for a few weeks another demand was made upon our limited manpower resources in the shape of a call to provide a nightIy guard at Barr Beacon. This was an important military objective, being the highest point in the district, and for that reason the site of a large underground reservoir which supplied mains water to the area. No enemy invaders or saboteurs were ever seen there, but we were regaled by hearing amusing tales, recounted by the resident caretaker, an employee of the Water Company. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes concerning the activities of courting couples who often visited the site to enjoy the panoramic countryside views!

As the weeks went by, the training became more wide-ranging, including such topics as grenade, bayonet, machine-gun and anti-gas instruction, and at weekends, ever more ambitious field exercises, sometimes on a large scale with other units. One of these took us across country from Little Aston to Stonnall and the surrounding area, eventually reaching the main Lichfield Road at Shenstone. By now, the exercise had finished, so, hot and thirsty, a crowd of us trooped into the Bull Inn for refreshment, to be greeted by the shrill tones of the landlord's wife proclaiming "Other Ranks in the Public Bar, please!" The lady in question, a formidable figure called, I believe, Mrs. A---, ran the place rather like an old-fashioned hospital matron would have done, and was well-known throughout the district. But in those days drinks were often scarce and could never be spurned, however firmly one was reminded of one's correct place in the social order!

The nightly duties continued into the autumn and winter, and a guard room log book was maintained, containing detailed accounts of each night's events. These often concerned the sighting of unexplained lights: all had to be investigated, although usually they would have some innocent explanation. As August gave way to September, the night-time raids by enemy aircraft became a regular feature, becoming more intense with the advent of the shorter days. I remember a turn of guard duty on the night of 14th November, when the lurid red glow in the sky, coming from the direction of Coventry, made a lasting impression. The night raids continued throughout the winter and spring of 1941, but moderated after May of that year, probably due to the enemy build-up in the East, preparatory to the Soviet invasion. Following this event, a general easing of tension seemed to have occurred in the country at large - the fear of airborne landings was lessened, the Blitz on the cities had abated, and we no longer stood alone in resisting the enemy. There was no relaxation in the Home Guard, however, and the intensive training and guard duties continued as before.

Around this time, the unit acquired the use of a large residence, which was standing unoccupied. Known as "The Greylands", this was situated on a corner site between Manor Road and Middleton Road, Streetly, and was taken over to provide a suitable Company Headquarters. The evening training sessions on weaponry, map reading, and other skills were henceforth held here. A three-quarter sized snooker table was obtained, and set up for recreational use. In another room a well-stocked bar appeared, available for the use of members, and some of us - myself included - took on the additional rota task of bar-steward which office entailed the acquisition of useful new talents, such as how to tap and change a barrel.

Despite the leisure-time attractions now on offer, the serious business continued as before. Over the months - and now years - the platoon had evolved from a motley band of enthusiastic, but unskilled, volunteers into a highly trained, effective infantry unit. Numerical strength had been maintained, sufficient new recruits having joined to offset losses from the resignation of a few less able-bodied elderly men, and from the ongoing effect of the call-up for regular military service.

My own turn came in June 1942; in the following October, whilst on leave, I paid a visit to the old platoon, and gave a short talk on the complexities of providing artillery support in the field, with the help of my new-found knowledge in that area. That was the last occasion on which I was to meet them as a serving unit: the following year, most of the personnel were absorbed into an anti-aircraft battery. They seldom, if ever, experienced any action, and the entire Home Guard was placed on "stand down" towards the end of 1944.

A commemorative little book, entitled "Home Guarding" comprises a collection of contributions by various members of the 32nd (Aldridge) Battalion of the South Staffordshire Home Guard. Much of the detail appearing in this portion of my own notes originates from a copy of this work, which I still possess, and to which I now express my acknowledgement. This is especially the case in respect of the chapter "A Home Guard Platoon", written by my late father, Captain Harry M. Myers.


Graham C. Myers

© Graham C. Myers 2001

(Webmaster's note: Mrs. Scribbans's Rolls-Royces, according to informed Little Aston recollection, were not ADA 1 and 2 but ADA 888 and ADA 999 and were silver rather than the almost universal black. Thanks to R.D. for this information. "DA" then denoted a car first registered in Wolverhampton).

(Images of the Platoon can be seen on this page)