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MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - STAFFORDSHIRE HOME GUARD

 34th STAFFORDSHIRE (BILSTON) BATTN.

BILSTON and ADJOINING AREAS
Bradley, Coseley, Ettingshall, and the Bratch Water Pumping Station

Associated pages in this Bilston section of the website:
34th Staffordshire (Bilston) Battn. (this page) - Maj. H.G. George
- 1943 Battn. Parade/Review - 1944 Battn. Display - The Coseley Home Guard

Bilston and adloining areas were defended by the 34th Staffordshire (Bilston) Battalion and the latter comprised several Companies which in turn contained various factory units, including Sankey's, John Thompson, Cannon and Stewarts & Lloyds. In 1941 the Battalion was commanded by Lt.Col. J. Pitkeathley, M.C. and comprised some 30 officers and an unknown further body of NCOs and Other Ranks.

Part of its role comprised the guarding of many Vulnerable Points within the town, e.g. the Drill Hall
(right, located, as it still is, near the junction of Mount Pleasant and Mountford Lane; and at the time close to the Theatre Royal, the Globe inn and the Police Station); the ARP centre behind and under the Library; the Telephone Exchange at the main GPO; and the pumping station beside the canal at Bratch.

One memory is that the sections involved in these duties were normally of one or two NCOs and a further five men. Each venue was reached by marching except for Bratch which, because of the distance, required transport in the form of Johnny Toole's coal wagon. Duty was normally every eighth night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and the shifts were 2 hours on, 2 hours off. 

Like almost every Home Guard throughout the country, members of these sections were often operating in conditions of low visibility and occasionally of heightened tension when an invasion alert seemed to have been sounded (marked by the ringing of Church bells). They were therefore liable to problems in correctly identifying the threat offered by an object approaching out of the gloom, especially if it resembled a parachute and if it failed to respond to a correct challenge. On one such occasion at The Bratch when the ringing of Church bells could only mean one thing, imminent attack, the combination of poor visibility and high tension resulted in a dead cow, an extremely aggrieved farmer and a compensation bill for the Battalion.

No full list of the membership of this Battalion survives, although there were certainly many hundreds of men involved, if not more. Amongst them will have served the following, whose names have appeared in various memoirs or records:



W Arkinstall, Lt. DCM
W C Armstrong, Lt.
H. W. B. Beasley, 2/Lt.
J T Bill, Lt.
- J. Blackham, 2/Lt
S W Chattin, Lt.
H. G. Dawson, Capt.
J. C. Davies, 2/Lt.
W Edge, Lt.
Tom Evans
W. Evans
G W Eyres, Lt.
Bob Ford, Lt.
A. Fortnam, 2/Lt.
K. A. Foy, Capt.
-. Gandy, Lt.
H J George, Maj.
E. H.Gilbert, 2/Lt.
R Hanstock, Lt.
A E Hayes, Maj.
A. Hewlett


J. Higgs, Lt.
R H Hopton, Maj.
Bob James, Cpl.
S.(?) Leadbeater, 2/Lt.
T. Longmore, Capt.
C Lovern, Lt.
K C Lowe, Lt.
H Marchant, Maj.
E. Meeson, Lt.
A F Oatley, Capt.
F. Pardoe, 2/Lt.
W Parkes, Lt.
W S Peach, Lt.
George Philpot
G M Pickard, Lt.
J. Pitkeathley, Lt.-Col., M.C.
T
orJ. H. Powell, Lt.
E Probert, Lt.
E E Richards, Lt.
D A Richmond, Capt.
W Rogers, Lt.


Sid Routely
G Salter, Capt.
A E Seedhouse, Capt.
J Sidebotham, Lt.
J McE Sinton, Lt.
A E Smart, Lt.
Ken Southwick
W H Smith, Maj.
F. Thomas
F J Timmins, Capt.
A Turner, Lt. MM
-. Turpin, Sgt.
J  E Ward, Lt.-Col.
D E Wells, Maj. (M.O.)
Bill Whitehouse, Cpl.
-. Ted Wilson, L/Cpl.

and also....

The Men of the Coseley Home Guard



(Ranks may or not represent those held at stand-down in December 1944. Further possible Battalion names are included at the bottom of this page and also the Coseley Home Guard page mentioned above.)

 KEN SOUTHWICK'S MEMORIES

One of these Battalion members was Ken Southwick, a young man who was employed at Bradley & Foster in Darlaston, producers of pig iron and other products. He has generously provided (2016) information about how the unit was organised and operated and also his personal memories
of those times, 75 years ago. The information he has provided forms the basis of this web page.

Ken had left school in 1938 at the age of 15 and well remembers William "Bill" Peach  who was his Headmaster at Bilston Boys Central School, Fraser Street.  Bill had served as an officer in the Great War.  Lt. Chattin was another officer in the Battalion -  he is remembered as a member of a family who had a bakery business in Bilston. (Just as in "Dad's Army" many members of the Bilston Home Guard had links with local businesses). Bob Ford is also remembered as one of Ken's comrades.  Ken himself left the unit in 1943 to serve in the RAF.

The Battalion's role was to defend several areas in and adjoining Bilston: Bilston itself, Bradley, Coseley, Ettingshall, and the Bratch Water Pumping Station (which provided the water supply for Bilston). Battalion HQ or at least HQ of two of the Battalion Companies was at the Drill Hall (on the Bilston-Willenhall Road opposite the Theatre Royal and now the Robin 2 Music Venue).

We are also indebted to Ken for details of the dead cow mishap. (This may have occurred on the night of 7/8th September 1940 when the code word "Cromwell" indicating that invasion was imminent - i.e. within 12 hours - was incorrectly signalled to Home Guard units).  

THE HOME GUARD WINDS DOWN

By the summer of 1944 many of those still serving in the Bilston Home Guard had given four years of their life to their duties; and the end was still some way off.

D-Day had taken place at the beginning of June.  There followed the anxious weeks whilst the Normandy beachhead was being reinforced and the break-out was awaited. Eventually that occurred and the Allied forces surged eastwards across France. Every member of the Home Guard knew that the end of the war was in sight; but equally that nothing could be taken for granted: nobody knew what surprises the Germans could still provide - a feeling reinforced when, out of the blue as far as the British population was concerned, a rain of new, unimaginable weapons started to pour down on London and the south-east in the form of the V1 and V2 rockets. Nevertheless it was increasingly obvious that outright invasion was no longer a possibility and other forms of incursion were becoming ever more unlikely.

The Home Guard plodded on throughout the autumn with those in authority doing their best to maintain motivation and the standards of proficiency which had been achieved with so much effort. Training continued - for example in September men from the Midlands and elsewhere were still learning about house-to-house fighting on courses at the Birmingham Street Fighting School. But, quite suddenly, it all came to an end. An announcement of stand-down was announced and on Sunday, 3rd December 1944 every Battalion held its final parade, including the men of Bilston.

Four-and-a-half years of comradeship and common endeavour were now at an end. Many units marked the occasion by social gatherings of varying degrees of formality. In Bilston, the record of one such celebration has happily survived. 2/Lt. Fred A. Pardoe (seen right, then a sergeant, leading a section of the Coseley Home Guard through the centre of Bilston in the summer of 1943) preserved his copy of the programme for an officers' dinner held on Thursday 14th December 1944 at the Pipe Hall Hotel, Bilston. 

Fred Pardoe (d. 1990) was a toolmaker at the Cannon and met his wife there. She was canteen manageress and later they became Steward and Stewardess of the Sports Club. From a difficult early start, Fred clearly made a success of his life: with regard to his Home Guard service, appointment to senior NCO rank and eventually the granting of a commission - all without the Great War military experience which most of his senior comrades would have shared - suggest very special personal qualities.





   
   


Their signatures can be interpreted - with varying degrees of certainty - as follows:

W. C. Armstrong, Lt....H. W. B. Beasley, 2/Lt....A. Berklaw (?), 2/Lt....E. Biggs (?).... - J. Blackham, 2/Lt.....- Causer (?)...J. C. Davies, 2/Lt....H. G. Dawson, Capt....W. Evans...R. Ford...A. Fortnam,  2/Lt....K. A. Foy, Capt.... - Gandy....H. J. George, Major...E. H. Gilbert, 2/Lt....A. E. Hayes, Major...A. Hewlett...J. Higgs, Lt....R. H. Hopton, Major...S.(?) Leadbeater, 2/Lt.... D or W. G. Leido/Ludo, Lt....T. Longmore, Capt....-. Massey/Hussey (?), 2/Lt....E. Meeson, Lt....F. Pardoe , 2/Lt....W. S. Peach, Lt....T/J. H. Powell, Lt....E. Probert, Lt....W. Rogers, Lt....H. A .S. Shree (?), 2/Lt....Arthur Smart, Lt....W. H. Smith, Major...F. Thomas...J. Timmins, Capt....J. E. Ward, Lt.-Col.

A few of the signatures are wholly undecipherable.  Also known to be present were:

Supt. F. W.
Orland...Capt. H. Marchant...J. Pitkeathley, Lt.-Col., M.C.

It was no doubt a jolly evening and one of quiet satisfaction and even relief. But it was probably tinged with a little sadness as well as they contemplated a parting of the ways and the loss of that feeling of comradeship in a common cause whose intensity they were unlikely to experience again for the rest of their lives.



In Memory of

All Members of the
34th Staffordshire (Bilston) Battalion
Home Guard

1940-1944

**********

FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE 34th BATTALION
Further pages of the website contain many more images of, and information about, the 34th Battalion.
Issues 956, 957 and 960 of the Black Country Bugle include much original material about the Battalion.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Grateful acknowledgement is made to:  Ken Southwick and John Ashmore; Anne Southall (for images of the Dinner programme preserved by her father and generous permission for their publication); the Coseley pre-1970 Facebook pagethe Wolverhampton History and Heritage WebsiteBlack Country Bugle: and Home Guard List 1941 Western Command, by Jon Mills (Savannah Publications).

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x142 - October 2016, additions Feb 2017, September 2017