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MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - STAFFORDSHIRE HOME GUARD 
34th STAFFORDSHIRE (BILSTON) BATTN.
Major HORACE JUDGE GEORGE

BATTALION DISPLAY - 1944
 

The 34th Staffordshire (Bilston) Battalion of the Home Guard had amongst its members Major Horace Judge George.  

Major George was initially a Platoon Commander but later became a Company Commander and second in command to the Battalion C.O., Lt.-Col. J Pitkeathley, M.C.

We are fortunate that the family archive of Horace George and his successors still include a quantity of images which provide further glimpses of the life of this Battalion and these unique photographs are all reproduced within this website, as follows:

Battalion Display - Hickman Park - 1944 (this page)
Battalion Parade and Review - Bilston Town Centre - 1943

Major Horace Judge George - The Coseley Home Guard

 

BATTALION DISPLAY - HICKMAN PARK, BILSTON - 1944
The images below show a major 34th Battalion display in Hickman Park, Bilston. Expert opinion dates it as taking place in the summer of 1944 and it is likely to have been organised in support of "Salute the Soldier Week", a national fundraising and savings scheme which took place in the spring and summer of that year.

(Such "Weeks" were a regular feature of the war years, when targets were set for communities throughout the country: the level of these targets was astonishing and the result was almost always in excess of the original aim. The Bilston target/achievement in 1944 is unknown but as an indication, amongst West Midlands towns, the achievement for Halesowen that year was 1.7m - in 2016 money, around 52m. And in support of "Wings for Victory" in the previous year, Dudley raised 725,000 - enough for 140 Spitfires and the equivalent of 23m in 2016).


Displays of this type were a fairly regular feature of Home Guard activities. They kept the Home Guard well in the public eye locally and encouraged recruitment, they boosted public morale as well as that of their own men and they helped fundraising, both for national schemes and for their own Battalion welfare funds. If the Home Guard had ever been a joke to the public at large, the display like this one would have given a strong indication of the level of professionalism achieved by the service, the equipment at its disposal and the likely effectiveness of the force if the need arose.

N.B.  If you wish to view higher definition versions of any of the following images, please click on the particular image. Depending on the device you are using, it will then display either as a magnified image or as a higher definition image capable of magnification.
 
The first images are clearly a demonstration of how far the Home Guard had come since its earliest days in May 1940 when France was about to fall, the Army was retreating to Dunkirk and an invasion, suddenly and inconceivably, became a possibilty - or even a probability.

First, May and June 1940, men volunteering, armed with nothing save a brassard and a makeshift weapon, or perhaps just a dummy rifle....
Still the early days, still the LDV rather than the Home Guard, but now with uniform and some weapons.....
And, much later, now a fully armed and effective force.....
And loosely assembled together in front of the crowd.
First, the "Then" - front row, the first volunteers still in "civvies", with, if they were lucky, just makeshift arms; then, only weeks later, in denims (is the lad in the second row holding a pike?); then in battledress and with improving weaponry.
And finally, the "Now": at the rear, fully equipped and trained, are an effective infantry fighting force. The man on the extreme right at the rear of the group is equipped with a type 38 field radio on his l.h. front/side.
And more of the "Now"......
The Blacker Bombard, otherwise known as the Spigot Mortar, being demonstrated....
The Battalion Despatch Riders demonstrate their skills.....
A Section advances......
Casualty  retrieval.....
The Battalion C.O., Lt.-Col. J. Pitkeathley, M.C., at the display.....

Many stories are told, usually humorous,  of "problems" arising during such Home Guard displays, especially those associated with the firing of artillery weapons such as that shown above. The 34th Battalion was not immune from such attention: there appeared in the local press in 1998 a memoir written by Mr. R. Mason of Bilbrook:

"I remember there was a public LDV demonstration at Hickman Park, Bilston, late summer 1940. There were hundreds of people who came to see the large array of home-made weapons shown in action some good, some not so good, some suicidal!

I was only about 12 and all the kids sat on the park fence with our backs to the road. One demonstration was about three LDVs pulling back on a spring in a long pipe until it clicked, then a dummy shell, like a cannon ball, was popped in and fired at a block of concrete it rebounded.

We watched it sail over the crowd and hit the back of a horse-drawn milk cart in the street. The horse raced off, wrecking everything in his path including all the milk on the cart.

Later we had our own LDV soldier at Sankey's works entrance in Albert Street, Bilston, dressed in the full kit including fixed bayonet. He used to say that the German paras would soon get by me, but not him (Mr. Talbot), the works timekeeper and commissionaire, and nobody who was late, or a stranger, ever did.

They were dedicated, sparsely armed at first, but they really did count later on. The Germans would have died laughing in 1940, but later on, just died."

Let us assume that such early teething troubles had been sorted out by the time of this 1944 display. Otherwise the expression on Col. Pitkeathley's face, as he gazes at us from a distance of three-quarters of a century, would perhaps have been somewhat less relaxed!

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Acknowledgement
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Ben and Pam George for much of this information and for their generous permission for its publication within this website; to the knowledgeable and eagle-eyed members of Austin Ruddy's "Remember Britain's Home Guard" Facebook group for their assistance with the interpretation of these images; and to Mr. R. Mason and the "Wolverhampton Chronicle".
Images Ben George 2017