MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - SHROPSHIRE
  SHREWSBURY:
1st BATTN. SHROPSHIRE HOME GUARD

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There appeared in the Shropshire Star in March 2006 an informative and entertaining article by Toby Neal, based on the reminiscences of Mr. Glyn Rowlands of Welshpool. This article, expanded to include further quotations subsequently received from Mr. Rowlands, is reproduced below. We are indebted to the Shropshire Star for permission to publish it on this website and make full acknowledgement to the newspaper, to Mr Rowlands and to Mr Neal.

 

"THREE SHELLS TO SAVE TOWN"

Had the Germans invaded in World War Two, Glyn Rowlands would have been one of Shrewsbury's brave defenders. As German tanks advanced on the town's northern perimeter, Mr. Rowlands would have grabbed a Blacker Bombard anti-tank weapon, loaded it up in the square carrier on the front of his father's bicycle, and pedalled to its firing position at the junction of Berwick Road. But as he only had three anti-tank projectiles, he would have been in a spot of bother if the Germans were attacking with four or more tanks.

For Mr. Rowlands (pictured right, in April 1943) the memories of his days in the Home Guard all came flooding back when he visited a "Shropshire At War" exhibition at St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, in January 2006.

"I had intended to write about the Home Guard for some time, but as my memory is starting to fade I thought the time was now opportune. The booklet and exhibits were a spur."

He now lives in Welshpool, but on September 3rd, 1939, he was a 13-year-old choirboy at St Mary's Church in Shrewsbury. There was, he recalls, a large congregation that day, with few vacant pews.

"We knew that the world news was not very good. Just after 11 a.m. Eucharist began and I saw the verger, Mr Hordley, walk down the aisle and hand the vicar, the Rev R.M.B. MacKenzie, a piece of paper. He read it and walked over and climbed the pulpit steps. On reaching the top of the stairs he paused momentarily and then announced solemnly that Great Britain was at war with Germany.

"There was a long silence and one could hear sobbing coming from the congregation. There was no sermon on that day but the Eucharist was celebrated in hushed tones. I was thirteen years old at the time and when the service ended I changed out of my cassock and surplice and raced home to tell my parents because we had no radio and relied on the daily newspaper for the world news. It was not until the following day that we learnt all about it from the Daily Herald."

After that the expected onslaught on this counry did not materialise. The waiting and wondering lasted a long time and finally came to an end in May 1940 when Hitler invaded Belgium, The Netherlands and France. The reaction here was immediate. Glyn Rowlands describes how he saw it:

"Shrewsbury, like every other town in the U.K., rallied to the call to join the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers) in 1940 following an appeal by Mr. Anthony Eden. The evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk stunned every citizen in the British Isles and there was a great fear that an invasion by the German Military appeared to be inevitable. Whilst the Battle of Britain was taking place over the skies of Southern England many frantic measures were being taken throughout the U.K. Stretches of water were being blocked with every means possible to prevent seaplanes landing, large fields were trenched or staked to thwart air landings and road sign posts were removed. Any strangers asking for directions were treated with suspicion and all buildings were blacked out - this was rigidly enforced.

"In this tense and anxious background units of the L.D.V. were formed from eager volunteers. The L.D.V. shortly afterwards became known as the Home Guard. The newly formed 1st Battalion of the Home Guard for Shrewsbury had its H.Q. at the Drill Hall, Coleham. Most military supplies were issued from this point including shoulder flashes - Home Guard with 1 SHY underneath which were worn on the upper arm of each battle blouse. Leading all this organisation was the Adjudant/Quartermaster and regular soldier Captain Howard of the Herefordshire Light Infantry. After the war he came a teacher on the staff of the Shrewsbury Technical College - later to be known as the Wakeman School.

"So was born the first Battalion of the Shropshire Home Guard. It was divided into six companies named 'A' to 'F'. Each company had three platoons consisting of up to twenty men in each. The Coton Hill Company which was known as 'E' covered the patch from Shelton Rough in the west to Hencote in the north-east. The Corporation Lane Platoon was based at Coton Hill Farm which was my home at the time. One could join the Home Guard at the age of 17 and as the platoon using the farm buildings etc. for their parades I was ushered in at 16 in 1942 as an enthusiastic recruit. Outbuildings and the farm house were used to store materials, arms and ammunition. Parades of the full 'E' Company were held on the main entrance to the West Midland Showground at monthly intervals to receive orders, instructions etc. The Company was commanded by Major Makey who had seen service in the First World War. He was the Chief Clerk at the Alliance Insurance Company in the Square, Shrewsbury. The Company Sergeant Major was Jack Stone from Greenfields and he had seen service as a regular with the K.S.L.I. The Corporation Lane Platoon was commanded by Lieutenant Cole who had a painting and decorating business at the bottom of Wyle Cop. His second in command was Sergeant Jack North who lived on Swan Hill opposite County Police Headquarters. His son John North was a particularly good friend of mine and he eventually Joined the Fleet Air Arm.

"We all had practical training on the Lewis Machine Gun, the Sten Gun, Thompson Machine Gun, American .300 Rifles, Mills 36 Grenades and the Blacker Bombard Anti-tank Missile Launcher. I attended a course on how to use the Blacker Bombard and fire it on a range at R.A.F. Bobbington near Bridgnorth. The Certificate of my Profiency is deposited with the Castle Military Musuem amongst the Home Guard artifacts. Two stripes were the award for showing my ability to fire the weapon accurately!

"The Blacker Bombard spigot mortar (shown typically below) had to have a substantial concrete base with a stainless steel pivot on top to rest the weapon. Several years ago I recall that a person on the Mount had found a concrete emplacement in his garden and he was anxious to know all about it. It was soon identified. The concrete base for our local weapon was positioned at the junction of Berwick Road and the lane to the West Mid Showground with the intention of attacking tanks or vehicles advancing on Shrewsbury from the Baschurch direction.

"The base disappeared some years ago but one still exists off the Ellesmere
Road in Greenfields. It is not easy to spot because it has become ivy-covered over the past six decades. It was said at the time that the Greenfields emplacement was selected to patronise Brigadier Dann who was the supreme Commander of the Shropshire Home Guard and who lived in a large house about two hundred yards distant towards the Moveage.

"We were only issued with three missiles, so I guess it gave some indication
of our life expectancy. I did query how I was expected to transport such a heavy weapon to its site and it was suggested I used my father's tradesman's cycle with the square carrier on the front. It was to be hoped that the invaders did not come when it was suffering from one of its frequent punctures!

"The Corporation Lane sector had four reinforced trenches for observation and defence, from the wood at Round Hill Green to the railway line at Coton Grange. I can recall the exact siting of the trenches, but it is many years since I visited them. Our sector was rather strategic because the main GWR Railway line ran along the Eastern boundary with marshalling yards either side.

"Practical Training was always a popular activity with trips to the Red Hill Grenade Range, Coleham Drill Hall .22 range, Shelton Rough Rifle Range and the Wrekin Range. Field Training was taken at Church Stretton where we roughed it in a large white house on the Cardington Road. Regular soldiers from Copthorne Barracks were the instructors. Whilst the officers were in the house we were given a taste of military austerity in several huts of the Nissen type. I can recall a dodgy exercise in Ashes Valley where regular soldiers were firing live ammunition over our heads. We were carrying Sten Guns and at one stage we had to fire at full size cutouts from cardboard. The Sten Gun was well known to be a temperamental weapon and one was taught to hold the magazine with the left hand when firing. If not there was the danger that one would get one's fingers in the ejection opening where the bullet cases were discharged. The fellow next to me had not heeded the warning and had shouted to me he had lost the end of his little finger. After such blood and swearing he was hurried to the Medical Tent. I never saw him or his missing finger again."

"Despite the national anxiety we were all going through we could raise a smile and training sessions were often followed by a little 'socialising' in either the Woodman or the Royal Oak on Coton Hill - even though I was slightly under age".

Mr. Rowlands can now remember only a few of his colleagues in the Corporation Lane
platoon. Several later distinguished themselves in the regular forces. Freddie Sayce of Coton Hill was killed in Normandy, and a soldier called Holborn of Coton Crescent was commissioned and decorated while serving with the K.O.S.B. at Arnhem. Jock MacLaren was also commissioned, Ted Amos served with the R.A.S.C., and Richard Smith of Butcher Row in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.

Inevitably His Majesty caught up with Mr. Rowlands in 1944 by sending him the customary brown envelope, the contents of which directed him to report to the Buffs
(Royal East Kent Regiment) depot in Canterbury.

"I have never been able to fathom out why I was not routed to the K.S.L.I. Barracks at Copthorne. At least I survived the Flying Bombs raining down in Kent - but that is another story".

Glyn Rowlands's life in the Shrewsbury Home Guard was over.

 

© Shropshire Star, Toby Neal, Glyn Rowlands 2006

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION

 

This late May 1940 cutting from a local newspaper gives an indication of the promptness and the scale of the response to the call to arms.

 

Brigadier W.R.H. Dann D.S.O. was a retired regular soldier who between the wars had been a member of the Bedfordshire Regiment. He had been commissioned well before the Great War and his participation in May 1917 in the Second Battle of Bullecourt as a Lt. Col. in the Royal Fusiliers had brought him his award.

 

The nationwide Defence of Britain Project (1995-2002) recorded about 30 examples of surviving defensive structures of various types in and around Shrewsbury, ranging in size from spigot mortar bases, including that at Greenfields mentioned above and one or two others, through larger structures such as pill boxes and trenches, right up to complete airfields.  This information is available online. If you wish to see it Click here and then use the Search Box to navigate to Shrewsbury. (You will leave this site).

 


 

Toby Neal has written many articles on Shropshire local history and a number of books. Those of the latter currently available are "Shropshire Airfields" and "Owd Jockeys At War: The Dawley News 1915-1916". Both are available from booksellers or direct from Langrish Caiger Publications, PO Box 1916, Telford, Shropshire TF7 5XZ .