and INFORMATION - 32nd Battn.
OF "B" COMPANY
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of "B" Company, 32nd (Aldridge) Battalion South
Staffordshire Home Guard, in Streetly and Little Aston between
May 1940 and June 1942
Graham C. Myers (1922-2002)
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,
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
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
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
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)