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 HOME GUARD MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - WARWICKSHIRE

BIRMINGHAM CITY TRANSPORT

31st and 32nd WARWICKSHIRE (BIRMINGHAM) BATTALIONS

(This page includes limited information about the Birmingham City Transport Department Battalions and also information about on of its members, William (Bill) Vale of the 31st Battn., P.41, Tyburn Road - see below. The more general information has been supplemented and mainly superseded (August 2015) by this section of the website which reproduces a detailed history of the units and includes the name of every member).

Two of the Birmingham Home Guard battalions were formed from Birmingham City Transport employees and, like their counterparts associated with major factories in the city, had the responsibility of defending their place of work and equipment.

As with other HG units the structure, designation and command of this defensive force evolved over the years, as follows:

STRUCTURE

May 1940 - July 1940
9th Birmingham (P.U.) Battalion Local Defence Volunteers
July 1940 - October 1940
 9th Birmingham (P.U.) Battalion Home Guard
October 1940 - March 1941
11th and 12th Birmingham (P.U.) Battalions Home Guard
March 1941 - December 1944
31st and 32nd Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalions Home Guard

COMMANDING OFFICERS

Commanding Officers included the following:
Major T.B. Pritchett, M.C. (1940)
  (Lord Mayor of Birmingham)
Lt.-Col. J. McDonnell (32nd Battn. to 23rd February 1943)
Lt.-Col. A.C. Baker (31st Battn.)
Lt.-Col. E.V. Horton, M.C. (1941)
Lt.-Col. E Bowater, M.S.M. (32nd Battn., 1944)

Soon after stand-down in December 1944 an unknown member of the B.C.T. Home Guard recorded a memory of the early, desperate days of these units.

THE EARLY DAYS

The employees of the Birmingham City Transport responded magnificently to Mr Eden's call for men to enlist as "parashots" and in a very short space of time nearly 3500 had joined what had come to be named the "Local Defence Volunteers". Recruitment was carried out within the Department, and at each of the 19 establishments the direction and control of the men was entrusted to those with previous military experience.

Training was quickly on the way, but owing to lack of proper equipment, it had to be restricted, in the first place, to Squad Drill and Physical Training. However, pick shafts were soon forthcoming for the practice of Arms Drill, and to augment these someone persuaded the Art Gallery Authorities to lend their museum specimens of flintlocks etc. which, although dating back to the Dark Ages, were nevertheless very acceptable. Despite the fact that for a long time the men possessed little more than an enrolment card and, here and there, an armlet bearing the magic letters L.D.V., their enthusiasm never flagged. Everything needed was in short supply, but so great was the members' determination that they found it possible to improvise sufficient of the essentials to carry them along.

Within the first few months two Assault Courses were constructed - one at the Transport Stadium and the other at Perry Bar Recreation Ground. During the same period most of the units were provided with Miniature Rifle Ranges - located at some of the Depots and Garages in the inspection pits - at others on adjoining land, and at one, inside a surface air raid shelter. A quantity of re-bored .22 Martini Rifles were bought and proved particularly useful, for the men availed themselves of every opportunity to improve their marksmanship.

Each establishment unit was given a "P" number for identification, encouraged to become self-contained and made directly responsible to Battalion H.Q. This arrangement, which was still permitted to stand after "Company Formation", turned out to be very satisfactory and there is little doubt that it contributed in no small measure to the fine esprit de corps which has always existed in the Battalions. Sections covering all phases of infantry warfare were formed in connection with each unit and every man worked with the utmost zeal to fit himself to meet the contingency for which he had joined. Although that contingency never arose it is certain that had there been a "call to action" - even before they were fully equipped - the Transport Units would have given a very good account of themselves.

Those who were directing affairs - realising how vital Public Utility Undertakings were to the National Effort - decided that every protection from sabotage should be provided. Accordingly arrangements were made for each Transport Unit to guard its own establishment after normal working hours. It should be recorded to the credit of all concerned that in spite of difficult times peculiar to Passenger Transport Workers, and the conditions resulting from air raid damage at certain establishments, these guards were mounted every night until the final "stand down".

As time went by, the cry for arms and uniforms (always loud) increased in volume. Eventually the Transport Units found themselves the fortunate possessors of an allocation of P17 rifles which, it is interesting to recall, worked out at one for each 75 men. The men who undertook the degreasing of these will never forget their onerous task for the arrivals in question had been in "cold storage" since the last war.

Shortly afterwards there arrived at the HQ twenty denim suits which caused the Quartering Staff great concern as to how they should be allocated. The problem was soon settled however as the suits were applied for by, and issued to, an escort attending a military funeral of one of the Battalion's members who had died as a result of an accident whilst on guard duty. This military funeral was probably the first of its kind ever held in the country.

Ambition was stimulated by more rifles and clothing filtering through, and one unit, anxious to display its efficiency, was brave enough to stage a special demonstration of training and drill at which the C.O. was invited to make a tour of inspection.

When at last the eagerly anticipated battle dress, greatcoats, boots, steel helmets, respirators etc began to appear, it can be said that the Early Days had come to an end but before passing on, mention must be made of the small band at HQ who, in the face of many difficulties, so energetically shouldered the burden of the administration and organisation.

Mention is made above about training, an ongoing and essential part of life in the Home Guard as units developed their professionalism and strove to keep up with the latest techniques and equipment.

On top of their normal day-to-day duties, members of the B.C.T. units, in common with most Home Guards, were involved in constant training and regular exercises. One of the most ambitious of the latter occurred on Cannock Chase in 1942 when the 32nd had to repulse an attack over difficult terrain by the 31st. Camps were organised accommodating up to 100 men during the week or at weekends. One of these was located at Bewdley in the summer of 1943.

In addition to this many members attended off-site training courses at many locations and covering a variety of subjects. Some were local: Barnt Green; Quinton; Winterbourne House; Bishops Tatchbrook and Budbrooke in Warwickshire; and the G.H.Q. Fighting Wing based in Bristol Street. Others were much farther afield: Altcar and Burscough in Lancashire; Ornibury, Shropshire; Denbighshire; Catterick Bridge, Yorkshire; Prestatyn, North Wales; Doddington Hall, Cheshire; and Glenridding in the Lake District. The courses ranged in time from 1/2 days to periods exceeding a week. They covered a wide range of disciplines, including Signals, WT, armourers, tactical, anti-gas, grenade, cookery, intelligence, bayonet, unarmed combat, streetfighting and other necessary specialist skills. Like everything else associated with the Home Guard this training was accommodated in members' "spare time", in other words, what was available after performing onerous duties as part of their day job, and entirely without payment. Family life must have come a very poor third and these obligations and responsibilities continued for four-and-a-half long years.

Let this website page stand as a modest tribute to those 3,500 men, and perhaps a number of women, and as a commemoration of them and their willing service in the 31st and 32nd Warwickshire Battalions.

From amongst these many, a particular memory is of those individuals from whose families staffshomeguard has received further information.

William (Bill) Vale worked for Birmingham City Transport all of his adult life mainly at the Tyburn Road Depot working on diesel equipment. In the war years he served in the 31st Battalion in Unit P41, responsible for the defence of the Tyburn Road Depot. He retired in 1967 at the age of 60 and moved to Hampshire where he died in 1998 in his 91st year.

William Vale is seen (right) in his Home Guard uniform when in his early/mid thirties; and again (below), in later life, standing on the extreme right with some of his colleagues at Tyburn Road.

(Grateful acknowledgement to M.E-T. for this information about her father).

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If any visitor to this page has a relative who served in these two Battalions and would like a note of commemoration to be included here, would they please contact the Webmaster using FEEDBACK

NOTE TO HG HISTORIANS AND FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCHERS
These Battalions were two of a number of HG units who left behind them a commemorative booklet describing their activities over four and a half years. The B.C.T. units' booklet, published immediately after standdown in January 1945, is unusual in listing within it many or all of the names of members who served. This booklet is reproduced in its entirety elsewhere within this website.

Please see: The Birmingham City Transport Home Guard commemorative booklet - January 1945

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x107  May 2013 - revised August 2015
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