The 22nd Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion of the Home Guard was responsible for defending an area of Birmingham including parts of Aston and Hockley.
The Battalion was commanded (as at February 1941) by Lt.-Col. M.F. Baker (left), late of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
Later, command passed to
Lt.-Col. H.R. Parsons, previously
a Major in the same unit. It was a large battalion with approximately 80 officers and a total complement of between 1500 and 2000 men. It had originally been one of the ten constituent battalions of the Birmingham Home Guard in 1940 when it was known as the 2nd Birmingham Battalion.
At the age of 14 years and 6 months Joseph William Bennett (1926-1994) joined the Battalion in December 1940 as Volunteer Bennett - Army ranks were introduced later so that he eventually became Private Bennett.
Whilst the Home Guard always took a very relaxed view of the regulation whereby members had to be of 17 years of age before they could be enlisted, this was a particularly early age and Joe must have been one of the very youngest to serve in the city, and perhaps anywhere else. Clearly several blind eyes must have been turned. This was Joe three years before he volunteered, flanked by his younger brothers Bill and George and probably standing outside their family home in Great Russell Street.
But by October 1941 he was showing remarkable maturity at the age of fifteen and looks older (left) than some of the other lads shown in the group image which is reproduced further down this page.
Little is known about Joe's activities over the four years of his service, from December 1940 to stand-down in December 1944. What is certain is that for at least two years he would have been involved in the infantry activities of the Battalion or in some specialised role in support of such activities. Because of the urban nature of the area, that would have involved street fighting in the event of an emergency. In order to prepare for such duties Joe would have spent many hundreds of hours, at weekends and during evenings, being trained in weaponry, communication, streetfighting tactics, patrolling, camouflage and all the other skills intended to make him a successful infantryman. Exercises would have been conducted regularly (see right); and simultaneously he would have been undertaking the normal, day-to-day functions of the Battalion: guarding, observing, patrolling, preparing defensive positions and so on.
The early part of Joe's service would have been heavily influenced by the Birmingham Blitz which was at its height when Joe enlisted and would last in its most severe phase until May 1941 with sporadic attacks thereafter until July 1942. Many Home Guards were heavily involved in assisting the other Civil Defence services in all the functions necessary when a city is under attack and it is likely that Joe would have been among them. Stories abound and just a few of them, involving incredible bravery and self-sacrifice on the part of individual Home Guards, can be read within this website. For example, two members of Joe's own Battalion, Alfred Brunges and CharlesTozer, were awarded the George Medal for outstanding bravery at a location near the Villa Cross cinema during a raid a few weeks earlier, on October 26th. Other pages dealing with those dreadful nights can be found by referring to the Warwickshire/Birmingham section index.
The raids had abated in the second half of 1941 when Nazi attention was concentrated on Russia following the attack in June and many of the bomber squadrons were sent from their French airfields to the East. (The story, probably typical, of one Luftwaffe bomber pilot who had attacked Birmingham several times is told here). By then the 22nd Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion would have become a relatively efficient, trained fighting unit capable of giving a good account of itself in the event of enemy invasion or incursion. One of its constituent Companies, "E" Coy., is pictured here in a group photograph taken at an unknown location in October 1941. Joe is identified on it, although none of his other comrades has so far been named. (Go to the magnified version to see the faces of individuals). The photograph, of high quality, was the work of H.J. Whitlock & Sons, a company which operated from 1843 until the 1960s, mainly from premises in New Street, Birmingham.
Click on the above image to see a greatly magnified version
At the end of 1942 and in the early part of 1943, whilst the threat of invasion still existed and was taken seriously, the major fears of 1940 and 1941 had lessened to a significant extent. It was decided that the Home Guard's function could be extended to cover the manning of anti-aircraft batteries and so a large number of men were transferred out of the city infantry battalions to be trained and then act as gunners in cooperation with the Royal Artillery personnel at local batteries. Men could volunteer for this service but most were reluctant to leave their units where camaraderie and pride had developed to such a pitch over the previous two-and-a-half years; and so they had to be directed. The effect of this new Home Guard responsibility was to release Army personnel for other duties. Joe Bennett was one of those who found themselves spending the next 18 months or two years serving regular shifts as part of a team manning a huge anti-aircraft gun within a battery of several or, equally intimidating, one of the Z-battery multiple rocket launchers. We shall never know whether Joe's weapon was ever fired in anger. By that stage of the war, many were thankfully not (but perhaps to the disappointment of those faithfully and patiently manning them, night after night in summer and winter).
Joe's special insignia for his AA duties survives, as does the acknowledgement of his service.
The end of Joe's service with the Home Guard came, as did that of 1.75m other men and quite a few women, in early December 1944 when Home Guards throughout the country held their farewell parades on Sunday December 3rd. That service was recognised by his King George VIth certificate which happily survives within his family and is shown below.
Other recognition followed:
and, in due course, three medals including, centre, the War Medal 1939-1945 and, right, the Defence Medal:
Because of his remarkably young age at the time of enlistment, Joe had not been liable to call-up until the second half of 1944. But he was able to see his service right through to the end as he was in reserved employment, working as a toolmaker in an engineering company. The company was Halladay's Limited of Tame Road, Witton and Joe worked there from 1940 to 1947.
Joe's later life led to marriage in 1949 at St. Chad's Cathedral to Olive Mary Brimson who had been born at 12 Sutherland Street, Aston and later lived at 35 Powick Road, Erdington. Here he is with Olive on Christmas Eve 1948, three months before their wedding.
By that time Joe was working at Elkington and Co. Ltd. of Goscote Works, Walsall.
In 1952 he and Olive decided to emigrate to South Africa, partly for reasons of Olive's health. There the family extended to include two boys, Neil and John, whilst Joe himself worked in several engineering companies, still as a toolmaker (right), until his retirement in 1992.
Regrettably he was only able to enjoy a short life in retirement; he died peacefully on 11th February 1994 and Olive survived him by a further seven years.
The two boys of the marriage are seen here at a happy reunion in March 2013 (Neil on the left, John right, standing in front of Susan).
John has returned to his parents' roots: he emigrated to the UK and now lives in Handsworth, Birmingham.
Neil remains in South Africa; it is to him that we owe all the above information about his father which enables us to commemorate the service of one particular Home Guard, much younger than the vast majority but who, like the others, willingly gave thousands of hours of effort over four long years in order to help keep his family, his city and his nation safe.
In Memory of
Pte. Joe Bennett
and of all his comrades
22nd Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion
1940 - 1944
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Mr Neil Bennett of South Africa for providing this information about his father and generously permitting its publication.
Personal images © Neil Bennett 2013