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of a Birmingham Factory Platoon



Each and every Home Guard had, by the very nature of the service, close and regular contact with lethal weaponry of one sort or another. Accidents were not unusual and the consequences were often devastating, both to the victim and to other men caught up in them. John James Walker, James Edward Sargent, Isaiah Mountford and James Kelly, all of an unknown Birmingham Home Guard Battalion, were involved in one such incident.

In Witton Cemetery there lies Volunteer John James Walker (aged 26) of Gothic Terrace, Clifton Road, Aston.  This is his headstone (right). It is singularly lacking in information apart from the date of death: 21st December 1940. But research into the circumstances of his death reveals a tragedy even more heartbreaking than, as one might otherwise have suspected, had he died as a result of one of the air raids on Birmingham in the winter of 1940/41.

Newspaper cuttings from 9th January 1941 provide much of the story.




The place of work where these events occurred is unknown.

And so, what was the outcome? What was the view of the Police Court with regard to the accusation of murder against the careless but unfortunate James Edward Sargent of Bolney Road, Harborne? There was little alternative to a referral to the Birmingham Assizes, for James Sargent to face the lesser charge of manslaughter.

And the judgement in March, at the Assizes?  The judge and prosecution exercised common sense and humanity at a time when, as they well knew, all of these men were doing their best in a period of unimaginable danger and pressure. This is the report of the verdict:

ACQUITTED - Thinking that a rifle was not loaded, James Edward Sargent (32), a Home Guard at a Birmingham works, jokingly pointed the trigger and tragedy resulted. At Birmingham Assizes Sargent was acquitted of manslaughter of his friend John James Walker. Mr Justice Humphries had commented that any jury would hesitate to convict for such a stupid act. The prosecution offered no evidence against Sargent.
(Report of 13th March 1941)

Whilst the family of John Walker mourned their loss, was James Sargent able or even permitted to continue his Home Guard service? And to live with his regrets? Questions to which we shall probably never know the answer. Let us remember him too.

In Memory of
Vol. John James Walker
those Home Guards whose lives were cut short as a result of their service.

He is not forgotten by Maggie Laity who laid flowers on his grave on 21st December 2015, the 75th anniversary of his death

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Maggie Laity for the headstone images, to Matt Felkin (and his "Wartime Birmingham and the Blitz" Facebook page) for the newspaper cuttings and to Jacqui Fielding for other information.
Headstone images ©
Maggie Laity 2016

Other Memories and Information about
the Warwickshire Home Guard
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...And read the Webmaster's memory of lethal weaponry in a Staffordshire Home Guard home...




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January 2016