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Local historian Mike Johnson of Cookhill is actively researching the history of the 9th (Redditch) Battalion, Worcestershire Home Guard and its role in the defence of Worcestershire. The first result of his researches, on the subject of "D" Company which defended Cookhill and the surrounding area, already appears elsewhere within this website. He has now completed further work, this time on "C" Coy. of the same Battalion and we are greatly indebted to him for allowing us to reproduce it here in its entirety and to those who contributed the information and images.

"C" Coy's. territory was the villages of Crabbs Cross, Headless Cross, Hewell and Webheath. Individual platoons within the Company had responsibility for specific villages or areas. The Battalion's Commanding Officer in early 1941 was Lt. Col. A.E. Scothern, C.M.G., D.S.O. Company Commanders were at that time Majors E.A. Grace, R.C. Morom, W.F.F. Scott, M.C., F. Twist, M.C., M.M. and H. Wright. A further 48 officers were listed at this time. From the following article it appears that Major J.F.S. Mellor was later promoted and assumed command of "C" Company.

If you have any information, however minor, about any of the units within the 9th Worcestershire (Redditch) Battalion, the author is anxious to hear from you. You can contact him by clicking here.



by Mike Johnson

(Click on the image for a higher definition version and two others, incl. captions)

Crabbs Cross, Headless Cross, Webheath, and Hewell, formed "C" Company of the 9th Worcestershire (Redditch) Battalion, Home Guard. The company consisted of four platoons comprising 20-30 men in each platoon. Company Commander was Major Mellor from Hewell with Phillip Terry as second in Command. Their Company headquarters were located over the former Alcester Co-op at Headless Cross, a building now occupied by Morris's shop (see right).

Albert Wharrard and Bill Preece are to the best of my knowledge the only two remaining Home Guardsmen of "C" Company alive today.

Bill Preece joined the LDV about a week after it started in 1940. On Churchill's orders the LDV was quickly renamed the Home Guard. Initially they had no uniforms and only two rifles. Bill was unsure whether the rifles even had any ammunition but concluded that they must have been loaded to be of any use. These were kept at Crabbs Cross Police Station, which was located on the corner of Yvonne Rd and Evesham Rd and they had to be brought up to HQ each night for use by the men going on duty. With these two rifles "C" Company had to guard the Power Station, near The Folly (OS Grid Reference SP 03686545), against the possible attack by German parachutists. Each night a section of 8 men would be marched down to take guard. On site was a wooden hut which served as a guardroom, the guard being mounted on the entrance road. The arrangement was that two HG personnel did a two hour guard duty and when off duty then tried to get some sleep on one of the wooden bunks inside the hut. However if there was an air raid in progress the whole guard was turned out. On occasions patrols were sent out to look for German airmen who may have bailed out from their aircraft, the search would go on into the night and no one would get any sleep. It is worth remembering that all the HG men had been at work all day, they would then on occasions possibly be up all night, but despite this fact they were only allowed to be one hour late for work next day - well, there was a war on!

Albert Wharrad joined the Home Guard in March 1941 when he was 16 years and one month and was issued with a uniform, rifle, boots, and gaiters, a belt and webbing equipment complete with two ammunition pouches, a service gas mask, a steel helmet and an army greatcoat. Albert, being slight of build, found that with the bayonet fixed, and when the butt of the rifle was on the ground, the bayonet point towered above his head by at least four or five inches.

As with other companies in the Battalion, "C" Company was issued with the American P17 rifle of Great War vintage complete with the bayonet. The rifles were in new condition when they arrived, but were covered in protective grease, which had to be cleaned off. The main drawback being that they fired a ·300 rimless cartridge; this was not compatible with the standard British army ammunition, which were ·303.

As time progressed more weapons became available to the H.G. One of them, the Browning automatic rifle, which could fire either single shots or short bursts of fire, was a cumbersome weapon with only a 20 round magazine. Officers had revolvers; senior N.C.O's were issued with Sten Guns.

Despite being volunteers (conscription was not introduced until 1942) it was compulsory to attend parades, a very good reason was required for failing to turn up, and both men felt that the discipline was as strict as in the regular army. Rifle drill was initially held in the room above the Headless Cross Co-op, but this annoyed the people downstairs, so, as an alternative, if it was wet, the long room at the back of the White Hart pub was used. Alternatively if it was dry and daylight, use was made of the playground at St Luke's Infants School, Evesham Rd, Headless Cross (now demolished).

Rifle shooting was practiced at Hampton Lovett, Drotwich, where the Worcestershire Regiment had a rifle range. Battle training with the regular army was also carried out here. Bill had a close call when he was a member of the butts party. Behind the targets was a brick wall to stop the bullets going out over the countryside. On one occasion a bullet ricocheted back off the wall and hit him on his steel helmet, leaving a mark, if not a dent. Had he been wearing his forage cap he would have been a goner! He has kept the spent bullet to remind him of this close call.

Another duty of the HG was to man the telephone at HQ. For this two men would be on duty all night but before dawn one of these men would go to an observation post established at Highfields, the former home of Dr Henderson. This was located about 200yds to the east of the junction between Birchfield Rd and Evesham Rd (OS Grid Reference SP 03926601) being the highest point in the village from where the observer could watch for parachutists. A water tower (left) now occupies the site of this former OP. (It was generally expected that the Germans would make a surprise attack using parachutists to capture key objectives at or before dawn, as they had done on the Continent.)

Bill can remember coming off Home Guard night duty at 6.00 am, going home to change and then being at work at the Royal Enfield works by 7.00 am He would then work an eleven hour shift, very often falling asleep at his machine, and arrive home again at 7.00 pm, possibly having to be back on Home Guard duty again by 8.00 pm.

It was the H.G. duty to man roadblocks. So far only the location of two has been established, one at the top of Plymouth Rd, consisting of two large concrete cylinders, these would have been rolled out and equally spaced to block the road. The other was situated at the top of Mount Pleasant at the entrance to what is now the Comfort Hotel - in 1940 the home of Alderman Charles Terry. This roadblock consisted of reinforced concrete cylinders, about six feet tall, octagonal in shape. Pieces of wood were fixed to the edges of the octagon so as to form a round end allowing it to be rolled. With several men pushing it could be rolled into position. Having got it into place, one of the wooden pieces was knocked off so that it settled on one of the flats. Several of these, when in position, would effectively block the road to any vehicle.

Albert received training on another use for the hand grenade that was to fire it from a cup discharger. This was a steel cup about the size of a straight-sided beer glass, with a hole in the bottom, which then fitted over the end of the rifle barrel and locked in place. Into the rifle breech was fed a balastite cartridge ie, a cartridge without a bullet attached.

You then took a Hand Grenade (better known as a Mills Bomb) with a round metal plate fixed to its bottom; this plate was of a size to give it a snug fit inside the cup. The safety pin was pulled out of the grenade and placed base plate down into the cup of the rifle. Once it was inside the cup the side of the cup held the safety lever in place and prevented the grenade from exploding. You then knelt down on one knee placed the butt of the rifle on the ground. When ready, you pressed the trigger, held your breath and went temporarily deaf! The cartridge exploded, the charge of gas went up the barrel hitting the grenade base plate and throwing it with force towards the target. The time in flight was about the same time as the fuse setting in the grenade (approx 4-5secs). With the rifle angled forward at about 45 degrees and aimed at the enemy it would throw a grenade about 120yards.

Live grenade throwing was carried out in Pitcher Oak Wood, Redditch under the supervision of the Battalion weapons officer Capt. Seal. Here Bill had another lucky escape from injury. After the detonator had been put into the grenade as directed he moved forward into the assembly area, then forward to the Waiting Bay and finally into the Throwing Bay. Here the procedure was to remove the safety pin, throw the grenade then duck below the parapet when ordered. In ducking it was necessary to go straight down, bending the knees not your neck. On this occasion the order was slow in being given so that he actually saw the explosion and to avoid the blast quickly bent his neck. The result was a blow on the back of his neck with a piece of soft clay. Had it been shrapnel he might have been badly injured if not killed.

Bill also recalls the proficiency tests he had to undergo for his sergeant's stripes, the first being to dismantle and reassemble a Browning automatic rifle under the gaze of the Battalion's Weapons Officer. The second test was grenade throwing at the range in Pitcher Oak Wood, Redditch; he had to do the grenade throwing exercise twice because his proficiency papers were lost.

After receiving his sergeant's stripes his role changed and he was expected to lead his section on reconnaissance patrols in the area. A typical such patrol within the Battalion territory is shown below. Should there have been an invasion, their task was to pin down any Germans that came into the area, and then send back a runner to Company Headquarters with the information.

Nearly every weekend was taken up by training exercises. The Homeguardsmen would report to Company HQ, and from there they would be marched off to various locations, sometimes it would be Musketts Wood, often in the fields where Woodrow, Lodge Park and Oakenshaw Estates now stand. Both men have memories of exercises, which took place at night as well as during the day, in Redditch and its surrounding area. One particular exercise was an "attack" by the Worcestershire Regiment, when the HG waited in an ambush position in the ditches at the top of Red Lane and the junction of Birchfield Rd.  HG came out on top, taking the attackers by complete surprise. Another one when Redditch was "attacked" by the Warwickshire Home Guard. These attacks would be to test the efficiency of the Redditch defence, the town having been designated an Anti-Tank Island in 1940, and so had to be defended at all costs.   Indoors training like map reading, how to use a compass and bayonet drill were also carried out in the long since demolished St Lukes Memorial Hall, Rectory Rd. A typical 9th Battalion class is shown on the left.

Albert recalls one amusing episode, when out training. "It was often the practice when marching along a road for the N.C.O. in charge to shout "enemy aircraft" at which point you took what cover was available and pointed your rifle skywards. On this occasion, in Birchfield Rd, Headless Cross we were given the order and we all scrambled for cover. One of the H.G took cover by scaling the low garden wall in front of the house, next to which was then Bill Brazil's sweet shop, lost his balance and with a loud crash of broken glass found that his rifle barrel was sticking through the window of the house". Embarrassment all round and no doubt a long protracted argument as to who paid!

C" Company as with other companies in the battalion had to provide men for night guard duty at Reynolds Tubes, Studley Rd, Redditch (now Alcan). Sometimes there were up to 50 Home Guardsmen on duty at one time. Guards were posted and those who got any sleep slept on the floor. One Home Guardsman had to spend the night at a Royal Artillery anti-aircraft battery on the other side of Studley Rd approximately where Auxerre House now stands. That man's duty was to quickly carry any message to the Home Guard about the approach of German aircraft or of the warning about enemy parachutists. Albert was fortunate to get this duty twice, consequently had, and enjoyed, an Army breakfast before leaving for home, then straight to work, where one was allowed to be up to one hour late. (Despite intensive research no reason can be found why so many HG men were sent to Reynolds Tubes and not to other factories).

In 1942 the Duke of Kent visited Redditch and Bill was picked to form part of the Guard of Honour. Training for this occasion was intense and resulted in much practice at the Drill Hall, Church Rd, Redditch, as drill had to be perfect. Due to the perfection needed it resulted in staying one night from 8pm to 1am to perfect the drill! On the day of the visit they marched from the Drill Hall, bayonets fixed, to the take up position outside the old Select Cinema, located on the junction of Red Lion St and Alcester St.

Bill is 6th from the right on the front rank talking to Bill's brother
The officer in charge is Major R.C.Morom

Both men agree that in the early days the Home Guard was poorly armed and trained, but as more weapons and equipment, including light artillery, became available, training exercises stepped up and stricter discipline enforced, that with the support of the regular army the Redditch Battalion some 2000 strong would have been a force to be reckoned with.


Much of the information in this article is based on the reminiscences of Bill Preece and Albert Wharrad, to whom the author makes due acknowledgement. Several of the images and pictures reproduced above come by courtesy of Peter Grace, Bill Preece, Albert Wharrad, and Mick Wilks.

Research is ongoing into the 9th (Worcestershire) Redditch Home Guard Battalion any information will be greatly appreciated.

                                                          Mike Johnson

© M. Johnson 2006

Please click here for captioned images of members of "C" Company

Mike Johnson published in February 2009 an excellent book, packed with images and information, entitled "The Redditch Home Guard 1940-1945" - the 9th Worcestershire (Redditch) Battalion. It is priced at £5.85 (+£2.50 p&p.) and is still available.


Webmaster's note:
The images on this page come via the courtesy of Messrs. Peter Grace, Mike Johnson, Bill Preece, Albert Wharrad and Mick Wilks (the latter providing in particular the images of weaponry) to all of whom the Webmaster makes grateful acknowledgement. Mr. Wilks is the co-author of "The Mercian Maquis" - see Links and Further Reading page.

And finally....... please do not omit to contact Mike Johnson via this website if you can add anything to the Battalion's story.