HOME GUARD MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - WARWICKSHIRE

THE 25th WARWICKSHIRE (BIRMINGHAM) BATTN.
and
M. B. WILD & CO. LTD.
and
 THE POPPITT FAMILY

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THE BATTALION

The 25th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion was, like several others in Birmingham, an amalgamation of a number of individual factory Home Guard units, in this case in the area of Aston and Nechells. Battalion Headquarters was on the Lichfield Road, near to Aston Station. Its Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. S.W.G. Walker, M.C., M.M., writing in early 1943, provided a brief summary of its history to date.

The 25th Battalion of the Warwickshire Home Guard was originally the 5th Birmingham Battalion, and the first factory Home Guard Battalion to be formed in this city. It comprises a number of factories, and immediately on the formation of the L.D.V. each factory formed its static unit to protect its own factory. These units very quickly appreciated that the way to defend the factories was not inside, but outside, and in the very early days training commenced, particularly in street fighting. The Battalion was one of the first to forsake the static role.

It is in one way dissimilar to the normal Home Guard Battalion, as now its role is entirely mobile; in fact, the whole training is on counter-attack lines, and specializes both counter attack of open places and within detailed areas. The Battalion has on several occasions demonstrated methods of street fighting to senior officers of other Battalions.

The Battalion is situated in a vulnerable area, and during the 'blitzes' of 1940 did exceptionally good work in fire-fighting and evacuation of civilians from damaged areas and threatened shelters. On one particular occasion over three hundred were moved from beneath a burning building to other shelters three hundred yards away, without loss to the civilians. Two men were killed and two wounded in this process.

(The incident mentioned above occurred at the premises of L.H. Newton & Co. Ltd., in Thimble Mill Lane, Nechells during the night of 9th/10th April 1941. Further information is on this page of this website).

At around the time of writing the above, Colonel Walker had concluded that the Battalion needed more commissioned officers and he started a Battalion Officers' Training School Unit (O.C.T.U.), the first in the area. One trainee, Mr. Arthur Musson, was a member of the factory-based Hercules unit in Aston, part of the Battalion's "D" Company. He became Battalion Intelligence Officer after commissioning. Mr Musson wrote about the experience and the role of an officer in the Battalion for the BBC's People's War Archive. His description of this and of several other aspects of Home Guard work in a typical factory unit are transcribed within this website here.

THE FIRM

Within the area of responsibility of the 25th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion fell the factory of M.B. Wild & Co. Ltd. of Argyle Street, Nechells, Birmingham. M.B. Wild was heavily involved in the war effort as were all mechanical engineering companies at the time. Among its products were balloon winches* and the Wild military assault bridge** (see below). The Company also was one of a number of manufacturers of the Universal Carrier, better known as the Bren Gun Carrier, a light tracked vehicle which was an essential part of the equipment of the British Army and other forces. Some 113,000 of these were built worldwide. There are memories of the test route taken as each vehicle was completed at the factory and started up. It would go out along Argyle Street, then right into Wharton Street, and then right again down Cuckoo Road, completing the circuit and no doubt accompanied by the mixture of roaring engine, whirring transmission and clattering tracks remembered by anyone who has ever witnessed one of these vehicles being driven on metalled roads. (It is safe to assume that the example shown right heading a column of prisoners-of-war was photographed a long way from the streets of Nechells). The employees of M.B. Wild were proud that their first production batch of carriers saw service at El Alamein.

THE FAMILY

Like so many similar factories this company had its own, separate Home Guard unit manned by volunteer employees which became part of the 25th Battalion. Mr. Harry Poppitt, Works Manager of the factory both during and after the war, was a member of the works unit. His father, Mr. William Poppitt, and his brother-in-law, Mr. Harold Roe both undertook fire-watching duties at the same factory. (The family may well have had other, earlier links with the company: records show that an employee named Charles Poppitt served in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry during the Great War). Harry Poppitt was at some stage a member of the A.R.P. This service may or may not have been concurrent with his Home Guard activity but possibly preceded it. His A.R.P. badge survives (left) as do his Company identity and Home Guard badges (right).

In 1943 Harry Poppitt volunteered - or was volunteered - for officer training. It is probable that he was a contemporary of Arthur Musson (see above) in this endeavour; the two men certainly knew each other at this time. In November 1943 he was commissioned after successful completion of the course and became 2/Lt. W. H. Poppitt. He received a note of congratulation and exhortation dated 25th November 1943 from the Battalion's Adjutant, Captain James G. ?Lawrence. Whilst he must have been gratified to receive this, one can only speculate at his reaction to the reference to "hard work"; the newly commissioned 2/Lt Poppitt was after all a man who was already heavily engaged in helping to run a frantically busy industrial company, at the same time as engaging in Home Guard and possibly A.R.P. activities and also trying to keep a family together and safe. This is the letter.

                   

 

Some of 2/Lt. Poppitt's kit survives, lovingly preserved by his family. Here it is, photographed almost exactly 63 years since it was last used, Sam Brown, Webbing Belt, Swagger Stick, Gun Holster, Bullet Pouch and Cap.

 

 

In December 1944 Harry Poppitt's services in the defence of his country were no longer required. The Home Guard rather "fizzled out" in the autumn of 1944 to some dismay and irritation; but its Stand-Down was marked by a massive, formal parade in Central London participated in by representatives from every battalion in the kingdom. A similar parade took place through central Birmingham on Sunday December 3rd 1944 at which the 25th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion would have been well represented. Mr. Poppitt was free thereafter to concentrate on his civilian responsibilities at M.B. Wild & Co. which he retained all through the difficult post-war years and beyond. His devotion to the Company was legendary and there is a story of his completing a job by undertaking the final painting of a not-quite-finished product on the back of a lorry even as it was being delivered to a customer. And his adherence to his trusty push-bike for much of his service to Company and Home Guard is still fondly remembered.

Harry continued to work at M.B. Wild & Co long after his normal retirement date. But one cold January day in 1984 he was taken ill at work and passed away shortly afterwards at the age of 74. He is still remembered with deep affection by his family.


Harry Poppitt (October 30th 1909 - January 24th 1984)

May this page stand as a minor commemoration of Harry Poppitt and the countless thousands of Home Guards like him - men who gave their all for the industrial war effort over five long years and yet still, somehow, found the energy and determination to devote what little spare time they had to the defence of their families, factories, homes and neighbourhoods.

 

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                                                                            FORWARD to L.H.Newton & Co. Air Raid

OTHER INFORMATION
*There is online information about winch technology which mentions the contribution of M.B. Wild & Co. here.    **And about the Wild assault bridge.    (You will leave this site in each case).

Poppitt family images: © The Poppitt Family 2007

We make grateful acknowledgement to Diana and Brian Poppitt for much of the above information and permision to use their images. Other sources to whom similar acknowledgement is made include "The Home Guard of Britain" by Charles Graves, Hutchinson & Co., 1943; "Colin B" of the excellent Birmingham History Webring forum; "Heroes of the Birmingham Air Raids" by Michael Minton; The London Gazette; the Times Archive; and various other internet resources.