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MEMORIES AND INFORMATION - THE HOME GUARD IN WARWICKSHIRE
44th WARWICKSHIRE (BIRMINGHAM) BATTN.
Handsworth, Birmingham
JOSEPH LUCAS Ltd.
Great King Street,
Birmingham
Lt. GEORGE HARRY GRIFFITHS

The 44th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion, Home Guard, was responsible for the defence of the Handsworth area of Birmingham. Its component units will have included (and may have comprised wholly) factory platoons whose members were employees of individual companies in the area. Its Commanding Officer in early 1941 was Lt.-Col. C.W.P. Blackmore, late of the Royal Artillery. Amongst the more than 40 other officers listed at that time were Major A.B. Waring, 2 /Lt. G.H. Griffiths and 2/Lt. Z. Tolley.

Major Waring was Managing Director of Joseph Lucas's at their huge Great King Street factory, situated on the edge of the Battalion's area. At that time he was presumably a Company Commander but later he took over command of the Battalion and assumed the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After the war he was knighted and became Sir Bertram Waring. 2/Lt. Griffiths also worked at Great King Street; he was later promoted to full Lieutenant.

George Harry Griffiths, (1895-1958), always known as George (seen right),, started work at the factory after his service in the Great War. He served there for the next 38 years, part of a family contribution to the firm which spanned three generations. He was a particularly skilled sheetmetal worker in the Experimental Workshop with responsibilty for the creation of prototypes of car components before they were put into production or for exhibition purposes at Motor Shows.


THE GREAT WAR

The skills which George Griffiths possessed were already evident before he joined Lucas. Within his family there has survived a miniature coal scuttle which he fashioned with great skill from an 18-pounder cartridge case during the quieter periods of his Army service (left).

That Great War service had started on May 12th 1916 when he was called up from the Reserve on which he had been put at the time of his enlistment on November 24th 1915.  His home at that time was 226 Burbury Street, Lozells. He joined the Royal Horse and Field Artillery and spent most of his service in the Middle East, possibly Palestine and Egypt, serving as a fitter. On November 23rd 1918 he was promoted to Fitter/Corporal, the rank he held when photographed in a studio in 1920 as a member of the Reserve, having been demobilised on 23rd August 1919 (right).

 

One of the Regiment's artillery pieces was photographed in Egypt showing George (second from left) and his comrades:



THE L.D.V. AND HOME GUARD

George Griffiths joined the L.D.V. in the early days of its life, probably in June 1940 in the initial rush to volunteer. By that time he was married with a family and lived at 25 Stanford Avenue, Great Barr. He found himself in one of the units which evolved in a matter of weeks into the 44th Battalion, one of more than thirty which eventually covered the city. Awareness of his personal qualities and his skills - amongst them markmanship which was demonstrated by his active involvement in the Company's very successful small-bore rifle club - and especially of his previous military experience led to his being appointed quickly to a position of authority. Initially he would have been a Section Commander or Platoon Commander but following the decision to introduce military ranks in November 1940 this changed to the commissioned rank of Second Lieutenant.

Units responsible for the Lucas factories evolved from the earliest formations of the local L.D.V./Home Guard from June 1940 onwards. There is information about these early Birmingham formations elsewhere within this website. The 44th Warwickshire Battalion emerged in late 1940 and included within its area of responsibility at least one Lucas factory, that in Great King Street; there was almost certainly a significant sub-unit, of Company or large Platoon size, with specific responsibility for the factory itself. The images on this page show members of either the dedicated Lucas unit or of units closely associated with it.

Very early images survive showing members of either the 44th or the unit from which it evolved. The following photographs (possibly from different occasions) are likely to have been taken in the summer and autumn of 1940 and show the disparity of dress at that time. The initial denims seem to have been superseded by battledress for some members but the issue is patchy and many members are yet to be properly equipped.


Click on the above image to view an expanded version

George Griffiths was proud of his service with the Home Guard. His membership of it throughout its life represented 4½ years of uninterrupted, strenuous and entirely voluntary effort conducted whilst he held down a demanding day job at Lucas and somehow found time to care for his family. His stories of those times included a memory of long hours spent on the flat roofs of the Great King Street factory whilst incendiaries pattered down all around and demanded the attention of him and his comrades. The fact that the factory survived intact gives an indication of the effectiveness of these duties. As the coal scuttle still demonstrates he was a practical man as well as a courageous one: he recognised the propensity of the Sten gun to remove the fingers of the unwary due to the operation of its recoil/ejection mechanism and so he made a clamp/handle for the weapons issued to him and his section, thus eliminating the danger.

The following images probably come from a later period of George Griffiths's service than those above. The first shows officers, N.C.O.s and possibly Other Ranks from an unspecified sub-unit, almost certainly part of the factory unit and probably showing Home Guard members who worked in the same department of the Company. George is second from the left, front row.

And a further group, this time all apparently officers, in a wintry outdoor location. They are probably the officers associated with the Lucas Great King Street unit. Capt. F.J.H. Coleman is in the centre and George second from the right, front row. Lt. Zecharia Tolley, M.M., is on the extreme right, front row. Further information on Lt. Tolley is available in this website.

The next photograph is probably of an entire Company of the 44th Warwickshire and, presumably, the one to which George Griffiths belonged. George and two further identified officers are all shown on it. This summer picture is likely to have been taken at one of the anniversaries of the May founding of the Home Guard, each of which was celebrated with parades, demonstrations and often commemorative photographs.


Click on the above image to view an expanded and partly captioned version

The following and last image probably shows all the officers of the 44th Battalion, representing an increase of around 50% on the early 1941 level. This implies a similar increase in the overall Battalion numbers. Lt.-Col. Waring is identified in the front row (8th from left), Capt. Coleman (12th from left), and Lt. Jack Orme who has been commissioned after February 1941 (14th from left).  George Griffiths is standing in the first row back (10th from left). The photograph seems to have been taken in the same location as the one above showing the Lucas officers and possibly at the same time. Could its intention perhaps have been to record the men for the last time, at the moment of stand-down in early December 1944?


Click on the above image to view an expanded and partly captioned version

 

 

Lt.-Col. Waring presented a commemorative silver tankard to Battalion officers after stand-down in December 1944. That presented to George Griffiths is still preserved by his family. It is engraved as follows:

Presented to
Lt. G.H. Griffiths
---  by  ---
Lt./Col. A.B. Waring
as a memento of
strenuous but happy times
spent with the
44th Bn. Warwick H.G.
during the momentous years
1940 - 1944

 

**********

In memory of
Jock Orr, Zechariah Tolley and George Griffiths
and all their comrades
in
44th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion, Home Guard

Please visit pages on this website devoted to other 44th Warwickshire Battn. members
Lt. Jock Orr
Lt. Z. Tolley

Much interesting information about the firm and its many factories is to be found on the Lucas Memories website.
Identifications of more individuals and locations will be welcomed. Please use Feedback if you can provide any information.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
We are very grateful to Mr. Norman Griffiths O.B.E. of Reading for providing the information and images relating to his father which appear on this page and for his generous permission for their publication; and also to the late Mr. Len Copsey and to Mrs. Jackie Hill of Lucas Memories through whose good offices this information has come to the notice of staffshomeguard.

All images © Norman Griffiths 2009