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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. We are much indebted to him for supplying the following fascinating information about one of the platoons within this Battalion and part of its "D" Coy., and for allowing us to reproduce it here.

"D" Coy's. territory was the villages of Cookhill, Astwood Bank, Inkberrow and Feckenham. Individual platoons within the Company, such as the Cookhill platoon pictured left, 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 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.

Much of the information in the following article is based on the reminiscences of Mr. Egbert Ganderton, a surviving member of the unit, to whom the author makes due acknowledgement.

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 via staffshomeguard.



Egbert Ganderton, now in his 90s, was known to his Home Guard colleagues as "Gandy"; he signed on immediately the LDV was formed in May 1940 and was sworn in at "The Nevill Arms" Public House, New End, Astwood Bank, where thanks to the landlady, Mrs Jordan, the Home Guard were allowed to use a room upstairs as their headquarters. Here they would meet two or three times a week and also enjoy some after hours drinking. Egbert's well handled original Certificate of Membership, signed by Col. W.H. Wiggin in his capacity of County Sub Area Commander, is shown to the right.

The LDV was quickly renamed on Churchill orders as the Home Guard. Local training, including drill, was carried out in a field opposite the Nevill. Egbert describes how in the beginning the Cookhill Home Guard were so poorly equipped, having no uniforms and very little in weapons. One piece of weaponry they were issued with was a piece of cheese wire to use as a garrote - they were expected to creep up behind a German sentry and put it around his neck, awaiting the consequences. Alternatively they could use a hatpin and push it in behind the enemy's ear!

Egbert makes the point that it was compulsory to attend parades. Discipline in the Battalion was strict. He recalls that one evening when two elderly Home Guard failed to make the appropriate challenge when approached by a senior officer, they were subsequently dismissed and had to hand their kit in.

It was later in 1940 that Cookhill along with other companies in the Redditch Battalion were issued with the American P 17 rifle (17 denoting the year of manufacture), an added complication being that the ammunition was of .300 calibre. The standard British Army rifle was of .303 calibre, so ammunition for the two rifles was incompatible. He remembers that he kept his rifle with 5 rounds of live ammunition at home.

The live rifle firing was carried out down the Hacking, but the ricocheting bullets were traveling as far as Arrow Lane, Cookhill!! Due to this fact the rifle range was moved to the Inkberrow range, which was where the Millennium Garden is now. Again there was the problem of ricocheting bullets necessitating the range being moved to Norton Barracks, Worcester.

The field next to the Baptist Chapel, known as Chapel Ground, was used for bayonet drill. This entailed charging at straw filled sacks hung on some upright structure like a post.

The initial role of the local Home Guard was to carry out night patrols around the village, with School Lane and Arrow Road referred to as part of the patrol route. Another task was to man a roadblock, which consisted of a pole placed horizontal, on top of three tubs filled with soil, and barbed wire in front. This would be erected across the A442, some 200yds from the top of Oak Tree Lane towards Evesham (opposite the old Bakery in Cookhill). Should an enemy tank approach this roadblock it was intended to attack it by climbing on to it and dropping a hand grenade into the hatch. He thought that it was very unlikely that the barrier would stop a tank! Apparently no defence post or trenches were constructed at the roadblock to protect the Home Guard personnel, they being expected to hide close-by on either side of the road until an attack was made.

Egbert does recall an incident one night, when, at Arrow Crossroads, Cookhill, he and Cyril Buggins were on duty and stopped an Army staff car, which had an officer and ATS girl driver in it. The officer asked for directions to Hartlebury but was refused this information until the officer produced the appropriate pass to show him. The officer protested, at which Egbert asked Cyril to stand back and load his rifle in preparation to shoot if the officer drove off. The ATS girl suggested that perhaps the officer ought to show his pass, which he reluctantly did. From this it could be seen that the officer was in fact a Colonel. He had apparently already been asked to show his identity three times that particular night and was becoming somewhat annoyed with the Home Guard. Egbert confirms that he would have ordered Cyril to shoot if the officer had driven off without showing his pass.

On several occasions Cookhill was required to send H.G to guard the Reynolds Tube Factory on Studley Rd., Redditch. He well remembers spending one uncomfortable night sleeping on straw mattresses, and was still be expected to be at work next morning.

One of the more exciting events was when the Home Guard was called out after a parachute was discovered in a tree at Cookhill Priory. With rifles loaded the Home Guard went out to look for the would-be parachutist, and an extensive search was carried out but it was to no avail. It transpired that this was part of German planning at that time, to try and unsettle the defence, making them think an invasion was underway. It did have its benefits as a number of wartime brides in and around Cookhill took advantage of this event and utilized the silk of the parachute for their wedding dresses!

Early in the war the RAF took over the field next to the Baptist Chapel, Cookhill, land belonging to Mr. Lionel Waldron at the Forge Farm. His son Ken recalls a high ranking R.A.F. officer, complete with an armed escort, arriving and informing his father that they required this field and would pay him a rent for it. It was made quite clear to him the nature of this proposal and he realized that he was left with no other option than to agree.

The RAF personnel to man this establishment were billeted in the farmhouse as well as various houses on the village. The footpath to the Baptist Chapel was diverted to the west side of the hedge for the duration of the war. A Guard hut was located just inside the field, and armed sentries patrolled the site to prevent any unauthorized access. Cookhill Home Guard shared the responsibility with the R.A.F. to guard this faculty both day and night. The night guard comprised two RAF airmen and two Home Guards.

Articulated lorries, loaded with specialized radio equipment, were positioned in the field. Strong brick walls were built to protect them from bomb blast. The author has talked to the widow of one of the men who was stationed at this site. He was subject to the 30-year secrecy law, which as we know stopped him from discussing anything in which he was involved, and so his wife knew very little of what he did. She was however very familiar with the name of Professor R.V. Jones (seen left). He was a brilliant war time scientist, who was one of the people credited in discovering why the German air force (the Luftwaffe) were able to bomb so accurately. They used a series of radio signals, which were transmitted from the Continent to Britain to guide them on to their target. By establishing the frequency of these signals, it was possible to jam, or "bend them", thus confusing the German pilots as to the exact location of the target. The present day opinion is that the Baptist Field site was one of these beam-bending stations run by 80 Wing RAF. The R.A.F personnel were able to inform the Home Guard when a raid was going to take place; this fact bears out that they were picking up the German transmissions immediately that they occurred.

Egbert received training on using the 80/36 hand grenade. On return from this course he was promoted to the rank of corporal and was responsible for training his fellow H.G. colleagues in the instructions for the priming & handling of hand grenades. This could be a dangerous procedure for premature explosions were not unknown. Grenade training locally took place at the site of the old rifle range in Pitcher Oak Wood, Redditch, On one occasion he remembers one of his colleagues who was very nervous hanging on to the grenade too long and receiving a reprimand from Capt Seal, the Battalion's Weapons Officer. Later most of this training was moved to Norton Barracks, Worcester. Whereas most H.G. kept 5 rounds of live rifle ammunition at home, hand grenades were only issued on training days.

One of the more humorous incidents which Egbert recalls involved a wicker chair in the Guard Hut at the Chapel Ground. A stove was used to keep the hut warm. He thinks they must have fallen asleep because the stove set fire to the chair which was then thrown outside into the field. There was an air raid taking place at the time. Alf Briney rushed off to get water from a nearby well. The rope broke at the well and so, without water, the flames had to be extinguished by stamping on them.

Training exercises were usually held at monthly intervals and mainly at the weekend. Some were local, and others farther afield. Battle training was held at Hampton Lovett, Nr. Droitwich, Worcestershire when live ammunition was used. Egbert remembers one particular exercise when they had to advance through a spinney along a stream, reach a hollow in the ground, fire 5 rounds at a target, being bombed by thunder flashes, and having to keep their heads down as the Canadian army were firing tracer bullets over their heads.

Egbert admits that in the earlier days the H.G. were poorly armed and trained, but as more equipment, including light artillery, became available, training exercises stepped up, stricter discipline was enforced and he felt that the Redditch Battalion which was some 2000 strong would have given a good account of itself if called upon.

© M. Johnson 2006

Several of the images on this page come via the courtesy of Mr. Ganderton. The image of the rifle comes from the personal collection of Mick Wilks to whom acknowledgement is given. Mr. Wilks is the co-author of "The Mercian Maquis" - see Links and Further Reading page.

Please do not forget to contact Mike Johnson via this website if you can add to the Battalion's story. A condensed version of the above article and other local information about Cookhill can be seen here. (You will leave this site).