(Despatch Riders)

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Birmingham Zone was one of the several zones within the Western Command of the Home Guard, the latter covering a vast area from the Lake District to Herefordshire and including Wales. The Birmingham Zone was further subdivided into several Areas, each including a number of operational Battalions. It was commanded (in 1941) by Col. J.C. Piggott, M.C. and, relevant to this page, its Transport Officers were Lts. C.S. Dunbar and G.S. Dring and its Motor Contact Officers 2/Lts. W.D. Thomas, G.R. Williams and W. Holland.

From the evidence of the images on this page it appears that the Birmingham Zone HQ might have been been located in Vicarage Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham. It also appears that it possessed a large squad of Despatch Riders responsible for liaison throughout the city and perhaps beyond.

Within this squad served two brothers, Rex G. Owen and Charles Owen who lived in Sheldon (seen right, Rex to the left, Charles right with glasses). They both worked at The London Aluminium Company at Witton, engaged on essential war work in the production of metal spinnings especially the spinner cones fitted to aircraft propellors. Both owned motorcycles equipped with sidecars.

A further brother, Sidney Owen, (right, pictured in 1938) was also a Home Guard D.R. and the owner of an Ariel Square Four. Whether all three brothers enlisted for Home Guard service at the same time is not known; but Rex's service definitely started in February 1941 when he was enrolled in the 10th Birmingham Battalion, later known as the 30th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion and continued for the rest of the war. (See his enrolment document below). A fourth brother, Jim (left) served in the RAF in a balloon battery.

An image of Rex and his machine survives, taken before the outbreak of war and showing both in civilian guise.

And below is his Home Guard enrolment document.

This documentation shows that Rex Owen was enrolled in a unit known as the 10th Birmingham (Public Utilities) Battalion, one of the ten original Birmingham Battalions formed in June 1940. This was commanded by Lt. Col. R. I. Scorer M.C. (right) who is the officer who signed the above document accepting Rex into the Battalion. (The identity of the officer who actually enrolled Rex is unknown, his signature defying efforts to decipher it!)

The document bears the 10th Battalion stamp but by February 1941 the unit had already been, or was about to be, the subject of a name change, to the 30th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion. It is also possible that Rex did not serve within this Battalion throughout: he may at some stage have transferred to the 21st Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battn. whose area of responsibility included Edgbaston, the location of the following images.

Photographs of both Rex and Charles and of their comrades during their Home Guard service, as well as other mementoes of those years, have happily survived within the Owen family and we are indebted to Rex, son of Rex G., for providing them to staffshomeguard and generously permitting their publication below.

Both staffshomeguard and the owner of the photographs would welcome further identifications and any other relevant information.

In the above photograph Charles is 6th from the left and Rex 7th (both marked with Xs).
It is possible that the officer in the peaked cap is one of those mentioned above.

In the above photograph Charles is 5th from the left and Rex 7th, after the officer.

The Home Guard was not the only voluntary service provided by the Owen family. In addition to all their other responsibilities Rex and his wife offered hospitality to a number of Allied servicemen stationed in the locality. Mrs. Owen - Florence Owen, although she preferred to be called Flo - was known as a "war mother".

Here is Flo Owen, pictured at around that time, standing outside the family home on a snowy wartime day with her young son, also named Rex.

The beneficiaries of the hospitality of Flo and Rex Owen included Americans, Canadians and Belgians. They would come in ones or twos, perhaps for 48 hours or so to enjoy the home comforts of 45 Coniston Avenue, Sheldon not far from the home of Rex's brother, Charles, at 80 Coverdale Road and that of Sidney who lived next door at no. 78.


One American even had the privilege of a ride in the sidecar of Rex's motorbike outside the gate of the family home in Coniston Avenue! Perhaps he was the G.I. who assisted in the large street bonfire on VE-Day and decided that a useful addition to the conflagration would be a number of neighbours' front gates including, no doubt, that glimpsed above in the image of the Owen family home.

The family's kindness to young men and women far from home was appreciated, quite rightly. This colourful acknowledgement came from the Canadian authorities in 1946.

Some of the links established, especially with the U.S.A. and Belgium, lasted for decades after the war.

After the end of hostilities Rex and Charles Owen founded their own metal spinning company, Owen Bros Co., producing kitchenware and later fancy brasswork. The Company survived for some twenty years.

May this page stand as a modest tribute to Charles, Rex and Flo Owen - and to Sid and Jim - for the services they rendered to nation and community during the five long years of war, 1939-1945.

Images © Rex Owen 2011

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