This is a page within the www.staffshomeguard.co.uk website. To see full contents, go to SITE MAP.

Sutton Coldfield was defended by the 6th Warwickshire (Sutton) Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. W. Bigwood, M.C. Within this Battalion served Sgt. William Thornton and his nephew, Cpl. Douglas Thomas. William's son Robin Thornton has recorded his memories of his father's Home Guard service and also of other incidents in the town and beyond in the years 1940 to 1945. This is his memoir.

My father was William Edward Thornton, born 1896, of Tudor Hill, Sutton Coldfield. I recall that he was in the Sutton Home Guard for a while with his nephew Cpl. Douglas Thomas. I believe he became a sergeant and was in gunnery training, but for some reason he left the group after being nearly shot (someone had left a bullet up the spout) and for the enormous amount of hours spent working as a jig and tool maker at Morris Commercial Cars, Adderley Park, Birmingham.

We lived at 25, Tudor Hill, Sutton Coldfield. My first wartime memory was being taken outdoors one night by my father to see the sky in the east glowing red and orange. This was Coventry on fire in November 1940 (Thursday/Friday 14/15th November 1940). As a small boy I played “filling sandbags” in a sand pit in Sutton Park. One day in February 1942 a man told me that I could go with my mother to Blackroot Pool to see something special, this turned out to be a visit by the King and Queen to witness a fire fighting demonstration by the various services. We stood quite close to the rostrum, and saw the look of worry in the eyes of the Royal Party when things got a bit out of hand. The dummy house burnt too fast, and a real rescue took place. The announcement of the visit and cuttings from the newspapers in the following days survive.


My cousin Douglas Thomas lived with us as his mother Agnes Thomas was living in Torquay. Douglas had a good friend named Peter Bate. Peter lived in Mayfield Road and, like Douglas, was a corporal in the Sutton Home Guard. His 1941 diary of day-to-day life survived and is reproduced on a separate page within this website. It records that on 26th July 1941 he and Douglas set off on their bikes for a holiday in the south-west to stay at Mrs Agnes Thomas’s hotel. My Mother and I went by train to Torquay and also stayed there and one day when on the beach a German plane came in low from the east causing people to dive for cover under deck chairs (that would be a lot of good!) - the plane’s pilot could be easily seen. Fortunately (for us) he opened fire on the next beach (Babbacombe?) where some casualties took place. I was about 6 years old at the time. I wonder if Peter Bate was there at the same time.

Rather nearer to home, we used to collect strips of aluminium foil dropped by aircraft to confuse radar. Also the Germans dropped “toys” which exploded when played with: I never encountered one and cannot say whether they were ever dropped in the Sutton area but I was gravely warned about the danger. In common with all small boys at the time I was instructed never, ever to investigate any interesting object which I found lying about on the ground.

Both my father William Edward Thornton and Douglas Thomas were members of the Home Guard. See the photo below. Dad is ringed in yellow and Douglas Thomas is 13th from the left and it may be that 19th from left is his brother John Edward Thomas, although this is unproven except for the fact that a Royal Warwickshire cap badge has been found by his widow. John joined the R.A.F. when he was eligible.

The photo was taken at an unknown date but the group is clearly assembled (for reasons unknown) on the front steps of the Empress Cinema in the Parade. Advertised are two films, "King of the Open Road" and "Eternally Yours", the latter a Hollywood film which had appeared in 1939 and starred David Niven and Loretta Young.

Douglas and my father used to go out on Home Guard duties, and my father taught gunnery. One night he came home to say that he had been nearly shot as someone had an extra bullet up the spout and when discharging the magazine the trigger fired the bullet and the round went through a blanket he had folded on his shoulder. I think that he became a sergeant, but he has no stripes in the photo. I do not know why he stopped going on duty, but it may have been due to tiredness from going each day to the Adderley Park works of Morris Commercial cars, about 12 hours a day round trip.

The document below shows the arrangements made between the Home Guard unit and the company of which William Thornton was an employee in the event of a need for the emergency mustering of the unit - in this case "D" Coy. of the 6th Warwickshire Battalion.

We had a shelter under the house which was reached by going down some steps from the dining room, which for a period was routine each evening. One night Douglas came racing down the stairs and down into the shelter shouting that something was going to hit the house. I think that this was a German plane that had been shot down and crashed into Sutton Park. The Park was used for tank training which was good to watch. At the top of our road the U.S. Army constructed the Army Post office, and this was later manned by German prisoners of war. One day I was playing in the Tudor Hill road outside our house (it was a cul-de-sac) when a prisoner escaped; with much shouting the U.S. sentry fired an automatic over my head at a vanishing person. The bullet holes were still visible in the wall when I went there in 1980.

My last memory of the war in Sutton Coldfield was when General Montgomery came to Crystal Palace in Sutton Park and we kids played on “his tank”.

My father and cousin, in common with most Home Guards, will almost certainly have received a personal message of thanks from King George VIth in the form of a certificate, examples of which may be seen elsewhere in this website. These have regrettably not survived. On the other hand, his note of gratitude to me, acknowledging my personal contribution to the war effort, has happily not been lost:

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Robin Thornton of the Isle of Wight for this information about his father and cousin and his childhood memories; and for his permission to publish them within this website.
(Images and text of memoir © Robin Thornton 2011)

Staffshomeguard is happy to be able to commemorate both of these Sutton Coldfield Home Guards, William Thornton and Douglas Thomas, and to pay tribute to their loyal service.

Further pages in this website dealing with the Home Guard in Sutton are listed here.