King's Own Royal Regiment Museum
Museum & Collections
First World War
Second World War
Actions & Movements
Regimental History - 20th Century
Second World War 1939-1945
Battalions of the King's Own saw service all over the world during the Second World War. The territorial 5th Battalion and 56th Anti-Tank Regiment (the old 4th Battalion) went across to France and Belgium in 1940, along with the newly raised 6th Battalion, 7th Battalion, 8th Battalion and 9th Battalion. All were involved in the actions in May 1940 and were successfully evacuated through Dunkirk.
The 2nd Battalion, stationed in Palestine at the outbreak of the war, was moved to the Western Desert and then onto Syria where it took part in actions against the Vichy French. In September 1941 the battalion were involved in the defence of Tobruk. In early 1942 it moved to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for jungle warfare training, prior to its deployment in Burma as part of the Chindit forces in 1944.
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From its peace-time base in Karachi, India, the 1st Battalion was airlifted to Habbaniya - to the West of Baghdad, Iraq, the first tactical movement of troops by air. At Habbaniya the battalion took part in the defence of the RAF airfield - vital for communications. From here it was posted to the Western Desert in May 1942. The next year saw the battalion almost wiped out in the action on the Greek island of Leros. The handful of survivors joined the 8th Battalion in Palestine to reform the battalion.
After the retreat from Dunkirk the 5th Battalion converted to tanks, becoming the 107th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (King's Own). The 1940 raised 10th Battalion was converted to the 151st Regiment Royal Armoured Corps. When the 107th Regiment was disbanded, the 151st took their title in order to keep the link with the King's Own. The 107th Regiment RAC (King's Own) took part in the post D-Day campaigns, arriving in France in July 1944, and were present at actions around Caen and the liberation of Le Havre in September 1944. The 5th Battalion King's Own received the unique Honorary Distinction of a 'Mailed Fist' and the scroll 'North West Europe 1944-45' to be borne on their Colours.
The 56th Anti-Tank Regiment saw further action in Burma in 1944 and 1945.
The 8th Battalion travelled to Malta, via Gibraltar, and was stationed on the island from August 1942 to November 1943 being responsible for the defence of airfields during the siege. From Malta the battalion went to Egypt and then Palestine and were joined by the 58 survivors of the 1st Battalion to form a new battalion. This reformed battalion went on to serve through Italy until the end of the war when it was based on the Yugoslav border at Trieste. The battalion fought with distinction through Italy and received the unique battle honour 'Montone' for an attack in July 1944.
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The 7th Battalion served in France and Belgium, withdrew through Dunkirk, and later served in Gibraltar and India.
Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service
The Auxiliary Territorial Service was born in the crisis of September 1938 when war with Germany seemed imminent. Designed to carry out non-combatant duties in war, each company of ATS was affiliated to an army territorial unit. The women were expected to train like Territorial Army soldiers and their affiliated units were asked to help with out-of-camp training. Two ATS companies were affiliated to the 5th Battalion King’s Own. Their training was carried out in the Regimental Depot at Bowerham Barracks, to which one company was allocated for duty in war.
King’s Own Royal Regiment Active Service Overseas Comforts Fund
With so many soldiers overseas serving in difficult conditions the Comforts Fund was established in the autumn of 1939 to provide them with gifts from home. The headquarters were set up in a large room in Westfield House, Westfield War Memorial Village, Lancaster.
With winter quickly approaching volunteers sent parcels of socks, scarves, mittens and sweets to members of the King’s Own serving overseas.
Many fund raising events were organised including bring and buy sales, whist drives and bridge tournaments. The ‘Thè Dansant’ on 20th April 1940 raised the grand sum of £51 17s 1d. Two of the colourful posters advertising the Dance still survive today in the museum’s collection.
An appeal was made for paperback books to be sent to the troops and in the summer of 1940 good knitters were asked to work on socks and mittens for the forthcoming winter.
The Home Guard
As early as September 1939 Winston Churchill called for the creation of a ‘Home Guard’, but with the chance of invasion of Britain slight, no serious consideration was given to the plan.
By May 1940 the situation had drastically changed. The British Expeditionary Force was being pushed out of Belgium and France and the retreat through Dunkirk had left the British Army without much of its heavy weaponry. The soldiers were dejected, and left scattered across the United Kingdom to form a defence against the threat of Nazi German invasion. There was a real fear of German parachute attacks on Britain just like there had been on Holland and Belgium.
On 14th May 1940 Mr Anthony Eden - Secretary of State for War - spoke on the BBC Radio and announced the creation of a new force the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). The government had acted quickly because people across Britain were arming themselves with whatever equipment they could get their hands on - the Local Defence Volunteers now provided the formal system for the Volunteers.
Volunteers, males between the ages of 17 and 65, were to report to their nearest police station and sign up for service. Within the first twenty-four hours 250,000 men signed up. By the end of May there were 400,000 in the Local Defence Volunteers, and this had risen to 1½ million men by the end of June 1940.
Winston Churchill, who was now Prime Minister, changed the name of the volunteer force to ‘The Home Guard’. Perhaps he had heard the quip ‘Look Duck and Vanish’.
Our area was similar to others. Volunteers rushed to join the Local Defence Volunteers.
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