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Lancaster

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Regimental History: Second World War

The Home Guard and the Defence of Lancaster

Home Guard Archives in the Museum's Collection

The unit in Lancaster was formed on 25th May 1940 in the Police Parade Room of Lancaster Town Hall.  Another unit was established for Morecambe and Heysham.

The local units were administered by the West Lancashire Territorial Army and Air Force Association, but came under the operational control of the East Lancashire Area.  The LDV/Home Guard members all wore the cap badge of the King’s Own Royal Regiment - and wore identification marking as thus:

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EL1 Barrow (1st County of Lancaster Battalion)

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EL2 North Lonsdale (2nd County of Lancaster Battalion)

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EL3 Lancaster City (3rd County of Lancaster (Lancaster City) Battalion Home Guard

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EL4 South Lonsdale (4th County of Lancaster (South Lonsdale) Battalion Home Guard

Map showing areas covered by the local Home Guard units.

The importance of Lancaster lay in its crossings of the River Lune, which form a narrow bottle-neck in the north-south communications on the West of England.  During the Second World War all trains had to pass over Carlisle Bridge and all motor traffic had to pass over Skerton Bridge.

The first defensive positions to be established by the 3rd Battalion (Lancaster City) Home Guard from 24th June 1940 were:

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A Company:    A6 North and Blackcastle Lane

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B Company:    Williamson Park and Caton Road

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C Company:    Langthwaite Reservoir and A6 South

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D Company:    Stodday, Aldcliffe and Waterloo Point

Once the battalion became more organised it was realised that its operation and the defence of Lancaster should be undertaken on a proper military basis and a new approach was made.  The plan comprised four key elements:

  1. Road blocks outside the perimeter

  2. Road blocks at the entrance to the town

  3. Defended locations on crossings of the canal and north and south  of the main railway line, with a reserve of men in the castle area.

  4. Three company defended locations with one mobile company available to move anywhere in support

WAKE UP Invasion!

Procedures for call out were established - church bells were to give the signal but this system proved slow and uncertain and did not cover the whole city.  Arrangements were therefore made for knocking up each man by night and for assembly through place of work by day. From May 1940 telephone and knocking-up orderlies were maintained at both Battalion and Company Headquarters.  Exercises showed all these means to be slow and imperfect and it was of general opinion that the only satisfactory way of getting the whole Battalion assembled rapidly would be by a central audible signal, as for air raid alarms.

Home Guard Training

In the summer of 1940 the thoroughness of elementary training had to be sacrificed to the need for general military training, nightly duties and construction of field works.  Priority was directed at getting at least a basic fighting force together.

From the Winter of 1940 weekly lectures by regular army officers were given and the Home Guard established a comprehensive training programme.

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RAF Command at White Lund Aerodrome showed the various types of RAF aircraft and explained the uses and identification of each.

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The City Police and National Fire Service demonstrated how to deal with incendiary bombs.

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The first large exercise - PAREX - was held on 16th March 1941 all posts were manned with regular troops attacking the Home Guard in the role of enemy paratroops.  Many positions were overrun, but regained following a Home Guard Counter Attack.

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Ranges were used at Crag Bank and Littlefell for live firing of rifles and grenades.

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A training weekend was held in Carlisle which covered street fighting, anti-tank methods, mines, road blocks and booby traps.  Those attending the course became instructors and themselves held courses in Lancaster.

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13th July 1941 saw the first battalion cinema parade at the Odeon Cinema where Home Guardsmen watched a number of military training films.

Home Guard Facts:

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In the early days the local Home Guard only had ten rifles, ten suits of denim and forage caps and 40 rounds of ammunition per rifle.  It was not until September 1940 that the Home Guard in Lancaster were issued with uniform.

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From October 1940, the Battalion took the duty on from Regular Forces, of maintaining a guard on Carlisle Railway Bridge which carried the mainline.  This duty fell to one officer and eighteen other ranks.

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The 3rd Battalion also had a Watcher’s Platoon under the Bishop of Lancaster, The Right Reverend Pollard, a combatant officer in the Battalion.  They manned the Ashton Memorial by day from June 1940 to July 1943 and also by night, until March 1942, when they were succeeded by B Company.

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The formation of Women Home Guard Auxiliaries occurred in February 1943, the 4th County of Lancashire Battalion enrolling 24 women.  No uniforms were issued for these ladies who were clerks etc but they received a plastic brooch with the initials ‘HG’.

The Post Office Company

The 3rd Battalion Lancaster also played host to D Company 59th Post Office Battalion, which was administered from Manchester.  In all defence schemes the Post Office Company held the General Post Office area and the Repeater Station at Scotforth - which was vital to all telephone and telegraph communications.

Between 18th December and 31st December 1940 the 3rd Battalion took over all night guard duties at the GPO to relieve the GPO Home Guard during the Christmas rush of the postal service.

3rd Battalion Receipt of Clothing, Arms and Equipment

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Clothing Denims                             11th July 1940

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Gas Masks                                      12th July 1940

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Medical Equipment                         8th August 1940

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Rifles and Bayonets                         12th August 1940

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EY Rifles                                        12th August 1940

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Browning Automatics                       19th August 1940

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Battle Dress                                    26th September 1940

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Browning Machine Guns                   7th October 1940

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Steel Helmets                                 7th October 1940

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Transport W D                                 1st March 1941

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Grenades                                        17th March 1941

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Tommy Guns                                   9th April 1941

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Sten Guns                                       10th April 1942

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Smith Guns                                     21st August 1942

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Wireless                                         26th May 1943

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Two Pounder guns                           17th March 1944

Home Guard Memories:

Harold Pye was in the Home Guard between May 1940 and February 1941 prior to his service with the RAF:

“I joined after Anthony Eden made an appeal on the radio.  I went along to the Town Hall to sign up....and went to Bowerham Barracks to be trained by soldiers who were just back from Dunkirk.

Everybody believed the invasion would come.  We made our own petrol bombs out of milk bottles - we practised throwing them at High Cross near the Moor Hospital.

I was in a hut at the back of Castle Lane overlooking the River Lune.  I was part of the guard on Carlisle Bridge, we watched for parachutists until 6am and then went home for breakfast and then off to work - I was a painter and decorator.”

Tom Ferguson worked for Armisteads Bake House on Grasmere Road and at the age of 13 in 1940 can remember the Home Guard. 

“Captain English was in charge of the Home Guard Observation Post at the Ashton Memorial in the park.  The post had to notify Barrow when planes flew over on their way to bomb Barrow. 

Captain English used to organise meat and potato pie suppers for the Home Guard and I used to take the pies up to the park and help give them out. 

I was also the street runner for the ARP Post on Grasmere Road.  I would have to run down to the fire station and tell them where there was a fire - I never had to do it for real.

I remember my brother and I going to see where the bombs had dropped near Bowerham Barracks.  They were incendiary bombs, but only small and did not do much damage.  There was not much to have a look at.”

“I could stand at the end of Grasmere Road and see the barrage balloons at Barrow.  At night we watched the flashes and bombing of Barrow.  The wife came from Barrow and she remembers having to shelter when the bombs dropped.  She used to collect the lead from the bomb damaged windows and make lead soldiers.”

 

© 2006 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum