Home Guard

Following the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 men between the ages of 17 and 65 we asked to join the Local Defence Volunteers. (L.D.V.) Platoons were organised in each large village and town. Those within the Wetherby Rural District were formed into C Company of the 11th Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment. C Company had its headquarters in offices above Sizelands Chemist shop in the Market Place.

By the end of 1940 all the members of C Company were issued with denim uniforms, a gift of a Leeds clothing firm. Whilst, months before, a call for arms immediately produced 24 modern revolvers and enough shotguns and ammunition for all. (Tales of pitchforks and other makeshift weapons is just not true.)

Training began in earnest, and these volunteers met practically every Sunday morning, and two evenings a week, in spite of long hours and overtime they were putting in at their businesses or workshops for the war effort, much of vital National importance.

C Company had an observation post on the high ground at the top of Spofforth Hill, in fields to the East, just North of the Stockeld Park South Lodge. Here observation was carried out 24 hours of the day, in duties of 2 hours on and 4 hours off, those ‘Off-duty’ sleeping in a hut, with their clothes and boots on. It was their duty in the event of an Air Raid or other enemy activity to alert the Report Centre and C.D. Services.

In July 1940 Sir Winston Churchill changed the name to that of ‘Home Guard.’ American rifles and ammunition, and some heavy American 300 Vickers Machine Guns were issued, and target practice was organised. 0.22 rifles were available and miniature target practice was also encouraged, such men as Fred Reynolds and Harry Groves of Collingham being outstanding shots.

Road signposts and milestones were removed, but the destruction of church steeples, which would give a map reference to the enemy were left standing to the last minute before an invasion.

Road blocks were sited at strategic positions, such as at the end of Wetherby bridge at Micklethwaite, the bridge at Boston Spa and also at Bardsey, Stockeld and Plumpton. These blocks consisted of large concrete cylindrical masses which could be rolled across the road and then interwoven with barbed wire,

thus slowing down enemy movement, and disorganising their timetable, whilst at the same time making them more vulnerable to ambush attack.

In September all ranks were issued with “Home Guard” shoulder flashes and in 1941 C Company, over 300 strong, were issued with Tin Hats, Army battledress, leggings and greatcoats. They were well armed with Sten guns, Mills hand grenades, Northoven grenade projectors, and Blacker Bombards (Spigot Mortars) which fired about a 12 pound anti-tank shell. Supplies of gelignite and detonators for demolition purposes such as bridge destruction were issued together with a supply of “Sticky Bombs”. These had a glass casing about the size of a coconut, and exploded on contact.

The Thorp Arch Platoon had the important task of guarding the Royal Ordnance Factory whilst it was under construction. Other important sites such as Wetherby bridge were made into miniature fortresses, well camouflaged trenches were dug high on the river bank, and concealed in the trees was a reinforced brick built ammunition store. (This is still there today.)

The old quarry near The Wild Man Inn on the York Tadcaster road made an excellent firing range, and practice ground for grenade throwing and other military exercises. Lectures were given on map reading, and fifth column activities practiced by the Germans in Poland and France, how to obtain correct and detailed information; Chemical warfare, First Aid, the use of gelignite for the demolition of river road and railway bridges and tracks.

As more efficiency developed, mobile fighting patrols were formed. These consisted of about ten to twelve men, armed to the teeth, with car or bicycle transport, who would use “Hit and run tactics”, relying to a great extent on their local knowledge of the country side to evade capture.

The Home Guard was disbanded in 1945.

Lieut. Col. Charlesworth commanded the Batallion.

Lieut. Col. Sir Alfred Aykroyd commanded C Company.

Maj. J. Hudson, M.C., C.B.E., J.P. Wetherby Platoon Commander.

Sir K. Parkinson, Spofforth and Follifoot Commander.

The Earl of Harewood, Harewood Platoon Commander.

 Thank you to the Wetherby Historical Society for this information

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