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Westwood Works 1903-2003

Westwood Works in World War 2

The Home Guard

Background information kindly supplied by Bob Beales and David Gray of the Soke Military Society:

On 14th May, 1940, the Government broadcast a message asking for volunteers for the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers). On 23rd July, 1940, Winston Churchill changed the name of the LDV to the Home Guard. The Home Guard was formed when there was a real risk of invasion. Most men who could fight were already in the forces, those that were left were either too young, too old, or in reserved occupations (those jobs vital to the war effort).

The government was expecting 150,000 men to volunteer for the Home Guard. Within the first month, 750,000 men had volunteered, and by the end of June, 1940, the total number of volunteers was over one million. The number of men in the Home Guard did not fall below one million until they were stood down in December 1944. The Home Guard was disbanded on 31st December.

Peterborough was in Northamptonshire in WW2 and had two Home Guard Battalions; the 1st. Northamptonshire Home Guard Battalion - this was the Peterborough City Battalion, responsible for an area immediately surrounding the City from Paxton Crossing on the LNER railway line in the north, to Newark in the east, the river in the south and Thorpe Park to the west. and the 2nd. Northamptonshire Home Guard Battalion, the Soke of Peterborough Battalion, covering the area from Dogsthorpe, out through Newborough to Eye and beyond, a vulnerable area of some eighty square miles. These two Northamptonshire Home Guard Battalions were put into a larger group with Rutland Home Guard Battalion until 1942 when the Rutland Battalion linked up with Leicestershire Home Guard and the two Peterborough based Northamptonshire Home Guard Battalions were then grouped with he 1st. Huntingdonshire Home Guard Battalion (based at London Road Drill Hall, Fletton, Peterborough). Although under the Huntingdonshire Home Guard Area, they still remained Northamptonshire Home Guard Battalions.

The Westwood Works Platoon

L.D.V./ H.G. Volunteers of 1940 would have been put into units taking into account where they lived and not where they worked, so Baker Perkins employees could have been members of different units. However, Baker Perkins Factory did have it's own Home Guard Unit - part of B Company (**later "E" Company??) of the Peterborough City Battalion, the 1st. Northamptonshire Home Guard. Initially an infantry company, it later transferred to air defence duties with Hitler's introduction of V1 flying bombs (doodlebugs) in June 1944. (see Roland Maycock's memories below).

(**NOTE: There is some confusion regarding the title of the Baker Perkins Home Guard Company. Early photographs indicate it as "B" Company, later ones as "E" Company. Further research is being carried out on this).

Westwood Works Home Guard c.1943.

Westwood Works Home Guard c.1943.

Members of the Baker Perkins Platoon - Date unknown.

E Company, 1st Northants Home Guard on their "Stand Down" on 3rd December 1944. This photograph was taken on King's School playing field - Huntly Grove with its air-raid shelter in the background.

Officers of Westwood Works Platoon, 1st Northants Home Guard

Major F.H. Plaistowe
Capt. F.S. Ruald MM
Lieut. C.A. Dumbleton
Lieut. R.C. Eames
Lieut. N.H. Harry
Lieut. C.D. Wilson
Lieut. C.J.M. Whyte
2nd Lieut. F.A. Beard
2nd Lieut. W.L. Davies
2nd Lieut. G.W. Haig
2nd Lieut. H. Julyan
2nd Lieut. L.T. James
2nd Lieut. R.H. Rayner
2nd Lieut. C.H. Wittering

Compulsory service of reserve occupation men into the Home Guard was introduced in 1942, with a requirement to carry out 48 hours duty per month. This was to replace those men being called up for active service.

The Home Guard Auxiliary Bomb Disposal Unit

Soon after the formation of the Home Guard, Baker Perkins' Technical Director, Claude Dumbleton, and Chairman, Allan Richard Baker, volunteered to lead a Home Guard Auxiliary Bomb Disposal Unit during the war. The unit apparently comprised of 22 volunteers, all employees of Baker Perkins.

These Auxiliary units were formed in hundreds of factories across Britain at a time when the army BD units were overwhelmed by the large number of unexploded bombs needing to be dealt with. The factory Home Guard units were affiliated to their local Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Company for training and for any specialist tools they might need.

We are grateful to Chris Ransted for permission to reproduce the text of his posting on the WW2 Talk website:

"At the height of the Battle of Britain in summer 1940, the Ministry of Aircraft Production worked all out to produce fighter aircraft. The Ministry had asked the War Office what would happen if UXBs fell on their factories, to which the WO replied that there was a possibility that the hard-pressed army Bomb Disposal Units may well be forced to blow the bombs up on site.

Unhappy with the potential loss of machinery vital to war production, the Ministry asked if it would be possible to raise squads of skilled volunteer workers who would locate, identify, report and clear sites in preparation for the arrival of the Bomb Disposal units so that there would be less need to detonate the UXBs on site. The WO agreed and new sections named Auxiliary Bomb Disposal Squads were created. The ABDS scheme was extended to all factories on government war work with a staff of over 1,000 workers. After much debate, from June 1941 their role was upgraded and qualified ABDSs could undertake actual bomb disposal on site.

Despite their original birth as an independent, civilian factory unit separate from the Home Guard, from September 1942, it was decided that all ABDSs would become sub-units of their local Home Guard battalion, (not always to the ABDSs pleasure). Initial WO instructions stated that whilst ABDS sub-units were static to their factory, they now had a secondary role as HG infantry if the enemy were advancing through their area.

From August 1943, ABDS units were issued with a special distinguishing badge, comprising of two crossed German bombs in yellow on a red circle, to be worn above the left cuff on their battledress.

Three classes of ABDS unit now existed, from Category C: units still under training, up to Category A: ‘units authorised to work on bombs, including the discharging and removal of certain types of fuses without RE supervision’.

From March 1944, the country’s ABDS were put on standby in case of bombing to disrupt preparations for D-Day. Although it appears most ABDS did not see action due to their late formation, factory-tied locations and RE BDS priority, some ABDS did see action. One ABDS worker was decorated after working on a bomb at a Birmingham factory in October 1940 and ABDS units also helped in the clearance of UK beach mines at the end of the war.

To their lasting credit, the Auxiliary Bomb Disposal Squads carried out probably the most dangerous work of all the Home Guard specialist sections during the war."

The Anti-Aircraft Rocket Battery

In July 1942, the Northants 101st. A.A. Troop (101 Northants Home Guard “Z” A.A. Battery) – the only such unit in the county - was formed under the command of Lt. Col. E.W. Bromige. Their first home was Unity Hall. Because of the extreme necessity for anti-aircraft defence it was decided to use compulsory service Home Guard members for the “Z” troop instead of robbing men from other units, although some other compulsory service Home Guard members would also have gone to other units. A number of the Westwood men joined the 101st Z Battery and were trained to fire twin rail rocket projectors - anti-aircraft devices of which there were 64 sited on the playing fields in Fulbridge Road. The battery was formed of eight identical units who took turns to man the battery - approximately 1,500 men in total. (See Jim Deboo's account of his time with the unit below).

Directly under Anti-Aircraft Command for operations, a nucleus of Regular Royal Artillery personnel – a battery commander (Major), a second-in-command (Captain), four subalterns, one ATS officer, fifty other ranks and fifty ATS – was camped on the Fulbridge Road playing field site. These regular troops trained the Home Guard in basic infantry skills, rocket projector drill, plotting and instrument drill, aircraft recognition and anti-gas procedures. Each unit, or relief, performed one whole night’s duty once a week – from seven o’clock in the evening until they were released from the site (after being given breakfast) to return to work at the usual starting times. In similar batteries elsewhere in the country, members of the Home Guard manned the guns one night in eight but this was not possible in Peterborough due to the very high percentage of shift workers.

In March 1944, the A.A. Home Guard were regimented with the formation of the 10th Home Guard A.A. Regiment, consisting of the batteries at Peterborough, Leicester and Cambridge. At the same time, the rocket projector was removed from the secret list and the Peterborough unit became the 101 Northants Home Guard Rocket A.A. Battery.

"Z" Battery HQ Staff.

Some of "Z" Battery's Officers.

"Z" Battery on site in Fulbridge Road.

Members of the Home Guard operating a Twin-rail Rocket Projector.

Roland Maycock, who joined Baker Perkins as an apprentice in 1940, remembers:

"I was a private in the Westwood Works Home Guard Company. The work force was all privates as the order of command was the same hierarchy as in the factory, foreman and chargehands were sergeants and corporals and the Directors were the officers, a bit like Dad’s Army! In truth, though, it was not comedy, the bullets were real.

Initially, the Company was Infantry and we took guard duty on Saturday and Sunday nights at Westwood Works, the only two nights the factory was shut down. A platoon took turns for one night standing guard of the railway bridge over the river Nene, two hours on guard, the rest of the night off duty catching up some sleep in an adapted railway carriage at the end of the bridge. We had loaded rifles and the odd railway man wandering about got challenged “Halt, who goes there”, fortunately no one got shot!

We were mobilised on a few occasions, sleeping in local drill halls, no one knew why! We practised throwing hand-grenades in the quarry on Helpston Heath, and this caused a few problems when the throw was short and the grenade did not reach the quarry. One night a week was Company Parade, followed by rifle instruction, unarmed combat in the staff canteen. Rifle instruction was supposed to be using blank cartridges, a live round got mixed in the clip and the amazed instructor shot a hole in the ceiling.

With the coming of rocket-propelled bombs (doodle-bugs) the company was changed to anti-aircraft combat. The war ended before the plan was put into action, the idea being to mount twin browning guns (the same as used on the Spitfire) onto a swivelling stand with a bucket-seat; these would be positioned on top of the office building.

Training involved travelling to Heacham on the east coast, where one of these gun-platforms was mounted on a concrete plinth on the beach. The beach was mined! I believe the gun-mounting was designed by Albert Newby in Westwood Works. It was a three-man operation, one in the bucket-seat sighting the gun on target, and one man each side feeding the cartridge belts. The target was a sock pulled by a light aircraft flying along the beach, all hell was let loose when you pulled the trigger. The whole thing shook and you got a lap full of hot cartridges. The pilot deserved a medal. After a couple of passes, the pilot would drop the sock for examination. I never saw any holes!

Using the gun-sight was useless, so one bullet in five was made a tracer. You could watch the tracers and guide these towards the target. A major problem occurred if one gun jammed. The platform on its pivot lurched left or right before you could stop firing and everybody ducked. We stayed in the beach houses which had been commandeered by the regular army."

E Company's Sergeant Costin won the 1944 .22 Rifle competition.

Bert Slater was member of D Platoon, the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment Home Guard. Its headquarters was at Manor Farm, Dogsthorpe - the home of Mr. Odam - the Home Guard being allowed the use of his barn in inclement weather. The Platoon included men from both Baker Perkins and Peter Brotherhood.

Lieutenant Glenn of Montague Road was the Platoon Commander, other members included:

2nd Lieut. Wallace
Sgt. W. Spendlow
Sgt. B. Butler
Cpl S. Hudson
Cpl. G, Hadman
L/Cpl. B. Slater
L/Cpl. Snow
Privates - R. Christian, Strancer, Grieg, F. Swan, J. Harris, Truss, A. Pacey, Read, A. Read, Allan, Johnson, S. Horn, Knowles, Routledge, Johns, Day, Wallace, Snow, Lawton, Goode, Roughton, Gamble, Alderman, and Ingle. Bert recalls:

"The sections paraded at Manor Farm on a Wednesday evening, with, on occasions, an extra parade on Friday evening or Sunday morning. After Roll Call, we had rifle drill, then on to Welland Road where we practised marching. The officers and NCOs often tried to see how far they could march the men down the road before giving the command "About Turn".We often got as far as the thatched cottage near Bluebell Avenue.

Indoor training consisted of cleaning your rifle, what to do in case of a misfire and how to hold it in various positions. Map Reading and Aircraft Recognition, (see - Air Raid Spotters above), were very important skills to learn.

In the paddock at the rear of the farm, we were trained in the use of the Lewis gun, Northover Projector - a sort of grenade launcher, the Spigot Mortar and how to throw the hand grenade (we used dummies). The Butts were located in the Dogsthorpe Brick Pits where we set up a range with a wall of clay facing the Hodney Road. We took turns at firing and flag waving - to indicate a "Hit" or a "Miss". Later on, Sten guns became available. These had a magazine holding 32 rounds of 9mm ammunition and could be fired in bursts or single shots
(see - Jim Deboo's memories below).

Battle training was carried out around the Farm, entailing the use of camouflage, blackening one's face and cutting up strips of hessian sacks to fix in the net covering your steel helmet. We had to walk along the hedgerows, the order "Down" was given and we crawled a short distance, observed the situation and then sighted our rifles onto the target. This drill was sometimes carried out in gas-masks.

Bayonet practice was held on the sports field at Walton School, usually following having done a night shift at the factory. Our instructor was RSM Stone from The Drill Hall.

Patrols were undertaken mostly at the weekends, aimed at getting to know the areas in which Paratroopers might be dropped. In the event of an air raid being expected, we assembled at Dogsthorpe and then patrolled as far as Hodney Road railway bridge near Eye, to make contact with the Eye Platoon under Lieut. Brown"

Jim Deboo also served in the Home Guard and he recalls:

"Some of us had tried on several occasions to join the regular forces but, because of the nature of the work upon which we were engaged, we were made to return to Westwood under a protected occupation scheme. But our chance came when early in 1942 we were drafted into the Home Guard. Now many present-day television viewers will enjoy a good laugh when watching episodes of Dad’s Army, but our Home Guard experiences were entirely different. Most Westwood men saw service in the Home Guard 101st Z Battery of the Royal Artillery. I was privileged first to be an NCO and then to be commissioned and had a fine group of machine shop colleagues in my troop.

A regular army (RA) major and other officers and NCOs took up residence in fabricated army huts on what is now the Fulbridge Road playing fields. During the very limited time we were not at work and especially on Saturday and Sunday nights (for those of us on night shift) we were drilled by an ex Black Watch regular sergeant named Munro and then, divided into reliefs and companies, we were trained to operate and fire the twin rail rocket projectors. Sixty-four of these were sited on the playing fields and, with two rockets to each projector, 128 rockets could be fired simultaneously, if required. This would mean that any aircraft caught in, say, a volume of space about one mile in each direction would be brought down! The rockets themselves, about 5’ long by 3” diameter, were fired electrically through any two of four contacts, each at 90º when located on the firing rails. If there was a misfire, we had to unload the missile and place it in a sand-filled bunker. It was never a happy time when a misfire occurred.

(Gordon Hennis, whose reminiscences of life in the Home Guard appear below, remembers the rocket installation well as his father, Henry Hennis was a plotter with "Z" Battery. Gordon recalls that a chicken hatchery existed on the opposite side of Fulbridge Road to the field containing the rocket projectors and one of the hatchery buildings was taken over by the Army as a plotting room).

Weekend camps by special train were also spent at Heacham and Snettisham facing the Wash – the bases of some of our buildings and miniature railway lines can still be seen there. We practised our drills (two men to each projector) and fired at a drogue towed on a very, very long line by a Westland Lysander aircraft over the sea. We had practised all one Sunday morning and had just been “stood down” when a Heinkel appeared from a cloud, dropped some bombs on the seashore and on our site and disappeared before even our Lewis guns mounted on top of the public toilets could open fire!

We learned infantry skills, including the use of the sten gun and there was an incident about which now one can laugh but which, at the time, was deadly serious. On the beach at Heacham some white marks were painted on large stones and placed about 25 yards away from us. The sten gun had a magazine containing 32 bullets and could be fired using R button for single repeat shots or A button for automatic continuous fire. At short range, we were told, a sten fired on automatic would “cut a man in half”. In my troop I had a very likeable but somewhat simple-minded man, a labourer from the machine shop, affectionately known by everyone as Wee Wee. When it came to his turn to fire the sten gun, I loaded for him, explained the two buttons, took his arm, pointed the gun at his marker stone and moved away. He was to fire single shots – the R button. Instead, he pressed A and, being alarmed at the gun firing off continuously, he swung round towards us saying “I can’t stop it!” We hit the dirt as one man and somehow I managed to point his sten into the air and out to sea. Oh, the joys of Z Battery Home Guard!"

Gordon Hennis joined the Home Guard fairly late in the War:

"At that time, when you reached the age of eighteen, you were conscripted into some kind of Home Defence work and I was conscripted into the Fire Brigade. However, before joining the Brigade , I decided to join Baker Perkins' Home Guard - at that time, an infantry company, all the members of which were Baker Perkins' employees. Most were veterans of WW1.

A lot of time was spent in infantry-based training - there was an old abandoned house in Gunthorpe Road which we were trained to attack or defend. We had WW1 rifles but no ammunition. On another occasion we were sent to guard the railway bridge over the river in Peterborough, spending the night in an old railway carriage and walking over the bridge every two hours. We also guarded Baker Perkins - a very small room on top of the original two storey office block, above the Board Room, was fitted with temporary beds and we patrolled the factory site during the night.

In the middle of 1944, the unit was transferred to Anti-Aircraft duties, the infantry activity being dropped but the same officers were retained. We were issued with twin Browning machine guns mounted on a frame with a seat behind them, the whole thing being capable of being rotated through 360 degrees. A big sight between the two guns allowed the device to be aimed. At the same time we were issued with new 'Bow and Arrow' shoulder flashes.

We were taken to Heacham, (there was very little there at that time, everything was sealed off and it was impossible to get down to the beach), several of the twin guns were set up along the coastline and we were allowed to fire them out to sea. On occasion, an old biplane towing a drogue would fly parallel to the beach and we were instructed in firing at the drogue - not as easy as it sounds despite having tracer bullets in the magazines, it not being unknown for people to fire at the aeroplane. The story at the time was that the pilots had committed some misdemeanour and were made to fly the target towers as a punishment. I cannot vouch for the truth of this!

RAF Westwood was still in operation behind Baker Perkins' factory and we were allowed to use a piece of their equipment - a brick-built building in the shape of a dome, some 20 to 30 feet in diameter. In the middle of this room was a framework from the guns but instead of the guns there was a camera. You sat in the chair and operated the camera when pressing the 'trigger'. All around the walls of the room were projected films of aeroplanes coming towards you. The object of the exercise was to identify the aircraft as friend or foe and 'fire' the camera as appropriate and it would be recorded. We used the equipment quite often and it was very good training - I enjoyed it anyway!"

Military Bands and Off-duty Activities

The Home Guard played a prominent part in the many public morale-boosting civic parades and fund raising activities which were a feature of local Peterborough life during the war. Military music is essential to public parades but in 1940, on one of the first occasions that the Peterborough City battalion marched past a saluting base outside the Town Hall, they were led by an amplified gramophone, mounted on a lorry. The need for a proper band was obvious, plenty of old bandsmen existed in the ranks of the Home Guard, an experienced army bandmaster was available, the need was for some instruments.

The 1st (Peterborough City) Battalion Military Band on Kings School Playing field at the end of the War.

Fortunately, a local philanthropist, Mrs F. Smith generously donated the substantial sum required to equip 23 bandsmen. Bandmaster B.V. Powe trained the players - band practice took place in Unity Hall - and the 1st (Peterborough City) Battalion band became the first in the Northamptonshire Home Guard Regiment. A number of the bandsmen were from Baker Perkins, the band eventually swelling to 40 members, and becoming one of the city's most important war-time institutions.

The 1st (Peterborough City) Battalion military band later spawned a dance band which played at many local functions.

The Home Guard Dance Band at the Drill Hall, Lincoln Road.

One might have expected some friction between the regular servicemen of the "Z" Rocket Battery and the members of the Home Guard. However, the "once a week soldiers" of the Home Guard were soon accepted as equals. Christmas 1943 saw the Regulars on duty far from home but the Home Guard organised dances and concerts, determined to give the Regular boys and girls a good time. This hospitality was repaid in full by the Regulars the following year.

During the two years of co-operation with the Royal Artillery, "Z" Battery made great efforts on behalf of the Royal Artillery Prisoners of War Fund and £2,000 was raised over the period. Two gala nights were held at the Embassy Theatre in Peterborough when the revues "You've Z it" and "Watch the News" were performed.

The Programme for "You've Z it"

"Stand Down"

The Home Guard was officially stood down on 3rd December 1944 when it was clear that the end of the War was in sight and all threat of invasion had passed. At the "Stand Down" the force handed in their rifles but were allowed to keep their uniforms. The Home Guard was finally disbanded on December 31st 1945.

Stand Down Parade - December 3rd 1944 - Order of Events.

Thanks from the King to those who served in the Home Guard.

Father and Son served in the Home Guard but whilst both worked at Baker Perkins, Henry Hennis was with "Z" Anti-Aircraft Battery on Fulbridge Road, Gordon with The Baker Perkins infantry platoon at Westwood Works.

A "Thank-you" from the Chief of Anti-Aircraft Command


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