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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Memories of war: The ragtag bunch who became the Home Guard
Winston Churchill inspects the 1st American Squadron of the Home Guard on Horse Guards Parade, London, 9 January 1941. IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUMS

Roger Kirby
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

These are childhood recollections of growing up in Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire, England, during the Second World War. The Home Guard was a U.K. militia created to support the British army. 

The Home Guard was formed in the 1940s across the country as a whole and, of course, Woodhouse Eaves was no exception.

Comprised mainly of men who were deemed unfit for regular forces service, they were to defend the country if we were invaded by German forces.

Eventually two million men joined: a ragtag bunch but enthusiastic in their endeavours.

The Woodhouse Eaves Home Guard was a typical contingent. Its commanding officer was a Major Arbuckle, who lived on Beacon Road.

He was a major in the First World War and determined to whip his charges into a first-class fighting force.

Drilling was the first effort and it was carried out on the first field below the Bull’s Head Inn.

This field had a rolling contour from years of ploughing in the same direction; it also had long grass due to it being a hayfield.

The squad had no rifles (just a few shotguns), a pike from the Boer War and pitchforks meant to resemble rifles. Oh yes, there was one Elephant Gun, a formidable and heavy-bore rifle.

Imagine this squad, which included old Joe Stockwell of Brook Road Farm in his knee-high leather leggings, and Arthur Tyler, a painter at Beaumanor Estate, limping along on one short leg.

Trying to keep in line and in step was almost impossible considering the long grass and rolling terrain.

The order “Quick march!” was given. Some stepped off with their right foot and some with their left; some did not know left from right as they had never been taught.

“Halt!” came the order. Some stopped and others kept going, stumbling and tripping over one another. Chaos ensued. They were then told that “Halt!” meant stop.

Some wore shoes, others wore boots while some were in Wellingtons – they arrived for drills in whatever footwear they wore at work or home.

Boots and uniforms came later. After a period of several weeks they passed the major’s inspection and, of course, adjourned to the Bulls Head to slake their thirst.

These groups across the country were charged with stopping the might of the German army, should there be an attack.

My father, John Kirby, landlord of the Bull’s Head, was made a corporal. He had an old James motorcycle and sidecar. The sidecar was removed and replaced with a flatbed.

When a Northover Projector (an anti-tank weapon) was installed on the flatbed, the unit was to become the Motorized Armoured Division of the Woodhouse Eaves Home Guard.

Of course, the German invasion never materialized, but what began as a ragtag group of misfits grew into a well-prepared citizen militia determined to defend England at all cost.