It’s time this week to post an article I’ve had for a week or two but not had time to lay out – a fascinating one on the topic of the local Home Guard and the interesting subject of local roadblocks.
For background, I’ve posted about the home guard before here and last year of the discovery that they had a large local shelter nearby here.
This wonderful article written by David Evans with photos from Shirley Downs captures life during wartime, and introduces the topic of wartime defences erected to prepare for the possibility of ground invasion by the enemy – pillboxes are a common remnant of this act defence of the realm but there were also gun and searchlight mounts, tank traps and road blocks. I had no idea there were apparently road blocks locally.
I’ll let David expand on this – and thanks to him for his tireless work, and for the invaluable contributions of Ray Share, Shirley Downs and Dorothy Gooding who have expanded ofn a bit of undiscovered history.
David Evans wrote:
So very little has been written about Walsall Wood Home Guard F Company, and yet some of those named in the quotes below are well-known to locals. Mr George Mycock was the Walsall Wood Football Club founder; Mr Smith was the High Street chemist. I believe Mr Arblaster was one of the well known Arblaster family and may have played for the football club at one time. Mr Arthur Wadey was the football team’s trainer in post war years.
Our history goes back to the dawn of civilisation in this country. True, it is unwritten history, but the evidence is here for all to read who will. Some of you have trained and sited strong points and machine-gun posts on the fern-covered slopes, which once were Knaves Castle and the Old Fort at Upper Stonnall.
Hills were just as important strategically, when slings and boulders were the weapons, as they are to-day, and for probably two thousand years or more those entrenchments have mounted guard above the Old Chester Road.
From “The ground We Defend” article, written by Lieutenant W Oakley, published in Staffordshire Home Guard website
On to F Company. How well Smith and his loyal lieutenants, Arblaster and Mycock, did look after the creature comforts of their men! I still retain visions of amazing meals on mustering tests.
Smith was in command for a considerable time until one day came re-organization and the size of the company was increased by the inclusion of the Shire Oak Platoon, and the stormy petrel of the battalion, the one and only Torkington, took over command.
I find it difficult to understand, but F has always been a tough nut to crack. Even “Talky” could not change the Walsall Wood spots, but I am sure there are men in that locality who will never forget the intrusion of this warrior into their peaceful world. If ever circumstances had demanded action on the part of F Company, it would not have failed to give a very good account of itself.
In passing on, we must salute the Old Brigade and those young officers Harrison and Dodd.
From ‘A Review’, by Lieutenant-Colonel C Cartwright, DSO MC in 1944, and published in Staffordshire Home Guard website. F company was the Walsall Wood platoon.
We see reference to Shire Oak Hill… To strong points being set up on the slopes of Caste Fort Hill, presumably overlooking the Chester Road. But, again, so little recorded. I had been told by Arthur Wadey’s widow, that her husband, a member of F Company, that the platoon went on route marches up Castle Road, interestingly by the Old Fort, and to Shire Oak and then back down the Lichfield Road. The local HQ was the Boot Inn, near to Barons Court Hotel on the south part of the village. Arthur had won a leather wallet in a shooting competition… Now known to have taken place on a shooting butts in the brickworks near Stubbers Green, by the canal, Aldridge (source: Mr John Sale who, with other lads at the time, collected the spent rounds from the mound in the following days after the shooting practices).
I had vague memories of hearing about a roadblock at Shire Oak road junction, but I needed corroboration of this oral history. Then, very recently, during a meeting of old Walsall Wood folk, I was told by Mr Ray Share that there had been concrete blocks at Shire Oak, to form a chicane to traffic coming from the Streetly direction, along the A 452, and that these blocks were removed for ‘the convoys’.
In the same meeting was given photos of the Shire Oak junction’s garage and petrol station, Goodings Garage as it was during the war.
I contacted Mr Gooding’s daughter, who I know well, who confirmed that there had been concrete blocks in the Chester Road by the garage, by the Waterworks house, at the time. They were removed to let the convoys of tanks pass as they went on to Chester ‘…or somewhere up there’. The people in the photos were wartime employees in the garage.
Image kindly share with David Evans by Mrs Shirley Downs.
From another source: Mr Goodings had a big black Austin car that served as the local wartime taxi. Someone else there drove a small van.
Brownhills Urban District Council minutes give details of the quantities of petrol issued to the garage, and others during the conflict.
From Mr Ray Share: more roadblocks were near the Rising Sun Inn, near the junction of the A452 and the A5 Watling Street.
So, another page of our local history unfolds…
My thanks are extended to Mrs Shirley Downs for kindly passing these photos to me, to Mr Ray Share, and to Dorothy for allowing me to use the photos of her father’s garage.
was there a home gaurd hut in the walsall wood pit yard i seem to remember ITALIAN prisoners there in mid tourties
I think the Home Guard certainly ” rented” the wooden hut behind the Methodist Church..from memory at a rental of 10/- per week, too. Did they have some sort of shelter erected inside the hut? The church minutes were a little vague, I recall, The minute book was in the local history centre archives some while ago. NOt surfe whether the snooker table was sold to the Home Guard!
Nice article, thanks, David.
On the question of on the question of roadblocks and so on, my memories are more of the Streetly end of the Chester Road (A452), a mile or two from Shire Oak. (“B” Coy. territory) I was driven along it from time to time (Dad had an essential user’s petrol allowance). I was conscious of concrete blocks at various locations but cannot now remember exactly where. I don’t think Streetly had the luxury of a chicane anywhere, although it might have done. I have a fragment of film showing a couple of tanks moving towards Brownhills along the road outside the Hardwick Arms and I now like to think of them encountering the Shire Oak obstacles further up the road!
Other film shows a reasonable amount of traffic along the road (and this also coincides with my memory – I used to make quite a study of what went past our house) and this would certainly have been sufficient to make any Shire Oak obstacle a bit of a nuisance. I wonder if the chicane was not a permanent installation but only at a time of some threat.
What I DO remember about roadblocks is a very early memory, which must date from the summer/autumn of 1940, of what seemed to me a huge pile of very old motor vehicles and other scrap on the grass verge just on the Brownhills side of the Queslett Road/Chester Road junction. All ready to be pushed across the road. If at that time the cars seemed old to me they must have been VERY old! It was explained to me what it was all there for and I don’t remember being particularly surprised or alarmed – it was all part of normal life. I think this unsightly pile was eventually removed and was replaced by more effective concrete blocks, placed on the verge and ready for immediate use if necessary, which they probably never were, thank goodness.
The Hardwick Arms crossroads had a defensive position/public air raid shelter on the Wood Lane side of the road. I imagine that also had the potential to be part of a roadblock. Further film I have shows the Home Guard actually building it. (I hope to put all this online in my staffshomeguard website in due course – there’s a lot of fascinating HG stuff in it and it may be of interest to Brownhills historians).
If anyone wants to look, a recent addition to staffshomeguard is a HG map of “B” Coy’s area which stretched almost to Shire Oak. This supplements the wonderful jokey map by Frank Timings which has been discussed previously.
Keep it coming!
very many thanks for your comments . Much Appreciated. I think Gordon Mycock, in his own personal memoirs which have been published in Stonnall History blog, gave the Shire Oak Road block a mention, and also added some other worthy recollections from those times, including where bombs fell,
with my kind regards