All rural areas, as well as the towns and cities, had their Home-Guard. Skelton, near Penrith was no different, except for the fact that on the doorstep was the biggest short-wave transmitting station in the world! Built to broadcast the BBC into occupied Europe, it went on air in 1943.
Down towards Catterlen at Kelbarrow farm stood a top-secret satellite landing ground to cater for the overspill aircraft from No1 OTU at Silloth, twenty-five miles away.
Jonty Stalker recalls:
"I was in the Skelton Home-Guard. I joined on the day it started. Joe Grindale was in charge, and he demanded a high degree of discipline! Being a veteran of the first world war, I suppose. Tommy Wilkinson was Sergt. Major. We had three platoons: Hutton, Skelton, and Lamonby/Ellonby.
When it started, we used to meet in Billy Dowthwaite's caravan at Skelton road-ends, and also down at Hardrigg's hoggest on the Wigton road. Billy Dowthwaite had a steam-roller, and the caravan was a workmens' caravan built for towing behind the steam-roller, not a caravan of the type used by holiday-makers! When winter came, we would meet at the Toppin Memorial Hall in Skelton village once a week. We would march up and down the Wigton road for about 400 yards, up to the Pringle House road. Our duties were to guard the BBC Transmitting Station, and the Satellite Landing Ground at Kelbarrow. We sometimes took part in combined excercises where the regular army used to attack us and we had to defend the BBC. We did a similar exercise at Skelton Church.
Guard-duty was once a week, at night. Then it was straight into work at the lime-works for the day shift. Me and Edwin Irving, who lived at Askrigg Hall, got a petrol allowance as we used to turn up for duty on our motor-bikes.
Church parade happened about every third Sunday, and the collection went up those weeks!
There was a rifle range on big Mell Fell, and we used to go shooting up there. I was never in the target pit; I avoided that! We used to go to Penrith and chuck hand-grenades, up by where the golf-course is now. One poor fellow - Thompson, I think they called him - got himself killed doing this. He worked for the Post Office in Penrith, and for years there was a plaque up in the entrance with his name on as one of the fallen.
I remember when we "attacked" Blencow railway station, which was held by Stainton, or Blencow platoon; I can't remember which. We were supposed to be there at one O'clock sharp, but we got there at a minute to and took them all unawares.
In 1943 there was an Anniversary Parade through Penrith - but I wasn't in it! We were put on a lorry at Skelton and taken to Townhead garage, where I was put on guard-duty watching the lorry! I remember all the WRENs coming past and shouting to me, but I wasn't allowed to move.... At Christmas that year we all got a 'Christmas Card' from the Commanding Officer.
I finished with the HG in 1945. We had to go back to Skelton and hand all our weapons in. I kept my greatcoat, though, and I've still got my leggings today. I got presented with a certificate, and they sent me a medal in the post about the same time."
PHOTO: Jonty Stalker's HG medal, which arrived in the post following stand-down in 1944.
Ken Mulcaster was a youth during WWII, and lived on the Marsh, Workington. Here he recalls how he played his part in Hitler's downfall, assisting the ARP and the Fire Brigade, and remembers the Wellington bomber which came down in the water on Workington shore.
"Around about 1940, I was playing with my mates in the area of Lawrence street school. Two of us were asked to take part in a practise air raid rescue exercise. We agreed, and climbed a ladder onto the roof of the infants school. Then, after a time along came the Fire Brigade and the ARP Volunteers, including Mr Guilchrist from the Post Office in Berry St, and Billy Parkinson and his wife Hilda from the Wheatsheaf pub.
The firemen came up on top of the roof and carried us down on their shoulders. I was laid onto a stretcher supposedly suffering from shock; how I was supposed to have got on the roof during an air raid is anybody's guess! - Maybe an early version of Harry Potter? Anyway along comes Mr Guilchrist, he slaps me on the face and tells me to pull myself together and snap out of it. He was immediately rounded upon by Hilda Parkinson, who told him that in no circumstances was anyone suffering from shock to be given that sort of first aid! - He was then given a detailed account of the proper procedure."
My Grandfather (Thompson Sowerby, Sergeant in "A" - Company, Workington Home-Guard) once told me that when he was a boiler-maker on the steelworks during the war, an aeroplane came down on the other (shore) side of the slag-bank. He and his workmates dashed over to assist. I am unsure of the date of this incident, but it was well known about at the time. Ken Mulcaster again:
"My mates and I got to know that a Wellington bomber had crash landed on the Workington shore, down near the slag bank in front of the German Tunnel. The story at the time was that the young Polish pilot had told the rest of the crew that he could not keep the plane airborne for much longer, and he would try his best to put it down as near to the beach as possible.
As it happened he succeeded and all his crew escaped, though the young pilot was not so lucky and drowned in the plane. His body was removed and taken on a stretcher to a temporary mortuary in Harrington. A crowd of people had gathered there out of morbid curiosity; some were crying. My mates and I went down to the beach at low tide, to look for souvenirs.... I got a protractor from the navigators table, and - along with some other bits and pieces - a smoke bomb!
We then heard the loud voice of a policeman shouting from the top of the slag bank, so off we went like bats out of hell heading for home. I put my treasured bits and pieces in the coal house in the back yard, proceeded into the house and sat down to listen to the radio. An hour later the peace was shattered by a loud bang on the front door. The police had arrived....
One of them who came into our home asked to be shown what I had taken from the plane, and when I showed him the bomb he asked: 'how did I know that it was of no danger to me?' I told him that I had given it a good shake. He then said that was one way to find out....! I was told I would have known nothing if there had been an explosion, and that other people would have been put at risk. He made me promise that I would never do anything like that again, and that as far as he was concerned no further action would be taken. After the police left I got a real good telling off from my parents."
My Mother, Olga Barnes (nee Sowerby) was one of those who was crying. Aged 13 at the time, she was one of several children who ran down to the shore to see what had happened, arriving there just before the Police did, but too late to claim any souvenirs! Mother remembers the young pilot being brought out of the aircraft and put on the stretcher - still in the position he was in when he brought the stricken bomber down in the water.
Frank Lewthwaite of Whitehaven recalls one of several air crashes in war-time Cumberland:
I remember seeing an Avro Anson aeroplane crash on the Sea Brows, Whitehaven. I can recall the time and day yet; so vivid was it that it has stuck in my mind. On the 14th October 1943 I was walking home up Bransty Hill at about half-past four in the afternoon. I heard this aeroplane with the engines spluttering and cutting out, followed by a sound similar to that of a dive-bomber. I looked up in time to see the aircraft crash into the sea brows and explode. There were bits and pieces of that aeroplane thrown all over Whitehaven... No one survived. I would guess that the crew knew something was about to happen, as when I looked up I saw a slightly open parachute tumbling to earth; someone had had a go at bailing out. Some of the crew were Canadian.
Dr Les Oswald was a member of the 1st Newcastle Air Scouts, and used to camp out at various RAF stations; Silloth being one of them.
"Silloth was, at that time, a Maintenance Unit with very fiew RAF staff, and we had the most wonderful time - virtually having the run of the place after hours. We flew in all sorts of aircraft, including Anson, Pioneer, Twin-Pioneer, and the Auster AOP. They tried to get permission to fly us in Vampire trainers, but the Air-Ministry wouldn't allow it!
We camped at the southern end of the airfield where there was a secondary guardhouse, plus mess and kitchen facilities. When we arrived the grass was very wet so we camped the first two nights in the mess.
There was a large gun test shed/butt along the southern perimeter track, where we had great fun digging for spent bullets in the sand - we found .303, .50 & 20mm projectiles - until someone told us that some of the latter might still be live! I remember that there were Air-Ministry Police traffic control points along the B5302 between Causwayhead bend and the aerodrome entrance. The reason for these being that the westerly runway was very short (less than 2km), and that because the initial climb rate of jet aircraft like Vampires was so abysmal, the road had to be closed when these aircraft were operating, to avoid collisions with vehicles.
The airfield at that time had a huge amount of mothballed aircraft stored in the many hangars, of which we were allowed to sit in the cockpits of many - including Monty's Dakota. We had a wonderful time, which culminated in the traditional last night ritual of the "Escape and Evade" excercise. The scouters would go off to the pub and then come back to look for us poor scouts. Any who were found were dunked in a tank of water!
One of our people climbed onto the mess roof trying to evade capture, and in trying to climb down via the bike-shed, he unfortunately fell through the asbestos roof injuring himself so badly that an ambulance had to be called. Some of the scouts hid down in the bomb-shelters; too obvious a hiding-place really, but I evaded capture on one occasion by spending the night on the floor of the siren control room, so didn't get dunked....."
Bill Edwards was in the High-Duty Alloys platoon of the Workington Home-Guard: 'E'-Company. E-Company won two competitions, a Battalion shield being presented to them for being the smartest and best turned-out company in two 'Salute the Soldier' weeks.
Bill, who was known then as Private W. Edwards, LAA Gunner, E-Company, explains how this was achieved:
"E-Company was the last company in the Battalion parade. D-Company was in front of us - Clifton Battalion, who had the brass band. A- Company led the parade with the drum and fife band, and right behind us was the RAF, with their band. Pat Hammond and Jack Caterer - who were a couple of crafty devils - used to 'mark time', letting the rest of the parade get well ahead, and we took our lead from the RAF band right behind so we didn't get caught between two beats! He (Jack Caterer) did this every time, so that when we got to the saluting base, we were smack on! The other companies were all over the place. Sarsfield-Hall and the steel-works contingent were a little bit peeved, as we won the Battalion shield twice for the best turned-out company on the 'Salute the Soldier' parade".
Pat Hammond and Jack Caterer were otherwise known as Major P. J. Hammond and Captain A. J. Caterer, Company Commanders, E-Company.
Bill Edwards again, describing an incident with mines:
'It would be 1940. I hadn't long left school, and was acting as an ARP messenger at Moss Bay. I saw my one and only Heinkel! Dad was on night-shift down on the blast-furnaces, and I saw this Heinkel heading for them - I was worried stiff. The Lewis-Guns all around the works opened up, and the plane went around about three times, before it was last seen sinking down towards the Solway. The lads on the Lewis-Guns claimed to have shot it down. Two nights later, there was one God-almighty bang; our house shook! This Heinkel had been mine-laying, and a munitions ship bound for Broughton Moor 'dump' had hit a mine. Fortunately the ship didn't sink, but was towed back into Workington by the dredger, the 'Lord Joicey'.
I understand that the ship in question was a (relatively) new vessel, the 'M.V co-operator'. It belonged to the Scottish Co-operative society, but was requisitioned for war use. Following the mine incident - in which 15 gallons of paint were lost - a 'scratch' crew was conjured up for the 'Joicey' in a hasty visit around the public houses on the quay!
The 'M.V. Co-operator' was sold to a Greek company after the war (though still registered in Leith), was re-named the 'Anika', and was eventually broken up in the 1970's.
Margaret Leemans was the NAAFI Manageress on the 406th Coast-Battery, 562nd Coast-Regiment R.A. at Workington.
'I was Miss Steele then, the NAAFI manageress with the 406th at Workington. I was billeted on site, in a little room with three beds, attached to the NAAFI. They were temporary buildings, Nissen huts, if you like, and I remember that they all had 'dry' toilets ('Elsans'). There were about a hundred soldiers on the battery, with many of the 'regulars' (Royal Artillery) being highlanders, from places like Shetland. We were like one big happy family; it was a lovely atmosphere.
Major Copley was in charge of the coast battery, a lovely man, and a character. He once said that if I ever had to leave, he'd shut the NAAFI. Wasn't that nice? I'll tell you what sort of character he was: He once came down to the NAAFI and noticed a cracked pane of glass in the window. It often happened, with the banging from the guns. "That window could do with repairing", he pointed out. "I'll see to it". Well, the next day he came down and it still hadn't been repaired. Do you know, he pulled his revolver and blew the glass out just like that! "It'll b----y well have to be fixed now", he said!
I remember when we got the rockets (Anti-Aircraft 'Z'-Batteries) on the battery. Major Copley was rubbing his hands with glee and going around with a huge smile on his face - you could see that he was excited about it. They put them on this bank which encircled our huts, between the guns and the NAAFI. They must've been in a hurry to get them put up, because - just in time it was noticed that they were pointing towards Workington, when they should've pointed out to sea! I was asked to have a go and fire them, but I declined.
We had various entertainment laid on. We had a Marine Band once. I think they must have been disappointed when they got here, only to find a small outfit like ours! We also had someone from ENSA, but I can't remember who. I got quite an education, though, as the young lady who was performing was directed to our hut to get changed in, and she was walking about nearly naked with a man! I had had a sheltered upbringing, and it was - well - it was an education, as I say.
One night I was invited out to take part in a search and rescue exercise. Well, I was young and daft, so I gave it a go! At about ten at night, we walked over to the docks and got on this boat, then sailed out just off the shore. The battery searchlights came on, and picked our boat out. We then had to evade the beams and disappear into the blackness. We didn't sleep, nights like these. When there were night excercises on, it was very noisy and we kept the NAAFI open 'til two or three in the morning. Major Copley was extremely grateful for this.
He had a temper, though! One night there was a dance in the NAAFI, and the pianist started playing 'the Red Flag'. Major Copley got in such a rage that he slammed the piano lid down on the poor pianist's fingers, and he stopped the dance. That was it; no more that night!
As well as the 406th, I was NAAFI manageress at various other places during the war. I was at the training-school (AA Command) at Nethertown, near to where I come from, Egremont. The NAAFI was right on the spot where that big new bungalow is being built. I was also in the Workington town central NAAFI, above Jane Street Co-op. Me and some other girls were billeted round the corner in John Street. The land-lady was paid ten shillings a week for each of us. I was at Kirkbride and Silloth aerodromes as well. I met my Husband, a regular soldier, at Egremont, when I was at home. He was trying to organise a gunnery regiment in the town. We married, and lived up in quarters on the Sea-Brows at Maryport, near the battery where he was based.'
Will Muscott - Gunner W. E. Muscott - was one of the 41 Home-guardsmen attached to the 406th Battery, serving alongside the 'Regular' Royal Artillerymen of the 562nd Coast Regiment. Alfred Hall started out as a Bombardier on the battery, having responded to a newspaper recruitment advertisement aimed at the Special Constabulary.
'I was a member of the Home-Guard detachment recruited to assist the Regular Army unit on 406 Coast-Battery, having been transferred from the Central Station position - "C" Company - at the request of my then-employer Dick Lawson (of Rugby-Union fame), along with three other workmates from Ogden and Lawson.
We were subjected to Regular Army "rules and regs", and bullied around by the O.C., Captain - later Major Copley, who was oblivious to the fact that we were amateurs, who had already worked a shift that day before being transported there from the Central Station, or having cycled to the battery for duty. However, we were enthusiastic, young and daft and learned very quickly our various duties, to the extent that - on a "target-shoot", we out-performed the regulars at one time!
I was most sorry for those lads for the tongue-lashing they got from the "Mad Major" who told them - amongst other things - that they were "a smart bunch of four-letter soldiers, thrashed by a parcel of ******* amateurs"!
The main armament on the battery was a pair of Naval guns - taken from a WWI battleship. They were mounted on the slag-bank at Northside, and after a "shoot" of eight rounds from each gun, slag granules could be heard rolling down to the sea in a mini-avalanche, like a loud voice saying "Sssshhhhhhhhhhhh....". I often wondered if a prolonged engagement would result in guns and crews landing in the Solway. At the first round of firing, every spanner and tool was shaken from the shadow-board on the rear wall of the emplacement and had to be kicked out of the way by we gunners.
I never did night-duty on the guns, nor engine-room or searchlight duties. I do remember, though, breaking the tie between the floats of our target with a well-aimed practice shot. This was witnessed by my brother, who was fishing south of the battery in his smack, the "Annandale" (WO47). We went to shoot at Barrow sometimes, Fort Hilpsford on Walney Island, where six-inch Naval guns were installed - the biggest ever to be hand-loaded. Common-point shells weighed 100 lbs which made hard work for the No: 3 - not half! We shot well there also.
As well as the four-inch Naval guns, there was a 75mm field-gun on the battery used for 'tank-busting', and anti-aircraft rocket projectors ('Z' - Batteries).
The 75mm French field-gun we had was mobile - and didn't we know it! We were called upon to move it from 'A' to 'B' over the roughest, steepest terrain Copley could find, by sheer man-power.... Oh, those blisters! Alfred Hall (Lance-Sergeant Alfred Hall) was a farmer from Seaton, who was a great hand when it came to moving the field-gun uphill.
The 'Z'- Batteries for anti-aircraft use shot eight rockets from each side, and were aimed and fired by a luckless bloke inside its central body - you got sparks down your neck! It was fired by depressing two foot-pedals. Operation of one foot-pedal only would result in one side launching, causing the apparatus to whizz round on a vertical axis, rather like a Katharine-wheel. We were issued, of course, with the ubiquitous .303 bolt-action rifle and were taught to use it properly and safely, one being given to every man as his personal weapon, which we took home with us and were instructed to keep 'Army-fashion' CLEAN.... Mine had corrosion in its bore, which drew wild cries from the B.S.M whenever it was inspected. I became fed up of pointing out the corrosion until - innocent pedestrian-wise - I invited him to demonstrate how it should be cleaned to improve matters, which a regular soldier would not have dared to do! Despite the state of the barrel, it was an accurate performer and I was never criticised for my scores on the target.
Major Copley was not universally popular on the battery, nor liked much by the immediate populace, being fond of night-time pyrotechnics with accompanying loud noises. Most annoying for those trying to get some sleep after a hard day at machine or workbench or steel production on the "Combine" (part of the steelworks at Moss Bay).
Regular Army personnel were shifted around from time-to-time, as indeed were some officers. Major G. D. Copley R.A. was succeeded by Major W. W. Oates, R.A. The officers used to ride horses around the battery. Of the HG, I can tell you the following: Ernie Wilson (photographs on Coast-Battery page) used to be the landlord of the "Red House" (officially the "Queen's Arms", but now an Irish theme pub) in King Street, Workington. Hubert bayliff was an ex-Public-School chap, a Solicitor and the son of the proprietor of Bayliff's Leather Merchants, John Street, Workington. He had played Rugby Union with Workington Town's R.U. team. Tom Hetherington was ex-WWI Artillery and very proud of it.
Tom had ten children. One time, he stopped and fell out of line during a particularly strenuous excercise, and when Copley bellowed: "what is the matter? Are you afraid you might ******* well fall apart?", Tom replied: "No, Sir. - Just afraid I might lose my ******* pension, Sir!" On being asked his age he replied, to Copley's amazement: "Fifty-seven, Sir."From then on it became usual to hear: "Gunner Hetherington stand fast!" when we were really up against it.
Bombardier Grimshaw was very "upper-crust", ex public-school, and was greatly amused and amazed at the antics of we rough-necks and all our hardiness. He was also the best grenade-thrower on the battery, regulars included! Perhaps he'd been well trained in cricket at his school... At any rate, without actually trying, he could hurl a grenade further and with greater accuracy than anyone else.
I remember being down at Fort Hilpsford, and Sid (Gunner Sid Sharpe) was loading shell. They were 100 lbs weight, and it was permissable to put them down if there was any delay. Rather than put it down, and - perhaps - get out of line for the breech, Sid kept hold of it, and when he came to load, he "fumbled" it, and the shell landed on his fingers, pressing them onto the breech screw. What a mess! He loaded five more shell after that. Goss came along (Sgt. Maj. G. S. Goss) and requested: "Number 5 next shoot." "Right-oh", says Sid. "Where's all the blood from?", says Goss. "My fingers..." says Sid. "Ooohhh - first-aid for you!" says Sgt. Major Goss. Sid just wanted to carry on.
As mentioned on the Coast-Battery page, an incident occurred when a vessel failed to obey the rules, and continued to steam north past the battery. Will Muscott takes up the story....
'....Come the day on which a ship proceeding north refused to obey the Aldis lamp and heave-to to be recognised. A warning shot was fired, well ahead of her. Still no heave-to, so a second shot - much closer - was fired, landing just ahead of her bows. This could not have been misunderstood because it caused the vessel to pitch somewhat, but still no heave-to was forthcoming.
Without further preamble, binoculars to his eyes, the Major bellowed: "H.E. Load!" The instruction was duly carried out. The range was good, as determined by the warning shots, and a salvo from both guns promptly removed railings and a lifeboat from her decks. Needless to say, a rapid heave-to ensured, the ship was recognised and allowed to proceed.
At the ensuing enquiry (where the ship's Captain tried to lay the blame on 406), the Mad Major aquitted himself most admirably. "Any ship which tries to sneak past my battery is potentially an enemy ship. 406 exists to prevent such things and, as long as I'm in charge of it, that's precisely what it will do. I'll tell you now, gentlemen, that had she not heaved to as she should have done if properly manned, then the next salvo would have sunk her!" Grunts from the Admiralty types present and "hear-hears" from the Regimentals. At any rate, Major Copley emerged without a stain on his character.
This was the story as I heard it told.'
'I believe that one day a mistake was made by the "Regulars", when a Dutch ship came up the Solway and didn't stop. The Marines signalled to the vessel by Aldis lamp, and he still didn't stop. A message was flashed to the ship that a round would be fired; a dummy round, of course.... He still didn't stop; he didn't understand. Number one gun was loaded up, and the Battery Observation Post gave the direction in which to fire - well ahead of the vessel. Well, when such a situation arises and extreme deflection is asked for, a hand-wheel (Azimuth alignment) is turned three turns to the right on top of the deflection given, as a safety precaution.
When the instruction was given for three turns of the handwheel to the right, the chap on the handwheel turned it left instead, and the round hit the ship! The Captain was quite upset, and not at all pleased. It didn't do any damage, mind you, but if it had been a high-explosive round, it would have blown the top to bits.'
I was a Special Constable when I joined the 406. It all seemed rather exciting, so I resigned from the Police. I suppose we gunners thought ourselves rather "toffee-nosed" if you like; we didn't go on parades outside the wire (the Battery perimeter fence) like the other Home-Guard platoons.
The first time we fired, just to get used to the guns, we were told that for some of us our ears might bleed. It wasn't so much the Naval guns which made our ears bleed, more the French 75mm field-gun; it had a loud "crack" rather than a boom. When we fired the 4-inch, everything seemed so distant. I could hear the sound of my hob-nailed boots scraping on the concrete gun-floor, and wondered what the noise was? It seemed such a long way off, as though I was in "cloud cuckoo-land" somewhere. I remember the searchlights, as I was on night-shooting. They were down to the left of the guns (between the guns and the dock). When we did a night-shoot, we used searchlights, of which there were two, or star-shells, or - sometimes - both. When a star-shell was fired, it burst at the range where the gun was set, over the target to illuminate it.
The Officer who replaced Major Copley - Oates, he was called, I think he worked for a paint company on Tyneside. I remember he got his job back after the war. When I was harvesting up at Seaton, I said to Major Oates, "your men could come and help me get my corn in!" - and they did. Several of them came up in the battery wagon. They used to get their jackets off and help me get the harvest in; a change from being on the battery.
We used to go down to the guns on Walney Island from time to time, and I remember one time we went down to Llandudno, to the Great Orme, on the six-inch guns there. They hadn't much accommodation for us, and I slept on a hard board that night. We went down to Llandudno for this shoot, and we stopped at Oxenholme station. An old lady got into the train, she had "rat-taily" sort of hair, and old grey coat fastened with a safety-pin. She spoke with a Cockney voice. She was with a lovely little girl, who called her "Granny". I was weighing the situation up, and thought: "Here's a girl - an evacuee perhaps, who has been staying on a farm and whose granny has come to take her back to the East-end of London." Well, the train pulled in at Lancaster, and the Women's Voluntary Service (WRVS) came on to the station with tea for the troops. They had no cups, just jam-jars, which they handed through the carriage window. Anyway, this little girl looks at her granny and asks for her milk. Granny opens her bag and gets out this little bottle of milk, and the little girl says to her granny: "Would you like some, granny?" "Nah", she replied. "I don't like that stuff. I likes real milk, out of a tin"!
When the Home-Guard finished on the battery in December 1944 we were "stood down" and I was transferred to an Infantry unit - as Captain. One or two of the lads from the battery were also transferred. Later I received a "thank-you" letter from HQ and a promotion to Major, though I never did any Majoring! I was originally Bombardier Hall, then Lance-Sergeant on No: 2 gun, and George Goss was Sergeant-Major on No: 1 gun. When the Home-Guard stood down, the guns were fired in salute (to the HG stand-down parade),and they loosed off all the ammunition. I thought to myself: "what if everything flares up and the enemy strikes back? We may need it all again...."
At the time the battery closed, the Secretary to the Adjutant said we could each have a pair of boots to take away, if we wanted them.
Home | Contents | Workington | Links | E-Mail | Defence Architecture | Anecdotes page 2