Local History Society

 Memories - The Home Guard and R.O.C.

Bearwood College in WWII


In summer 1940, many men enlisted for the Local D'Reading Mercury' article on German Troop-Carrying Aeroplanesefence Volunteers (soon renamed the Home Guard). Others had already joined the Royal Observer Corps, which was an important unit thanks to Arborfield's raised elevation above the surrounding plain, while many or the A.R.P. wardens were from the Women's Section of the British Legion.

At the same time, local newspapers published aids to recognise German transport aircraft, should there be an invasion. Click here to read the full text of the article on the Junkers transport aircraft shown on the right.

Needless to say, newspapers were unable to reveal too much about the Home Guard and the Royal Observer Corps while they were active, apart from their attendance at Remembrance parades, such as the one in 1940 as reported by the 'Times and Weekly News' on November 14th:

R.M.N.S. Bear Wood

A Remembrance Day Service was held at the Chapel of the Royal Merchant Navy School, Bear Wood, on Sunday afternoon, conducted by the senior Army Chaplain of Arborfield.

A good number of the Home Guard and members of the British Legion, Winnersh Branch and Arborfield Branch attended. Appropriate hymns were sung and Capt. Tune (secretary) read the exhortation.


There was a photo in the 'Reading Mercury' on August 2nd 1941 showing the 'Bearwood Home Guard' on parade at the Royal Merchant Navy School when the school's Patron, King George VI, paid a visit:

'The King inspecting the Bear Wood Home Guard on the occasion of their Majesties' visit to the Royal Merchant Navy School'

[Photo by courtesy of the British Newsreel Association]

On November 14th 1942, the 'Mercury' published a photograph captioned: 'The Arborfield and Winnersh Home Guard marching to the Remembrance Day service', shown below. It appears that the platoon commemorated the occasion each year at Bearwood, rather than at Arborfield, perhaps because most of the men were from Winnersh which by this time had grown to a population of 2,500.

'The Arborfield and Winnersh Home Guard marching to the Remembrance Day service'

[Copyright 'Reading Mercury' photo; used by permission]

There is a good group photograph of the Winnersh and Arborfield Home Guard platoon at the garage on Reading Road, Winnersh (click on the picture to see it in higher resolution):

The 11th Berks Battalion of the Home Guard at Winnersh

We've identified around a third of the men - click here for a list.

Can you recognise anyone? If so, please let us know.

By September 1944, the immediate threat was receding, and on the 30th, the 'Mercury' reported a social occasion:

Arborfield: A Successful Carnival

A carnival organised by the Home Guard and the Royal Observer Corps took place on Saturday at Newlands Farm (by permission of Mr. Lee).

Events included a fancy dress parade, sports for adults and children, and numerous side-shows. A Home Guard display included an exhibition of dispatch riding by Cpl. E. Middleton, Pte. Bush and Mr. Evans, a demonstration of camouflage suits in appropriate surroundings, a shoot by the spigot motor team, and an attack on an enemy headquarters in which the Royal Observer Corps co-operated.

Mrs. Chadwick and Mrs. Morris judged the fancy dress parade, and Brigadier Chadwick presented the prizes. Results were:

Decorated cycles: 1, Mrs. L. Hall; 2, Jean Cordery; 3, Mrs. E. Middleton.
Fancy dress: 1, June West; 2, Mrs. Middleton, sen.; 3, Pauline Higgs.
Flat race (boys 7-9): 1, B. Cox; 2, R. Preece.
Flat race (boys 10-11): 1, J. Murphy; 2, L. Ware.
Flat race (boys 12-13): 1, D. Wallace; 2, F. Barker.
Flat race (girls 11-12): 1, R. Murphy; 2, B. Orchard.
Egg and spoon (boys 7 and under): 1, H. Lee; 2, F. Field.
Sack race (boys 6-9): 1, B. Cox; 2, H. Lee.
Sack race (boys 10-13): 1, J. Murphy; 2, R. Barker.
Tie-leg (boys): 1, D. Wallace and F. Barker; 2, L. Ware and R. Barker.
Tie-leg (girls): 1, M. Johnson and R. Fleming; 2, M. Preece and M. Rich.
Potato race (boys): 1, H. Lewcock; 2, J. Cogbill; 3, F. Barker.
Skipping (girls 7-9): 1, P. Mitchell; 2, A. Sherring.
Skipping (girls 10-13): 1, J. Cordery; 2, M. Preece.
Wheelbarrow race (Home Guard): 1, Ptes. West and Bush; 2, Ptes. Field and Tuthill.
Sack race (Home Guard): 1, Pte. Bush; 2, Pte. Middleton.
Flat race (Home Guard): 1, Sgt. Bennett; 2, Sgt. Shires.
Egg and spoon race (ladies): 1, Mrs. E. Middleton; 2, Mrs. Higgs.
Tug-of-war (Observer Corps v. Home Guard): Won by Home Guard.

All proceeds were allocated to the funds of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Mr. Verrall, Mrs. Elliot, Mr. Wheeler, Sergt. Bennett and Pte. Ridler organised the sports;
side-shows were in the charge of Pte. Watts and members of the R.O.C. and Home Guard;
and teas were organised by Mrs. Kent, Mrs. E. Middleton, Mrs. Oates and Mrs. Tuthill.

On October 21st, the 'Mercury' announced: As a result of the carnival organised by the Home Guard and the Royal Observer Corps, £20 has been raised for the Royal Berks Hospital.

Here's a photo of the Royal Observer Corps on parade in Arborfield. Click on the image for higher resolution:

Royal Observer Corps at Arborfield

Some months after D-Day, the armed forces were gradually advancing through France and the threat of invasion was clearly over, so the Home Guard in Berkshire was to be disbanded, as announced in the 'Mercury' on November 25th.

From the 'Times and Weekly News' of December 8th 1944, we read:

Home Guard ‘March Off’

Winnersh and Arborfield Company

Officers and N.C.O’s and men of ‘E’ Sub Company of the 11th Berks. Battalion Home Guard, celebrated their ‘stand down’ parade on Sunday when the occasion was marked by a special service at St. Catherine’s Church, Bearwood, given by the Rev. W. H. Bayley.

A strong force, almost 100 per cent. attendance, assembled at the Winnersh Cross Roads, led by the A.T.C. [Army Technical School] boys’ band, marched along King Street Lane to the church, the route being lined with a large number of residents who gave the men a good reception. At the church a Guard of Honour was formed by members of the Special Constabulary.

During the service the Last Post and Reveille were sounded by the buglers, giving a very impressive effect. At the conclusion of the service, the entire sub company re-assembled outside the church, and a farewell message from the Sub District Commander was read by Lt. Col. F. B. Abbot, D.S.O., followed by his own appreciative remarks upon the men’s splendid service. The Company then marched back to Winnersh, where Lt. Col. Abbot  (the Battalion Commander), took the salute.

The article was accompanied by a photograph captioned: 'Men of ‘E’ Sub Company entering Bear Wood Church.'

The next day's 'Reading Mercury' carried two separate short news items on the 'Stand-Down', one for the 'Arborfield Platoon' and one for the 'Winnersh Platoon', but it was clear that both were describing the same event. The following week, the 'Mercury' reported:

Winnersh: Home Guard ‘Stand Down’ Dinner

The Winnersh and Arborfield Detachments of the Home Guard held a stand-down dinner at the Walter Arms, Bear Wood, on Thursday. It was presided over by Captain Godwin, and Brig. Chadwick complimented officers, N.C.O.’s and men on their achievements.

The former Home Guard members decided to continue meeting under a new guise, as seen in this news item from the 'Mercury' of March 31st 1945: 

Arborfield: Rifle Club

The Mole Inn, on the Sindlesham RoadAt a meeting held at the Mole Inn, with Captain Godwin in the chair, former members of the Winnersh, Arborfield and District Home Guard decided to form a rifle club and name it the Newland (H.G.) Rifle Club.

It was decided to hold monthly range meetings, beginning on April 15th, and to attain a membership of 30 as soon as possible. Major Simonds’ offer to present a cup for competitive shooting was gratefully accepted. Officers were elected as follows: President, Brigadier Chadwick; vice-president: Captain Godwin; secretary and treasurer: Mr. Harding; Committee: Messrs. Hibberd, Shires, Brown, Morley, Middleton.

The 'Mercury' continued the story on April 28th as follows: 

Arborfield: Newlands (H.G.) Rifle Club

A successful first shoot was held at Poperinghe Barracks. H. Morley and H. Shires dead-heated for top score, with C. Hunt one point behind.

Lt. Col. F. A. Abbott, D.S.O., O/C 11th Battalion Berks H.G., afterwards presented to Sgt. H. Shires of No. 3 Platoon “E” Sub-Company, a certificate of good service. A team of ten members met a team from the R.E.M.E. School sergeants’ mess on Tuesday. The shoot resulted in a win for the mess team with a score of 462 points against 444. At a darts tournament which followed, the honours were even.

More stories appeared in the 'Mercury' throughout the summer of 1945: 

July 14th: Arborfield: Rifle Club: Newland (H.G.) Rifle Club beat Shinfield Rifle Club by 187 points to 171 in a match at Arborfield. The shoot for the John Simonds Quarterly Challenge Cup will take place in about three weeks’ time.

July 21st:  Arborfield: Rifle Club: Newland (H.G.) Rifle Club beat Shinfield by 439 points to 366 in a return match held at Arborfield. Shires and Morley were the leading members of the Arborfield team, and Bassett was top scorer for Shinfield. The shoot for the J. H. Simonds Quarterly Challenge Cup will be on July 26th.

August 4th:  Arborfield:  Rifle Club:  In the shoot for the J. H. Simonds Quarterly Challenge Cup, Morley became the first holder with a score of 35. Runners-up were Bennett, 34, and West, Harding and Middleton, who each scored 33 points.

Regular news items appeared throughout the remainder of 1945, and the next quarter's Challenge Cup event was reported on October 27th:

Rifle Club:  The shoot for the J. H. Simonds Quarterly Challenge Cup took place on Thursday last week. Brigadier Chadwick and Mr. W. A. Harding tied with scores of 37 points out of a possible 40; a shoot-off took place in which Mr. Harding became the second holder of the cup with a score of 8 points, Brigadier Chadwick being runner-up with a score of 7.

Meanwhile, the former members of the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps staged various social events, as seen in these items from 1945 in the 'Reading Mercury':

From May 4th:

Arborfield: Royal Observer Corps

A social, arranged by the Royal Observer Corps (Arborfield Post), was held in the Village Hall on Saturday. Invitations were sent to members, wives, also to members of other branches. A variety entertainment was staged by the ‘Happy Landing’ concert party, which was much appreciated. The Melody Dance Band supplied the music for dancing, and Mr. R. Middleton was M.C.

From June 30th:

Arborfield: Observer Corps

Leading Observer W. Cox spent last weekend with nearly 2,000 of his fellows as a guest of the R.A.F. at North Weald Aerodrome, at the stand-down celebration of the Royal Observer Corps. On Sunday afternoon the new R.O.C. colours were dedicated at a short service, and the parade was addressed by the Secretary of State for Air and the Commandant of the Royal Observer Corps.

From August 25th:

Arborfield: Fete and Pony Gymkhana

A successful fete and pony gymkhana was held at Newlands Farm, by permission of Mr. Lee, on Saturday. The various events and side-shows were organised by former members of the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps and their wives, and music was provided by the band of the R.E.M.E. School.

General Sir R. Sturges and Brigadier E. W. Chadwick judged the mounted events. [List of results].

From September 22nd:

Victory Celebration

On Saturday, members of the Royal Observer Corps, Home Guard and their wives entertained over one hundred Arborfield children. The programme included sports, a substantial tea, a Punch and Judy and conjuring show at the Village Hall, fireworks, and a bonfire. During the evening Canon J. A. Anderson presented a victory beaker to each child, and thanked the committee for their hard work.

With acknowledgements to:

Surrey & Berkshire Media ('Times and Weekly News and 'Reading Standard');
Berkshire Media ('Reading Mercury');
Reg Cordery (HG group photo);
Shiela Bunce (ROC group photo).

Have YOU any stories about the local Home Guard or Royal Observer Corps? If so, please contact us.

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