WR5 Battalion Harrogate Home Guard

Living History

Local Defence Volunteers - the first 70 days

After the announcement by Anthony Eden on 14th May 1940 the organisation of the new force in Harrogate was quickly taken in hand, partly no doubt due to a number of retired army officers living in the surrounding area. It was not a smooth process - mainly because the meetings which had taken place at a high level in the government in the previous week were still putting in place the methods by which the new force would be administered and controlled.

Lord Lieutenants, Senior Police Officers, retired senior Army officers, local government officials and the Territorial Army administration officials all came together to thrash out the hierarchial and administrative organisation. Initially the command structiure was formed of Zones all over the country, as the largest umbrella formation to control the LDV groups. It was not an easy birth. Key discussions took place in the House of Commons, led by Sir Edward Grigg Parlimentary Under Secretary (at the War Office), regarding the details and structure of the force, many questions having been asked by MP's during the passing of the revision to the National Service Bill.

He explained that the structure of the force would be in line with the military areas of the country. (Harrogate was in Northern Command) Areas were sub divided into zones, zones into groups and groups further split into companies further sub-divided into platoons and sections. Since the whole thing was going on all at once all over the country this was a large voluntary undertaking. Initial expenses for offices was £10, with free petrol or 3rd class railway fares for official journeys. Grigg pointed out that he wanted to reafirm the point that the L.D.V. was a reinforcement of existing defence capability. It was to cooperate with Home Defence Battalions for guard duty and to deal with small enemy parties who might arrive by air. Hence their additional nickname of "Parashots". In response to questions about exact duties Grigg pointed out that this was for the area commands to sort out. He also mentioned on the question of arms that it would be a matter for local arrangement as to whether arms were issued individually or kept in a central place, declaring that "we do not want a too great dispersion of these arms". There is a great deal of interesting information available in the online Hansard publications about the force and its beginnings - http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/ It also details interesting information from the House of Lords, such as the amusing mention by Lord Templemore that he was aware, in his county town, of a retired Brigadier-General aged 73 applying under the more youthful 61 and "a distinguished Major-General bearing a very distinguished name indeed" declaring himself aged 64 wheras 78 might be more appropriate - it appears lying about ones age was popular in the early L.D.V. It was also mentioned that 98,000 uniforms had been issued by 23rd May 1940.

The huge number of volunteers had caught the government by suprise, in Harrogate there were over 1,000. Of course they were not all needed initially but quite quickly they were organised into small squads which became the four, later six, companies in the district. With the end of the Phoney War and the invasion through France, Belgium and Holland, the fear of an invasion of Britain was heightened and possible targets and key local installations were placed under guard.

The LDV in Harrogate

The early arrangements of the Local Defence Volunteers in Harrogate have not been very easy to piece together because surviving records are very few. After the war there was no real need to keep them as the force had evolved so much, and there was a nationwide need to look to the future. Some information has come to light over the years from archival sources and surviving members.

The Harrogate Herald was quick to publish local evidence of the interest shown in the new force, pictured at left


The basic organisation of the Home Guard was on County lines split into geographical areas each with companies of men broken up into squads from the various villages and towns.

The Yorkshire Area senior officer was announced in the newspapers within a fortnight of Eden's radio appeal. He was Brigadier E. G. Dorman with Headquarters at York.


The commandant for the West Riding was Colonel James Walker of Hopton, near Mirfield and he was already the vice-President of the British Legion in North and West Yorkshire, undoubtedly known to many ex-servicemen from World War One and to the local T.A. Associations.

The Group Commander for the locale of the Claro Area was Colonel V. J. Greenwood, from Birstwith, his assistant Colonel G. M. Glynton.

The initial four company commanders were:-

Colonel Richard Burnie Armistead M.C.,T.D. for Harrogate District

Major Lionel Brook Holliday O.B.E., T.D. for Knaresborough & Boroughbridge

Colonel H. H. Akeroyd for Ripon

Major E. R. Collins Pateley Bridge

As can be seen from this list the senior staff were all retired army officers.All were prominent men in the local area.

Colonel Greenwood's family had moved into Birstwith Hall in the early 1820's, buying the mill and doing much building and improvement work in the villgae, inspired by the work of the Ingilby family creating the model village in Ripley. At some time in the 1920's the Ackroyd family purchased Birstwith Hall because the Baronetage was created for Ackroyd of Birstwith Hall on 23rd March 1929, though it was the Baronet's cousin who was in the Home Guard.

Major Holliday lived in Copgrove Hall, near Boroughbridge, gentleman farmer and stable owner, Master of the York & Ainsty North Hunt from 1937 to 1965. At one time he owned and developed three studs and was a very successful owner and breeder but not always known as a particularly affable man - alledgedly one of his favourite after dinner toasts was "Here's damnation to the working man!". His family had owned and managed a munitions plant which was nationalised by the government in WW1. (netting Lionel Holliday over £10,000 for his share)

Colonel Armistead was a qualified architect with practise in Bradford. He became quite an exponent of the Art Deco style and was responsible for several lovely homes in the area, his best known being White Lodge, in Hookstone Road, Harrogate. Both his brothers had served along with him during the First World War. He lived at 22 Park Parade, Harrogate. His area of command was organised into areas for defence around the town using volunteers from each point of the compass.

Major E. R. Collins D.SO. was a former regular officer and was wounded several times in WW1, being a POW for two years. He was interested in anthropology and authored books on the subject. He may have been related to the Collins family in Knaresborough, who owned and lived in Conyngham Hall. He reconstructed the skeletons found in Stump Cross caverns, up on the moors above Pateley Bridge.


On Guard

The LDV in Harrogate gathered together on the public Stray for a parade which was photographed by one of the staff reporters for the Harrogate Herald. They did some training demonstrations and three slightly grainy pictures appeared in the newspapers weekly Pictures page. One picture shows a group of about 40 men, all but one in uniform with LDV armbands and field service caps. The other two show rifle training with a squad of men at the Port Arms position and then again firing prone at targets. They are equipped P14 rifles.

A letter published in the newspaper in August highlights the very satisfactory response to the call to arms. Colonel Greenwood explains that the number of applicants currently exceeds those that can be accepted in the beginning. He goes on to say that this is because of the "requirement to have men available near possible danger points. Therefore in most cases only those living in these areas can at present be enrolled. The names of all applicants have been noted and classified and their services will be called on whenever they can be utilised."

One of the first locations to be placed under guard was the railway viaduct over the Nidd on the main railway line, north of the town, which ran through to Ripon and beyond. It is likely that these volunteers came from amongst the L.& N.E.R. railway employees which were numerous in Harrogate and Starbeck. The very long viaduct at Crimple also had a guard mounted. This was no doubt fairly convenient because of the location of the signalbox at Crimple Junction where the line diverted to either Wetherby or down through Pannal towards Leeds.

A plethora of articles appeared in the national press during the time of the L.D.V. discussing the rights of the new force to stop and search or to detain motor traffic on the highway. The government issued a series of instructional pamphlets to the L.D.V. for training purposes on these and a host of other subjects. There were sadly a number of incidents where motorists did not take challenges seriously and were shot at and in a few cases seriously injured or killed when failing to stop at a road block.

Fundraising activities

By the 6th of July the organisation was on a proper footing with several local buisnessmen and the council working together with the authorities to create an organising committee. The mayor had also opened an appeal for funds for this volunteer force and by July 1940 the Harrogate Advertiser was publishing lists of names of local people who had contributed.

The President of the fund was the Mayor, aided by vice-Presidents General Sir Robert Wigham, Sir Montague Burton, Mr Herbert Hey (President of the Bradford Chamber of Commere and Chairman of the National Wool Executive), Mr R.W. Guild, Col. R.B. Armistead, Col. H.L. Anderson, Capt. H.W. Patten, Lt-Cmdr. Hamilton and Capt. Freeman.

The work of the committee was carried out mostly by its members Col. Anderton, Alderman H. Bolland, Councillor Jack Simpson, and Mr. J.R. Ogden. By the first week in July they had raised £664/19/0d.

It was stated in another July article in the Harrogate Herald that the Mayor's Fund had now paid for 350 uniforms and caps, surely making WR5 one of the first units to have equipped most of its volunteers with the full basic battle dress uniform.

Source Notes

In a 1942 publication by Robert Graves entitled "Men of Britain" containing stories of the doings of the Home Guard reference is made to the fact that Harrogate was one of the first Battalions in 1940 to be equipped with woollen Battle Dress and not the cotton drill Denims issued in earliest days. This was thanks to the kind generosity of Sir Montague Burton [Burton's Tailors] and another benefactor who provided the money for the cloth and factory time for the making of the uniforms.