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Alf Ashworth - Home Guard 1943Bradshaw and Harwood Home Guard
and Booth's Steel Works

by Alf Ashworth

I Left school in 1938 aged 14 years and started work at John Booth and Sons (Bolton) Ltd as an engineering craft apprentice, on pay of 12 shillings and sixpence per week. Hours worked per week was 47.5 hours. The working week was Monday to Friday plus Saturday Morning, and we had 16 working days holiday with pay, which included one week at June holidays, when all the mills, and workshops etc in Bolton closed for the week. It was then possible to go on Scout Road and look down on Bolton, free of smoke from factory chimneys, all of which burned coal and caused health problems. In wintertime there were thick fogs with only a few yards of visibility, most houses burned coal which added to the problem. People went on holiday to Blackpool and other Lancashire resorts, and this provided a welcome break for people living and working in polluted industrial towns and cities. No flying to Spain or anywhere like that, there was no money available.

Just before starting at Booth's Steelworks, I had been on a School camping holiday under canvas in North Wales for two weeks, face was tanned and hair was bleached blond, (Very little left of it today), so when starting work I got the nickname Snowy. This name stuck with me, some men would not know Alf my real name, but they knew Snowy.

One of the conditions of employment for apprentices at Booth's was that we had to attend evening classes 3 nights per week, (attended classes at Folds Road School), to learn the theory of engineering etc. Apprentices, who did not have a Grammar school education, took the Preparatory Senior Technical Course, first and second year, then on to Craft courses, I still have the certificates. When apprentices turned 18 Years of age, they became eligible to work overtime, 4 nights a week till 7-15pm, sometimes Saturday afternoon and Sunday during the War. Also some had to work evening shifts.

Sometimes the foremen came round the works at Friday dinner time (12noon) and told some men to go home, get some sleep and come back for the evening shift at 7-30pm and work all night because a job had to be delivered as soon as possible, other men worked on same job during the day.

When War was declared on Sunday 3 Sept 1939, I was 15 years of age, and too young to go in the forces. Also some skilled people did not go in the forces, they were in a reserved occupation (A Job which was deemed vital to the War Effort). The Government brought out "1941 Essential Works Order", people could not leave their jobs, but could be directed to wherever labour was needed.

Best practices were adopted in order to maximise War output. These included guaranteed minimum wages, a major innovation in such sectors as Building, and the Docks, where casual labour was heavily relied on.

Some men from Booth's had to go working at Cammell Lairds Shipyards in Birkenhead. (Skilled men). Some went in the forces, others directed to the coalmines, (These were called Bevin Boys), after Ernest Bevin who was the Minister of Labour in the Government. Women came working at Booths and some trained as Electric Arc Welders, some worked as Labourers, previously it was all men. We all had a card which had a number on it, about ten digits. At 18 years of age, tried to join the Navy and went to the recruiting office in Dover Street Manchester. The recruiting officer behind a desk said "Can I see your card son", gave him my card and he looked in a book which was about 3 inches thick, and said "Sorry son cant take you because yours is a reserved occupation". I was a Constructional Plater.

Among the things made at Booths during the war were steel towers for Radar on the East coast, Bailey Bridges, and many other things.

There were four squads of Riveters using pneumatic tools, sometimes the noise was deafening, no ear protection was worn and this affected our hearing. Also the works was full of Welding Fumes. I am sure The Health and Safety people of today would have made changes. Food and clothing were rationed during the war, but Booth's had a canteen where Dinners could be bought without using ration books. I worked at John Booth's throughout the War.

One amusing story going around at the time was about a driller who had to countersink some holes. Instructions were painted on plates either Csk T.S. meaning THIS SIDE, or Csk Over, which meant the plate had to be turned over then countersunk. The driller got the job which said Csk T.S. but he turned the plate over and countersunk the hole. When the foreman asked him why he had turned the plate over, he said "Well its reet it sez countersunk TOTHER SIDE".

Bradshaw and Harwood Home Guard

alf ashworth bradshaw and harwood homeguard 1943

On 14 May 1940, Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War made a speech, part of which he asked for Volunteers for the Local Defence Volunteers. British subjects between 17 and 65 were asked to offer their services in order to make assurances that an invasion would be repelled. In the speech he said, "You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed".

The name of the LDV was changed to "HOME GUARD" in July 1940, on the instructions of Winston Churchill.

By the end of June 1940,almost 1,500,000 men had volunteered.

The number peaked at around 1,800,000 men in March 1943.

The recruiting offices were the local Police Stations. I volunteered in June 1941 aged 17years at Bradshaw Police Station, and reported for duty at Bradshaw and Harwood Home Guard headquarters at a house on corner of Lea Gate and Church Street, Bradshaw. Today the house is a private residence.

The Quartermaster had a room for ammunition etc, and there was a notice on the wall which attracted my attention, it said, "The Lord helps those that help themselves, but Lord help those found helping themselves here."

We had .303 Lee Enfield rifles which we took home, and had to take great care of them. As a result of going on the rifle Range at Entwistle, I was sent on a Sniper Course, which was held over 4 weekends. We would finish work at Saturday noon, dash home and report for duty at 2pm. Transport took us to Wallsuches, Horwich where the course was held, and we arrived back home about 7pm. We were there all day Sunday, dinner provided for us. We also practised throwing live Hand Grenades on Belmont Moors.

Our duties included two nights a week for instruction, drill, etc, also one all night duty and Sunday morning Parade.
Whilst on night duty, 3 or 4 men would walk up Bradshaw Road to the Bulls Head Pub, and make contact with Turton and Edgworth Home Guard, then walk back to Headquarters, they were all armed, and this happened every night of every week.

When loading rifles we were taught to press the cartridges into the magazine, then slide the Bolt home, making sure we did not push a cartridge (up the spout) into the barrel, then point the rifle in the air and pull the trigger, this ensured that no one could get hurt. One Sunday Morning Parade, we were given live ammunition, the idea being to give us the feel of live ammunition. We were stood around in groups in Church Street, Bradshaw and one man (I know who it was) pushed (one up the spout), instead of pointing the rifle to the sky, he had it horizontal pointing across Lea Gate, he pulled the trigger and there was an almighty BANG, and the bullet hit the stone wall across the road, and ricochet off the wall. People came running out of their houses thinking the Germans had arrived, and it was lucky there was no one standing in front of the rifle. An enquiry was held about the incident. There was a wealth of experience in the Home Guard, approx 40% of Volunteers in 1940 were World War 1 Veterans.

Bradshaw and Harwood Home Guard formed part of the 14th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment Home Guard. When the Home Guard was formed it had its own rank structure, but in Nov 1940 it was decided to bring the Home Guard structure in line with the Regular Army. Over 1,600 members of the Home Guard were killed whilst on duty. Four of these were posthumously awarded medals. 137 medals and commendations were awarded to the Home Guard.

The Home Guard was part of the British Army and as such had the same medal entitlement as a member of the Regular Army, and as they did not serve overseas, the only medal they were entitled to (apart from gallantry awards) was the Defence medal. (1939-1945), The Qualifying period for members of the Home Guard, was three years service. The Defence Medal was not issued automatically and award depended upon a claim by an individual. I only found this out in 2004, so claimed and received my medal in March 2004. I became the proud owner of The Defence Medal.

The Home Guard stand-down was on 3 December 1944, and from this date, became an inactive reserve unit. We handed in our rifles but kept our uniforms. My greatcoat made a warm cover for my bed.