We have collected information about the Civil Defence Volunteers in Thornbury during the Second World War.  The role of these volunteers should not be underestimated.  Most of them had full time employment in essential war work or were doing jobs normally undertaken by men now serving in the forces.  As well as this they were often members of more than one voluntary organisation.  We do not have a complete list of all their names but we do know that some of them were given official recognition of their services after the war by being awarded a Defence Medal.

The photograph above shows a group of members of the Thornbury First Aid Post.  It was taken at Thornbury Castle and we have been given names for some of those who gave their time and energy to providing First Aid.  Please click on it to see a larger image.  We would be grateful for any additions or corrections regarding the names.

First Aid Posts were established in both Thornbury and Patchway with mobile First Aid parties at Thornbury and the surrounding areas of Charfield, Berkeley and Patchway with every village having its own “Aid Point.”

We know from the list of people awarded Defence Medals that the Hon. Lady Violet Ethel Howard was an ambulance officer and Miss Dorothy Jane Hancox was also a member of the F.A.P. (as it was then known).

Red Cross.  We know that the Red Cross were active in Thornbury from the time of the First World War.  We understand that as well as their obvious first aid duties the Red Cross were used to instruct the public about air raid precautions.

Red Cross nurses in Thornbury

Wardens.  Air Raid Precaution wardens with their A.R.P. armbands became familiar figures during the war.  Their main purpose was to patrol the streets during blackout and check that no lights were visible.  “Put that light out” was a much heard phrase all over the country and like many figures of authority they were often treated with amusement or irritation.  Wardens did however have other duties that were less commented on but no less important.  They were the coordinators of the emergency services.  Their job was to assess the need for ambulance fire and rescue services after a raid.  They were also responsible for handing out gas masks and pre-fabricated air raid shelters.  Wardens and police officers were responsible for enforcing a good many extra regulations to ensure the defence of the country.  One of the least popular of these measures must have been the insistence that when cars were left unattended for any length of time they had to be immobilised, usually by removing the rotor arm.  In 1943 the local newspaper records that Ronald Francis Wall and Major Kinder Cheese were both fined for failing to properly immobilise their vehicles.  Ronald Wall was the son of William Wall the owner of the sweet shop on Pullins Green.  Sadly we have no knowledge of the other gentleman, despite his distinctive name.

In Thornbury the ARP Report Centre was Oriel House and Pat Sainsbury in her account of her war time memories says that she was one of those who manned the telephones there to take messages about raids.  In 1945 Mrs Jackson was commended for her work in the Control Room during the war.  This seems to have been Mrs K Jackson who was also described by Wallace Phillips as a secretary at this time.  The Electoral Register for 1945 has a Mrs Kathleen Jackson at Easton Hill Road but there is no confirmation that this is the correct person.  We have noticed that in the newspaper reports of offences such as showing lights the person giving evidence was Mr Biddle. We assume that this was Frank Biddle and that he must have been an ARP warden.  The ARP rescue centre was under the command of builder Leslie Hawkins.  This had its HQ at the Council Depot opposite the Cross Hands at nearby Alveston.  Men from here would also have been sent to Bristol.

After the war we know that some of the organisers and wardens of the A.R.P. were given Defence Medals in recognition of their efforts.  These included Arthur Allen, Phillip Henry Dagger, Richard Henry Dagger, Sir Algar Howard (sub-controller), Jack Lewis Judd (co-ordinating officer and report and control services), Arthur Conway Lewis (senior warden), William Arthur Liddiatt (leader), Thomas William Longman, Percy Edward Lydford (warden), George Reginald Millard (deputy sub-controller), Leonard C. Newport (warden), Hedley Walter Harold Northover, Gilbert Pope (warden),  Albert Sampson Poulton (leader) and Augustus Bevys Thurston (messenger)

Home Guard.  Originally described as the Local Defence Volunteers the Home Guard became operational at the outbreak of war.  It was intended that those men of an age to be conscripted but who had not passed the military’s medicals could join the Home Guard.  The government had expected 150,000 volunteers in total but within 24 hours of Anthony Eden’s radio broadcast on May 14th 1940 in which he invited volunteers, 250,000 had joined.  By August over 1.5 million men had volunteered.  It seems possible that the Home Guard also served as one of the covers for the Auxilliary Units.  These were extremely secret highly trained troops of volunteer resistance forces that would be the basis of guerrilla units should the country be invaded.

In Thornbury Howard Lee of the Queens Head pub in the High Street became the commanding officer of the Thornbury detachment of the Home Guard.  Their first HQ was at Thornbury Castle and it seems that they often had exercises on Sundays.  The Headmaster of Thornbury Grammar School Mr Rouch was a lieutenant in the Home Guard.  We have been told that Reg Allchurch of the Royal George was another of the officers and Lyndon Hawkins a sergeant.  On the right we have a photograph of Len Smith standing in his garden at 16 Gloucester Road and looking very smart in his Home Guard Uniform.  We are aware of at least one more Home Guard, Robert Wilcox who was sadly killed in a car accident in the black out while on his way to guard duty.

Len Smith in home guard uniform

The Gazette of May 1940 reported that miniature rifle practice was held on Tuesdays at the Grammar School.  This suggests that they had weapons of some sort.  This might seem a necessity for men guarding our homeland but it was a very controversial issue.  In 1940 the government was concentrating on evacuating the expeditionary force from Dunkirk and generally surviving the immediate challenges of the war.  The LDV members became very discontent because at first they were issued only armbands until proper uniforms could be sourced and weapons were not mentioned at all.  As many of the men who volunteered had had some military experience they often understandably felt that they were trained to fight and to use weapons and they should be equipped to do so.   The War Office merely issued instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails (simple but effective petrol bombs).  It seems that the Home Guard especially in rural areas tended to amass what weapons they could – including shotguns and sometimes pitchforks.  The War Office at first issued 25,000 pikes – bayonets welded onto long metal poles.  We have not been able to find reliable information about when the Home Guard became a properly equipped force, although we have read that Home Guards were eventually supplied with weapons bought from America or with outdated weapons not used by front line soldiers.

We do know however a little about the Home Guard activities in Thornbury.  Jack Pridham describes pillboxes being set up on the roads into Thornbury with mobile barriers across the road.  The barriers were made from tree trunks and hinged to a convenient wall on one end and supported by a wheel from old agricultural machinery of some sort at the other end.  We understand from other local people that one barrier was erected at the top of the town near the Daggs allotments, one at the bottom of Castle Street and one in Gloucester Road near the old hospital.  We have also been told that the wall of Combe Cottage next to the old hospital (now a housing complex) was used by the Home Guard who used to crouch there with their guns sticking out through the unusual rectangular holes in the wall and would like to know if anyone can confirm this story.  We would very much like to know more about these Home Guard Posts.  We also understand that the roof of St Mary’s church tower was covered with 2ft of bricks to protect it from incendiary devices.  The Home Guard used this vantage point for fire watching.  Cow Hill at Oldbury was another of these look out points at this time.

Jack Pridham described in detail a particular exercise between the local Home Guard and the professional soldiers from a battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment.  The aim of the exercise was for the Home Guard to defend Thornbury against invasion from the Glosters.  Jack’s description gives a vivid picture of events as seen from his vantage point of the Georgian House on The Plain:

Several days of preparation preceded the event which was to be held on a Saturday, and the home team was brimming with confidence.  When the great day arrived all the Thornbury citizens got up early and tried to position themselves where they would see the most activity.  Civilians were not allowed to roam the streets during the exercise.  The family had a clear view across The Plain where they were sure that the ultimate battle would be fought.  The Home Guard hid themselves where they could in the town which included three men behind the privet hedge in front of the Royal George.  Needless to say, some observers thought that this position was not without advantages!  The serious defence should have been concentrated at the various barriers and small arms emplacements on all roads leading to the town.

However, it seemed that they could not all be adequately manned and some military genius in the HG (Home Guard) decided that the attack would almost certainly come from the south, down the Bristol Road.  Why this decision was taken is not known.  Possibly the ‘Glosters’ were camped on the south side?  So, the emplacement at the top of the High Street, opposite the entrance to the railway station, was heavily guarded, probably with the HG’s only machine gun, and the Gloucester Road approach from the north, was not!  Needless to say the ‘Glosters’ streamed up the Gloucester Road, winkled the HG out of the privet hedge (before opening time), bayoneted another through the leg on the Plain and attacked the High Street defenders from the rear.  The HG immediately surrendered and the whole thing was over in an hour, or so!!”

The official members of the Home Guard were supplemented by all sorts of volunteers.  The scouts contributed to the War Effort by serving as “runners” and taking messages in various battlefield exercises.  The scouts also collected newspapers for the Prince of Wales War Relief Fund, helping the Red Cross and distributing information leaflets.  The older pupils at Thornbury Grammar School were allowed to help man the fire watching points like St Mary’s church tower.  Jack Pridham’s book refers to other “voluntary observers” who seem to have been watching not for fire but for signs of invasion.  Again, although this was a stressful time when the country had very valid concerns about invasion, Jack manages to make the incident sound both interesting and in a wry way humorous as it might have been to the small boy he was at that time.

With my mother and Aunt Rose, I went on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings as a voluntary observer to Milbury Heath, a mile or so up on high ground to the east of the town.  Here we spent exciting 3 hour watches in a wooden hut with a marvellous view over the Severn waiting for German gliders and paratroops to arrive in the Severn Valley below.  We had to be especially alert if the parish church bells signalled that an invasion had begun: bell ringing to call the faithful was suspended during the war.  I cannot remember exactly how we were supposed to inform the authorities of a sighting: I think there was a telephone box a few yards down the road.  However, we were remarkably unsuccessful and sometime in 1940 our services were no longer required which was no bad thing as one or two years later a large mine on a parachute exploded very near to our watch-point!


WRVS.  According to the organisation’s own website this was founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Service for Air Raid Precautions.  Its job was to assist civilians by providing emergency rest centres, feeding civilians whenever necessary and also defence workers after a raid, offering first aid and assisting with the billeting and evacuation of children.  It was granted the privilege of calling itself Royal in 1966 in recognition of its leading role in offering voluntary care.  The Home Front/Womens War website lists a great many more roles they also took on.

It is difficult to get a clear picture of what the WVS (as they then were) did in Thornbury.  We do know that they cooked meals for defence workers as Pat Sainsbury’s account of her busy life during the war refers to the fact that after she had spent the night manning the telephone at the fire station she went to help serve out breakfasts that had been cooked by the WVS.  We also know they helped families in need of social care.  The Council School log book mentions that just after the war in July 1945 the WVS received a second consignment of American clothing and distributed it to specified children.  The Gloucester Archives also has a report that that the Women’s Voluntary Services had undertaken to provide any temporary accommodation or canteen that were needed. They were to be issued with the necessary equipment for this, including of course the tea urns.

Fire.  In 1941 there were four stirrup pumps acquired for the special Wartime Fire Patrol as part of preparations for civil defence.  These may have been used by the ARP wardens who are known to have used these pumps.  In addition to this quite small scale fire fighting there was a special war time Auxiliary Fire Service that was set up in 1937.  The Auxiliary Fire Service did some very brave work fighting large fires in Bristol and other areas, sometimes travelling as far afield as Plymouth or Birmingham.  We have already written about the Fire Service in Thornbury and the Fire Service in WWII especially.  Click here to read more


The end of the war in Europe came when the German forces surrendered in Italy on 29 April.  Total and unconditional surrender was signed on 7th May, to be effective by the end of 8th May.

The ARP and associated forces held their final parade on 8th July 1945 when 450 members of the civil defence attended an impressive final parade in the grounds of Thornbury Castle.  The parade included Police and Special Constabulary, Thornbury District Council, National, the Fire Service, ARP branches, WRVS and Housewives Service.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]