LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS
14th May 1940, Colonel S.E. Norris, DSO, was informed that a Battalion of the L.D.V. was to be formed in Gloucestershire, and that he had been selected to command a Company within the "E" Police Division, which included Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, and Winchombe. And that is how we began.
Colonel Norris immediately got in touch with retired officers living in Cheltenham, including Brigadier-General H.C. Potter, CB, CMG, DSO, Brigadier-General B.C. Fellowes, CMG, Major A.J. Allardyce, Major C.A. Bamford and many others. The assistance of the British Legion was also invoked. A small selection committee was formed to interview candidates and pick out those most suitable for platoon commands. The call for volunteers went out, and on May 15th there was a steady procession of men of all ages from 17 to 65 to the various police stations, anxious to be among the first to enrol. In a very short time the number of volunteers reached 1500, and this was the foundation on which our battalion was built up.
The shortage of weapons was pitiful, about one rifle available for every ten men, and there were not many rounds of S.A.A. either. An appeal for shot guns was very well answered by owners, who also provided some cartridges. Some were fortunate to possess weapons of their own. The vicar of Holy Apostles Church, for example, owned a Lee Enfield rifle. When it was pointed out to him that he had no sights, he replied it didn't really matter as he could not see anyway! Some genius invented the Molotov Cocktail - bottles filled with petrol and tar - ingredients provided by the Cheltenham Gas Company. Old silk stockings provided by the ladies were used to make wicks. There were no uniforms, and L.V.D. armlets were at first provided with the assistance of the Red Cross, W.V.S., British Legion Women, and students of the Cheltenham Art School. Denim uniforms began to arrive in June, boots and great coats in September, but it was not until early 1941 that battle dress began to be issued. In July rifles came along in sufficient quantity to arm the majority of the battalion. Gradually more weapons were added, and in time, specialists were able to compete with Lewis, Browning, and Vickers guns. Other teams mastered the Northover Projector, Spigot Mortar, and Smith Gun. 36, 68, and 75 grenades appeared in large quantities, and in the Spring of 1942 the Sten gun was introduced. At the end of our career, 2 pr. anti-tank guns were added to the list.
The operational role of the Cheltenham Town Companies was of course defence of the perimeter. Tewkesbury was similarly defended by E Company. Close liaison was maintained throughout the war with the civil authorities, notably through the Invasion Committee. The rural companies (A and F) had separate operational roles, both being well fitted to carry them out. The latter company had the unusual role of supplying the mobile reserve for Stoke Orchard Airfield, coming directly under the command of the R.A.F.
In summer 1943, when the danger of invasion finally disappeared, all companies abandoned the static role and became mobile in anticipation of enemy airborne landings. An independent Heavy A.A. Troop was formed in 1943 - the Town Clerk was its first commander - which regularly relieved the personnel of the regular battery stationed at Hayden's Elm. Our factory companies were fully equipped as Light A.A. units in addition to their ground defence role.
Battalion Headquarters were at 118 Bath Road, which was shared with the British Legion, until the change of command in 1943. In June of that year Lt-Col. S.E. Norris was compelled to give up under the age limit. He was rewarded with the OBE. Lieut-Col. E.F. Eagar assumed command and remained until the Battalion 'stood down'. Major A.J. Allardyce was our first 2nd-in-command. This officer cheerfully relinquished his commission on attaining the age limit and as Pte Allardyce, became an invaluable orderly-room clerk. His successor was Major C.A. Bamford and the office in which he worked with Pte Allardyce and Pte J.K. Cullinan became a cheerful rendezvous for callers at 12 Lypiatt Terrace, the new Battalion HQ. The death of Major Bamfield in 1944 was a very serious loss to the Battalion. Major N. de W. Palethorpe succeeded and remained 2nd-in-command until the Battalion 'stood down'. Capt. Maitland was appointed the first Adjutant. He was succeeded by Capt. S.J. Haynes, MC, of the Gloucestershire Regiment. Another officer, Capt. C.M. Chovil of the same Regt. followed Capt. Haynes. Capt. V.J. Keyte, of the Gloucestershire Regiment, followed Keyte and remained until 1944 when ill health forced him to retire. Capt. N. Gooch, Royal Fusiliers, was appointed to follow Keyte and remained until the Battalion 'stood down'. Brig-General H.C. Potter, CB, CMG, DSO was appointed Major in Feb. 1941 and was our first Quartermaster. He was followed by Captain L.G. Holloway. In 1943 Lieut. C.H. Pearce was appointed A/QM.
RSM Golder was the first RSM. We were indebted to Dean Close School for Mr. Golder, who left us to become Capt. Golder of the A.C.F. RSM Grist followed and remained in office until the Battalion 'stood down'. Dean Close School also gave us Major R.M. Thomas, who was permanent Staff Officer to the Town Defence Commander. Capt. H.J. Humphris began his career as Officer i/c Gas Works Platoon. He then commanded HQ Company until appointed Battalion Security Officer in 1943.
We were lucky in our staff of T.A. clerks, Miss Bradford, Miss Brandt, Miss Seaford, Miss Duncruft and Miss Dunn. Miss Duncruft remained with us to the end and was also an Auxiliary driver in spare time, which was limited.
Col. J.H. Houghton, DSO and Major H.T. Palmer were our medical officers. Our transport officer, Lieut. K.D. Marshall, maintained a very mixed lot of vehicles in various stages of decay. The Bombing officers, Capt. H.C. Cooke, Lieut. F.R. Lister, and Lieut. N. Harris, revelled in their ghastly trade. Lieut. R.C. Jephcott, MC, Ammunition Officer, was responsible for the various little arsenals scattered about the countryside. Capt. G.H.W. Linnell-Brown, Military Liaison Officer with the Civil Authorities, was also Battalion Recruiting Officer. We had our own Press Officer, 2nd Lieut. C.H. Taylor, of the Gloucestershire Echo. Our Intelligence Officers were Lieuts. C.S. Goodale and W.G. Helsdon. In 1943 Lieut. S.C. Brander was appointed Battalion Intelligence Officer and an Intelligence Section was formed and trained by him. 2nd Lieut. C.D. Hobson was at one time, Tactical Training Officer at Battalion HQ. He was reclaimed by H Company. Our P.S.I.'s were CSM Newman, CMS Amos, Sgt le Lievre, and Sgt. Reynolds.