Malhamdale Local History Group
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Malhamdale at War
The Local Defence Volunteers were organized nationally in May 1940 to supplement field troops and in November were incorporated in the army as the Home Guard. Enrolment became compulsory in March 1942 for all men from 17 to 65 in civil defence regions. They were fully equipped and served a maximum of 48 hours every 4 weeks. They received subsistence allowances while on duty but no pay. Their primary role was defence, to delay the enemy until regular formations moved to the attack.
That is the official description but the Look, Duck and Vanish as they were sometimes known were not always well armed. Local men remember using hay forks, sticks, shot guns or anything they could find. Eventually guns and uniforms were issued. Many of its members were too old for active service but had been professional soldiers in World War 1. Other members were men who were exempted from national service because of their work such as farmers.
The Home Guard HQ was at Anley Hall in Settle and locally the force was organised by Colonel Hastings Clay who had served in the Grenadier Guards in the Great War; Ronald Fell was the Major and John Haggas the Captain. The Malhamdale branch met at Hanlith in a shed with a hard floor where they did drill practice although some men were independent and didn’t like being told which way to turn! They marched along the river and also went on exercises at Attermire Scar where they could discharge their guns (using blanks) into the cliff.
There were look-out posts at Hanlith, High Side and Cove Road and a wooden hut on Kirkby Fell. There was also a tin shed on the top of High Side at Settle and one man would sleep all night there. From this shed there was a metal pipe pointing to Sharphaw. A light could be shone down this and a message transmitted by morse code. Other pipes connected up to different points rather like the use of beacons in earlier times. This shed had a cast iron stove until someone cleaning their gun let it off and the shot broke the stove in two. Occasionally the group would drill with the one at Hellifield and a similar accident happened on the ground floor of the drill room and the shot went through the ceiling.
There were various training events held and one involved an imaginary fire in a barn when local people had to form a human chain for passing buckets of water to put it out. These events proved very funny but everyone had to try to take them seriously.
One of the more serious tasks of the Home Guard was to mount a twenty four hour watch at Ribblehead Viaduct on the main west coast railway. This was to prevent sabotage by the German Fifth Column and members from Malhamdale would take their turn on that duty. There was a bomb store at Halton West and it was necessary to obtain a permit to go into that area.
Bren gun carriers came on an exercise from Kilnsey over Mastiles Lane to Malham. The gates were too narrow and they did lots of damage. The wall at Gordale was knocked down and they broke all the stone posts. They were replaced after the war with sandstone posts but the gate at Smear Bottoms was never replaced.
In 1942 the volunteers were told that the Area Commander was coming to inspect them. They all lined up after making sure everything was polished and ready. The car arrived and Colonel Clay stepped out – he had only travelled ten minutes up the dale.
Regular soldiers - probably three or four living in a Nissen hut - were stationed for some time along Settle Road opposite the quarry. They were manning a searchlight and must have been pleased to be invited to the Taylor’s for a meal and bath. The field there is still called ‘Searchlight Field’. One soldier who returned on a visit after the war said he was going back to the field as they had been told to bury all their tinned food before they left. He wondered if it was still there!
There was also a gun emplacement around the same area. The Royal Artillery came and used the area as a firing range. They fired onto Rye Loaf Hill but had to stop as Stockdale Farm was in the way! (Read the experiences of two young boys on a walk there) Large areas of Malham Moor had to be closed off when the army undertook exercises with guns and armoured tanks.
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