Walton’s Home Guard – A Story from World War Two

Originally posted at: Watertonswalton


This is a photo of men from Walton’s Home Guard during those perilous years during World War II when Hitler’s armies stood poised to overrun and enslave the United Kingdom.

Notice how these men do not look like they belong in Dad’s Army, made famous by the BBC television series. These were not doddering old men or even young ‘private Pike’ types. They were young hardened men of fighting age in the prime of their lives.

In peacetime they risked their lives to deliver the fuel of the Industry that helped maintain the pride of the nation. In wartime they did the same to support the war effort. Many of them would much rather have been serving in the armed forces, but they were not allowed to. They were forced to continue their dangerous peacetime jobs whether they liked it or not! However, their wives and children would, at least, have been pleased to have their menfolk close by during such difficult and uncertain years.

Perhaps, if German paratroopers had made the unfortunate decision of invading Walton they would, undoubtedly, have received short shrift. A gang of armed and dangerous Yorkshire miners with an axe to grind would have been a formidable force. The soldiers of a hostile Wehrmacht would have been greeted by a band of hardened fanatics, desperate to defend their hearth and home.

Walton Pit produced raw materials that were of great importance in the fight to defeat Hitler. The Germans did make an attempt to bomb Walton Pit, but ‘they missed’. There was a bomb crater in the field across the road from the Woodyard, near ‘the quarry’ – an old clay pit that in the 1950s was filled with water. They missed  by quite a bit – terrible shots.

After doing hard shifts to bring a critical and important strategic wartime resource, coal, to the surface – these men of the Home Guard did their duty to their country. They must have been absolutely knackered, but they turned out in uniform for the duration of the war.

The men in the picture from left to right are: Albert Knowles, Jack Williams and Tommy Williams.


Please note, the story above is a bit tongue in cheek in parts as the Home Guard, according to many of those who were part of it, was indeed very much like the way it was portrayed in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. I add this point in order to clarify the situation from the point of view of historical accuracy. If Germany had actually invaded in 1940 we would more than likely been in very serious trouble.


The Dangers of the Mine

Originally posted at: WatertonswaltonAlbert in drag with sister Elsie

The following account was written by my Great Auntie, Elsie Hebden in 1986. In it she reflects of her life in Walton and Crofton. I was lucky to go to her house with my grandma when I was a kid. The photo above might seem unrelated to this story but that is her above on the right dressed as a man, next to her brother, my grandad – Albert Knowles, dressed as a woman. I don’t know the story behind the picture, it must have been a fancy dress party or something; they never dressed like that when I knew them! It does demonstrate the wonderful sense of fun that those growing up and living in our local mining communities often demonstrated. They lived tough and often difficult lives, but that did not mean they had to take themselves seriously.

While the family lived in Ings Cottages (“The Spike”) near Walton Pit, tragedy struck when their father died in a mining accident. Indeed, my grandad recalls seeing a body being brought from the mine but had at the time did not know that it was his own dad.

The following account is quite moving in parts, though that might be due to my personal family connection. It brings me back in a kind of spiritual contact with people that I once knew and loved. It also gives us all an insight into how people viewed their local area, how they lived their lives and the how they responded to the challenges that fate threw their way.

I will now leave Elsie to give you an insight into the world of her own past.

I was one of a family of seven, and lived in a mining village. The houses we lived in were quite close to the colliery. I should sway there would be about sixty-four houses.

We hadn’t much of this world’s goods, but we were healthy and happy, there were good times and bad, and even as children we knew well the dangers of that mine. We knew all about the accidents that happened almost daily, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and friends were brought up from underground minus limbs, blinded or even killed outright by heavy falls of rock or coal, or gas explosions. You will of course have heard how they took down a canary in a cage to test for gas after an explosion. If the canary wilted or died, then the place was unfit for men to work there for a while. They have only recently stopped making that test, it had been going on for a lot of years.

In all cases of death through the Mine, there would be a collection from house to house, but the money collected would not go on flowers, it would be given to the widows or orphans as the case may be. Everyone helped each other in that little community in sad times or glad times. One thing we had plenty of, and that was coal. It was free in those days, and still is I think to anyone who works at the Mine.

If anyone was ill in bed, a fire would be lit in the bedroom. There were three bedrooms in our house, and all contained a small fire grate. I can well remember as a child getting undress in front of a lovely coal fire in the cold weather, as that was in those days the only form of heating. No-one thought of the extra work or dirt that the fires caused, electric kettles, fires or blankets were unknown to us.

The living room fire was only let out once a week and that was for cleaning, as it was the only means of boiling water. It had to be banked up at night and kept lit all through the working week. The man of the house had to be up at 4.30a.m., stir the fire into a blaze, then put the iron kettle which had been on the hob all night onto the fire to enable him to make a pot of tea. I would have his breakfast, then fill a glass bottle with tea from the pot to take down the mine with him, which helped to sleck the dust in their throats. The sandwiches had to consist of jam or dripping, as it was too warm for meat to be taken down the mine.

They were down the mine for as many as ten or twelve hours a day; you see, some had a long way to walk underground to reach the coal face where they worked, some as much as three miles. They only had a small pit lamp for light, so you can understand what the strong sunlight did to their eyes as they left those dark conditions.

A miner’s life was not easy in my childhood days. It is all mechanised now of course, but then the coal had to be got by pick and shovel, put into the pit tubs, then pulled away to the cage by pit ponies. These ponies only saw the light of day on Bank holidays, and my word it was lovely to see them galloping around and kicking up the grass, they were truly happy, so were we with all our titbits we had saved for them.

Dangers of the Mine 1

Now, when I was twelve, my father was killed at work, the roof caved in. The men my father was working with had time to get clear. The rescue party quickly came, but my father was dead by the time they got to him. Now my mother who was 39 years old was allowed a widow’s pension of 10/- per week, a little from the colliery to help with the pension until we reached the age of fourteen and able to work, so to keep us tidy and well fed, she did sewing or papering for other people. She was a good living woman, and she saw that we all went to Sunday school in the next village. Our Sunday clothes were brushed and put away every Monday until the following Sunday. I am proud of my mother, it must have been a hard time for her. When I was fifteen, we left those houses and came to live in the village I have just left.

I helped mum until the age of seventeen, when I was sent into domestic service. I went to live in a doctor’s house in Wakefield about four miles away. The doctor and his family were not church people, so didn’t care where I went in my spare time. I tried several churches and chapels, but didn’t seem happy at any but my own. I was only allowed home every alternate Sunday, so one Sunday evening (Summer time of course), I made up my mind to find out what the town had to offer one, so I powdered and rouged my face with materials previously bought from the newly opened Woolworths store (remember nothing in these stores was over sixpence), something my mother would not have allowed, but I was thrown on my own resources and could so easily have gone on the downward path, but God thought otherwise or so it seems, because as I walked along hoping to find something better than church, I heard a band playing. Thinking it was in the park close by, I went that way but lost the sound, so turned around and went the opposite way and came upon a crowd of people. I pushed my way to the front, I have never seen or heard Salvationists before, or heard public speaking, but I did enjoy the songs, choruses and prayers, I even marched down to the Citadel with them.

The hall became my place of worship for the next four years, along with my own church in between, but I do say here and now that God led me that Sunday as I could easily have gone the opposite way. I thank Him and pray that the desire to serve him will remain with me all my earthly life.

In 1935 I married a young man I had known most of my life, then in four years’ time came the war. My husband joined the R. A. F. in 1940 and stayed in for the next five years. In my village at that time of 1940 if you had room you were expected to take in evacuee’s. I had a house with three bedrooms and just me at home. As they had just brought about 100 or so people from London to our village to be housed, a lady with two babies was brought to me, she came from Plaistow and was very sad a having to leave her home in London, but it was God who sent her to me, having these children and their mother, as I had just taken a job as post-lady, so we got on well together, her with her babies and me having someone to come home to at the end of my day’s work (we still write to each other).

Now, to my job as post-lady I had to use a bicycle which I already possessed. I had to be at the post office at 6a.m., there were three of us sorting letters until 7.15a.m., then each of us off on our different routes. My job was less letters to distribute, but father to go. I loved the open air part of it. I had to face all weathers of course, my letters were for the outlying farms, colliery houses and lonely railway house, also amongst my letters was the daily paper which had to be posted as they didn’t have paper deliveries out there, so it meant going to most of the farms every day. I had quite a number of farms, sometimes as many as six fields between each, so it meant getting off my big, opening gates, even lifting my cycle over styles, and more over than not, cows would come to meet me, I was scared of them at first, but you got to know they wouldn’t harm you.

Dangers of the Mine 2

But one day there was such a lot all bunched together, I hid behind some dry walling, my bike, my letters and me. A gamekeeper came to my rescue as he had seen me then lost me, he thought I had fallen off my cycle. I mastered that fear and had many a pound of mushrooms from those fields. I was also given lots of farm produce which was very acceptable in those days of rationing. One farmer’s wife made me promise to call every day, letters or no letters, she could see me coming from the top farm down to hers, and she would have a pot of tea and poached eff on the toast all ready for me, and wasn’t I grateful as I was really hungry after all that fresh air.

All the dogs were very good, but did a lot of barking, but that was their job, once they got to know you their tails were wagging to greet you. I have almost been thrown into the duck pond trying to ride past duck and hens, and I have been chased by the geese, they were nasty sometimes.

On very heavy snowy days I was excused delivery at the farms as it was impossible to tell the roads from the fields. That only happened twice in my times as post-lady. I didn’t have to got the same way back as my round took me through a private estate known as Nostel Priory, something like your Addington Palace. The people who owned Nostel Priory had gone abroad for the duration of the war, and it housed about 100 soldiers, but their letters were all in a sealed bag, unsealed later by an Officer. This estate had a lake, a home farm, a riding school and a park for landing a private plane.

I usually reached the post office around 12 noon, then home for a meal, then back at 3p.m until 4.30p.m., I did enjoy the work. It was a happy job just to see people’s faces when they saw you making for their door (not many letter boxes in those days). I took glad and sad news of course, but they would confide in you, the next day you would have to listen to either good or bad. Of course I occasionally received an air mail letter from my husband who was abroad, I’d keep it unopened until I found a quiet lane or field to read it quietly to myself.

Then the years between then and now I’ve learned with the help of God to live a reasonable good life. I’ve left many friends in the two villages I’ve lived in most of my life. I’ve very two dear friends who have had to give up an active life through illness, quite sorry really, but they are fighting the good fight, their tremendous faith is upholding them and to visit them is a joy. You leave with the feeling that you must never grumble again.

I forgot to mention at the beginning of my story that amongst us seven that was left fatherless through the mine was a little baby sister just five weeks old. I am now living here in the South, something I never dreamed of, but we don’t know the plan God has for us; They way I look at it is this:-

Just where he needs me

My Lord has placed me

And where he has placed me

There would I be

And Since He has found me

By love He’s bound me

To serve him joyfully

Dangers of the Mine 3

By Mrs. Elsie Hebden 1986


Letters From America


The following are letters sent to my ancestor from her aunt who migrated from Wakefield in England to St Louis in America. There is also a letter and some postcards from her American cousin. In the section below showing the postcards I have tried to link to modern pictures of them to create a sense of historical perspective (click the corresponding links to see). The descriptions that accompany the postcards were written by Elizabeth Kershaw in 1909 and were on the postcards that accompanied the letter dated 23rd July 1909 and were referred to in that letter.

Edward Kershaw

Edward KershawHerbert Richard KershawHerbert Richard Kershaw


1307 S Compton Avenue, St Louis, MO, USA.

23 November 1908

My dear niece

I received your welcome letter and was glad you are better; I have been very sick but I am glad to say I am well for an old woman, as I cannot expect to be very well at my age and in my seventy seventh year. I did write [to] you and got no reply to it and in 4 mo9nths time I got word that Mr Cole was dead but who got the letter I do not know and I am glad to hear from you. We will try to send you some pictures of the 3 girls next time we write to you. They go to high school and they have so many lessons to get a night and then they have to practice the piano lessons so that they do not have much time for anything else but they will have a week holiday at Christmas and then they will have their photos taken and I will send them to you.

How many sisters and brothers have you, give my love to them as I often think of all in Wakefield and wish I could see all of you but I do not expect to see you this [side] of the grave but hope to meet you all in the beyond and the meeting will be a grand reunion for all will be there to meet us.

I will close with love to all of you and God bless you all and hope to hear from you seen.

I remain your ever loving aunt.

Mrs R Kershaw



29 January 1909

My dear niece

I hope you will excuse me for not writing sooner but I hope you are well as I am for my age. I do not expect to write many more letters but will as long as I can. I send you the 3 girls’ photos and the boy but Elizabeth’s is not good of her for it doesn’t do her half justice for she is much better looking but will send a better [one] when she gets some more taken and would very much like you to write to Elizabeth and she will write to you in return so then you can keep in the way of knowing about us all the time all joins me in love to you and all your brothers and sisters not forgetting yourself.

I remain your ever loving aunt and God bless you.

Mrs R Kershaw

April 20th 1909

My dear niece

I received yours sometime since but have neglected to write but please excuse me as I am old and it is a trouble to write so do not think hard of me if I do not answer you just at the time. I should but will as soon as I can. Elizabeth is the oldest and Ruth the second and Edna is the third and Elmer is the boy and youngest. Elizabeth got your letter but she is looking for some posties for you and she will write you soon and send you the posties at the same time. She cannot write as soon as she would for she has so many lessons to get and her practising on the piano for an hour so you will see she does not get much time but in June they get a vacation for 10 weeks and they you may get a long letter for she does write very long ones but the one she [writes to] you in a few days may be short but make it up later. All is well at present and hope you are well. I will close for time hoping to hear from you soon. Give my love to your brother that is 20 I wish I had his photo and yours. I should be very glad all here joins me in love to you and God bless you is my prayer.

I remain your ever loving aunt.

Mrs R Kershaw

I will be 77 on the 17th June so you see I am old.

1338 Maine Street, Racine, Wisconsin.

July 21st 1909

My dear niece

I received your welcome letter and I send you some photo[s] these are old but they’re what I have so I send you them. Fred is called after your mother McNeledge so I though you would like to have them. Edward is the one I make my home with in St Louis and I hope you will write to them in St Louis. My son here would very much like some postals on Wakefield. He was 8 years old when we left there. I am here on a visit for 3 or 4 months, but I will be in St Louis by Christmas all being well. I am between 300-400 miles from home. I am well and hope you are well. All joins me in love to you and if I can get any cards I will send them to you but being old I cannot get round as I would like. I am in my 78[th] year and not so sprite.

I remain your loving aunt.

Mrs R Kershaw



1307 A S Compton Avenue, St Louis, MO.

23rd July 1909

Dear Cousin

I will now take time to answer your very welcome letter and thank you ever so much for the beautiful views from England. I guess it is never as warm in England as over in America. Sometimes the heat is so intense that we do not know where to put ourselves but at other times it is very cool and pleasant. Grandma is gone a week today. She has gone to Racine, Wisconsin to visit her son Fred [Fred McNeiledge Kershaw???]. I am going to a picnic Sunday, on the 31st and then again on 14th of August. I am getting so tiered of picnics, I have gone to 6 since the last week of school and then to so many other entertainments that I am tired of vacation besides picnics. This is my last year at high school. I hope to be a graduate in June if I pass in all my studies. I am sending some views of St Louis which I hope will please you as much as your English postals please us Americans. It seems so nice to be able to correspond with someone living across the ocean. I guess I will have to close now as I have to help cook supper because papa works nights.  Mamma and papa sisters and brothers send love and best wishes from your ever loving cousin.

Elizabeth Kershaw

Fred McNeledge Kershaw
Above: Fred McNeiledge Kershaw

31st October 1909

My dear niece

I received your ever welcome letter and was glad you are going to be married and I hope you will get a good husband for if he is good it will be a blessing but if on the other hand I will be very sorry.  I wish you all the happiness in the world can give you I only wish I could see you but I cannot so my love to you and your intended husband with best wishes and I hope God will bless you in the undertaking. All is well here for they are getting ready for a mascarade ball on the 24th of November. The 3 girls and the mother will go to watch over them. I hope they may have a good time.

I do not know what is the matter with Mrs Southwell as I have not had a word from her since last winter is she sick or what is it.  I am back home again and will stop home now. I will write more next time so I will close with love to you.

I remain your ever loving aunt.

Mrs R Kershaw




John P Kershaw John P Kershaw (Son of Mrs R Kershaw)scan0005


Bridge & Drive, Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo.

The drive-ways in this part are very nice but this is extremely pretty [??] this park was where we had the World’s Fair and that time we certainly had enough people in St. Louis during the whole of the Fair. (These postcards are from Elizabeth Kershaw.  Although my name is Elizabeth I am called Libbie for short).


City Hall, St. Louis, Mo.

This is our City Hall, it is very handsome old building but could be in a better locality. Its grounds are beautiful always so pretty and green.


Compton Heights Water Tower, St. Louis, Mo.

We get our water from this tower, it is in a park which is about 8 blocks from our home. In this park we spend much time in summer and have often climbed to the top of the tower whre we could get a birds eye view of the city.


Custom House and Post Office, St. Louis, Mo.

This building is one of our most useful buildings in the city. It is very large but it is not so extremely beautiful. But we are having a new post office built right across from Union Station.


Eads Bridge & Wharf Boat, St. Louis, Mo.

This is a very interesting place as well as beautiful. Hundreds of people stand on this bridge to view our big floods. This bridge has very large traffic.


Grant’s Cabin, St. Louis, Mo.

This is an interesting cabin to the St. Louisiana. This used to be the home of one of our presidents in earlier days.


Lake at Hyde Park, St. Louis, Mo.

This is not a large park but for all is very beautiful. The lake is grand and a pleasure to sit by during summer and fine for skating in winter.


McKinley High School, St. Louis, Mo.

This high school is the one that Ruth and I attend. I have been going 3 years this June, only one year more and Ruth has been going 2½ years this June. We have lots of fun at school and cause the [?teachers?] lots of trouble.


Elizabeth Kershaw graduated in the class of 1910:
scan0016 Elizabeth Kershaw’s visiting card: scan0018

Museum of Fine Arts, St. Louis, Mo.

This has the [?name?] of having a grand front. It contains many beautiful pieces of statuary besides the wonderful paintings and other art works.


New Coliseum Bldg, St. Louis, Mo.

This is our new Coliseum, a very pretty building. I was there to [?hear?] [?Gyspey?] Smith. He was fine. They had to hurry this building last fall to hold the [?different?] conventions here. In this building we are going to have a large May Festival in May for three days. I expect to take part in the High School [?chorus?].


Pagoda, Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo.

This is one of the prettiest scenes in St. Louis, and is located in the park where the World’s Fair was held in 1904.


4058 – Smith Academy and Manual Training School, St. Louis, Mo.

This is a school for boys and is situated in a beautiful part of our city. They have fine times at this place.


Soldan High School, St. Louis, Mo.

This one is the new school and was named after the late superintendent of the public schools Mr Soldan. This is not yet finished and will be a handsome school, being ready for work the beginning of September


St. Lukes Hospital, St. Louis, Mo.

This is a very pretty place. Grandma Kershaw has visited there when my aunt [?Jennies?] mother was taken there when she was very ill.


Union Station, St. Louis, Mo.

This good old depot to proud of. It is the largest in the country. It interest many tourists besides its own people.


Vandeventer Place, St. Louis, Mo.

This is where many of St. Louis’ wealthy citizens reside. It certainly is pretty, especially so during the summer months.


Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

After I am through High School and care to go to college this is the one that I will attend. It is a very large place and interesting. From Elizabeth Kershaw.


Yeatman High School, St. Louis, Mo.

This is one of the four High Schools in St. Louis. It is the second to being the newest. It is built on the same plan as McKinley but this school has more grounds than McKinley and the trees are older.


Family Meetup At Hardwick Hall

Today I met up with the Derbyshire wing of my extended family at Hardwick Hall.  It’s a grand Elizabethan house built by Bess of Hardwick in the 1590s who was famous, in a kind of feminist critique of Henry VIII way, for having four husbands and becoming incredibly wealthy as a result.


Above: Bess of Hardwick – portrait from 1550s.

Built in a renaissance style that originated in Florence, the hall is known as a Prodigy House, ostentatious in design and large enough to accommodate the Monarch and their army of attendants when they upped sticks from London and went on a Royal progress around their realm.

Wikipedia (1) describes the Hardwick Hall as follows:

“The house’s design also demonstrated new concepts not only in domestic architecture, but also a more modern way in which life was led within a great house. Hardwick was one of the first English houses where the great hall was built on an axis through the centre of the house rather than at right angles to the entrance.

Each of the three main storeys has a higher ceiling than the one below, the ceiling height being indicative of the importance of the rooms’ occupants: least noble at the bottom and grandest at the top.

A wide, winding, stone staircase leads up to the state rooms on the second floor; these rooms include one of the largest long galleries in any English house and also a little-altered, tapestry-hung great chamber with a spectacular plaster frieze illustrating hunting scenes.”

This description put me in mind of another house, far less grand though more local to me, in the town of Normanton, called Hanson House. I may appear to be digressing here, but bear with me, trust me – this does have relevance to my story.

The reason it put me in mind of Hanson House was that I recall reading something in Wakefield library that this house, the older part of it, was also of architectural significance.  Apparently it was a kind of transitionary piece of architecture that represented the move from houses based on the Medieval great hall to the multi-storey houses of the Tudor era. (2)

Now, back to the main story  – Bess of Hardwick was the daughter of Elizabeth Leake and that’s where a possible link appears in relation to Hanson House, and perhaps even my own family.  In my own family tree there is a link with a family called the “Leekes”, slightly different spelling, I know, but there it is! Following the death of my grandfather in 1988 I found an old book in a pile in my dads’ garage which I promptly rescued.  In it were some hand written copies of letters between a man called ‘Sir’ Levett Hanson (c.1748-1814) and his Yorkshire based cousin Thomas Leake (3).  Levett Hanson of course lived in Hanson House as did the person he was writing to – Thomas Leake. In some of the letters, Hanson alludes to Thomas’ family being a branch of one with a very ancient lineage, so that link with Bess of Hardwick could be a distinct possibility. Perhaps something that I may look into in the future?

That’s the end of my family links but another fact that I found interesting was that the descendants of Bess of Hardwick and her second husband Sir William Cavendish were the Dukes of Devonshire. People may remember the film, The Duchess, in which the glamorous Georgiana married into the influential Cavendish Family.  Georgiana herself was a member of the Spencer family – think the Duke of Marlbrough – John Churchill, Winston Spencer Churchill, and Lady Diana Spencer – Princess of Wales (4).


Above: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire – painting by Joshua Reynolds.

Bess’ descendants, the Earls and Dukes of Devonshire, were to have important and influential roles in future British politics, society, and history.

References and footnotes
(1) Hardwick Hall, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardwick_Hall
(2) There was a time when this house was derelict and the newer Georgian part can be seen HERE in a state of disrepair though thankfully it has since been renovated as can be seen HERE (the old building is behind the Georgian part of the house).
(3) I previously wrote about this subject here HERE.
(4) Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgiana_Cavendish,_Duchess_of_Devonshire


The weather today was pretty dreadful in typical English fashion, with constant rain which will probably mean more flooding.  A nearby stream at the bottom of the hill near the Hardwick Inn where we had lunch was getting pretty high. Still managed to take some photographs though not as many as I would have liked.


Above: Hadwick Hall with carefully maintained garden.


Above: Close up of Hardwick Hall.


Above: Hardwick Hall from a distance.


Above: Me in front of the Hall, clearly uncomfortable in the rain!


Above: Hardwick Inn


Above: Out of the rain in the pub!

Well worth a visit. I hope to make another visit to this wonderful house, when the house itself is open and with hopefully better weather.