An account of the formation of;
Burscough Home Guard
After the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940 Mr Churchill announced the creation of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV later to be renamed The Home Guard) to help to defend Great Britain in the event of a German invasion. Volunteers were registered at the local police station and later the 71 Bn (Kings Liverpool) Regt was formed with a company in Burscough having its headquarters in Lavery’s cake factory canteen in Redcat Lane. Major Wells was appointed O.C. Volunteers firstly wore denim uniforms later replaced by battledress. They were issued with Ross .30 rifles which were kept at home. A substantial number of locals volunteered and were employed on foot patrols around the village together with bicycle patrols to the distant company’s boundaries, for example New Lane Station, Rufford and around Lathom. There were a number of concrete pillboxes covering such areas as the canal and railway bridges which would be manned in the event of an invasion.
Shortly after the Village Unit was formed a further company was created from civilians who were employed at the Command Ordnance Depot and Workshops. The unit was commanded by Lieut Cross (ex regular soldier in the Scots Guards). Until the outbreak of the war, the depot only employed ex-soldiers so there was a ready source of trained men supplemented by younger staff more recently taken on. The purpose of the unit was to defend the Depot and took over some of the night guard duties from the military of 8 Coy RAOC who were stationed there. The company used the Depot’s 30 yard rifle range, (which was used for testing repaired weapons) for firing practice. Members of the company wore their battledress for work.
One evening a message was given out at the cinema in the Stanley Institute for all soldiers and Home Guard to report for duty immediately. It was rumoured that a German invasion party had landed on the East Coast. The Home Guard members mounted road blocks on the A59 road and various other points. There was a lot of German air activity recognised by the sound of their engines and some empty parachutes landed in the area. Stand down was ordered 36 hours later.
One other item of interest was an exercise with units of the 18th Div which were embarking at Liverpool for Singapore and early captivity by the Japanese. Their objective was to capture the Depot which they did not succeed in doing after finding that Burscough had been turned into a virtual armed camp with road blocks everywhere.
A very sad event took place one evening when Bob Lyon a young volunteer was cycling along the canal bank to duty with the village unit. It was a very foggy cold night and he accidently fell into the canal and was drowned. His name is on the Burscough War Memorial.
Leeds and Liverpool Canal Burscough.
A REPORT UNDERTAKEN BY YORK UNIVERSITY
ON A SECTION OF THE CANAL THAT FEATURES BUILDINGS ANS STRUCTURES
THAT ARE IMPORTANT SURVIVING EXAMPLES OF MILITARY HERITAGE.
This area was defended by the Mersey Garrison Home Guard
The Threat of Invasion and Stop Lines
Lancashire has a coastline with flat beaches ideal for amphibious landings. Inland from the coast is the Lancashire plain, flat agricultural land which would be a good landing zone for paratroopers or for gliders and transport planes to crash land. To defend against this a defensive “Stop Line” was built. The Western Command Stop Line Number 14 extended from Wigan to Liverpool and was based around the Leeds Liverpool Canal. Stop Lines were based on anti-tank ditches and pill boxes. Their aim was to slow down the enemy’s advance and to allow counter attack. Villages would be defended to become islands of resistance. The canal and its embankment would act as the anti-tank ditch. Concrete pill boxes and fortified buildings were places at bridges and at points with good views over the fields below. The stop lines were designed to combat light tanks and infantry not the Panzers and blizkrieg that the Nazis used so efficiently in Europe. The defences were built quickly, some are based on official designs others unique to their location.
Block Houses on the canal
These brick built two storey towers or block houses are four sided with one loophole on each side on each floor. These embrasures are wider on the outside than on the inside. They are either pre-cast concrete or concrete slabs, or just brick. At Heaton’s Bridge and Melling they stand alone and have flat roofs. At the Farmers Arms the tower is part of the pub buildings with a roof of its own, this would be to disguise it.
The second floor of the tower would give good views of the surrounding countryside and a different range of fire to the lower level. They are said to be look out posts for U-Boats coming up the canal!
Report produced by York University
please click on image to get a larger size
The defence area is 3 miles N of Ormskirk and 15 miles NNE of the centre of Liverpool. Situated in the County of Lancashire and in the Parish of Burscough.
NGR: centre of area SD 420425.
The defence area follows the course of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal between Heaton`s Bridge and Crabtree Bridge, the later place being some two- thirds of a mile from Burscough. This is a flat landscape of drained marshland, with rich dark soil producing very good agricultural crops.
Pre-war map showing the course of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in the defence area. An imense swathe of farming land south-west of New Lane was destroyed for the construction of a wartime airfield opened in 1943.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is crossed by five bridges within the study defence area – from west Heaton`s Bridge, Martin Lane Bridge, Great Score Bridge, (now removed ) New Lane Bridge and Crabtree Bridge. At all these bridges except Great Score Bridge, buildings stand close to the Canal on its south bank – at Heaton`s Bridge this is the Heaton`s Bridge Inn; at Martin Lane Bridge, Greagsons Bridge Farm;at New Lane Bridge, the Farmers Arms public house, and at Crabtree Bridge, the Slipway Public House.
South West of New Lane Bridge, an Industrial estate has been developed on part of the site of a Second World War Airfield – Royal Naval Air Station Burscough (HMS Ringtail) , which closed in 1957. The railway line running between Southport and Wigan passes north of New Lane Bridge where there is a station.
1945 air photo showing the course of the Canal through the defence area.The photo shows the effect on the landscape of the Second World War Air Station can be clearly seen. Heatons Bridge lies beyond the west edge of the photograph.
Burscough fell within 1a Sub – Sector of the Liverpool Sector of the Mersey Home Guard Garrsison. The Sub – Sector was crossed by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which was defended as an outer defence line of the Mersey Garrison and also as Western Command Stop Line Number 14. This stop line followed the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to Wigan in the east, left the Liverpool Sector at Burscough.
The stop line was in essence a continuous anti- tank obstacle provided by the canal. It was defended against anticipated enemy attacks from the west and north: in the Burscough area that meant that defence works were prepared on the south – bank with the canal in front. At all the crossings points of the canal and the stop line, the bridges were prepared for demolition and roadblocks set up. Some anti- tank minefield were also laid. Each bridge in fact was a defended locality, with machine gun posts, spigot mortars, and flame fougasses, the whole position being surrounded by barbed wire entanglements. The machine gun posts, or pillboxes were established, either within existing buildings or as additions to those buildings disguised to blend with them. Such a policy of of fortifying buildings rather than constructing free- standing pillboxes is unique to this stretch of the line. The machine gun positions are highly unusual as well as all being at a double- storey in height.
Villages and towns on the course of the stop line were also prepared for all-round defence, although there is no,list of these places in the surviving documentation. Ormskirk lying to the south, however, was designated as an anti- tank island.
Map showing the Sectors and Sub-Sectors of the Mersey Garrison. Burscough was in
1a Sub sector.
The Troops to man the various defended localities in the event of invasion would have come from the Mersey Garrison. They were supplemented by units of the Home Guard: the 71st Battalion. Lancashire Home Guard was based at Ormskirk.
When Burscough air field was built as a Royal Naval Air Station ( HMS Ringtail ) in 1942, its northern perimeter defences came close to te Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and although documentary evidence is ;lacking, it is probable that the existing stop line defences were incorporated into the overall defence planning for the air station. More research on this point is needed.
The Defence Works
The series of defended buildings along the course of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal allows a rare and important appreciation of this method of defence. Most buildings that were converted to defence during the Second World War, where they have survived, have long since been restored to their original appearance, although the occasional blocked- in loophole indicates the wartime purpose. On the south bank of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, however building after building at all the bridge crossings points still show substantial evidence of their adaption for defence.
At Crabtree Bridge, former stables attached to the Lathom Slipway Public House were pierced with eight loopholes for guns at two levels. The lower loopholes are now blocked, but the upper have been glazed.
At New Lane Bridge a short distanced to trh west, the Farmers Arms Public House appears to have received the addition of a purpose- built brick- faced tower, again with loopholes at two levels, although it is possible that this tower was already present and was simply loop holed for defence.
Loopholed tower attached to Farmers Arms public house. The loopholes are at two levels
The defended tower amongst the buildings of the Farmers Arms. The tower would appear to be an additional purpose-built structure by the military.
AT Martin Lane bridge it was an outbuilding of the adjacent farm that was defended. Three loopholes have been cut at an upper level, and possibly faced west and / or east.
An ourbuilding of Gregsons Bridge Farm loopholed for defence. Other loopholes may be hidden by the ivy.
At Heatons Bridge Inn is the most remarkable of this series of defence works. Here a brick faced pillbox was built a short distance from the canal bank. It is possible that originally this stood closer to buildings of the inn that has since been demolished, assisting in its camouflage, although its doorways and all-round embrasures show that it was always free standing.
The pillbox tower at Heatons Bridge
Defence post of the northern perimeter defences of Burscough airfield
The most significant changes in the landscape of the defence area since the Second World War concern the military abandonment of Royal Naval Air Station Burscough from the mid 1950s and the site being turned into an industrial estate.
The broad pattern of the farmed landscape cut by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal,which is still used by boat traffic, is however much as it was during wartime years.
The defence works described can all be seen at the various bridge crossings and te towpath running on the north bank of the canal enables each to be visited in turn.
The defence area is a most important example of a stop line defended by the expedient of fortifying buildings at its main crossing points. Although examples of this type of fortified buildings can be found elsewhere in the country, it is unusual to find so many surviving so well in such close proximity to each other. Additional examples can be found further up the stop line beyond Burscough to the east and west.
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