Lancashire At War.co.uk

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

Holcombe Range WW2 Home Guard Tragedy

During World War Two there was a tragic incident on the Holcombe Moor training range involving the Home Guard. Below is a transcription from the Ramsbottom Observer, August 1942. At times it reads like an episode of Dad's Army - but as you will read, this was not a funny episode, it highlights the sacrifices of the Home Guard in war time:

 

'BOMB EXPLOSION AT HOLCOMBE'

 

Five men attached to the Home Guard were killed as a result of an anti-tank bomb explosion at Holcombe Rifle Range on Saturday afternoon. Sergeant-Instructor Almuth Prestwich (22) is stated to have removed the shear wire from the bomb remarking that it was “quite safe” and, while demonstrating to a class in a hut on the range, he hit the table with the bomb.

 

There was an immediate explosion and he received grave injuries to which he succumbed immediately afterwards.

 

Of the eight Home Guards receiving instruction in the use of grenades, four died later and three were seriously injured. Only one of the class escaped. He was Home Guard Corporal Robert McGowan, head postman at Blackpool.

 

The dead are:

Almuth Prestwich of Salford

James Dean, aged 35, of Manchester

Norman Aykroyd, aged 30, of Manchester

Norman Victor Gill, aged 44, of Stockport

George Dudley Allan Hullett, aged 43, of Blackpool

 

Dean and Aykroyd died some hours after admission to Bury Infirmary, Gill on Sunday afternoon and Hullett on Tuesday morning.

 

Still lying seriously ill in the Infirmary is James Delaney of Manchester.

 

Two others injured, Charles Alexander Hey, of Blackpool, and Lance Corporal Fred Loach, of Castleton, were transferred from the Infirmary to a military hospital on Monday.

 

At the inquest, opened at Bury on Monday, Corporal McGowan told how the men assembled in one of the huts for instruction. A trestle table was in the middle of the hut and the men were seated round three sides of it, with the instructor lecturing at its head. They had had instruction about the Sten gun and half an hour of map reading and then they turned to grenades.

 

............continues above, right..

The range road (1280x960) Holcombe 2

....continued....

 

"We reached the stage where we were concerned with the anti-tank grenade. He told us what it was, its purpose and went on to show us what would happen if it hit a tank."

 

“He took out a piece of wire which he named the shear wire. He threw it on the table for us to examine and then said ‘This thing is quite safe. It would need a hard impact to make it go off’. Then he hit the table with it and it went off”.

 

“I saw the flash of the bomb and ducked and I think that is how I escaped injury” he said. McGowan added that the explosion had made him deaf.

 

George H. Latham, sergeant instructor at the school, was taking a class in a nearby hut when he heard the explosion. He assisted the injured.

 

In reply to the Coroner, the witness said official information was that the bomb should not be stripped or pulled to pieces at the classes.

 

C.S.M. Thomas Walsh said that after the explosion, it was found that the table was holed and shattered at one end, the forms were overturned, there was a hole in the floor, perforations of the centre of the roof and the windows broken.

 

 

Our sincere thanks to Ramsbottom Heritage Society for finding this story. It appears in their excellent Ramsbottom War News, Issue 4, published May 2013.  You can buy a copy HERE

Above: The range today, with the new buildings that were built as part of a recent multi-million pound investment in the camp.

A contemporary photo of the Krypton Factor course can be seen HERE on the Ramsbottom Heritage Society's page

Below: The course today.

Krypton_Factor_Assault_Course,_Holcombe_-_geograph.org.uk_-_437565

Left: The Range today. You can just make out the modern targets in the centre of the picture to the right of the road.

More about Holcombe Moor Training Camp: 

 

The army first took over the 900 acres in 1912 and since then has used the land for live firing and exercises. This has included therefore training through both world wars and all other conflicts. Today it is primarily a training base for cadets.

 

Although some public footpaths run through the site, it is NOT AN OPEN ACCESS AREA. Visitors should also be aware of the possibiliy of unexploded ordnance and must not stray from the footpaths or pick up anything nearby.

 

In the 1980's a popular TV show, The Krypton Factor held part of its weekly programme on the range when its contestants used the Assault Course (see photo RIGHT, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons).

 

Holcombe Moor Heritage Group, an amateur group of local volunteer historians and archaeologists have widely researched the area and have permission from the MoD to carry out archaeological digs on the site. These digs have ranged from old farm buildings to small industrial buildings. They have found some very interesting things on their digs - of regional significance. They regularly do talks on their findings.

 

Their website is www.holcombemoor.org

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LEFT: Some of the old firing range that would have been used in WW2.

 

RIGHT: Part of the modern range.