14th May 1940. Defence of the Realm.
When in May 1940 the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) was formed, recruits were supposed to be between 17 and 65, with a fitness requirement of ‘free movement’.
After Dunkirk the country was gripped with the possibility of invasion so it was Today in 1940 that War-Minister, Anthony Eden, immediately after the 9.o pm news, called for volunteers to ‘serve in the defence of their country in its hour of peril’. Half a million men had joined by July.
It was at Churchill’s suggestion the force be renamed The Home Guard, rejecting Eden’s ‘Local’ as uninspiring as Herbert Morrison’s Civil Guard.
Unpaid and initially poorly equipped whiskery old WWI veterans (about 75% were ex-servicemen) paraded alongside youths, drilling with Boer War rifles, sporting guns, walking sticks, golf clubs, and broom handles with kitchen knives on the end.
Thousands of men now spent their spare time drilling and camping under canvas, digging trenches and building bridges.
Their motto was ‘attack and ambush’ with a task to keep watch on coasts, public buildings, roads and railways, for enemy invaders who might come by parachute or sea. ‘Spies’ were seen everywhere and the over- zealous stopped people for proof of identity.
Everyone was suspect: in East Anglia a farm surveyor was set upon by local members and despite protestations was shot as a spy. People were fired-on after failing to stop at checkpoints.
One of the Home-Guard’s greatest contribution was the relieving of regular forces in guarding of Vulnerable Points (‘VP.s’), the likes of Staines Railway Bridge which carried naval supplies between Portsmouth and Scapa Flow.
Osterley Park Camp near London was an unofficial training centre, but became virtually a communist cell under the leadership of Tom Wintringham, until taken over officially by the Home Guard in September 1941.(1)
Five thousand Home-Guard were injured and 768 killed, many from dangerous weapons such as the ‘sticky bomb’ which blew up without warning. Fifty civilians were killed as a result of Home-Guard action.
In 1944 the Home Guard, ‘the citizens’ army’ was stood down and officially disbanded on December 31st. All personnel received a certificate signed by the King. 1¾ million men and 30,000 women were to serve in the force, best known by later generations through BBC TV’s ‘Dads’ Army’.(2)
(1) Winteringham a former military correspondence of Picture Post and founder of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Picture Post provided publicity and the Earl of Jersey the premises.
(2a) An early title suggested was ‘The Fighting Tigers’ and someone queried the humour to be found in a lot of old men.
(2b) Jimmy Perry the writer joined the Home Guard at 15 getting the inspiration from a Will Hay film showing the tension between a pompous man, a quiet stooge and a youth.
On their first anniversary the HG mounted guard at Buckingham Palace.
Author George Orwell, a sergeant under his real name of Eric Blair enrolled in the 5th (London) LDV Battalion.
It has been said that as Walmington-on-Sea is an amalgam of Walmer and Birchington, both in East Kent, so Captain Mainwaring should have been wearing the cap badge of the Buffs (East Kent Regiment) with its depot at Canterbury, rather than the Invicta cap badge of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, whose depot was at Maidstone.
Ref: gettyimages.com/Kitchen Image.