1. THE START OF WORLD WAR II (this page - useful background)
2. THE DEFENCE OF GREAT BRITAIN'S POPULATION (next page - further useful background)
3. THE HOME GUARD AND THE 32nd (ALDRIDGE) BATTALION  (just one Battalion out of a thousand!)

This is a page within the website. To see full contents, go to SITE MAP.

On Friday September 1st, 1939 Nazi Germany attacked its Eastern neighbour, Poland.  By Sunday the 3rd, both Great Britain and France, who had undertaken to support Poland in the event of attack, were at war with Germany.  A fortnight later Soviet forces entered Poland from the east in accordance with a pact made in August between Stalin and Hitler.

Whilst these two great monsters of the 20th century were busily butchering Poland and its inhabitants and imposing their brutal rule on that area of Europe which rapidly came to include the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Great Britain and its allies waited for the expected attack in the west.  It was to be a long wait and this period has subsequently become known as the "Phoney War" - not that there could have seemed anything "phoney" about it for those risking their lives daily in the R.A.F. and the Royal and Merchant Navies, nor those of our forces engaged in the futile defence of Norway which together with Denmark was attacked by Germany early on the morning of Tuesday April 9th, 1940.

But for most people in this country, it was a period of relative calm, especially when compared with what was to come. There had been a great flurry of activity in the weeks immediately preceding and following the outbreak of war, much of it based on the widespread assumption that overwhelming aerial attack was imminent: thousands of children evacuated from cities to safe areas, public buildings protected with sandbags, air-raid shelters excavated and built, blackout restrictions imposed on every household.  But gradually many of the evacuees had drifted back to their homes and civilian life had once again approached some sort of normality whilst everyone waited for what was to come next.

The blow fell on the morning of Friday, May 10th, 1940 when the country awoke to the news that Hitler’s forces had blasted their way into Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Within hours the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, resigned and was succeeded by Winston Churchill.  The German Army and Air Force (the Luftwaffe) were invincible.  Despite desperate attempts by the armies of Holland, Belgium and France and the British Expeditionary Force to halt the  advance, Holland capitulated within eight days, on the 18th, and on May 28th the Belgian army surrendered.

In the ensuing fighting the B.E.F. was forced back towards the sea, to Dunkirk, from where over a period of days and wholly against the odds some 340,000 troops were evacuated, leaving behind almost all their equipment.  The Battle of France continued for a little longer, but the mighty French Army on which so much reliance had been placed was quickly defeated and France delivered itself totally into German hands on Saturday June 22nd, just six weeks after the beginning of the campaign.

As the French Army lined itself up to surrender, on the British side of the Channel the country spat defiance, licked its wounds and pondered on the future. Great Britain was truly alone.  Its main European allies were broken, their territory, populations, arms, natural resources and manufacturing capacity now in German hands.  Of the other major western European countries Italy had already entered the war on the German side; Spain, another fascist dictatorship, was neutral but sympathetic to Hitler; and Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal and Eire were determinedly asserting their neutrality.  Further afield Stalin’s Soviet Union, a natural enemy of Hitler, was still tied to him by the pact of non-aggression cynically agreed between them.  Across the Atlantic, the sleeping giant of the U.S.A. had a government which was opposed to tyranny and broadly sympathetic to the British, but a population which at that stage was reluctant to be dragged into another messy European conflict.  It was only the dominions and colonies of the British Commonwealth - Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa and others - who again stood four-square behind the "Mother Country" as they had so nobly done in the Great War only 25 years earlier.   

This support from the Commonwealth and help in the form of military hardware supplied by the U.S.A. were Britain’s only solace in a position of terrifying isolation and vulnerability, the only country in Europe still fighting for the values of freedom, humanity and civilisation.  In Churchill’s own words: "We were to find ourselves alone, almost disarmed, with triumphant Germany and Italy at our throats, with the whole of Europe open to Hitler’s power, and Japan glowering on the other side of the world."  And again in his own words, the Battle of France was over and the Battle of Britain was about to begin.

Whilst the attack on western Europe had been long expected, the speed and scale of the defeat in May and June 1940 most certainly had not. It had taken just six short weeks for Great Britain to find itself without a single European ally and facing across a twenty mile stretch of water the most formidable force in the world, well armed, well trained, seemingly invincible and eager to finish the job. And this mighty military machine, the British people knew, was controlled by a regime the depths of whose wickedness and brutality were already strongly suspected, even though incontrovertible proof would have to wait for a further four and a half years to be revealed to a horrified world.

In the face of this threat, what preparations were in place to ensure the effective DEFENCE OF GREAT BRITAIN'S POPULATION?