1. THE START OF WORLD WAR II (previous page - useful background)
2. THE DEFENCE OF GREAT BRITAIN'S POPULATION (this page - further useful background)
 (just one Battalion out of a thousand!)

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For many years the possibility of overwhelming attack from the air had been regarded as the biggest threat to Britain’s security and its population. Memories of Great War bombing led in 1924 to the forming of a government Air Raid Precautions committee. After the rise of Hitler and the increasing rearmament of Germany, concerns grew throughout the 1930s particularly after the murderous bombing raids on Madrid, Guernica and other Spanish towns during the Civil War which started in 1936. 

By the outbreak of war much preparation had been done and an organisation established for the protection of the population which encompassed the police, the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Women’s Voluntary Service and other services responsible for rescue, ambulances, first aid, gas decontamination and repair and demolition, all under the title of the "ARP". It appointed thousands of ARP wardens (like Warden Hodges in "Dad’s Army"). The job of a warden in the event of an air raid was to judge the extent and type of damage and report back on it to the local control centre; and then to help those affected to a suitable shelter and safety. He or she would also enforce defence regulations such as observance of the blackout in the area.

Simultaneously with the evolution of these defensive measures, the long tradition of amateur armed forces in the British Isles had in contrast almost come to an end. This tradition could be traced back to the 17th century and had manifested itself in various forms including volunteeer corps, yeomanry and Territorial Associations. In 1936 small National Defence Companies were formed with the intention of giving old soldiers the task of guarding strategic points at a time of national emergency but these withered due to official apathy and lack of funding. Only a few thousand volunteers had joined and recruitment was suspended shortly after war broke out in September 1939.

With the advent of war other voices, particularly that of Winston Churchill, at that time First Lord of the Admiralty, called for the establishment of a force which he called "a Home Guard". At the same time men of a similar mind were on their own initiative forming unofficial groups. But as the Phoney War continued and the threat of any invasion appeared remote in the extreme this enthusiasm faded.

The onslaught in the West changed everything. The preoccupations with the possibility of aerial attack remained of the utmost importance, being reinforced by the Luftwaffe's destruction of Warsaw and what was shortly to happen to Rotterdam.  But now, in May 1940, an even greater threat loomed over every man, woman and child. Poland had been overrun in weeks; and it was becoming clear that Holland, Belgium and even France were about to suffer the same fate. For the first time since Napoleon the country faced the real possibility of invasion, occupation and subjugation, something which only a few weeks earlier must to most people have been unthinkable. Many men were clearly determined to do what they could, with or without official support, to defend their homes and to protect the country against the threat of espionage, sabotage and incursion by parachute attack. Both they and the Government were now well aware that desperate measures were called for. Official reaction was not long in becoming apparent.

The country was about to witness the birth of THE HOME GUARD.