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GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE HOME GUARD
14th MAY 1941
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GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE HOME GUARD
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The following article comes from a long defunct magazine, "The War Illustrated", edited by Sir John Hammerton (Issue no. 92, Volume 4, dated June 6th 1941, priced fourpence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the auther, the publishers and their successors.
THE HOME GUARD'S FIRST BITHDAY
On May 14, 1941, the Home Guard was one year old. How a great army of enthusiastic but untrained and ill-equipped volunteers was transformed into a formidable defence force within a twelve-month is here briefly outlined by J. R. Fawcett Thompson, himself among the first L.D.V.s.
“We are going to ask you to help us . . . We want large numbers of men in
Great Britain, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now. . . . The name of the new force which is to be raised is the Local Defence Volunteers. . . . Here, then, is the opportunity for which so many
of you have been waiting. Your loyal help ...will make and keep our country safe."
Opportunity had no need to knock a second time. Scarcely had the voice of Mr. Eden, newly appointed War Minister, faded from countless loudspeakers when thousands of those "men between the ages of 17 and 65" were out of their homes making hotfoot for the nearest police station through that evening of May 14, 1940. No broadcast appeal can surely have had a greater response for, as if by magic, a force of 250,000 eager volunteers was at once enrolled.
The size of the new citizen-army was, perhaps, its greatest embarrassment, and the capacity for improvisation of even the average Briton was severely tried in rapidly organising such a huge number of men for immediate action. But it was done, and done quickly, for within a week local patrols were out all over the country carrying out their primary function of "watching, observing, reporting and guarding."
Paramount among the reasons which prompted the Government to establish the Local Defence Volunteers was the vital necessity for combating the possible activities of enemy parachute troops in the event of invasion. The conquest of Norway and, to a far greater extent, the lightning overthrow of Holland were object-lessons in the destruction, confusion and general demoralisation that could be caused by the skilful use of this new form of warfare.
So it was that the early L.D.V.s earned their nickname of ''Parashots''. All through the wonderful summer months of 1940, at dusk, at dawn and in the dark hours of the night they were ever on the lookout for the invader from the skies. From stout cudgels and shot-guns their weapons at long last progressed to rifles and bombs - civilian clothes and armlets slowly gave place to denim overalls - the clumsiness of inexperience was succeeded by the expertness born of keen and organised training.
On June 20 General H. R. Pownall, an able soldier, was appointed Inspector-General of the new force, proof that the War Office was taking a lively interest in its protégé. Then in August, at the instigation of the Prime Minister, it became known as the Home Guard - a change of title which found ready welcome among the volunteers themselves. By now the total strength had swollen to 1,500,000 - a truly amazing vindication of the voluntary system of recruiting.
The days of ex tempore planning had gone by and the placing of the whole organisation on an established basis was obviously an urgent need. The good offices of the Territorial Army Association were enlisted, and the definite military status of the Home Guard was made officially manifest when on September 11 Mr. Churchill told the House of Commons: "We have more than one and a half million men of the Home Guard, who are just as much soldiers of the regular army in status as the Grenadier Guards, and who are determined to fight for every inch of the ground in every village and in every street."
Since the Battle of France the crucial importance of "defence in depth" had at last been realised. How better could such defence be effected than by utilising the inter-connected network of Home Guard units covering the whole of Great Britain? The defence, in fact, of each locality by the men who knew it best. So, as autumn passed in to winter, the training policy of the Home Guard developed, on these lines. The issue of American automatic rifles greatly strengthened the fire-power of sections and platoons throughout the country, while intensive courses of field training at such schools as Osterley Park and its successors under War Office supervision imparted the principles and practice of modern warfare to over 2,600 men who were able to attend.
By the close of 1940 the Home Guard had acquired an admirable Director-General in Maj.-Gen. T. R. Eastwood, its leaders were scheduled to receive the King's commission, and its personnel, now in regulation serge battle-dress, constituted 1,200 battalions, 5,000 companies (or 25,000 platoons). During the heavy and constant air raids of this period, also, certain units found further valuable scope for their activities in giving assistance to civil defence. Especially helpful was their co-operation with the police, and in one London borough it was generously said of the local unit that it worked so well with the police that the two forces were well-nigh interchangeable. While carrying out their work under fire many Home Guards showed such courage and devotion to duty that they were honoured by H.M. the King.
A feature worthy of record was the formation of their own units by various Government Departments and Public Utility concerns such as the Ministry of Information, the G.P.O., the L.P.T.B. and the railway groups, each being trained to fulfil the specialised needs of its respective organisation. In certain areas, also, such as the moors and river reaches, the Home Guard met local conditions by maintaining mounted and water-borne patrols.
It is now generally held that the bulk of future recruits must be looked for among lads of 17. One of the latest and. most interesting developments, therefore, was the scheme for affiliating 25,000 members of the Cadet Force to the Home Guard. Each cadet unit is to have a "godfather" in its local Home Guard, and the hope has been expressed that every cadet on reaching his 17th birthday will make a point of honour of joining his parent force.
And so, by May 14, 1941, the Home Guard attained its first birthday without having come to that close grip with the enemy for which it had trained so hard and eagerly, Now being armed with tommy guns and new anti-tank weapons in increasing numbers, and beginning to feel immense confidence in its co-operation with the Field Army, each unit of this great citizen army might be likened to "a small active but fierce dog on a reasonably long chain" only waiting for the robber to pluck up courage to come within its reach. It may be that he never will, and if so the Home Guard has largely its own enthusiasm and efficiency to thank for the disappointment.
THE KING THANKS THE HOME GUARD
I HEARTILY congratulate the Home Guard on the progress made by all ranks since it was established a year ago today. On many occasions I have seen for myself the keenness with which they are fitting themselves for the discharge of vital duties in the defence of our homes. They have already earned the gratitude of their fellow citizens for the prompt and unstinted assistance which they are constantly giving to the Civil Defence Services.
The Home Guard stands in the direct line of the various bodies of militia, trained bands, fencibles, and volunteers, the records of whose fine spirit and military aptitude adorn many a page of our history.
I thank them for the service which they freely give at considerable sacrifice of leisure and convenience, and am confident that, in co-operation with their comrades in arms of the Field Army, they will fit themselves to meet and overcome every emergency and so make their contribution to the victory which will reward our united efforts.