World War 2

The Home Guard

The Home Guard in training.
The Home Guard in training.

Germany invaded the Low Countries on 10th May 1940 and a few days later in a radio broadcast Anthony Eden, the secretary of the State for War, called for a Local Defence Volunteer Force (LDV). Before the broadcast was over men were volunteering, and within 24 hours a quarter of a million men had come forward. By mid-July the numbers had risen to a million.

In August 1940 Winston Churchill renamed them the Home Guard (HG). At first the Home Guard had no uniforms and little equipment; in Kent, at first, they had only one rifle between ten men. They were regarded as inferior to the Civil Defence which was formally organised by the local authorities. At first they wore armbands, but soon they were linked to their county regiments and could wear their colours and cap badges. Equally their makeshift weapons soon became a thing of the past, but the Home Guard always remained very regional. On Lake Windermere they manned motor vessels, while in Devon, Cornwall and Wales many of the Home Guard used Horses.

As time passed, the structure became more formal. Men between 17 and 65 were allowed to join, though unofficially the age limits were often breached. From February 1942 every male was obliged to join, if he was not already in the Armed Forces or in Civil Defence. Every recruit was required to do 48 hours of unpaid service per month. Training was on military lines and took place after work and at weekends.

How far the Home Guard would have provided a real defence in the event of invasion is doubtful. On the other hand their importance was recognised by the enemy. Hitler dubbed them 'a murder gang', though what probably concerned him was that they went on patrol, kept watch and guard, supporting the Regular Army and the Police. Without the Home Guard the Army would have had to use valuable men to watch over 5,000 miles of coastline. One of the Home Guards greatest success was in capturing Hitler's second in command, Rudolf Hess, when he landed in Scotland during the war.

The composition of the Home Guard represented all sections of society. On one hand there were ex-officers, who continued to wear their ranks from the Armed Forces. On the other were those who were still in their last year of school. Experience was the key and frequently the man with war experience would be in command of those without. Thus it was possible on occasions for a worker to be in command of his boss.