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Post-Office-Home-Guard

A group of Home Guard carrying out weapons practice

The Home Guard (initially the Local Defence Volunteers or LDV) was a defence organisation of the British Army during the Second World War. Operational from 1940 until 1944, the Home Guard – comprising 1.5 million local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service (usually owing to age, hence the nickname "Dad's Army") acted as a secondary defence force, in case of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany and their allies. The Home Guard guarded the coastal areas of Britain and other important places such as airfields, factories and explosives stores.

Known unitsEdit

Walmington-on-Sea platoon
Eastgate platoon
  • Commanding officer: Captain Square
  • Second-in-command: Unnamed Sergeant
Southgate platoon
  • Commanding officer: Unknown

HistoryEdit

OriginsEdit

The origins of the Home Guard can be traced to Captain Tom Wintringham, who returned from the Spanish Civil War and wrote a book entitled How to Reform the Army. In the book, as well as a large number of regular army reforms, Wintringham called for the creation of twelve divisions similar in composition to that of the International Brigades which had been formed in Spain during the conflict; the divisions would be raised through a process of voluntary enlistment targeting ex-servicemen and youths. Despite great interest by the War Office in the book's assertion that 'security is possible', Wintringham's call to train 100,000 men immediately was not implemented.

When Britain declared war on Nazi Germany on 3rd September 1939, debates began in official circles about the possible ways in which the German military might launch an invasion of the British Isles; in the first week of the conflict numerous diplomatic and intelligence reports seemed to indicate that there was the possibility of an imminent German amphibious assault. Many government ministers and senior Army officials believed that the threat of invasion was greatly exaggerated and were sceptical but others were not - including Winston Churchill, the newly installed First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill argued that some form of home defence force should be raised from members of the population who were ineligible to serve in the regular forces but wished to serve their country; in a letter he wrote to Samuel Hoare on 8 October 1939, Churchill called for a Home Guard force of 500,000 men over the age of forty to be formed.

At the same time that government officials were debating the need for a home defence force, such a force was actually being formed without any official encouragement; in Essex, men not eligible for call-up into the armed forces were coming forward to join the self-styled 'Legion of Frontiersmen'. Officials were soon informed of the development of the Legion, with Sir Robert Gordon-Finlayson arguing that the government should encourage the development of more unofficial organisations. However, the fear of invasion quickly waned as it became evident that the German military was not in a position to launch an invasion of Britain, and official enthusiasm for home defence forces waned, and the Legion appears to have dissolved itself at the same time.

The Battle of France began in May 1940, with the Wehrmacht launching an invasion of Belgium, the Netherlands and France; by 20th May, German forces had reached the English Channel and on 28th May, the Belgian Army surrendered. The prospect that much of the Channel coast would soon be occupied made the prospect of a German invasion of the British Isles alarmingly real. Fears of an invasion rapidly began to grow, spurred on by reports in both the press and from official government bodies of a fifth column operating in Britain which would aid an invasion by German airborne forces. The government soon found itself under increasing pressure to allow the population to take up arms to defend themselves against an invasion. Calls for some form of home defence force soon began to be heard from the press and from private individuals as the government began to intern German and Austrian citizens in the country. Press baron Lord Kemsley privately proposed to the War Office that rifle clubs be formed to form the nucleus of a home defence force,and Josiah Wedgwood, a Labour MP, wrote to the Prime Minister asking that the entire adult population be trained in the use of arms and given weapons to defend themselves. Similar calls appeared in newspaper columns; in the 12th May issue of the Sunday Express a Brigadier called on the government to issue free arms licenses and permits to buy ammunition to men possessing small arms, and on the same day the Sunday Pictorial asked if the government had considered training golfers in rifle shooting to eliminate stray parachutists.

These calls alarmed government and senior military officials, who worried about the prospect of the population forming private defence forces that the Army would not be able to control, and in mid-May the Home Office issued a press release on the matter; it was the task of the army to deal with enemy parachutists, as any civilians who carried weapons and fired on German troops were likely to be executed if captured. Private defence forces soon began to be formed throughout the country, placing the government in an awkward position; these private forces, which the army might not be able to control, could well impede the army during an enemy invasion, yet to ignore the calls for a home defence force to be set up would be foolish.

FormationEdit

Government and senior military officials rapidly compared plans, and by 13th May had worked out an improvised plan for a home defence force, to be called the Local Defence Volunteers, but the rush to complete a plan and announce it to the public had led to a number of administrative and logistical problems. These included how the volunteers in the new force would be armed, which would cause problems as the force evolved. However, on the evening of 14th May 1940 the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, gave a radio broadcast announcing the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers and called for volunteers to join the force.

In the radio announcement, Eden called on men between the ages of 17 and 65 in Britain, who were not in military service but wished to defend their country against an invasion, to enroll in the LDV at their local police station.The announcement was met with a great deal of enthusiasm on the part of the population, with 250,000 volunteers attempting to sign up in the first seven days; by July this number increased to 1.5 million.

Later yearsEdit

To be added...

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