This week, the RedState Department of History heads across the pond to look at one of the more interesting military units of the Second World War.
On this date in 1944, the British Army formally stood down the Home Guard, an aggregation created in 1940 to assist the regular forces in the event of a German invasion of the British Isles.
After the British Expeditionary Force had been ejected from the Continent by the Germans in May and June 1940, the army’s situation was desperate. In certain areas of the southeast, where the Germans might be expected to land, some units on the beaches had no heavy guns, no anti-tank guns and no tanks with which to repel an invading force.
It was in this context that the Home Guard was formed on May 22, 1940 under the acronym of “LDV”, or “Local Defence Volunteers.” To say that equipment was lacking would be an understatement – there weren’t enough uniforms to go around, some units drilled with broomsticks because there were no rifles to spare, and some troops weren’t issued helmets because those were lacking as well. Those LDVs serving in London during the Blitz were quite unhappy at having to provide support in the of face German bombing raids with no head protection.
Many soldiers in the Home Guard were those either unfit for regular military service or who worked in restricted occupations and as such could not serve in the regular army. As such, some of these men needed to be trained in the most rudimentary ways. A series of guides were printed to help soldiers and unit leaders learn what they needed to know.
Controversy was created in 1941 when it was revealed that the Home Guard still wasn’t fully armed. Not enough rifles had been produced for every man to have one, so Winston Churchill issued a directive that every soldier be armed with something, “be it only a mace or a pike.” As such, 250,000 pikes were ordered to arm the men, with the resulting uproar calling attention to the need for more weapons. The problem was rectified later that year as the Sten gun went into mass production.
But above all, the British faced the situation with humor. The great entertainer George Formby helped raise morale with his ukulele, with such songs as “Guarding the Home of the Home Guards“. He also starred in the 1943 movie “Get Cracking,” about a Home Guard corporal whose rank varies, for good and bad reasons, throughout the film. Formby himself actually served in the Home Guard, as a corporal. In 1943, Noel Coward also poked fun at the supply situation by recording “Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun?”
Sergeant George Orwell was also a Home Guardsman during the war. There was even a Home Guard company of volunteer Americans, who refused to leave the country when advised to do so by the British Government at the outbreak of war.
But the improving military situation for the Allies soon rendered the Home Guard unnecessary, and it was finally disbanded in late 1944 just six weeks after the Germans created their own Home Guard, known as the Volkssturm. At its peak, the Home Guard contained about 1.5 million soldiers.
But the legacy of the Home Guard lived on. From 1968-77, the BBC aired the legendary Britcom “Dad’s Army,” about a unit in the fictional town of “Walmington-on-Sea” in the southeast and its attempts to aid the war effort. The show featured actor Clive Owen, who himself was a Regular Army soldier captured by the Germans in the Mediterranean, and John Laurie, who was a Home Guardsman himself.
In the end, though, the Home Guard was hailed as a manifestation of the British will to resist. Anthony Eden, then Secretary of State for War and a future Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, said in 1940 that:
No one will claim for the Home Guard that it is a miracle of organisation…but many would claim that it is a miracle of improvisation, and in that way it does express the particular genius of our people. If it has succeeded, as I think it has, it has been due to the spirit of the land and of the men in the Home Guard.”
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!