'D' Company, 7th Battalion Sutton in Ashfield Home Guard 1944

Image ID: 21911

'D' Company, 7th Battalion Sutton in Ashfield Home Guard 1944

Courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives

Sutton in Ashfield
England

Britain's Home Guard (or rather, as it was called originally, the Local Defence Volunteers - or LDV) was born on Tuesday 14 May 1940 when there was a broadcast by Anthony Eden, the secretary of state for war, addressed to 'men of all ages who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Here, then, is the opportunity for which so many of you have been waiting. Your loyal help, added to the arrangements which already exist, will make and keep our country safe.' (particularly aimed at those who were to old to fight or were working in a reserved occupation). Neither he nor his government had previously shown any enthusiasm for a policy which involved ordinary citizens, fearing imminent invasion, being allowed to take matters into their own hands instead of relying on the orthodox forces of security and public order (namely, the Army and the Police). However, when reports began reaching the War Office concerning the appearance up and down the country of 'bands of civilians..arming themselves with shotguns', it had been clear that the time for a rethink had arrived. Without much agreement as to whether the aim was to sustain or suppress this burgeoning grass-roots activism, Eden and his advisors proceeded to improvise some plans and, as one observer put it, evoked 'a new army out of nothingness.' Form lagged behind content. The Local Defence Volunteers was launched without any staff, or funds, or premises of its own. Eden had simply instructed his listeners 'to give in your name at your local police station and then, as and when we want you, we will let you know.' Before Eden's broadcast had ended, police stations in all regions of the nation found themselves deluged with eager volunteers. By the end of the first 24 hours, 250,000 men - equal in number to the peacetime Regular Army - had registered their names. Although the age range was meant to run from 17 to 65, it was not strictly enforced at the beginning, and more than a few old soldiers contrived to creep back in (such as Alexander Taylor, a sprightly octogenarian who had first seen action in the Sudan during 1884-5). Membership continued to grow at a remarkably rapid rate: by the end of May the total number of volunteers had risen to between 300,000 and 400,000, and by the end of the following month it exceeded 1,400,000 - around 1,200,000 more than any of the Whitehall mandarins had anticipated. Order did not need to be restored: it had yet to be created. It was a while before the men of the Local Defence Volunteers were able to look - let alone feel - like 'proper' soldiers. Eden had promised them uniforms and weapons, but neither was in evidence during the early days of the LDV's existence. While the War Office searched for suitable arms from abroad, the eager volunteers proceeded to improvise: rolled umbrellas, broom handles and golf clubs were adapted for military service, and all kinds of antique fowling-pieces, blunderbusses, carbines and cutlasses were dusted down for action. It was Churchill who was responsible, in July 1940, for the change of name from Local Defence Volunteers ('uninspiring', in his opinion) to Home Guard ('much better', he declared). It was also Churchill who saw to it that the Home Guard began to receive proper military training sessions, and a more orthodox administrative structure, as well as regular boosts to its chronically fragile morale: each year, on the anniversary of its formation, a national 'Home Guard Day' was held to make the force feel, in Churchill's words, 'that the nation realises all it owes to these devoted men'. Ever since the start of the Blitz in September 1940, the Home Guard had come to be valued more as a key contributor to civil defence (liaising with the police and the fire-fighters, clearing rubble, guarding damaged banks, pubs and shops, assisting in rescue work and generally making itself useful in crisis situations) than as a bona fide anti-invasion force. As soon as the fears of invasion started to fade feelings of redundancy started to form, and by the middle of 1943, with the Germans seemingly well on their way to defeat, the Home Guard had lost much of its sense of purpose, and absenteeism had grown increasingly common. The force's slow but inexorable decline dragged on until October 1944, when the government announced that the Home Guard would be stood down the following month. There would be no gratuities or medals, but, following Churchill's intervention, the men were allowed to keep their battledress and their boots. On Sunday, 3 December 1944, at a farewell parade in Hyde Park, King George VI, the Home Guard's Colonel-in-Chief, declared: 'History will say that your share in the greatest of all our struggles for freedom was a vitally important one.' At its peak the force had numbered 1,793,000; 1,206 of its men had either been killed on duty or died from wounds, and 557 more sustained serious injuries. (Home Guard history Information supplied by Graham McCann at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/wwtwo/dads_army )

Date: 1944

Organisation Reference: NCCW001251

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