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The Home Guard of Britain

Discussion in 'The Home Front' started by Jim, Sep 16, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    This review of the book "The Home Guard of Britain" was first written in 1943.​


    Who first thought of a Home Guard for Britain? There are many claimants to this honour, one of them, oddly enough, the Trades Union Congress. From the Trade Unions, and from the Labour Movement as a whole, there came for as many years as that Movement has existed, the most determined opposition to a Citizen Army. I can remember having many heated arguments with Labour men when I was doing my best to support Lord Roberts appeal for national military training.

    "No conscription" was the Party’s slogan; it was opposed equally to the raising of a vast volunteer force. Yet, according to Mr. Charles Graves, who has written a very full and most interesting history of The Home Guard of Britain, it was the T.U.C. which, after the War Office had turned down a scheme put up to it by two highly placed army officers, took the matter up, and very shortly afterwards the scheme went through.

    It is a pity this sudden conversion was so long delayed. At an earlier date the arming of two million men for defence, leaving the regular army free to undertake operations overseas, would probably have convinced Germany, whether in the Kaisers time or after Hitler took his place, that we really meant business and sabre-rattling must stop.

    I think there is little doubt that the response to the Prime Ministers call (made through Mr. Eden) for Local Defence Volunteers in May 1940 had a great deal to do with making Hitler postpone the attempt to invade this island. It was a sign, for one thing, that our national unity was complete; that there was no Fifth Column here to help him; that, even if Mosley, the potential British Quisling, had not been clapped into jail, any attempt to do here what had been done by traitors in Holland and Norway, and probably in France, would have been instantly and bloodily, crushed.

    It was on receiving help from sympathisers, in our midst that Hitler counted when he planned his invasion. Ribbentrop had misled him, just as Prince Lichnovski misled the Kaisers Government before 1914. When hundreds of thousands of men from all classes hurried to join the L.D.V the Nazis quailed at the thought of the reception an invading force dropped from the air would get. Their plan was hurriedly changed.

    If they had known more about this new element in the war situation they might have stuck to their original idea. When I joined it a week or two after recruiting began, it was in a condition which could almost be called in the language of the Book of Genesis "without form and void." We had no officers, we had no arms, we had no notion what our duties were to be. After some weeks we got a few rifles which we shared, much to the disgust of the "old sweats" among us, who looked on a rifle as a soldiers most treasured personal possession. Gradually the force took shape. By the time its name was altered to Home Guard, in the late summer of 1940, it was settling down to its job.

    The War Office was taken by surprise when the decision to enrol a citizen defence army was made. Suggestions had been put up to it that such a supplement to the regulars might be necessary in view of the probable use of parachute troops by the enemy. These were waved aside. The official attitude was, “We are doing all that is required.” Even when Mr. Churchill forced its hand, it took a long time to carry out his wishes. Mr. Eden as War Minister was sent to tell Parliament there would be no commissioned ranks or even real NCO’s.

    As late as November 1940 the headquarters of the force were “a scene of mild pandemonium.” There was not then, the same urgency as there had been in May, when the organizers were told the L.D.V. “must be ready to fight in two weeks.” But it was incredible that after six months there should still be so much uncertainty and muddle. Finance was one great difficulty. The Treasury were very sticky about it. However, the obstacles to the efficient and smooth working of the force were smoothed away until it became what we know it to be today, the most remarkable example in history of what the French call a levée en masse, the uprising of the manhood of a nation in face of danger, the manifestation of a will to victory that has never, been surpassed. It was the complete mix-up of all sorts and conditions of men in the recruiting of the L.D.V. that puzzled and worried Hitler when he was shown translations from British newspapers of reports about the rush to join. The War Office had said that, if the country was appealed to, “it did not think the men would come forward for volunteer local defence.” That shows how utterly bureaucrats are out of touch with the public. Recruits began coming forward even before Mr. Eden had finished speaking on the wireless that memorable evening of May 14th, 1940.

    A Unit from Southern Railway Home Guard Independent Light AA Troops manning an AA gun. All of Troop K, LAA Devon Regt.

    [​IMG]

    The police stations experienced a busy night, Young men; old men, the fit and the invalids gave in their names. Statements as regards age were taken on trust, except in those cases in which those who were obviously in the seventies and eighties wanted to pass as under sixty-five, and those recently out of the nursery who pretended they had reached the age of seventeen. In the ranks were many who had fought well and even become famous as soldiers, One commanding officer, a V.C. looked at a recruit and said, “Haven’t I seen you before somewhere?” “Yes, sir, at Buckingham Palace, an investiture,” was the reply. “What decoration did you get?” the officer inquired. “The same as yours, sir,” the recruit answered. He was a V.C., too; his name, James Leach.

    When a brigadier was inspecting Home Guards, he stopped before a man with a long row of medal ribbons on his tunic and said patronisingly, “You seem to have seen a lot of fighting, my man. Tell me, which campaign did you enjoy most?” The private thought a moment, then replied, “I think, sir, it was the one in which I was second command to General Allenby.” Though Mr. Graves has written a serious history with full details (though not quite full enough dates), he is not above telling a story whenever the chance comes in his way. Here is a good one about a sentry in Scotland. His company commander came round and asked if he had ever fired his rifle, The answer was No. Was it loaded? Yes, five rounds in the magazine. Had he got a cartridge in the breech, ready to be fired? No. He opened up and showed the breech empty. "Alright," said the officer. Then the private closed the bolt smartly, thereby sending a round into the breech, pressed the trigger, and missed his commander by a couple of inches! "There was the silence of consternation for a moment. Then the sentry remarked, "Aweel, Ive fired ma rifle noo, sir."

    Changing from a volunteer to a conscripted force has not altered the spirit of the Home Guard: They are keener now than at any time, Mr. Graves claims:

    No country in the world could have provided so many men able to maintain so much enthusiasm over so long a period of so much relative inaction. But for the Home Guard England would almost certainly have been invaded. But for the Home Guard it would have been impossible to envisage the invasion of the Continent. Two million men fully armed and trained, knowing every inch of their district, well led and in good heart, form a sure guarantee of victory. It is a force which has given courage to all the United Nations. It has survived its haphazard origin, its temporary lack of arms, its critics, and its greatest potential enemy, boredom. It has been and continues to be the most inexpensive force ever raised. The average age of the Home Guardsmen is now, slightly under thirty. The old and unfit have been weeded out "stringently," says Mr. Graves. Those who remain are alert, proficient, keen. He has a word for their wives, too. "They could not do it if their womenfolk did not encourage them.”
    A word that is thoroughly well deserved.
     

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