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March 2014 meeting

The Real Dad’s Army

 

Ray Sturdy came to speak about the 1939-45 war and the Home Guard; established by the Government as the first line of domestic resistance, and with the aim of protecting the civilian population and securing the food supply provisions made by the authorities. 

He began by describing the relative state of preparedness of the German war machine with that in Britain, before moving straight into the premiership of Winston Churchill and the steps taken in this country to deal with an expected German invasion. In his view, Britain was completely unprepared for war in 1939, and by the time of Dunkirk had insufficient war resources to bring all the troops home. With prisoners of war held in France and the Channel Islands occupied, the scene from Hitler’s point of view was set for successful invasion by sea and air without undue resistance.    

The British response however was the establishment of the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers; a corps of citizens humorously known as Look, Duck and Vanish). Many of these had useful – if rusty – experience from 1914-18, which Churchill believed could be welded into a trained body with the purpose of defending the country and protecting the people. One area in which they were specifically trained was unarmed combat.

A number of headquarters and sites in the south east and the West Midlands were selected and an annual Home Guard pocket book was produced, giving advice and instructions to the home-grown soldiers, before the Battle of Britain gave a first significant boost to British morale. London was subjected to 72 days of non-stop bombing, vehicles and factories were made over to the war effort and as the competence of the LDV increased, a certain rivalry developed between them and the army. This may have been of long-term benefit to both.

Meanwhile, a change was going on in communities. German attacks on British shipping led to the use of parks and even roadside verges to grow grain and vegetables; the Women’s Land Army was established, rationing was intensified and children were evacuated to “safer” parts of the country. In some cases, these separations were to last as long as three years, and could involve the tragic death of parents left behind for some of the evacuees.

On the home front, many families had put Anderson shelters in their back garden, and as the war progressed, indoor Morrison shelters with steel bases and tops could be built inside the house for more comfortable and warmer protection. In this way families worked to defend themselves (against bombing particularly), and a number of lives were saved.   

By 1941 there were 1.2 million members of the Home Guard. Each unit kept to its own area and platoons met at or near the local pubs, which were popular as meeting places. They travelled on bicycles and home-made armoured contraptions, and when on all-night duty had to do without sleep. British Resistance Guerrilla units in every part of the country were also trained, working in teams of nine members.    

By 1943/4 the number of Home Guards had increased to 1.8 million, and this figure was sustained until the end of the war. During this time (and particularly after D-day), it became obvious that Hitler could no longer think of invading Britain. Consequently, he changed his tactics to pilotless missiles fired from continental bases, which were targeted on London and the south east. This meant, incidentally, that in the effective absence of manned bombing raids, there was no longer any need for total darkness, and the Government was quick to reduce the night time blackout in response.  

There were 1.8 million men serving in the Home Guard at the end of the war, and the Home Guard Defence Medal was inaugurated for those who had served throughout hostilities. The national Home Guard Museum was opened at Thetford in Norfolk and the Dad’s Army programme is also commemorated there with memorabilia (such as Cpl. Jones’s van and Private Pike’s scarf) among the props displayed.  

At the conclusion of the formal business, Frank Spiers gave a short presentation on his own experiences as a wartime member of the Home Guard in Bidford and answered questions from the speaker and several Society members. This fascinating short addition to the meeting added an enriching local flavour to the evening and was much appreciated by everyone present.

 


Programme 2013 -14
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