World War II British Forces: The Home Guard

World War II Home Guard
Figure 1.--Britain formed the Home Guard in the wake of the German Western Offensive. It was for youths and adults ages 17-65 years. The Home Guard was primarily for men too old for active military service, but also helped prepare young men for military service beginning at age 18 years. The boys here are children who had just been been reevacuated as many who had been evacuated when the war began in 1939 returned home by Christmas. This photograph was taken about July 1940. The boys formed this group, of course in a play situation. They were armed just as the adults were at the time with wooden rifles. The boy who is the NCO cracks me up. He is inspecting his unit just as an adult word. He has the stripes, the gloves, the jacket, helmet, and swagger stick. Good role playing. We are not sure where the photograph was taken, but the boys no doubt had seen the local Home Guard drilling. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The Home Guard (HG) was a voluntary World War II auxillery of the British Army. The original name was the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). After months of inaction, the Germans launched their massive Western Offensive (May 10, 1940). On the same day Winston Churchill became primeminister and reorganized the cabinet. Churchill's new Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, in a radio speech to the nation asked for volunteers (May 14). 'We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance [that an invasion would be repelled] doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed. In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give your name at your local police station, and then, when we want you, we will let you know ...' Within 2 weeks the British Expeditionary Force was defeated and barely escaped destruction at Dunkirk. While most in a small miracle made in back across the Channel, they were forced to leave their vehicles and weapons behind. The core of the British Army which would fight the Germans, however was saved. And it looked like the Home Guard and largely disarmed British Army would face an invasion by a well-armed German force. The only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. The response to Eden's request was immediate and overwealming. The Government expected about 150,000 men to volunteer. Within 24 hours of Eden's radio the broadcast, 250,000 men had put in their names. By the end of the month, there were 300,000-400,000 volnteers. HG units with a mottly collection of small arms were soon drilling all over the country. And by the next month there were 1.5 million volunteers. Churchill as the Battle of Brutain was shaping up decided that LDV was a rather uninspiring term and ordered the name changed to the Home Guard (July 1940). After the regular Army was rearmed, the HG began to receive modern weapons as well. The HG rolls peaked at 1.8 million (March 1943). The rools, however, never fell below 1 million men untul it was disbanded. The HG was ordered to stand down (December 3, 1944). The HG became officially an inactive reserve unit. It was finally disbanded (December 31, 1945).

Voluntary Auxillery

The Home Guard (HG) was a voluntary World War II auxillery of the British Army. There had been a Home Guard in World War I, but as theFrench Army held in World War I, Britain was a rear area. The original name was the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). After Poland fell there was littke acgtion. The papers began calling the War the Phoney War. When little action occurred on the front in France, most members assumed that there was little liklihood of action as in World War I.

German Western Offensive (May 10)

After months of inaction called the Phoney War, the Germans launched their massive Western Offensive (May 10, 1940). On the same day Winston Churchill became primeminister and reorganized the cabinet. Shockingly the French Army crumbled before the Whermacht. The Germans went around the Maginot by driving into the Ardennes. And they crossed the Meuse and broke through the French lines. The Panzers raced for the Channelto cut off the BEF and the French First Army, the strongest formation in the French Army. Theu reached the Channel (May 21).

British Call for Volunteers (May 14)

with the fall of France, Britain was no longer safe behind a French barrier. The people of Britain were on the front line. Churchill's new Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, in a radio speech to the nation asked for volunteers (May 14). 'We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services in order to make assurance [that an invasion would be repelled] doubly sure. The name of the new force which is now to be raised will be the Local Defence Volunteers. This name describes its duties in three words. You will not be paid, but you will receive uniforms and will be armed. In order to volunteer, what you have to do is give your name at your local police station, and then, when we want you, we will let you know ...'

Allied Dunkirk Evacuation (May 26- - June 4)

The Belgians surrendred, putting the BEF and the Fench First Army in jepoadhy. Miraculously the British and French managed to escape at Dunkirk. Within 2 weeks the British Expeditionary Force was defeated, but miraculously escaped destruction at Dunkirk. While most in a small miracle made in back across the Channel, they were forced to leave their vehicles and weapons behind. The core of the British Army which would fight the Germans, however was saved. It is diddicult to see how the British could have continued the War had the BEF not been saved.

German Operation Sea Lion (July-September 1940)

Few people doubted that the Germans would follow up their victory in France with an invasion of Britain. Manhy thought that the British woukd give in first, making an incasuin unecessary. Churchill soon suspelld those notions and carried the War Cabinet with him. There would be no British Vichy. The Germans began planning their invasion, code named Operation Sea Lion. While the British Army was largely disarmed, Britain still had the Royal Navy. It immediately bcame claer to both the Grmans and British that the issue would be decided in the aur. And this did not look good for Britain. The Luftwaffe outperformed both the French Air Force and the RAF in the Battle for France and had a substantial superiority in both planes and trained air crews. Hitler accepted the military judgement that air superiority had to be achieved before laubching the invasion. Air Marshall Göring asuured the Führer it would just be a matter of a few days for his Lutwaffe to destroy the RAF..

British Defensives

After the BEF was brought hime from Dunkirrk, it looked like the Home Guard and largely disarmed British Army would face an invasion by a well-armed German force within weeks. The only fully equipped army division in Britain was the 1st Canadian Division. If the German came, the Home Guard would be an important part of defensive operations.

Volunteers Respond

The response to Eden's request for volunteers was immediate and overwealming. The Government expected about 150,000 men to volunteer. Within 24 hours of Eden's radio the broadcast, 250,000 men had put in their names. By the end of the month, there were 300,000-400,000 volnteers. HG units with a mottly collection of small arms were soon drilling all over the country. And by the next month there were 1.5 million volunteers. Churchill as the Battle of Britain was shaping up decided that LDV was a rather uninspiring term and ordered the name changed to the Home Guard (July 1940). There were men firmed up. Bit at first few arms were available and what was available went primarily to the Regukar Army.

Membership

Members of the Home Guard were youth and men too young or too old to serve in the normal army or working in 'reseved occupations'. These were occupationed deemed important for the War effort. The age limit for the Home Guard was 17 to 65 years of age. This was not strictly adhered to, but there are no known members under 16 years of age. A P.D. Willeringhaus who was awarded a 'Mention in Despatches' for his brave conduct. He was only 16 years old whn mentioned. Initially all the HG were volunteers. The National Service Act allowed for compulsory enrolment in areas where HG units were under strength. The age for conscription into the regular Army was 18 years of age. As the HG age was 17 years, as the War progressed, the Governmnt began conscripting 17 year olds into the HG. This was judged to be an useful way of acclimatising youngsters to the military before they were called up for military.

Arming the Home Guard

The RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain bought Britain time to arm the regular army. Emergency shipmenrs from America helped. After the regular Army was rearmed, the HG began to receive modern weapons as well. The HG rolls peaked at 1.8 million (March 1943). The rools, however, never fell below 1 million men untul it was disbanded. The HG was ordered to stand down (December 3, 1944). The HG became officially an inactive reserve unit. It was finally disbanded (December 31, 1945).

Boys

Boys all over Britain saw the Home Guard drilling in open areas, often with their older btothers, fathers, and uncles, perhaps even grandfathers. Ans boys or want to do, they began drilling themselves. Playing war became amajor activity for British boys. And the War was no longer a far off activity. Many boys could watch in unfold in the skys over southern England. This was mostly play at war, but we see some more organized groups in uniforms. We do not yet know much about them. As far as we know there was no junior Home Guard officially organized. This may have been, however, on a local basis by Regular Army regiments. At least we see organized groups. They would have access to uniforms and equipment. Britain had a well organized cadet corps, but it was not assiciated with the Home Guard. This was an officer training program organozed through the secondary schools and universities. The local units formed by regiments may have used the term cadets, but were not part of the cadet program. Many boys participated in the cadets during the War, the older boys actually entered the services.







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Created: 7:06 AM 7/7/2010
Last updated: 7:06 AM 7/7/2010