British Home Guard

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Home Guard: 'E' Company 20th (Sevenoaks)
Call for registration with the Homeguard

The British Home Guard (originally: Local Defense Volunteers ) was a home guard that was active in Great Britain during World War II between 1940 and 1944.


The beginnings

The regular Territorial Army (TA) stationed in Great Britain was reinforced to around 440,000 soldiers by resolution of March 29, 1939. In addition, in 1939 , Winston Churchill proposed in a letter to John Anderson, the commander of the Air Raid Precautions , an association to protect the population in the event of an air raid , the formation of a volunteer vigilante group. The men should be "middle-aged" and their experience from the First World War should be used. The British soldier and military historian Thomas Henry Wintringham also presented a concept for improving the army in his book How To Reform the Army , published in 1939 . He also called for the recruitment of former soldiers and youth units to supplement the regular troops. General Walter Kirke finally formed the Local Defense Volunteers (LDV) in February 1940 , initially only for the defense of the port of Dover . Later, however, the LDV was also to be used in the event of attacks by paratroopers or at sea.

On May 14, 1940 - four days after the German Wehrmacht's campaign in the west - the war minister and later foreign minister, Anthony Eden, called on men between 17 and 65 who “want to do something for the defense of their country” on the BBC radio station To become part of the Local Defense Volunteers . This official recognition of the LDV by the UK government had a big impact. More than a quarter of a million volunteers volunteered within 24 hours, although the government had expected only around 150,000 in total. At the end of July there were already 1.5 million. This created unforeseen problems as the administration was not prepared for such an onslaught. Since July 23, when Churchill coined the term in a BBC broadcast, the LDV has been called Home Guard .

Organizational bottlenecks and improvisation

improvised weapons of the home guard

Due to a lack of applications, registrations were simply written on the back of envelopes and initially broomsticks had to be presented instead of rifles at parades. The supply of materials turned out to be particularly difficult due to the unexpectedly high membership figures. Weapons, but also uniforms, were particularly rare because the regular army had priority in supplying them. In most cases, LDV armbands, which were simply worn over everyday clothing, were used to replace missing uniforms.


As for the weapons, improvised in-house designs were used or rifles were used, such as the Pattern 1914 Rifle in the 7.7 × 56 mm R caliber common in England from old stocks and the M1917 in the US caliber .30-06 Springfield , the were imported from the United States specifically for this purpose . The cartridges of the outwardly identical rifles, however, differed. To avoid accidents, the US weapons were given a red ribbon. In addition, the Home Guard had to make do with weapons that the Army troops no longer had in use, for example the Northover launcher, or they used weapons that were specially manufactured for them at low cost, such as the Smith Gun , but none of them were ever used in combat was in use. 163 Colt Single Action Army Revolvers Model 1873 in calibers .38 Special , .357 Magnum and .45 LC were even delivered from the United States, but they were never distributed. Below is an overview of known armaments:

Sometimes the homeguard was trained on anti-aircraft guns and other equipment. However, these were not in the inventory of the Home Guard.

Home Guard Units

Since the infrastructure should not collapse in the event of an attack by German paratroopers, the individual railway lines, such as the London, Midland and Scottish Railway or the Southern Railway , formed their own home guard units. Patrols were used to monitor the entire rail network. In addition to these, the rivers were placed under the surveillance of LDV units shortly after the Home Guard was founded. The Upper Thames Patrol were used in the upper course of the Thames and the Trent River Patrol on the Trent . The latter suffered losses when two men were accidentally shot dead during an exercise and others drowned while doing their duties. Women were only officially admitted to the Home Guard in 1943 and only as auxiliary workers who did not perform any direct service with the weapon. Still, there has been unofficial female support from the earliest days of the Home Guard. On the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire, for example, women had to occupy the local anti-aircraft gun due to the lack of male units.

Other unconventional units were on horseback, on bicycles or even on roller skates. The latter were specially trained by British roller skater Harry Lee .

Sign for a pub called Captain Mannering , based on the sitcom Dad's Army

The procedure in the event of an attack was again characterized by improvisation. If an air attack by the Germans was imminent, the home guard units should ring the church bells. This led to organizational difficulties, as access to the church bells had to be regulated. Some of the LDV units that monitored the coasts and beaches were unskilled about the weapon and had to make do with outdated material (weapons from the First World War and earlier). It becomes clear that these units were not there to put down a possible attack by the National Socialists . Rather, incoming troops should be slowed down on their advance so that the regular army had more time to occupy strategic positions.

The dissolution and after

When the threat had subsided as the war progressed, the Home Guard was hired with a parade in London on December 3, 1944, and the last associations officially dissolved at the end of 1945. Only between 1951 and 1957 were some units reactivated in order to be used against the threat of the Cold War if necessary .

Between 1968 and 1977 David Croft and Jimmy Perry produced 81 episodes of the British sitcom Dad’s Army , in which they processed memories of the sometimes comical elements of these units. Perry himself had been a member of a Home Guard unit as a teenager. Well-known British actors such as John Laurie and Clive Dunn played in the series, which had up to 18.5 million viewers at its peak .

Individual evidence

  1. Archive link ( Memento from March 12, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  2. WW2 People's War; Timeline 1939–1945  ( page no longer available , search in web archives )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  3. ^ David Carroll: The Home Guard , 1999, Sutton Publishing Limited, pp. 10f
  4. BBC: Britain's Home Guard


Web links

Commons : British Home Guard  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files