The Home Guard was set up during the Second World War to organize civilian efforts to help defend the country from enemy attack. It was operational from 1940 to 1944.
On the 14th May, 1940 the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden made an appeal on the radio for men aged between 17 and 65 to join the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). This was especially aimed at those too old to enlist in the regular army and the response was overwhelming. Over quarter of a million men nationwide tried to sign up within 24 hours of the request. By the end of June it was nearly 1 and a half million, far more than Eden envisaged.
1940 Winston Churchill officially renamed the LDV, the Home Guard. They were unofficially nicknamed 'Dad's Army'. While there were always doubts about how effective the Guard would be as an anti-invasion force, they were enormously useful in areas of civil defence. During the Blitz, the Guard helped the police and fire-fighters with rescue work and with guarding damaged buildings and clearing rubble. They also captured German airmen who had been shot down.
Members also joined voluntary bomb disposal units to deal with unexploded bombs and did much of the manual work needed to prepare London for war. For example, from July 1940, signposts were removed so that if the Germans did invade, they would be easily disoriented.
Within London Transport, Home Guard units were established to help protect targets such as garages, stations, railway lines and power plants. The London Transport Home Guard comprised seven battalions and enlisted nearly 30,000 male employees.
The government promised uniforms and weapons but these were slow to materialise. The earliest uniform consisted simply of an armband and cap. While waiting for Whitehall to supply weapons, the Guard made do with whatever they could lay their hands on, from pitchforks, broom handles, and golf clubs to old blunderbusses or cutlasses.
The army did eventually provide uniforms, and a limited number of old Enfield rifles that had done service in the First World War.
The prime minister, Winston Churchill, also established standardized military training. A private training camp had already been set up at Osterley in July of 1940 by Tom Wintringham, a maverick Spanish Civil War veteran. His training included such things as: how to stop a tank and how and where to stab an enemy sentry in the back. After September 1940, the running of Osterley was taken over by the army.
As the German position in Europe weakened, and the threat of invasion subsided, the members of the Home Guard began to lose their enthusiasm and the movement began to peter out. In December 1944, the force was stood down, its end marked by a farewell parade in Hyde Park.
While the 1960s comedy 'Dad's Army' affectionately ridiculed the Home Guard, over 1000 men lost their lives in service and many more were seriously injured.
King George VI declared that 'History will say that your share in the greatest of all our struggles for freedom was a vitally important one.'
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