Many of us will be familiar with the fantastic TV show Dads Army which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. For those that don’t well the show is set during WW2 in the fictitious sleepy seaside town of Walmington on Sea which is on the south coast. The show is based around the Home Guard unit which was established after the announcement by the government that they needed man under and over the age of enlistment to protect the home front. The show follows the platoon as they attempt to protect the town from the German’s, who they only come across once. In reality they town usually needs protecting from the platoon and Captain Mainwarings idea. It stared such acting greats as Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Arnold Ridley, James Beck, Ian Lavender and Bill Pertwee, many of who were well know actors who took on rolls in Shakespeare and even wrote plays (Arnold Ridley wrote the Ghost Train).
The home guard was a genuine branch of the army and was established in July 1940 when the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) changed their name to the Home Guard.
So when did the LDV begin? On the 14th May 1940 the war secretary Anthony Eden made a broadcast calling for men not in military service between the ages of 17 and 65 to take up arms to protect their town from the threat from German paratroopers and a possible invasion of the home front. By July 1940 over 1.5 million men had signed up.
In the beginning the LDV were poorly equipped with whatever they could get their hands on. They really did have carving knives tied to broom handles and pitch forks. In the episode of Dad’s Army called museum piece the platoon go to the local museum to requisition weapons but only end up with a Chinese rocket launcher from the Boxer rebellion as the guns have been taken by Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) who went about entertaining the troops. Needless to say the rocket launcher goes off and bring some of the roof of the church hall (where the platoon meets) down. The reason I mention this is because it really did happen. The LDV were getting weapons from anywhere. They were even using guns the members had brought back from WW1.
They were also patrolling the area without uniforms. Over the years the LDV, which became the Home Guard in July 1940, were drip fed uniform. They started out with just an LDV armband and gradually gained more uniform until they eventually had a full recognisable military uniform.
After 1943 the Home guard began to get formal training from the military and they were given weapons the army no longer needed or had taken from the enemy. If you want to see how Dad’s Army portrayed the training the Home Guard received then the original Dad’s Army film and the series 3 episode called Battle School are the ones to watch.
The Home Guard continued until the 3rd December 1944 when they were stood down and they were finally disbanded on the 31st December 1945. During this time over 1200 of the Home Guard members died as a result of the war. They were mainly killed as a result of air raids, although some did die in training exercises.
They were portrayed in a comedy way through Dad’s Army, and one of the writers Jimmy Perry based it on his experience as a young lad in the Home Guard. They really were a bunch of men from all walks of life who came together in the country’s hour of need. Yes there were men for who the Home Guard became their life and sole focus. Men like Captain Mainwaring and Captain Square probably did exist, and there were certainly plenty of the Home Guard who had served in WW1, but they did make a difference. They watched out for air raids and did fire watching.
They really did make a difference to the country, and through the TV show introduced me to a branch of the army I may never know existed, and gave me great memories of watch the show with my Grandpa.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!