1. How much can you learn from these sources about…
a) The work of the Home Guard?
From the source interpretations about the Home Guard of 1940 – 1944, we can learn quite a few things about the work they did to help protect their neighbourhood from German invaders. They also tell us about the different men who joined the Home Guard, willing to fight for Britain.
In source A, we are told about the sorts of people who volunteered to join the Home Guard, including railway porters, gamekeepers, publicans and blacksmiths. Therefore much of the work was done by amateurs, except from the veterans from WWI who often reverted to their former military status with enthusiasm. The source also tells us that the group had no funding to do things; ‘…organised parades in an old farmyard’. This tells us that men had to do work in a make-do way with the few resources and funding given and also caused the volunteers to innovate with what they were given. We can see this in source B, which was written by an old member of the obstruction gang who tried to delay German tanks with objects they found, but it didn’t do much to hold up the Germans.
Source C is a picture of a Home Guard officer checking his unit’s rifles that are lining the wall. This officer is likely to have another full time job as well as his Home Guard duty. This job was important because the group needed to check that no rifles had been taken or damaged. It shows us that the work they did was real even though they did not have a lot at their disposal but they did have loaded rifles, which were the basics.
Source D is a picture that shows a Home Guard exercise known as ‘Capturing the Invader’ The Home Guard did these training exercises so that if an invasion did happen they would know what to do.
Source E is a picture of a Home Guard river patrol. This involved members of the Home Guard going along rivers and canals in an army of boats looking out for invaders along the waterways. There is also a picture of Home Guard volunteers patrolling in Source F. They are patrolling the roads in case of spies or invaders, a constant watch every hour of the day. The guards carried rifles with them to protect themselves and shoot the enemy. It is not a very reliable source though, as it was a cartoon and people made jokes about the patrols and exaggerated things.
Source G is a letter of thanks written to all of the Home Guard volunteers for their effort and contribution to helping protect Britain from King George VI. He expressed his thanks when he said, ‘You have earned in full measure your country’s gratitude’. This shows that the work the Home Guard did was recognised even at the highest level.
From this we can see that the work of the Home Guard was organised and serious. Most of the work they did was land based and also fairly water based. We can also see that the Home Guard had no serious weapons to fight with, just rifles.
b) The likely effectiveness of the Home Guard, in the event of a German invasion?
To address this question we have to consider the ability of the Home Guard as a serious fighting unit. We know that they held meetings for the Home Guard volunteers so that they could talk about jobs and new ideas for the group. Source A tells us about these meetings and that shows us that they were quite well organised.
However, despite this organisation we can see in source B that some actions served little purpose. For example, in source B the obstruction gang tried to delay German tanks but we know that this didn’t happen because the author, who was a member of the gang himself, said; ‘our best effort would not have harmed a “jeep” let alone a Panzer tank’. It was therefore improbable that the Home Guard could stop armoured vehicles.
With their rifles later on, the Home Guard seemed more equipped to offer resistance. They had many rifles, as sources C and D show us. They also had full uniform to protect themselves and look the same. Source D also shows that the Home Guard taught their men how to capture single invaders but they would possibly not be able to resist a large invasion of German troops.
They patrolled streets and rivers to ensure that no enemy on foot or water could get far enough to cause trouble. This worked well because there were a group of patrollers and they could help other members if they were faced with Germans. Sources E and F show us this. Source F also shows that the Germans were surprised that the Home Guard was patrolling and armed. In this way they served as a deterrent to the opposing armies.
In the event of a German invasion, I think that the Home Guard were able to offer an organised resistance, but which was unlikely to be a match for a well-oiled and disciplined invading army because the work was done by people with other full time jobs who in many cases had no military experience.
2. The “Dad’s Army” television series offers an interpretation of what the Home Guard was like. How accurate is this interpretation likely to be?
The “Dad’s Army” television series offers an interpretation of what the Home Guard was like but as a BBC comedy series, “Dad’s Army” would possibly come over as a joke to most people.
In the opening episode of “Dad’s Army”, the wartime reality was similarly chaotic. Before Eden’s broadcast had ended, police stations in all regions of the nation found themselves with many eager volunteers. By the end of the first 24 hours, 250,000 men – equal in number to the peacetime Regular Army – had registered their names.
The platoon featured in “Dad’s Army” included Pike, one volunteer who was too young to join up full time, and others too old for regular service. In reality, although the official age range was from 17 to 65, there was no medical examination and the upper age limit was only very patchily enforced because the older men had experience with the military from World War I.
Even though Eden said that the new LDV (Local Defence Volunteers) would be provided with uniforms and weapons, the newly formed Home Guard had to make do with small armbands displaying the LDV initials for military outfits. However, later on, sets of denim arrived. In 1940 it was just the same. Most new recruits had to wait several weeks before uniforms arrived, but in some cases the denims came without the caps, or the caps arrived without the denims.
The wait for proper weapons was longer still. For months, Home Guard soldiers had to make do with improvised weapons. While the War Office looked for suitable arms from other countries, the enthusiastic volunteers proceeded to improvise: rolled umbrellas, broom handles and golf clubs were for military service. Eventually, old weapons from World War I, such as blunderbusses, carbines and rifles, were dusted down for the Home Guard.
I can see that the Home Guard had a serious role, the units were nevertheless disorganised. The Home Guard brought people together from different backgrounds who were not professional soldiers and therefore difficult to mould into an effective force, sometimes with humorous results. This comes across on the TV comedy series. The props and uniforms used were from the era and gave viewers a true picture. Theses props and people were not really serious enough to worry the German army. Therefore I think that the BBC program was true to the spirit of life in the Home Guard by making it a light-hearted comedy.
“The Home Guard was a group of enthusiastic amateurs ill-prepared to meet the threat of German invasion”.
How far do you agree with this interpretation?
The Home Guard was largely made up of local volunteers in villages across the country such as publicans, blacksmiths and gamekeepers. Although 4 out of 10 men were veterans of World War I, it would be the first time that the other volunteers had anything to do with the military. Therefore they wouldn’t be used to handling weapons or tackling invading troops. This means that they were mainly amateurs, not professionally trained soldiers.
When the LDV was first raised, it was not intended to mirror the standard army rank structure; it was just assumed that some privates would take a lead. In “Dad’s Army”, the local bank manager became the natural leader of his district because he believed that he was of a higher status than the other volunteers.
From the training point of view of the Home Guard, training was provided at the initiative of local commanders and a number of training camps were set up across the country.
They acted as sentries during the day and night and became extra “ears and eyes” for the full-time military. They checked that people were carrying their Identity Cards. Those caught without one could be arrested and handed over to the police.
There were many tragic incidents caused by the Home Guard. These happened mainly because over half of the group had no idea how to use the weapons they had been given. For example, one woman was killed by her husband as he cleaned his rifle off duty. Also, while on patrol, officer shouted for a 15 year old boy to stop on his bike. The boy was deaf and when he failed to turn round, the officers shot him, missed completely and ended up killing his brother just 17 years old and on the British side. “Sticky bombs” also caused many problems. They had to be stuck along the side of tanks and boats but if they were thrown, they would not stick. They also exploded prematurely. Meaning that they were dangerous and unsafe to use. Over 50 British civilians were killed by the Home Guard in the war.
However, the Secret Army was an effective group. It was a small trained force set up in the summer of 1940 under Churchill’s direction. Men had to be below 30 and were trained to work behind the lines in enemy territory in the event of an invasion. The Home Guard was their cover. There were 5-6 units based in underground bunkers. Their job was to sabotage, destruct and dislocate and they were instructed to kill anyone who knew about them if the Germans invaded.
I believe that the support of the Home Guard in WWII was vital. Having the Home Guard also meant that the main army had time to train as they had less pressure on them to carry out duties at home.
From this I do agree that the Home Guard was a group of enthusiastic amateurs, except from the secret army, and were not sufficiently trained to defend the country from German invasion. Their role was to provide a line of defence which raised the morale of the British public, which itself helped people meet the threat with less fear.