H is for… the Home Guard

The Home Guard was set up in Britain in May 1940 as what was considered the ‘last line of defence’ should a German invasion occur.[1] Made up of men above or below the national age of conscription for military service, the call for volunteers was broadcast on 14 May 1940 by the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden.[2] Originally called the Local Defence Volunteers (LVD), nearly 1.5 million men between the ages of 17 and 65 enrolled, including First World War veterans, and those unfit or illegible for front line duty.[3]

Local Defence Volunteers: ‘Old Contemptibles’ in the Local Defence Volunteers lined up for inspection. None of the men pictured wear any official uniform except for the LDV armband

LVD ‘battalions’ were formed on an area-by-area basis, normally covering a town or district.[4] The LVD allowed any man who had fired a rifle and could move about with relative ease too volunteer for the service, although these stipulations were never really followed up on.[5] Members of the LVD were still regular civilians, so carried on with their day jobs, while undertaking their voluntary duties in the evenings, weekends and any days off.[6]

The LVD’s name was changed in July 1940 by Winston Church to the Home Guard. An avid supporter of the Home Guard, Church said of the volunteers, “These officers and men, a large proportion of whom have been through the last war, have the strongest desire to attack… We shall defend every village, every town, and every city!”[7] He was immensely proud of the Home Guard, and with a threat of invasion very real for Britain in 1940, he also realised how valuable they were.

Weapons and uniform were in short supply for the Home Guard, with only enough rifles for about a third of the volunteers.[8] However, the make-do attitude that could be seen across the British home front could also be seen in the Home Guard, with the rest of the volunteers using their own shotguns, sporting rifles, or other ‘weapons’ such as golf clubs and bats.[9]

As previously mentioned, the Home Guard’s purpose was to ensure that a German invasion “would be repelled doubly sure.”[10] In case of invasion, the Home Guard were taught simple German phrases.[11] Along with preparing from potential invasion, however, the Home Guard also played a number of other roles across the home front including bomb disposal and manning anti-aircraft and costal artillery points.

Winston Churchill inspecting the Admiralty Company of the Home Guard, September 1942

Over the course of the war, 1,206 men were killed on duty, or died of wounds, as part of the Home Guard.[12] The volunteers were finally stood down on 3 December 1944, as the threat of invasion was over, and the Allies were advancing towards the German front.


[1] Imperial War Museum (IWM), “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[2] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[3] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[4] The National Archives (TNA), “War Office: Home Guard records, Second World War’ catalogue, WO 409, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C12483430

[5] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[6] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[7] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[8] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[9] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[10] TNA, “War Office: Home Guard records, Second World War’ catalogue, WO 409, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C12483430

[11] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[12] IWM, “The Real ‘Dad’s Army’,” last accessed 27 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-dads-army

[Image 1] IWM, ‘The Home Guard, 1939 – 1945,’ H 2005, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205195181

[Image 1] IWM, ‘Mr Churchill inspects the 58th London Battalion (Civil Service) Home Guard, September 1042,’ A 11597, https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145140


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