LDV becomes Home Guard
The 23rd of August 1940 AD
In the increasingly desperate days of the first part of 1940, it became obvious that the Germans would overwhelm resistance by the Allied forces in mainland Europe. It was believed that an attempted invasion of Britain would follow, and though patriotic feeling was high, many secretly expected the Germans to push inland with ease.
In the previous year a Spanish Civil War veteran, Tom Wintringham, had suggested a home defence force of 100,000 men to augment the regular army. His idea had gained credence in the military establishment, but little was done to follow up on it by those in authority. In February 1940, however, the senior army commander Walter Kirke bypassed official channels and organised Local Defence Volunteers with the aim of defending Dover , training them to man the artillery around the port and replace the soldiers about to leave for the conflict on the mainland.
The government finally took notice when the blitzkrieg of France began on May 10 1940, the day Churchill became Prime Minister . On May 14 Anthony Eden as Secretary of State for War made a radio announcement asking for volunteers between the ages of 17 and 65 to form a new force named the Local Defence Volunteers (just as Kirkeís unit had been). Eden had expected to recruit 150,000. Within 24 hours 250,000 had tried to sign up; by the end of June 1,500,000 were on the books.
With very few weapons beyond shotguns and souvenirs of WWI the LDV became something of a joke, nicknamed Look-duck-vanish, a very unfair view as the mixed bag of those too old or young to serve in the forces, or whose jobs prevented them joining up, were committed to defending their homeland. Weapons were improvised; museums raided; firearms holders handed their weapons to the new force, 20,000 pistols, shotguns and sporting rifles being provided in short order.
The focus in the initial stages was on training to defend against seaborne invasion, the LDV being cannon fodder to slow the German advance and allow deployment of professional forces. When the imminent threat of invasion was reduced by British control of the sky and sea the focus shifted to the potential for airborne invasion. This was not a fantasy: Rotterdam had fallen to paratroops; the Maginot line was rendered useless by the Germans flanking it and dropping troops behind it. So every night bank clerks and bakers patrolled fields where troops could be dropped.
On August 23 1940 Churchill had the name of the volunteer force changed to The Home Guard, a title with more purpose and dignity, reflecting the fact that these men would be the first line of defence in case of invasion. With the army re-equipped the Home Guard now received uniforms, weapons and ammunition.
One element of the Home Guard operation was kept secret for fear of damaging Britainís morale. A few highly capable members were selected for training as resistance fighters who would harass and sabotage German occupying troops. Weapons dumps were hidden in woodland ready for their use. They would have been at the forefront of the fight to reclaim their country, and were ready to die in that fight.
More famous dates here
7542 views since 3rd July 2008
On this day: