The most flattering being Parashots, a title the press coined to reflect the primary intention of the LDV, shooting invading paratroopers. However this name did not catch on because the LDV also carried out many other functions, such as guarding important facilities and amenities, watching the coast, rounding up downed Nazi aircrew, dealing with bombs and fires and much more. Also, it seemed more likely that the Nazis would invade from the sea, not the air.
Other nicknames which were thrown at them played on the abbreviation LDV itself, therefore the geriatric status of the troops produced Long Dentured Veterans. Furthermore the courage of the members was brought into question with the popular nickname Look, Duck and Vanish. Perhaps the least patriotic of the titles bestowed on these valiant troops doing their best in the hour of their country’s need was the Last Desperate
But even with the air of hilarity in which many people viewed them, the LDV prided themselves in the fact that they were doing a very important job in the defence of their country and its people. They bravely marched through their local villages, all be it slightly out of step and carrying wooden rifles or broom handles with carving knives attached, because they knew that soon the Government would catch up with their enthusiasm and they would be equipped properly. And in the meantime they improvised with such lethal concoctions as jam tin bombs and Molotov Cocktails.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, recognised the power of this new force, and he encouraged it to the hilt. On August 23rd, 1940, he announced that he was changing the name of the Local Defence Volunteers to the more fitting title of the Home Guard. It has been recorded many times over that Churchill coined this name himself in one of his many inspired moments. This is however not true. The title Home Guard had actually been used for many years in countries outside of Britain to describe civilian armies of this nature. Similar defence units which rallied to defend their homes during the American Civil War were in fact dubbed ‘Home Guard’, although they were on a much smaller scale and less organised level than Britain’s Home Guard of WWII.
Recently I have seen a postcard on the internet stamped 7th June 1910 which featured the photo of the ‘Home Guard building’ in Van Wert, Ohio, USA. Also on the net I saw a military badge which came from the ‘Ottawa Home Guard’ in Canada and dated 1914. There was an Arkansas Home Guard in the USA in 1917 too. And the July 10th, 1939 issue of LIFE magazine features a photo of Japanese civilian defence troops with the caption ‘Japanese Home Guard’ on the cover. Therefore Mr Churchill cannot have created the title himself in 1940. As he was a student of history, he had obviously picked up on the name from abroad experiences with civilian armies. But wherever the name came from, the LDV was redesignated the Home Guard by Churchill in an inspired move.
The Home Guard continued to grow and its duties expanded. The Government provided uniforms to most units by late 1940, in the form of Army issue denim fatigues, field service caps and boots. Now
the scruffy rabble of men who once paraded with nothing but an armband and an improvised weapon such as a pike or even a golf club, looked like a proper body of soldiers. Later they also got issues of serge battledress which made them look just like the real army.
Proper military weapons soon arrived too. Rifles were issued to Home Guard units, including ex-WWI Enfields from British storage, Canadian Ross rifles, and American M17 rifles sent on the lend-lease scheme in the hundreds of thousands. Officers received pistols too, and the troops soon got specialised artillery pieces which were in many cases designed just for them. These include the Blacker Bombard, the Smith Gun and the Northover Projector. Items trialed by the regular army and considered either too dangerous or ineffective, such as the Sticky Bomb, often made their way to the Home Guard. Later they received state of the art weapons like the Thompson and Sten machine guns.
The Home Guard served valiantly on in many areas of military operations, and soon found that they could take over duties that real soldiers were tied to, thus relieving them to take care of other aspects of the war. They formed Home Guard river patrols, to ensure the vital waterways were kept clear, as the canals and rivers were an efficient mode of transport to industry even in the 1940’s. The Home Guard brought back mounted cavalry to patrol the hills and cliff tops, forming swift mobile attacking forces on ground they knew well, but unfamiliar to an enemy. They also guarded the railways and key industrial sites against sabotage or aerial attack. They manned anti-aircraft batteries and coastal defence gun emplacements. And in London and other large cities, the Home Guard’s role in rescue work in bombed out areas was unquestionably welcomed. They carried on in the defence of their country, all in their spare time outside of the normal working hours, ever vigilant in preparing to defend their beaches, their fields, their towns and their cities from an air or seaborne invasion force.
Many have said that the Home Guard would have been little use in stopping the Germans had they invaded. But the Home Guard in fact contributed greatly to stopping that invasion taking place at all. The thought alone of their well organised and armed second defensive line behind the regular army must have been a factor in Hitler’s decision to turn instead towards Russia. The Home Guard did their job, and they did it well. Many gave their lives in the course of it all, others won heroic medals.
Eventually the Home Guard numbers peaked at over 1.5 million members, equivalent to the strength of the regular British Army at the time, and over 2 million served over the four and a half years of it’s existence. The Home Guard eventually disbanded on 6th December 1944.Among those who served were some familiar names, including Arnold Ridley and John Laurie. And of course Jimmy Perry, whose creation of Dad’s Army has ensured that we will never forget the efforts of those real valiant heroes who rallied to Britain’s call.
NB: Further to the myth that Churchill coined the title Home Guard, I have read many books published in recent years which state “during the war, the Home Guard became known to everyone as Dad’s Army”. These ‘history’ books infer Dad’s Army was a wartime nickname! I dispute this. The name Dad’s Army was in fact created by Michael Mills of the BBC in early 1968, during a flash of inspiration of his own, because he thought Jimmy Perry’s working title for the show of ‘The Fighting Tigers’ wouldn’t do. The name is now embedded in our psyche, and to the media it now represents things old, amateur or improvised. To us it means the greatest television comedy ever created.