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18 September 2014
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The Home Front in World War One

By Peter Craddick-Adams
The Home Guard

Image of two members of the Home Guard, Fulham, London 1940
Two members of the Home Guard, Fulham, London 1940  ©
A final, popular image that seems to summarise World War Two Britain can be found with the establishment of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) in May 1940, to repel a feared German invasion.

Soon given the more dignified title of the Home Guard, we smile when we think of Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson and Corporal Jones in BBC Television’s Dad’s Army, but it was taken very seriously in the summer of 1940.

Over a million men enrolled, which provided a welcome activity for older veterans of War War One, though in the event of invasion, their military effectiveness would have been questionable.

As one Berkshire Volunteer observed:

‘I think that none of us will forget our first LDV route march. On it a quarter of a century slipped away in a flash. There came memories of the Menin Road, of loose, shifting, exasperating cobbles, of the smell of cordite and the scream of shrapnel , of the mud and stench and misery of Flanders, of hopes and fears in battles long ago ... There were few youngsters in that first platoon of ours ...’
Angus Calder, The People's War

Whilst historian AJP Taylor summarised their role in his own way:

‘The Home Guard harrassed innocent civilians for identity cards; put up primitive road blocks, the traces of which may delight future archaeologists; and sometimes made bombs out of petrol tins. In a serious invasion, its members would presumably have been massacred if they had managed to assemble at all. Their spirit was willing though their equipment was scanty. Churchill proposed to launch the slogan: ‘You can always take one with you’ if the Germans landed ...’
AJP Taylor, English History 1914-45

If nothing else, the Home Guard drilling with pikes and shotguns emphasised just how much more World War Two became a people’s war, fought from the Home Front, than World War One could ever have been.

Published: 2005-03-14

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