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The Home Guard in the UK
in the Second World War

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What the Home Guard was

1940s Home Guard re-enactment with fixed bayonets

A 1940s Home Guard re-enactment at Milton Keynes. Note the fixed bayonets.

During the Second World War every able-bodied adult was under pressure to do something to help the war effort and almost all of them were only too keen to do so. In particular, in response to an urgent broadcast on Tuesday 14 May 1940, men who for various reasons could not join the regular army volunteered to join groups which were then known as Local Defence Volunteers. The Government expected 150,000 men to volunteer but within 24 hours 250,000 had put down their names. By the end of May the number had risen to between 300,000 and 400,000 and by the end of June to just under 1½ million. The number peaked at 1.8 million in March 1943 and never fell below 1 million until the Home Guard was disbanded after the war.

The original remit, which was part-time, was to defend the British coastline in the event of an invasion by Germany, although this was expanded to watch over secure establishments like air-fields and factories inland.

Only two months after their formation, at the end of July 1940 the name was changed to the Home Guard.

As soon as it could be arranged, members of the Home Guard were issued with their own uniform and kit.

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Who the Home Guardsmen were

The Home Guard drew its membership from men who were too old for the regular army, men in reserved occupations and young men of 17 to 18.

The older men had generally served in WW1 and they headed the training with occasional support from the regular army. Indeed once the 17 year-olds became 18 and were called up into the regular army, they had already been well-prepared by being in the Home Guard. Newly 17 year-olds joined and so kept up numbers.

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Where the Home Guard met

Individual local platoons of Home Guard met wherever there was space to accommodate them. Typically this was in church halls and back rooms of pubs.

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Training and exercises in the home guard

Initially training took place almost every evening and at weekends, and many weekends were entirely taken up by exercises - sometimes with other Home Guard units, sometimes with members of the regular army.

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Regular duties of the Home Guard

4th Rumney Company, Cardiff Regiment, South Wales Home Guard

Malcolm Head's father (back right), 4th Rumney Company, Cardiff Regiment, South Wales Home Guard, 1943..
This group was colloquially known as the Butchers Platoon because most of them were butchers by profession - but not by temperament.

There were also duty patrols. Each group of Guardsmen was allocated its own location so that as soon as the need arose every man knew where he had to go and what he had to do. It was not unusual for Guardsmen do a day's work followed by a night's duty followed by another day's work which meant around 36 hours without sleep.

My father's group helped to man the searchlights which were set up in a local market garden. The Guardsmen also set up road blocks at regular intervals - not a popular exercise as it involved moving several 50 gallon oil drums full of concrete to form a chicane. Only once did anyone try to burst through this arrangement, with dire results. The driver claimed not to have seen the obstruction in the dark (Vehicle headlights were hooded and visibility very poor.) The fact that he was found to have half an illegally slaughtered cow in the back of his van was coincidental apparently.

Malcolm Head

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Camaraderie in the Home Guard

The officer in charge of my father's group was our neighbour and friend, and it was a great source of amusement that my father would make a great play of saluting him at the most inappropriate moments.

As the war progressed and the threat of invasion receded life in the Home Guard became more relaxed and on weekend manoeuvres cross country exercises would often end at my grandfather's pub, the Cefn Mably Arms. Pubs in Wales were closed on Sundays then, so the men remained undisturbed, especially as Sgt Evans of the St Mellons constabulary was among them.

Malcolm Head

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Page based on discussions with Home Guard enthusiasts at re-enactment events
and descendants of Home Guardsmen.