The REAL Dad’s Army

2011

 

Neil Storey (pictured, right) made his third annual visit for our October meeting, to tell us the true story  of the Home Guard in World War Two, and to answer the big question:  How real was TV’s Dad's Army?

The answer is that the Warmington-on-Sea Home Guard unit gave us a remarkably accurate picture of how things were during Britain’s “darkest hour”.  When Anthony Eden made his call to arms speech on 14th  May 1940 the country had just seen the Nazi paratroops and panzer tanks sweep through Belgium and France and approach the English Channel. 

An invasion seemed imminent.  Who was to defend Britain? There clearly was serious work to do, as this photo of the Home Guard standing guard over a crashed aeroplane shows.  In particular, who was to spot those parachutes and alert what army we still had?  Eden called for able-bodied men who were too old or too young for military service, or were in reserved occupations, to report to their local police station and sign up to the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV).  It is true that there was a degree of confusion (illustrated by Captain Mainwaring taking charge of the crowd).  Not only were there not enough enrolment forms, but many men reported before Eden’s broadcast was even finished.

There was much scrimping and scraping in the early months.  Indeed, one of the reasons for forming the Home Guard was to bring under control “vigilante” groups arming themselves with shotguns, ex-officer’s pistols, pitchforks and even cutlasses.  A classic example of scrimping was the issue of NCOs’ stripes.  Each unit was sent only one pair of Sergeant’s stripes - instructions were to wear them only on the left arm, and cut up the other set to provide two stripes for the Corporal and one for the Lance Corporal.

Neil took us through the story of how this initial chaos resolved itself into a structure based on Police Divisions with officers and senior NCOs being selected, especially from men who had served in World War One and even in the Boer War and other African campaigns (remember Lance Corporal Jones and his oft-repeated tales?).  We were reminded how Churchill, when he became Prime Minister, changed the name to the more military Home Guard, how it became known as Dad’s Army because most of the men were from the older group, and how there were also plenty of young Private Pikes.

There was much scrimping and scraping in the early months.  Indeed, one of the reasons for forming the Home Guard was to bring under control “vigilante” groups arming themselves with shotguns, ex-officer’s pistols, pitchforks and even cutlasses.  A classic example of scrimping was the issue of NCOs’ stripes.  Each unit was sent only one pair of Sergeant’s stripes - instructions were to wear them only on the left arm, and cut up the other set to provide two stripes for the Corporal and one for the Lance .

There was much improvisation of weapons, including Molotov cocktails and home-made grenades.  These seem obvious - but how many of you know how to destroy a tank using a jam-jar, some glue, a pot of black paint, an armful of straw and a dinner plate?  Oh - and a bit of HE.

From these rough and ready beginnings the Home Guard became strong enough to take over the manning of coastal lookout pill-boxes during the build-up to D-Day and, bravest thing of all, to form secret “202” groups.  202 groups were seen as the nucleus of a guerrilla resistance force had the Nazi invasion succeeded.  Heavily armed, they were to go underground during an invasion and emerge later to create havoc among the enemy.  Their expected survival time?  Twelve days.

Dad’s Army, equipped with regular army cast-offs maybe . . . . .  but these were brave, brave men.

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