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The British Newspaper Archive

British Newspaper Archive

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The Home Guard's Weird and Wacky Homemade Defence Mechanisms


Published on 17 Aug 2015 16:04 : 27 comments : 6993 views

The Home Guard intended to defend Britain against a German Invasion with lots of improvisation. The common opinion of the Home Guard is summed up by Dad’s Army, that is that they wouldn’t have been much use in the event of an actual German invasion. This assessment is a little unfair, and misses one key element: that these men were prepared to fight an army much better equipped than them with rudimentary weapons. Even gentlemen in their nineties were willing to join!


home guard 56

 

With the armaments industry trying to rapidly refit and rearm the regular army after they left most of their weaponry at Dunkirk, the Home Guard did not receive much, if any, new issue kit as there was not enough available. Many of the first parades undertaken by the Home Guard featured a myriad of different weapons, from knives on brooms to pitchforks, sports and hunting rifles to 12 bore shotguns.


Despite the lack of arms, there was a willingness to get to grips with the enemy – one Home Guardsman took a German pilot prisoner with a 12 bore shotgun, as reported in the Derby Daily Telegraph, Friday 26 July 1940. There were also several incidents of the Home Guard firing on RAF aircrew who had bailed out of their aircraft, believing them to be enemy agents!

 

There are reports of some units raiding their local museums, and of one former Royal Navy rating setting up a ‘Cutlass Platoon’. So bad were the shortages that the Home Office manufactured 250,000 ‘Pikes’ for use by the Home Guard, which was resented at the time for good reason. 

 

home guard1

 

The Home Guard also manufactured homemade grenades (milk tins filled with nuts and bolts and milk bottles filled with petrol), improvised means of throwing them (one Railway Home Guard platoon built a Petrol Bomb catapult out of spare braces, railway sleepers and a signal lever) and training of some Home Guard platoons in London on roller-skates to act as rapid responders & messengers. Other Platoons practiced ‘rooftop scrambles’ in order to get above the enemy.

 

Eventually, the shortages began to be overcome via American ‘lend Lease’ equipment, as the Home Guard took delivery of P17 and P14 Enfield Rifles (manufactured in the United States under license) and old WW1 Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles. Some units also got Thompson submachine guns, or ‘Tommy’ guns, and Browning Automatic Rifles. The odd Bren also crept through.

 

home guard armoured car

 

The shortages remained, however, and some units would barely be equipped at all, even by the stand-down of 1944. The Home Guard is remembered mainly because of Dad’s Army. This is a little unfair on these remarkable chaps. Any man who is willing to face a fully equipped modern army with a pitchfork for the principle of it is a man of exceptional courage, and one I personally wouldn’t want to cross.


 

If a member of your family was in the Home Guard, why not share your stories with us?

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by Ian on 19 Aug 2015 13:21 :
My Father was in the Home Guard and fired rocket launchers on Wimbledon Common. Where can I find more information on Arthur William John Prescott?
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by bessiebennett on 19 Aug 2015 14:47 :
My father could not enlist becase he was on secret work for the government, making periscope sights for submarenes. So he joined the Home Gard and became a Captain.
He had one asignment to show the locals how to wear their Gas Masks. He took me along with him to show the children how to wear theirs and to give them confidence.
Some of the very yong ones were frightened of them.
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by Carolyn on 19 Aug 2015 15:03 :
My grandfather was in the Home Guard in a specialist section. He had bolt-holes in the forest where guns and ammunition were stashed so that he could lead a guerrilla army if the Germans had invaded. When he dies we found a cellar full of Molotov cocktails, cases of ammo and sundry other pieces of military equipment.
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by Kathrine on 19 Aug 2015 15:45 :
My husband joined the Home Guard after leaving school at 17 as a sort of gap year before joining the Army at 18 As he had been in the school Army Cadet corp he became a corporal and was the only young member. Most of the others were older men who commuted to London daily and gave all their free time to being Home Guards.They were defending the woodland area of Seal Chart near Sevenoaks in Kent.
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by Elizabeth on 19 Aug 2015 15:47 :
My father - John Dougan - was an engine driver with L.N.E.R. during the war, later Superintendent in charge of Seafield Depot. He joined the Railway Home Guard and they spent some time on manoeuvres in the King's Park in Edinburgh. They then decided they would have an armoured engine and eventually wanted to try it out. They started it up in Leith Central and intended to run it to the Waverly Station then return but found they could not stop it, so it ran through the main line in the Waverley and managed to stop at the Haymarket where Dad's Uncle Ross was the Superintendent eventually returning it and stripping it down. He kept his rifle in the cupboard under the stairs and Mum used to have a fit when he took it out to clean it! I don't know if he ever got to fire it.
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by Michael on 19 Aug 2015 16:36 :
My father was in the Home Guard in South East London where there was a lot of damage inflicted.He did not talk about it much as there were many bombing situations with many casualties which included a direct hit on a school during attendance time.
This was on top of his daytime job in the Gas Board and the constant repair of gas mains,supervising that supplies could be maintained whatever the cost.
I still have his gas mask kitbag!
How they coped with the long hours with hardly any time off still amazes me.
I also remember the Anderson and Morrison shelters that were in use.
We had an Anderson one in the garden or if not sufficient time we would shelter under the stairs in the cupboard.
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by pinkfloyd on 19 Aug 2015 17:30 :
My father was unable to serve as he was deaf, but they allowed him to join the Home Guard. His daytime job was a delivery driver.
All he ever said about it was they trained on Clapham Common with planks of wood as guns.
How can I find out anything about Robert Albert Bradshaw's service. :-)
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by Geoffrey on 19 Aug 2015 17:33 :
My Father was too old for the regular forces in W.W.2.and so he joined the Home Guard. It was a busy time for him because, apart from his full time job, he was a drummer in a dance band and ran a small poultry farm. He used to relate one time when, at the time of the invasion scare, he, and his next door neighbour, were made responsible for patrolling a mile of the East Coast. My Father had his 12-bore and two cartridges while his neighbour sported a smaller 410 shotgun. No wonder that the Germans dare not mount an invasion with such odds stacked against them.
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by James on 19 Aug 2015 19:21 :
My late father-in-law, William Tedder (a 1914-18 war veteran - he was a POW in Germany for 2 years or so) was in a Worthing unit of the Home Guard which was largely - I believe - of local Postmen.
Sadly I cannot find anything about 1st World War service.
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by Joan on 19 Aug 2015 19:50 :
I remember a neighbour's father being in the home guard in Slough. My own father was in the rescue service. He was leader of a mobile squad. They were required to go to wherever the bombing was thickest in the southern region.
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by JohnSF on 19 Aug 2015 20:30 :
My impression from my father's comments was that his unit, in a Buckinghamshire village near Checkers, was very like that of Dad's Army. They were led by an ex-regular army man and my father, very much the Sgt Wilson character, a civilian, managed to maintain a cool head when power sometimes went to the head of others. Some in the platoon gave away how good shots they were in rifle practice; my father wondered if they had acquired their skill through poaching. My father obviously enjoyed the Home Guard: but-

I found a letter among my late father's things (and I presume all home guards received one) in which the King thanked them for gift of their time 'and their life if need be'. Among the fun it was that serious.
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by JohnSF on 19 Aug 2015 20:34 :
My impression from my father's comments was that his unit, in a Buckinghamshire village near Checkers, was very like that of Dad's Army. They were led by an ex-regular army man and my father, very much the Sgt Wilson character, a civilian, managed to maintain a cool head when power sometimes went to the head of others. Some in the platoon gave away how good shots they were in rifle practice; my father wondered if they had acquired their skill through poaching. My father obviously enjoyed the Home Guard: but-

I found a letter among my late father's things (and I presume all home guards received one) in which the King thanked them for gift of their time 'and their life if need be'. Among the fun it was that serious.
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by margaret.mckinnon35@ on 19 Aug 2015 20:42 :
My father was in The Home Guard attached to his work, he worked in The Clyde Iron Works in Cambuslang near Glasgow, Around the time of the Clydebank Blitz, he and his workmates during a nightshift, saw a white 'parachute' caught up in the high rails of the Goliath crane, it was just after the 'all clear' had sounded and they were determined to get this 'Gerry Pilot' before he escaped. So they armed themselves with whatever they could get their hands on. brush handles or any bits of sticks that resembled a rifle, as they had no arms of defence of any kind. Bravely they climbed up only to discover it was a barrage balloon that somehow had escaped it's tethers. It was a relieved bunch with a story to tell their children. I am almost 80 years old now and still remember the bits of shrapnell he used to bring home. I did not realise the significance of what that piece of metal had come from.
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by Paul on 20 Aug 2015 01:29 :
My father was Asthmatic so he could not join up he also worked in a "protected" industry. My parents, and my brother, lived in Wembley and were bombed nightly. Mum and Dad both did fire watch most nights of the week and said their relief people often "chose" to sleep in and leave them on watch all night. Dad was a member of the Home Guard and spoke of their unit being allowed to train with one solitary Sten Gun (also known as a Grease Gun). He also mentioned broom handles with kitchen knives attached etc. The stories they told of near misses, doodle bugs and V1's were both humorous and scary. I was born right after the war and I still remember all the bombed out buildings and devastation left years after the war was over. The men and women left at home were no less heroes than the soldiers at the front. Britain should be proud.
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by Graham on 20 Aug 2015 08:13 :
My father was a sargent in the home guard in Derby as my birth was just after the war in 1945 so all I have are stories one of them being when Dad went on patrol they used to put explosives under old railway lines to see how high they would go. His day job was with Rolls Royce and became chief production engineer.he also became a Fellow of the institute of production engineers. Cyril Horace Walters
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by Graham on 20 Aug 2015 08:14 :
My father was a sargent in the home guard in Derby as my birth was just after the war in 1945 so all I have are stories one of them being when Dad went on patrol they used to put explosives under old railway lines to see how high they would go. His day job was with Rolls Royce and became chief production engineer.he also became a Fellow of the institute of production engineers. Cyril Horace Walters
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by Graham on 20 Aug 2015 08:14 :
My father was a sargent in the home guard in Derby as my birth was just after the war in 1945 so all I have are stories one of them being when Dad went on patrol they used to put explosives under old railway lines to see how high they would go. His day job was with Rolls Royce and became chief production engineer.he also became a Fellow of the institute of production engineers. Cyril Horace Walters
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by Graham on 20 Aug 2015 08:14 :
My father was a sargent in the home guard in Derby as my birth was just after the war in 1945 so all I have are stories one of them being when Dad went on patrol they used to put explosives under old railway lines to see how high they would go. His day job was with Rolls Royce and became chief production engineer.he also became a Fellow of the institute of production engineers. Cyril Horace Walters
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by Judith on 20 Aug 2015 11:54 :
My grandfather, a veteran of the Boer War and WW1, took his duties as a sergeant in the Home Guard very seriously. His day job as a chauffeur/gardener to two old ladies was less arduous than some but he struggled with damaged lungs due to being gassed in WW1.

My father was briefly in the home guard. He was a reservist and after a spell back in the Tank Regiment based near Aldershot applied to return to his old job at the RAE Farnborough. He then served in the home guard patrolling round Farnborough Abbey. A scheme was hatched to erect a strong point next to the road bridge over the railway by Farnborough Station. To do this access was required to the garden of one of the railway cottages by the station. The lady of the house refused them access without written permission of her landlord the Southern Railway Company. That was the end of that scheme!
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by Rosalyn on 20 Aug 2015 14:56 :
My father, "Goody" Luff was in the Home Guard at the village of Milland in West Sussex. From what he told me it was very much as portrayed by Dad's Army. They had to protect the coast and their ammunition was in a wooden box which had the lid screwed down - but nobody had a screwdriver! They also had to dig a deep ditch so that they could stand up and survey the surrounding area but the crop sown in that field was wheat so when it grew nobody could see over the top!
On training nights their captain would send one or two to the local pub to find the those missing from parade. They would stay for a drink and so two more would come down and so it went on ....
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by Sheila on 20 Aug 2015 15:57 :
I was not quite three when war was declared, but I remember going to a parade in Battersea Park, where my father was on Parade. I think that this must have been very
near the end of the war! My sister Pat and I were very proud to see our daddy there, with all the other men, ready to fight!
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by Caldervale on 20 Aug 2015 17:36 :
Remember the Home Guard being the Local Defence Volunteers before being renamed "Home Guard". A humorous version of the initial letters , L.D.V. became
Look , Duck and Vanish. Later the L.D.V. and Home Guard became known to me as
52nd Battalion, West Riding Home Guard. The L.D.V had makeshift weapons and would be no match for those of any invasion force. Hayforks versus bullets.
The Home Guard was issued with more suitable weaponry later such as Sten Guns
(If fingers were in the way of the expelled spent cartridge the chance of loosing one
arose) Another weapon , The Northover Projector used against tanks was added to the weaponry. Finally - one member of the 52nd Battalion West Riding Home Guard
was credited with shooting down a dead crow on the rifle range. Caldervale.
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by Edwin on 21 Aug 2015 11:01 :
I joined the Home Guard in January 1941 at the age of 15. The so-called "Dad's Army" was a mixture of all ages from under-age kids like me to Grandad's who had served in WW1, who had fought at places like then Somme and Ypres. Some still had the scars to show it.. In between there were men of military age in reserved occupations, etc.
Believe me it was serious. I still have my Field Service Notebook, showing the training we did.
Had we come up against seasoned German troops we would have been decimated, but we would at least of delayed them.
Ted
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by Daniel on 23 Aug 2015 18:31 :
To all those with great memoirs, My Grandfather, James A Aspinall service to King & Country started in 1907-1910 BBS under Sir Frances Van,1910--1911 Loyal North Lancs, Bolton, He then went Canada and enlisted with the Canadian Garrison Artillery 1911-1914, on the outbreak of WW1 he joinedthe Canadian Grenadire Guards1914-17,Gazetted on the Field 1917 and transfered R.N.A.S , (RAF) untill 1920, when he returned to Canada he was in the Canadian Milita, until the outbreak of WW2 he was placed on Active service ,untill forced to retire because of age. He joined The Canadian Home Guard Version The Corps of Imperial frontiersmen of the Commonwealth. EVERY ONE WHO DID THEIR BIT be it in the Commonwealth or those who were at the very pointed end should never be FORGOT ! Daniel A Hannah
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by Norman on 24 Aug 2015 19:18 :
Perhaps one of the most unusual of the Home Guard units was that in the Pennine town of Alston, in Cumberland, as it than was. Because the terrain surrounding the town was all moorland, with few roads across it, the unit needed something other than normal transport to negotiate large parts of it. The solution was to use horses for rapid response to any incident. I am led to believe that Alston Home Guard was the only mounted unit.
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by Barry on 25 Aug 2015 15:11 :
I once worked for a Baker, who was in the Home guard in Lincolnshire near the coast, and one of the jobs they had was to bury dead Germans that had tried to get into the country by small craft, it appeared the the bodies were badly burnt.
B J D Wilson Lincoln
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by Peter on 29 Sep 2015 10:03 :
hi,
do anyone know where to get the recordhome Guard units.