The Real Dad’s Army – the Reality of Britain’s Home Guard
by Malcolm Aitkin
Thursday 29th January 2015
It is easy for those of us who have had no experience of the Second World War to base our ideas of the Home Guard on the bumbling and humorous portrayal of Captain Mainwaring’s platoon in “Dad’s Army”. We know, here in the 21st century, that Hitler never did succeed in invading Britain, but for the people of the time the danger was very real and the end not a foregone conclusion. The men who volunteered to join the Home Guard spent their time in a state of exhaustion, having worked all day at their normal employment, then spending the remainder of their time training, patrolling the fields looking for enemy paratroopers,and protecting important sites such as factories and railways.
This was the thrust of Malcolm Atkin’s fascinating talk to our January meeting. Originally called the Local Defence Volunteers, the organisation was formed in July 1940 after Germany’s successes on the European mainland and when invasion seemed imminent. By the end of July 1940 over 1 million men had volunteered.
It is difficult to believe that certain members of the government were totally opposed to its formation, because they feared revolution should weapons be put into the hands of the ordinary working man. Winston Churchill, however, was a fervent supporter, and in its early days the force owed much to the efforts of Captain Tom Wintringham, recently returned from the Spanish Civil War. Viewed with distrust by parts of the government because of his socialist leanings, Wintringham established a training centre which basically taught guerrilla warfare and which came to be used by the regular army, unused as they were to such tactics.