Britain: the Home Guard are stood down

Seated at the dining table with his wife, a Sergeant of the Dorking Home Guard in Surrey, England gives his Tommy gun a final polish before leaving home to go on parade.

Seated at the dining table with his wife, a Sergeant of the Dorking Home Guard in Surrey, England gives his Tommy gun a final polish before leaving home to go on parade.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the 1st American Squadron of the Home Guard on Horse Guards Parade, London, on 9 January 1941.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the 1st American Squadron of the Home Guard on Horse Guards Parade, London, on 9 January 1941.

Finally the government decided that they could acknowledge that the risk of Britain being invaded had disappeared. The Home Guard were now ‘stood down’, although they were not completely disbanded until after the war ended.

Personnel of a Home Guard Motor Transport Company in Ulster pictured in an Army lorry. Members of this Company did some of their training with the Royal Army Service Corps in Northern Ireland.

Personnel of a Home Guard Motor Transport Company in Ulster pictured in an Army lorry. Members of this Company did some of their training with the Royal Army Service Corps in Northern Ireland.

First formed as the ‘Local Defence Volunteers’, they were an emergency measure to help organise the civilian population’s response to the apparently imminent threat of invasion in 1940. They were swiftly renamed the ‘Home Guard’ at the insistence of Winston Churchill and gradually received better training, equipment and a recognised role within the military establishment.

Home Guards in the Edinburgh area organised a motor boat patrol for use on the canals and waterways of the district in order to protect local factories and buildings. One of the motor boats with a Lewis gun mounted in the bows.

Home Guards in the Edinburgh area organised a motor boat patrol for use on the canals and waterways of the district in order to protect local factories and buildings. One of the motor boats with a Lewis gun mounted in the bows.

The risk of invasion had become negligible even by 1942 but the Home Guard had continued to be a very active organisation. The possibility of German parachutists mounting disruptive raids had been contemplated during the D-Day planning, and the Home Guard were recognised as a useful first response and means of alerting the regular Army.

 5th (Doncaster) Battalion of the Home Guard under attack

Men of the 5th (Doncaster) Battalion of the Home Guard under attack from an ‘enemy dive-bomber’ during a training exercise at Punch’s Hotel, Bessacarr, Doncaster, 14 October 1940. The aircraft is an RAF Miles Magister trainer.

It transpired that the Home Guard never saw action against the enemy in the conventional sense. However the men who volunteered were never far from the reality of war on the home front, especially in those areas that suffered bombing.

 A Home Guard mounted patrol parading for inspection at Cowbridge near Cardiff. Their task was to patrol the hills and valleys of the Welsh countryside.

A Home Guard mounted patrol parading for inspection at Cowbridge near Cardiff. Their task was to patrol the hills and valleys of the Welsh countryside.

Richard Brown, living in Ipswich, was just one of tens of thousands of men who spent almost the entire war engaged in a second life, alongside their ordinary work, committed to both the Home Guard and the Air Raid Precaution service. They were justifiably proud of what they did:

3 December 1944

It’s been a rather impressive day I suppose. Wasn’t aware of it at first, merely went along to parade as I’ve done many times but by now I’ve come to the conclusion we must have been appreciated by somebody.

We paraded at 0845 hr and marched to the Regent Cinema, the whole battalion, where the miniature shooting cup was presented to the winning team, B Company, and the shield for the stretcher-bearing competition to the sector winners, our platoon.

Major Howes, our CO addressed us and so did Gen Deeds. I was pleased they spoke plainly and appreciatively but with no fuss and without ladling out absurd compliments. The 9th Battalion went to the Odeon.

Following that we marched to the park and formed up as a Battalion on the grass before the Mansion, eventually marching away following the 9th to the march past at the Cornhill where Gen Deeds took the salute. We went along Crown Street to Hyde Park Corner, along Westgate Street, Carr Street and so up St Helen’s. Five bands played us along at various points.

Can’t say much of what I saw at the saluting base. Like the others, I suppose, I was concentrating on marching, listening to orders and keeping position.

In London representatives from all units in the country, 7,000 of them, marched past the King. We sent Foster, a good bloke.

I suppose we did do a job of work. We were ready if needed for active service and in a negative sort of way we did it when, around invasion time, we did those pickets and guards. They released a great many full-time soldiers who would have had to do the job in our place and enabled the Army to concentrate wholly on their part of the war.

So now it’s all over, although only being stood down we are not disbanded and are liable to recall at any moment.

There are 1,631 on the strength of our battalion, in addition 245 went to the Forces, and I suppose the 9th had similar strength, and I also guess that our platoon wasn’t far off being the keenest and most conscientious of the lot. We turned out at almost full strength today, thirty-five out of under forty.

Now we concentrate wholly on ARP duties. We started the one-night-in- six rota on Thursday. Six nights will seem a helluva gap but I guess we won’t complain. We all turn out at trouble.

See Mr Brown’s War: A Diary from the Home Front

Home Guard soldiers (foreground) battle 'enemy paratroopers' during an exercise in the streets of a mining town in Northern Command, 3 August 1941.

Home Guard soldiers (foreground) battle ‘enemy paratroopers’ during an exercise in the streets of a mining town in Northern Command, 3 August 1941.

The Home Guard: Photograph contrasting a 1940 Local Defence volunteer with a 1944 Home Guard. Both were members of 32 Surrey Battalion.

The Home Guard: Photograph contrasting a 1940 Local Defence volunteer with a 1944 Home Guard. Both were members of 32 Surrey Battalion.

Members of the Kent Home Guard demonstrate a 'Blacker Bombard' spigot mortar during an inspection by Lieutenant General Sir Edward Schreiber, GOC South East Command, 23 July 1944.

Members of the Kent Home Guard demonstrate a ‘Blacker Bombard’ spigot mortar during an inspection by Lieutenant General Sir Edward Schreiber, GOC South East Command, 23 July 1944.

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