The Home Guard
On May 14 the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, made an appeal to the nation. Tuning in to the 9 o'clock news on the BBC Home Service the people of Britain heard the Secretary of State warn of the dangers of the new warfare being encountered on the continent and in particular the threat from parachute troops which the Germans had dropped far behind the front lines.
‘Since the war began the Government has received countless inquiries from all over the kingdom from men of all ages who are for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service, and who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Well, now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of such men in Great Britain, who are British subjects, between the ages of 17 and 65. . . to come forward now and offer their services. . . . The name of the new Force which is now to be raised will be "The Local Defence Volunteers". . . This name describes its duties in three words. . . . This is a part-time job, so that there will be no need for any volunteer to abandon his present occupation. . . . When on duty you will form part of the armed forces. . . . You will not be paid, but you will receive a uniform and will be armed. . .'
The rush to the recruiting offices was immediate and overwhelming, before Eden had finished his broadcast, the first Volunteers were arriving at their local police stations. Eden had expected the scheme to be well received but never in his wildest dreams had he assumed that within 24 hours the Local Defence Volunteers (as it was then called) would number over 250 000 men, and by the end of June their numbers had swollen to 1.5 million.
The constabulary were unprepared for such enthusiasm; in one Kentish village the local bobby turned out to deal with what he took to be a mob of illegally armed civilians descending on his station and ordered them to hand over their weapons.
The police quickly ran out of enrolment forms. No one knew what to do with those which had been filled in, as they were to be handed over to a 'properly appointed' commander. No such commanders existed. A solution was found, the lords lieutenant of the counties were called in and, in concert with the senior army commanders in their areas, set about appointing retired officers as area, zone and group organisers, charged with selecting commanders for their different localities or confirming the choices already made by individual units.
The Germans immediately stigmatised the LDV as 'francs-tireurs' outside the protection afforded by international law.
Copyright © 2002 Peter