The Home Guard
Inevitably the Home Guard's engagingly amateurish approach was forced to submit to more orthodox military disciplines. At the beginning of August 1940 its units were affiliated to county regiments and the process of integration with the Army begun. In February 1941 a formal system of ranks was introduced with commissions for officers. At the end of the year conscription brought an end to the purely voluntary nature of the Home Guard.
With the introduction of army disciplines came army bureaucracy, Commanders were buried under an avalanche of red tape.
In the summer of 1940 training had largely been left to the individual initiative of local commanders. The most notable freelance effort was the training school at Osterley Park run by Tom Wintringham, a former Communist who had commanded the International Brigade’s British contingent in the Spanish Civil War. Wintringham was a passionate advocate of guerrilla warfare, and his star turn at Osterley was a trio of Spanish miners who taught Volunteers how to destroy tanks. Five thousand men, including some from regular army units, passed through Wintringham's school between July and October 1940, after which it became ‘War Office No. 1 School' for the Home Guard. Eventually four War Office schools were established, from which 'travelling wings' were dispatched to train units all over the country.
In spite of the excellent new training programme, the Home Guard was still capable of reducing the most serious manoeuvres to surreal slapstick.
In the summer of 1943 there were 1 100 Home Guard battalions, a total of 1.75 million men. The influx of teenagers from early in 1942 had reduced the average age to under thirty, and the proportion of 'old sweats' had dwindled to 7 per cent. The Home Guards' dress and weaponry were now almost identical to that of the regular Army.
Copyright © 2002 Peter