Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wartime Wednesday: Britain's Home Guard

Wartime Wednesday: Britain's Home Guard

Britain's Home Guard
Originally known and the Local Defence Volunteers, Britain’s Home Guard was nicknamed “Look, Duck, and Vanish.” Despite being tagged with this unfortunate misnomer, the Guard was responsible for several important tasks. Comprised of men who were either too young or too old, ineligible for service due to medical conditions, or those in reserved occupations, at its height the organization had nearly two million members.

In the event of an invasion, their role was to slow down the advance of enemy troops to give the regular armed forces time to regroup or react. Responsible for guarding the coast areas and strategic locations such as airfields, factories, and explosive stores, they were trained in weapons handling, unarmed combat, and guerrilla warfare techniques.

Osterly Park,
Home Guard Training Facility
One such facility that provide training was Osterly Park, located in the Borough of Hounslow outside of London. Originally built in 1570 for a banker named Sir Thomas Gresham, the house changed hands over the years until it came into possession of the Jersey family. During WWII, the 9th Earl of Jersey allowed writer and military journalist Tom Wintringham to use the grounds to teach camouflage techniques, making home-made explosives, hand-to-hand combat, and knife fighting. Ironically, because of Wintringham’s communist sympathies he was not allowed to join the Home Guard, and the facility was disapproved by the War Office and closed in 1941.

Initially, the Guard did not allow female members, so women formed unofficial groups such as the Amazon Defence Corps and Women’s Home Defence (WHD). In the WHD, women were given basic military training. Eventually women were admitted to the Home Guard with the understanding that they would occupy traditional women’s support roles. Several sources claim that although records are scarce, it is evident that some women held combatant roles.

When it became apparent in late 1944, that the Axis powers would not invade Britain, the Home Guard was “stood down.” The organization was disbanded in December 1945, having lost 1,026 members on duty to air and rocket attacks.

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