Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

Pontypool’s “Dad’s Army”

September 22, 2008

The popular TV series “Dad’s Army” took on a humorous vein and was meant to create laughs, but the formation of the Home Guard in 1940, as we feared a possible invasion by German forces,  was anything but humorous. To start with it was not known as the Home Guard but as the Local Defence Volunteers.

I well remember that early summer evening of Tuesday 14th May 1940 when our whole family was sitting in the dining room at the back of “Garfield” in School Lane. Just after nine o’clock, Anthony Eden, who was Secretary of State for War, spoke to the country on the BBC’s Home Service. He asked for male civilians “of all ages who wish to do something for the defence of their country” to register for the LDV at their local police station. He told them “Your loyal help, added to the arrangements which already exist will make and keep our country safe.” The Local Defence Volunteers was launched without any staff, or funds, or premises of its own. Eden had simply instructed his listeners “to give in your name at your local police station and then, as and when we want you, we will let you know.”

There was a large number of men in the country who were just a bit too old to join the fighting forces but who were physically fit and able to help. My father was one of them, being in his early forties and having seen servcie in the Royal Navy in the Great War of 1914-18. He said he would go along and register the following day.

Before Eden’s broadcast had ended, police stations all over the country were deluged with eager volunteers. By the end of the first 24 hours, 250,000 men – equal in number to the peacetime Regular Army – had registered their names. Membership continued to grow at a remarkably rapid rate. By the end of May the total number of volunteers had risen to between 300,000 and 400,000, and by the end of the following month it exceeded 1,400,000, many more than the government had anticipated.

At first the volunteers had no uniforms but wore ordinary civilian clothing with  arm bands bearing the initials LDV. But it wasn’t long before Winston Churchill changed the name to Home Guard.

To begin with the volunteers had no proper equipment, no uniforms, guns or ammunition, so were forced to train with replica guns made of wood. But they embarked on serious training exercises ready for any invasion or attack. The training included camouflage techniques, assault training, the handling and firing of various types of weapons, learning how to set up road blocks and check-points and how to deal with German pilots who were shot down and other captured enemies who might attempt to land by parachute.

The aim of the volunteer force was not to engage large enemy forces which might arrive in the country but to go out on watch in small patrols and to man observation posts. Soon the uniforms, guns and ammunition arrived so the force began to look like a real army.

As a young lad I was very interested in watching the activities  of the Home Guard and I recall two occasions when I witnessed them on duty. The first was early on when I saw a group drilling in the field just beyond the duck pond at the side of the chicken run at Osborne Cottage. The other occasion was when Captain Jim Hamar had taken our Boys’ Brigade company out one day up the Race near the gypsy encampment ) There was a large flat field there surrounded by shallow banks. The Home Guard had set up a target on one bank and had a gun set up on a tripod some 150 yards away on another bank. I remember them loading what looked like a bottle of yellow liquid into the gun and firing it at the target. We saw it explode and were thrilled!

As the threat of invasion faded in 1943 and later, the need for the Home Guard decreased and eventually it was disbanded. But it had served a useful purpose. At its peak the force had numbered 1,793,000 and 1,206 of its men had either been killed on duty or died from wounds.

The Home Guard didn’t disappear quickly. It was still quite active in Pontypool well into 1944. In the “Salute the Soldier Week” in May of that year the Home Guard played a leading part. On Saturday 6th May we saw C Company provide the guard of honour at the parade held in Pontypool Park to inaugurate the week. On Sunday afternoon at 3.00p.m. we were thrilled to see all Home Guard companies parading in the park where the salute was taken, dispatch riders performed and there were tactical displays.