“THE GREATEST EVER AMATEUR ARMY”
WHAT I KNOW…
On 14th May 1940, Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State of War, broadcast an appeal for men to join the new Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). The LDV consisted of volunteer civilian men, aged between 17 – 65, who were not eligible for conscription because they were too old or medically unfit for the Regular Army. The ranks of many LDV units were bolstered by World War One veterans of advancing years but still eager to fight for their country. In the beginning the volunteers were required to wear civilian clothes with a LDV armband, as no uniforms were available. Their task was to spot an invasion attempt either on the coast or by parachutists inland. Should they spot such an occurrence then they should:
- Observe & Inform: This meant supplying details to nearby regular army units;
- Obstruct: This would take the form of manning roadblocks to prevent enemy movement or simply removing spark plugs from vehicles;
- Patrol & Protect: The LDV would be required to guard strategic points;
It was not until the end of 1941 that all units were finally in possession of rifles and ammunition.
On 24th July 1940 Winston Churchill renamed the LDV and from that date they would forever be known as the “Home Guard”. Although they were volunteers, they were still expected to train, turn out for parades and exercise similar to the regular army, however they did not get paid to do so. Although the volunteers had families and jobs to attend to, especially at harvest time, some were hauled up before magistrates for failure to attend an exercise. Later in the war, as apathy settled in, then more men failed to attend exercise, more employers refused to allow their workers to attend as their workforce was already dwindling, which led to fewer men joining. So during February 1942 Winston Churchill announced compulsory conscription into the Home Guard and it was at around this time that the Home Guard’s role changed from observing and harassing the enemy to actually taking them on. Units were now well equipped, there were no more improvised weapons, they had rifles, spigot mortars, grenades and some even had machine guns. They were even given new powers to help the Police and Fire Brigades, and could request to check people’s ID papers. They also had powers to arrest people without needing a warrant.
“ The Home Guard must now become capable of taking the burden of home defence on to themselves and thus set free the bulk of the trained troops for the assault on the strongholds of the enemy’s power. ” – Winston Churchill, 1943
1940 Nominal Roll
(Details taken from a group photograph on show at the Brandon Heritage Centre – 2003)
In July 1943, the Brandon and Mildenhall Companies of the 2nd Cambs & Suffolk Battalion, Home Guard, attended a weekend Summer Camp held at Balsham. On the Saturday, there was preliminary training, which included the use of handling a Lewis gun, followed by demonstrations of such by the Chippenham squad. On Sunday there was strenuous field firing exercises and for some it was the first time they had used live ammunition. Then a mock battle followed.
In January 1945, Brandon’s Home Guard decided to create a rifle club. Lieutenant Wentworth-Smith was elected as Chairman, with Lieutenant Cameron as Hon. Secretary. Major F Holmes presented a cup to the club for competition shooting. The Home Guard Social Committee also held the first of their fortnightly whist drives in the Drill Hall. Lt. Renault was the Master of Ceremonies.
In August 1945, the following appeal was printed in the Bury Free Press from Colonel Garrett, Chairman of the Suffolk Territorial Army Association, to members of the Home guard.
“The final disbandment of the Home Guard in the county has not yet taken place. Members are required to keep their articles of uniform they were allowed to retain on their ‘Stand Down’ until such final disbandment is effected.
I feel sure that a fair percentage of members will not desire to retain their uniforms as they will have no use for them and it is to these members that I appeal for such articles of uniform, especially battle dress, great coats, boots and anklets to be handed over to the Army Cadet Force units in the County.
Any members who wish to surrender items of uniform when the final disbandment is effected and have any difficulty in contacting a local Army Cadet unit are requested to notify the Secretary, Suffolk Army Cadet Committee, 14 Burlington Road, Ipswich.”
Recollections of the Brandon Home Guard:
Les Bond –
“In the Home Guard we used to have weekend exercises up at Lingheath, Brandon Fields and in the town. The firing range on some weekends, I think that was at Elveden but don’t quote me on that one. Some times we were taken by truck to Newmarket to watch training films and propaganda stuff. At one time I remember doing training with the Northover gun that fired bottles filled with phosphorous and was supposed to set Tanks on fire. Then we had a Sten Gun that was a ‘roughie’! You had to be careful how you held it otherwise it would chop your fingers off.”
Charlie Wharf –
“One of the things they had to do, ordered by the Government I suppose, was to obliterate the word ‘Brandon‘. The plaque on the Infants’ School was done with cement and then after the war they tried to chip out the cement. The one on the Market Hill, near the town clock, was just painted out. They removed all signs too.”
Dick Norton –
“Bert, my father would go off two or three times a week and most weekends. When they first started they didn’t have a uniform, all they had was an armband. Just like you’ve seen on Dad’s Army, they just had an armband and a broom handle or a pitchfork, or something similar. Then they gradually got kitted out with a uniform.
Harry Rumsey –
“They were very active. One day a week and maybe Sundays they would have a parade or exercise. Most of the roads had concrete blocks halfway across the road and barbed-wire barriers that they could pull across. There were several roads where there were roadblocks and places where there were pillboxes. One was on the corner of Rattler’s Road. There were also blocks of concrete with spigot posts where you could position a mortar.”