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National Plans for LDV and Home Guard:
In the spring of 1940, Hitler unleashed his blitzkrieg, and as British forces fell back to Dunkirk, Britain was in imminent danger of invasion.
After seven months of the 'Phoney War', the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. Hitler unleashed his blitzkrieg, and by 14 May, the German Army had broken through the Netherlands and Belgium, and were approaching the English Channel. There was great fear of invasion of Britain, and in particular there was fear that the Germans would land paratroops prior to a full invasion.
Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, made a radio appeal on 14 May 1940 for men 'who were for one reason or another not at present engaged in military service, and who wish to do something for the defence of their country' to join a new force called the Local Defence Volunteers.
Eden's radio appeal coincided with reports in the morning paper of 14 May of 'a two thousand tank clash north west of Liege'. It was broadcast between the 9 o'clock news and a documentary entitled The Voice of the Nazi. He spoke of the "countless enquiries .. from men of all ages .. who wish to do something for the defence of their country. Now is your opportunity. We want large numbers of such men, between the ages of 17 and 65, to come forward now and offer their services. The name of the new force .. will be the Local Defence Volunteers." Eden made it clear there would be no pay, but there would be a uniform, and they would be armed.
Volunteers were to present themselves at local police stations to enrol. The volunteers poured in. Over 250,000 gave their names within the first 24 hours. By the end of May over 300,000 had signed up, and at the beginning of September a million and a half were in its ranks.
There was no medical examination, but men had to be 'of reasonable fitness' and 'capable of free movement'. The period of service was 'for the duration of the war'. Training 'could be taken in a volunteer's spare time'. Any previous military service and / or a knowledge of firearms (even simply a shotgun to bag a rabbit or a pigeon for the pot) were considered advantageous.
Many men had already volunteered to serve in the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) or in the Special Constabulary. They had to be turned down for the LDV lest the forces they had already trained in became too depleted. In reality, and especially in villages and small towns, men were often enlisted in the ARP and the LDV.
The first 'uniform' issued was the 'brassard', a simple khaki armband printed with the black letters 'LDV'. By 22 May 1940, 250,000 brassards were issued - but these were not sufficient, and local variations were often made. Full uniforms began to reach LDV units by about July.
Training was rudimentary, but involved basic drill (often using broomsticks and dummy rifles).
Between 26 May and 4 June 1940 the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo. Churchill announced that 'the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin.'
France capitulated on 25 June, by which time many British households had received the 'If the Invader Comes' leaflets - advising local people to 'stay put' and report any suspicious activity, and help British troops and LDV if ordered to do so.
LDV members were organised into watch patrols. Their main task was to watch for airborne landings. Many were taught basic German phrases such as 'Hande hock!' and 'Pistole ablegen!'.
One of the aims of the Home Guard was to hold up the enemy whilst regular troops could be deployed, therefore with the lack of weapons ingenuity had to be used. Among the tactics was to leave open all manhole covers so Germans would fall down them in the dark. Another was to place containers on the road propped up with a small stick. Attach a string to the stick and trail it off to an unseen position, the Germans would have to inspect each one to detect any bombs. It was recommended to make sure that every so often a live bomb was put in place. Householders were also to be asked to prop open a window and place a straight stick or piece of tube out the window to simulate a sniper position.
Initially LDV platoons (which were normally between 10 and 50 men) were desperately short of weapons. Many units improvised by using shotguns, air rifles, old hunting rifles, museum pieces, bayonets, knives and pieces of gas pipe with knives or bayonets welded on the end. The most popular early improvised weapon was the Molotov cocktail. This consisted of a bottle filled with petrol, with wick through a cork that was lit just before it was thrown. The bottle was intended to break igniting the contents. The weapons situation was improved by the delivery of a million old US rifles in mid July, although each had only 10 rounds a piece. 20,000 revolvers and shotguns were located as a result of an appeal. Even by September, however, many units were without significant weapons.
- The Hungerford Home Guard,Platoon 1, probably taken in the late summer 1944, shortly before stand-down. There are 41 men in the group. Note also the bombs in the left and right foreground (see the text for more on these bombs).
- The Hungerford Home Guard,Platoon 1, with many members identified. (With thanks to Roger Day)
- The Hungerford Home Guard,Platoon 2, outside The Bear Hotel. (With thanks to Roger Day)
- The Hungerford Home Guard,Platoon 2, with many members identified. (With thanks to Roger Day)
- Enrolment form for the Local Defence Volunteers
- The first 'uniform' was the LDV 'brassard', shown here on a denim overall blouse of a LDV section commander, May 1940.
- Anti tank emplacements near Dun Mill
- The tarmac recesses showing the sockets for the wartime 'hedgehogs' on Hungerford bridge. (Apr 2009 - resurfaced 2011).
- Wartime photograph showing 'hedgehogs' in use
What happened in Hungerford:
An insight into the urgency of plans to set up the LDV can be seen from several letters sent in July 1940. On 1 Jul 1940 the Reading Zone Commander, Berkshire LDV, wrote to Mr Ernest Munford, Constable of Hungerford, in which he said:
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking you, your Council and officials, for the great help that you have given to the Berkshire Local Defence Volunteers since their inception six weeks ago....
The attached copy of a letter from General Sir Edmund Ironside ... shows the extreme urgency of the measures that require to be taken by all for the local defence of their homes in every town and village in our country.
You and your Council will be interested to hear that our numbers are now well over 10,000 in the County.
- Hungerford Platoon LDV - Communication and Duties in Action (4 pages of instructions)
The Local Defence Volunteers would have been much involved in GHQ Stop-line Blue - the line of pillboxes and other defences along the Kennet and Avon canal. The pillbox building programme started in May 1940, and continued through the summer months while the Battle of Britain was fought out in the skies above. The construction rate was frenetic - by the end of September 1940, 18,000 were built.
The Division of Hungerford Platoon into North and South Platoons: The Hungerford Platoon was divided into two separate platoons - North and South. The notice stated that the South Platoon would consist of No.1 Section (Sergeant Bull, remains as at present); No.2 Section (Sergeant Hawkins, remains as at present); The following men are transferred from No 3 Section: Corporal Richens, Privates Giles, Lewington, Batten, Grant, Stacey and Yates. From Section 4: Privates C Hollister, W Hollister, S Hunter, J King, F Purbrick, J Shiel, S Jesset and Pym. The South Platoon remains the 51st Platoon as at present. Platoon HQ at the rear of Messrs Alexander Bros, Offices in Station Road. See Division of Hungerford Platoon into North and South Platoons
There was a major gun emplacement in the High Street near Church Lane which is said to have been designed to take a 6-pounder gun.
However, the photograph of the Hungerford Home Guard (Platoon 1) shown above includes four bombs (at the bottom left and bottom right of the picture). It is yet to be confirmed, but we believe that they were 14lb anti-personnel bombs, and 20lb anti-tank bombs commonly issued to the Home Guard between late 1941 and July 1942. They were fired from a 'Blacker Bombard' spigot mortar. 22,000 were installed, each normally supplied with 150 anti-tank rounds and 100 anti-personnel rounds. These were mussel loaded, and could be fired at the rate of about 6 rounds per minute. The 'Blacker Bombards' were issued to Home Guards mainly in the south of the country.
The gun emplacement in the High Street was accompanied by permanent concrete road blocks and a "hedgehog" under the railway bridge. There were anti-tank defences (hedgehogs, cylinders, cubes and dragons teeth) at various strategic places in the area. [For more on the 2nd World War defences, see Pillboxes and Hedgehogs]
On 23 July 1940 Winston Churchill, who had never liked the cumbersome and somewhat ridiculed title of Local Defence Volunteers, saw it formally renamed Home Guard. Some people had uncharitably christened them "Look, Duck and Vanish". Other disparaging nicknames included 'Long Dentured Veterans' and 'Last Ditch Volunteers'.
There were eventually two platoons of the Home Guard in Hungerford (see group photographs above).
The renaming as Home Guard brought more structured training, uniform and weaponry. By this time there were over one million members of the Home Guard. At its peak at the end of 1942 there were 1,850,757 serving people. Officially there was not a single woman amongst them, but unofficially women many had trained in the firing of rifles, and women helped widely with the administration of HM units. The Women's Home Defence was formed, but by April 1943 women were able to join the main Home Guard itself.
Following the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, and the steady progress made by the Allies, it became clear that the threat of German invasion of Britain was receding. The reason for the Home Guard diminished, and on 30 August 1944 the War Office issued 'Instructions for Standing Down the Home Guard'. In October a formal notice stated that the Home Guard would stand down from active duties in November 1944. Parades and march pasts were commonly held to mark the end of the local battalion. The Home Guard was formally stood down on 3 Dec 1944, and finally disbanded on 31st December 1945.
Many units took the opportunity to record the occasion with a group photograph, and it is likely that the photographs shown above, of the Hungerford Home Guard , Platoon 1, taken in The Croft, was taken in the late summer of 1944. A total of 41 men are shown.
George W Green kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (Dec 2011) saying: "I was talking to my brother who had found the Hungerford Virtual Museum Website and the photo of the home guard 1944 just before it was disbanded, according to your info.
Having looked through the photo I can't see my father W C Green (Bill) who was in it during the war time. He was a corporal. I'm just wondering if that photo was taken when he was out having got shot in the leg during some instructions the men were having at the time, along with a Frank Bowley who also go hit in the same incident. I remember we (my mother and us kids) were taken to Newbury Hospital to see him in a official car. Must say I don't recall how long he was out of work for, but it must have been for some weeks. Having said all that I wondered if there are other photos of the Hungerford Home Guard previous to the one published that included my father. [This is now resolved by the additional photograph and identification of members of Platoon 2, by kind permission of Roger Day].
Mrs Nadine King kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (Sep 2013) and donated a small envelope of six papers relating to the Hungerford Home Guard in 1943. They provide a wonderful insight into local arrangements:
- Division of the Hungerford Platoon: This undated document (perhaps from 1943) related to the dividing of the Hungerford Platoon into two smaller Platoons - North and South.
The South Platoon was to consist of:
No. 1 Section: Sergeant Bull, "remains as at present",
No. 2 Section: Sergeant Hawkins, "remains as at present"
The following men are transferred from No. 3 Section: Corporal Richens, Privatees Giles,
Batten, Grant, Stacey and Yates.
From No 4 Section: Privates C Hollister, W Hollister, S Hunter, J King, F Purbrick, J Shiel,
S Jesset and Pym.
The South Platoon remains the 51st Platoon as at present.
Platoon HQ at the rear of Messrs Alexander Bros Offices in Station Road.
- No. 4 Section, Hungerford Coy: Home Guard: This handwritten document (undated) lists the members of No. 4 Section.
Cpl C Brown, Cpl F Pounds, F Billingham, W D Bailey, G Eatwell, C Hollister, W Hollister, H J Hunter, S Hunter, W Hood, D Harvey, C Harvey, S Jessett, H Jacobs, J King, W Mansford, A Mackrill, A W Maslin, F Purbrick, F Pym, J Shiel, H R Tarr (Globe Cottage, North Hidden), A Winkworth (6 Radley Bottom), A Culling, H Harvey, Cpl L G Hughes.
- Equipment needed for practice in mustering "Action Stations":
Picks and Shovels
Stretchers and Medical Equipment
AF C 2128 Message Forms
Latrines and Canvas.
- Duties which can be carried out:
Kit Inspection (Pl Cdr must have his Receipt and Record cards of A Fs H 1158 which can be
checked with each man's kit).
Inspect and fit gas respirators
Inspect field dressings
See that arrangements are made for petrol immobilisation when ordered
See that Casualty Clearing Point is arranged and every man knows where it is.
- Letter from Major Marshall(?), of 5 Bridge Street, regarding Range Rules, 31 May 1943:
From OC "H" (Hungerford) Coy, HG to OC 51st Platoon, HG:
Subject: Ranges. The following tange has recently been inspected by Lieut Cpl Gordon, his report is appended together with Range Rules for strict compliance.
Folly Farm, Hungerford. 788896
1. The range may be used for rifles and light automatics at a range not exceeding 30 yards.
2. By altering the firing point some 20 yards to the left, so as to clear Folly Farm from the line of fire, the range may be used for one Browning Medium machine gun at a range not exceeding 30 yards.
3. In this case the mounting must be placed so that if a leg collapses the cross head will not sink, ie by packing sandbags underneath it.
4. Attention is drawn to SAT Vol I, Pamphlet I for strict compliance.
5. A prominent red flag will be displayed on the edge of the pit behind the targets.
6. A look-out will be posted at the Eastern edge of Folly Farm to prevent persons and livestock moving between the pit and the farm.
7. At all times 5 feet of loose earth will be maintained as a bullet catcher.
8. A copy of SAT Vol I, Pamphlet I and these rules will always be in possession of the Office or NCO conducting the practice.
SAFETY PRECAUTIONS (ALL RANGES)
THE DUTIES OF OFFICERS SUPERINTENDING AT THE BUTTS ARE:
1. To see that the targets are of the proper dimensions and sufficiently clean to enable shot holes to be easily distinguished, and that all old shot holes be properly patched before practice begins.
2. To see that the butts and appliances are in good order and to report any damage or deficiency.
3. To explain all regulations and local orders to the markers, and to ensure their observance.
4. To allow no man to leave the butts without an order. This order will not be given until it has been ascertained personally that the red flag has been hoisted both at the butts and at the firing point. To prevent the red flag being lowered until satisfied that all markers are in the butts.
5. To detail markers to targets. In grouping practices, one marker at each target should be responsible for noting the order in which shots strike the target and, during other practices, for watching the bank.
6. To see that the targets for machine guns if placed on the stop-butts, are erected to give the best facilities for observation of fire.
7. To ensure that no target is lowered without an order. In slow practices, the target will not be lowered until the Officer is in front of it. In rapid practices, the target will be lowered to "half-mast" at the end of the time allowed, and the markers will be ordered to stand as far back as possible until the Officer is in front of it.
8. To cause all targets to be lowered during cessation of fire.
9. To regulate the exposure of targets according to the instructions laid down, and to ensure that the value of each hit is correctly aligned and signalled. In shooting practices, to ensure that each target is correctly exposed in order to be clearly visible to the firer. Snap-shooting targets should be put up straight and not swung sideways.
10. To check the target of each firer and enter in ink the value of all hits in the register; occasional shots will be entered in the columns provided for the purpose. No erasures will be made. If alteration is necessary fine line will be drawn through the figure, the correct value written against it, and the amendment vouched for by the Officers initials.
11. If more hits, including ricochets, are found on a target than rounds fired, is to deduct from the score the value of the highest scoring hits. Only those hits which are to count will be entered on the register. (In the case of the machine gun, see Pamphlet No. 7.)
12. To mark off each hit on the target with a red pencil before entering its value in the register, and to ensure that all shot holes are correctly patched.
13. In rapid practices, after each check, to cause the number of each value to be signalled on each target.
14. On the conclusion of a practice, to rule a line diagonally across the unused spaces in the register before Signing it.
R King is authorised to use car Registered No AJB 146 for Home Guard Duties. 5 Apr 1943.
- Ramsbury At War, Roger Day, 2004.
- Hungerford Platoon LDV - Communication and Duties in Action (4 pages of instructions)