The Home Guard
Extracts from the book, Home Guard of Britain, Charles Graves
The following extracts are from a book written by Charles Greves in 1942-3. The author describes in great detail how the LDV and later The Home Guard formed, organised and run.
These extracts have been included as they do portray how members of The Home Guard trained during the war.
1st Surrey Battalion Home Guard
Location, training and equipment do not vary from those of similar Battalions
Normal co-operative training with Regular Army units and Civil Defence
Services in the area.
No particular incidents in connection with hostile activity, other than those associated with sporadic enemy bombing.
Six 'Mention Certificates' have been awarded by the Army Commander to members of the Battalion during the past two years.
Casualties due to enemy action-Nil.
The system of higher control and command differs from that of the great majority of Home Guard Battalions inasmuch as the Battalion is directly under the command of one of the Sub-Area H.Q. of the Aldershot District for purposes of organization, training, and discipline. This is common to all the Home Guard Battalions in the Aldershot District, in which there are no Home Guard Zone (or Group) Headquarters.
The Battalion was raised (as L.D.V.) in May, 1940. Shortly afterwards the 2nd Surrey Battalion was formed.
By October 1, 1942, the strength of 1st Battalion had grown. On this date the Battalion was again sub-divided, to form the 11th Surrey Battalion.
It is true that we are situated in an area comparatively thickly populated with Regular units, as I presume are the majority of Home Guard Battalions, in the S.E. of England at any rate.
We are fortunate, I think, in being under the direct control of a regular Sub-Area Headquarters (without the intermediate Home Guard Zone or Group H.Q.), as they take a great interest in the Home Guard and do everything they can to help us.
J. L. B. Vesey, Lt. Col.
Commanding 1st Surrey Battalion Home Guard.
33rd Surrey (County Borough of Croydon) Battalion Home Guard
This Battalion was raised in June, 1940, immediately on the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers under the combined authority of the War Office, Regional Commissioner, and the Croydon Council's Civil Defence Committee, for the purpose of the defence of Civic Buildings, Main Control and Report Centres, Civil Defence Depots, etc., and its personnel was recruited exclusively from the staff of the Corporation of Croydon and whole-time Civil Defence personnel.
By July of that year over 800 men had been enrolled, comprising members of the staff and Civil Defence personnel.
In March, 1941, a company from Carshalton Urban District Council was transferred to us, and the Battalion was named 33rd County of London (County Borough of Croydon) Battalion, and the strength greatly increased, but in October, 1942, the present title was adopted.
The instinctive support of the unit by the Croydon Corporation was manifest from its inception, for commodious buildings were at once placed at the disposal of the unit
for training and administration, including the use of the large car park for a parade ground. The reaction of the officers and personnel to this generous gesture was spontaneous. One building was quickly converted by the men into a first-class miniature range, the canteen was fully equipped, and the second building was converted into a drill' hall and equipped as a military, gymnasium. A practice bombing pit was constructed in the car park, as well as pike and bayonet fighting arenas.
By August, 1940, the personnel was trained sufficiently in musketry for a party to attend the Bisley Range, to fire ball ammunition at 200 yards; the result of this shoot was outstanding, the average being 80 per cent of a possible.
The efficiency of the Battalion is typified by the following :
(I) September 3, 1941, winners of the 'Anderson Cup,' for miniature rifle shooting for Z Zone, presented by Col. N. G. Anderson, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Zone Commander.
(2) June 12, 1942, winners of the S.E.L.S.A. Cup for miniature rifle shooting, open to all Battalions in South-East London Sub-Area, presented by Col. L. Graham, M.C., Sub-Area Commander.
The following is a list of awards or distinctions granted in the Unit:
(a) Award of George Cross to Captain R. T. Harris, of C Company, in connexion with bomb disposal work in the County Borough of Croydon.
(b) Award of Certificate of Merit for meritorious service to Sgt. (now Lt.) C. B.
Holdway of A Company, presented by General Officer Commanding Home Forces. The following were awarded to members in connexion with their Civil Defence
duties during the blitz period :
Sgt. A. H. Marshall
Pte. R. H. C. Cocksedge Pte
F. W. Yates
Pte. A. W. Curtis
Pte. E. Adams
British Empire Medal.
Pte. H. Gibbs
British Empire Medal.
Pte. H. B. Wetjen
British Empire Medal.
Lt. J. E. Dane
Sgt. W. C. Cox
Pte. C. Hodgkin
Pte. T. Newall
The following members lost their lives due to enemy action:
Pte. A. T. Kingett.
Pte. T. A. Warren.
51st Surrey Battalion Home Guard
This Battalion was organized on the same lines as a Regular Battalion from the beginning including H.Q. Company.
First Training Cadre formed June, 1940. An Officers' Training Cadre also formed.
A Commando Company was formed April, 1941. Believed to be the first Home Guard Commando Unit formed. Men under 41-4 Platoons.
Battalion H.Q. are always functioning and have done so from the beginning, manned by volunteers.
Ladies' have helped from the beginning as typists, switchboard operators, etc. Ladies medical unit formed August, 1941.
Dispatch Riders formed part of Signals Platoon from the early days. The Battalion has :
Trained with The East Surrey Regiment and other units of the Regular Army
from the beginning.
Been attached to Guards,
Co-operated with Civil Defence Services.
Carried out training in camps by Companies, Carried out exercises with Guards.
First Home Guard to suffer casualties in the London District.
September, 1940-Enemy aircraft crashed. Crew killed. Enemy baled out in area on several occasions; killed and prisoners handed over. The Battalion was always on duty during the blitz period.
Certificate for Good Service-King's Birthday Honours List, 1942:
Sgt. Arthur Hooker.
Cpl. Kenneth Arthur Preston Thompson.
Certificate for Good Service-New Year Honours List, 1942:
Lt. Col. N. H. H. Ralston.
Sgt. P. J. Hiscutt.
Cpl. G. Tuthill.
Cpl. C. Humphries.
5 Killed, 7 Wounded.
No.4 (Special Service) Company of the 51st Surrey (Malden) Battalion Home Guard may fairly be said to be different to the general Home Guard Company by reason of its inception and training.
In the early part of 1941 Company Commander J. R. Carmel, who was in command of the H.Q. Company and as such was responsible for the Weapon Training throughout the Battalion, had a suggestion put to him by Platoon Officer A. E. Hepburn that a Special Service Platoon should be formed of volunteers from the Battalion. It would be limited to the younger and fit members of the Battalion and would in effect be the 'shock troops' of the unit. Company Commander Carmel saw the possibilities of the proposition and submitted it to the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. N. H. H. Ralston. After due consideration a paragraph appeared in Battalion Orders of April 23, 1941, asking for volunteers to join the platoon. It further stated that they must be fit, under 45, and willing to undergo an intensive training course lasting approximately twelve weeks.
By May 7, 1941, the names of volunteers had been sifted and those chosen were ordered to attend for interview on Sunday, May 11, and on May 16 the Special Service Platoon was officially formed. This was before the formation of the Commandos became public knowledge, and this Platoon may therefore have been the first of its kind to be formed.
Lt. Hepburn was given command of the Platoon and 2nd Lt. J. G. Graham (an expert on machine-guns) was appointed second-in-command.
The Platoon was enthusiastically keen; no absences from parades were reported except for illness. A twelve weeks' course was arranged under Sgt. Instructors from the East Surrey Regiment. Training parades were held regularly on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings, but there was hardly a week in which there was not at least one additional training parade. The two officers and the men became experts in all weapons, unarmed combat and field training. The Platoon was an instant success and gained a well-earned reputation for smartness and efficiency.
The practical use of all weapons was carried out by everyone and when the course had finished most of the Platoon had gained proficiency badges and were fit to play their part in repelling an invasion had it materialized.
The Platoon was attached to No.4 Company under the command of Major Carmel for administrative purposes. On August 15, 1941, however, No. 4 Company was re-organized. It took over Browning heavy machine-guns (with duplicate teams and a quota of riflemen) and a further Infantry Platoon, the whole Company being known as No.4 (Special Service) Company. The machine-gunners and the new Infantry Platoon caught the enthusiasm of the original Special Service Platoon with the result that it became a well-trained and highly efficient mobile company ready to go to any part of the Battalion area where support might be needed. It is now part of V Zone mobile reserve.
The keenness of its Commander, Major Carmel, together with the technical knowledge and efficiency of its Platoon Commanders and second-in-commands, who, in their thirst for knowledge, have attended all possible courses, including one of a week's duration under the second-in-command of the Welsh Guards Training Battalion, combined to ensure effective direction of a willing complement of N.C.O.s and men.
Many men have since gone to the various branches of the Forces, including the Commandos, Brigade of Guards, Navy and Royal Marines. Two commissions, one in the Royal Marines and one in the Royal Engineers, have been granted to former members.
Medical Section, 51st Malden Home Guard
This Platoon was formed during the summer of 1941, the nucleus being six men only who were interested in first-aid work. After many months of work and lectures and with no medical equipment supplied, we began to make progress, showing that this side of the Battalion's work was of great value. We purchased privately such things as bandages, and made splints and triangular bandages entirely for practice work. This went on for a considerable time; then suddenly regulation stretchers appeared, along with medical equipment, which assisted us in our training.
By now the Platoon strength was slowly increasing in numbers, but still a great surprise came, for one Sunday morning a young lady (now Sgt. G.) appeared requesting to be allowed to assist the Battalion in first aid. This was granted, and to-day we have a fully trained women's First-Aid Section under the title of Women's Auxiliaries. They are equipped in a uniform (suitably chosen for the duties they have undertaken) consisting of khaki skirt and shirt blouse, F.S. cap (no badge), with shoulder flashes with the word 'Medical.' All this equipment has been purchased privately out of funds derived from concerts and dances, etc., the women generously giving up their clothing coupons for this purpose. I believe that this Battalion is proud of the fact of being the first Home Guard unit to have women equipped and trained in first aid. They take a very active part in all forms of operational training, sharing the duties of collecting and removing casualties, sometimes under adverse conditions such as our local sewage farm and dust destructor offered during all-night operations. They have spent a week-end in camp doing field work and sharing fatigue duties along with the men (even if it is peeling potatoes). There is never a grumble or a grouse-they just get on with the job.
One special feature of this medical work is to improvise. During an exercise in the vicinity of some famous racing stables faked casualties were put out, including a rather badly wounded man placed high up in a tree. This was a problem that was quickly overcome by the prompt action of both men and women. A cradle was improvised by using stretcher slings, etc., and the casualty carefully removed from the dangerous position. Whilst this was in progress the remaining personnel had obtained permission to use the stables for a casualty clearing post. The horse stalls were converted, with the aid of horse blankets and straw, into a suitable place to accommodate casualties pending their removal to hospital.
56th Surrey (Epsom and Banstead) Battalion Home Guard
This unit was raised in May, 1940, under the Command of Lt. Col. M. M. Hartigan C.M.G., D.S.O., with Major J. N. Eggar, who had resided in the district for many years, as Adjutant.
It was originally recruited in Epsom and Ewell, but in July was amalgamated with the Banstead Unit, and became the 56th Surrey (Epsom and Banstead) Battalion. It also has a Company to the N.W. of Epsom.
We were particularly fortunate in having so experienced an officer as Col. Hartigan as our first Commander. He set a high standard of efficiency. Unfortunately, ill-health overtook him, and he resigned in October, 1941, being succeeded by Lt Col JN Eggar.
In the summer of 1940 a holding Company of the Welsh Guards was quartered near, and their sergeants were very good in devoting their spare time to drilling our sections and assisting N.C.O.s. Similar help was rendered by Canadian troops.
The Battalion was one of the first to shoot at Bisley, and, by the end of the summer, 90 per cent of the men had completed a course.
During the summer of 1941 a Home Guard week-end training school was formed at the Grand Stand; by W Zone, and a very large proportion bfthe instructors and administration staff was furnished by this Battalion. It was attended by representatives from all Battalions in S.W. London Sub-Area, and in all some 130 officers and 3,500 O.R. went through the course. The school was formally opened by the G.O.C. London District, who was accompanied by Major Attlee.
The Grand Stand at Epsom was used for thirteen week-ends (Friday evenings to Sunday evenings) in the summer of 1941. The annexe at the back was utilized for men's dormitories, officers being accommodated in what was the Members' Room. All catering arrangements were made by Col. Liddiard, O.C. 29th London Battalion Home Guard, who also provided all orderlies. The Commandant was Col. (Private Home Guard) A. G. Bartholomew, a member of this Battalion.
The Course was attended by representatives of some thirty-three Battalions from the different Zones in South-West London Sub-Area. The subjects dealt in were:
Drill-under R.S.M. Newman, 29th London Battalion Home Guard.
Grenades-lectures and practice.
Fire-discipline and control.
Tactics-defence of a locality; attack by platoons; clearing a wood, etc., etc.
In the early days there certainly was a great deal of scrounging and improvisation to make our numerous road-blocks. Our idea of what would stop tanks or A.F.V.s was primitive. I remember at one place seeing three old prams filled with earth and stones stuck across the road. The C.O.'s remarks on seeing them are unpublishable! Old motor cars, barrels filled with stones, scrounged sleepers, etc., were frequently used. I found the Local Authorities most helpful in supplying sand, sandbags, and material of all kinds; also labour.
There are five L.C.C. Mental Hospitals in the Epsom district, each very fully staffed. They cover an area of some 1,200 acres. A platoon was formed in each hospital from male attendants, workmen, etc. A very large proportion are old soldiers. It is a most efficient sub-unit, commanded by Major L. R. Oake, who happens to be the Assistant Secretary of the County of London T.A. and A.F. Association.
Early last summer a platoon of the Guards gave us an intensive fortnight of most valuable demonstrations of battle drill, patrols, etc., and subsequently nearly all officers and a great number of N.C.O.s attended the S.W.L.S.A. week-end training school, when they had most valuable tactical instruction under Col. J. E. Turner, C.M.G., D.S.O.
I do not think this Battalion has had any more than ordinary experiences, but I do claim that it has been well forward in its training, and has a high reputation for efficiency.
At first the Battalion was limited to 300 men, but in view of the long waiting list of volunteers the authorized strength was later raised to a much higher figure.
The Battalion was incorporated in Z Zone, which extends somewhat beyond the Croydon Borough area.
Mr. N. S. Richardson, who possessed a reputation as a man of exceptional organizing ability and energy, was appointed Group Organizer of the Battalion. The help of Mr. Marten-Smith, who had a distinguished. career in the last war and held the rank of Wing Commander in the Royal Flying Corps and who was the Wing Commander of the Croydon Air Cadets, was enlisted to assist in taking the first drills of the 'No.5 Group' as it was then known.
By Wednesday, June 12, after crowded days and nights of activity, Mr. Richardson had enrolled his first 300 men, appointed his Group Leaders, and paraded his command for inspection by Major General Anderson, the Zone Commander. The Norbury L.D.V. were the first in the Zone to be addressed by the General.
By Monday, July 22, 1940, after enrolling additional men to meet the new establishment, the Battalion had been divided into Companies and installed in their own individual headquarters.
A Company, armed with rifles and ammunition, carried out a widespread inspection of identity cards in thier area. They boarded trams and buses and stopped all cars and vehicles passing through their road-blocks. Suspicious cases were passed on to the police, and included one escaped Borstal boy.
On the evening of September 5, 1940, the Norbury police reported to 5th Norbury Battalion Headquarters that residents had observed enemy parachutists dropping on the local golf-course. Company Commanders were notified, and volunteers parading for the nightly stand-by were sent in pursuit. After several hours' fruitless search it ,:"as subsequently decided that the bright spots formed by the crossing beams of searchlIghts had been mistaken for parachutes.
Lt. General Sir Douglas Brownrigg, K.C.B.-the assistant Zone Commander-when paying one of his visits to the Battalion, was invited by a zealous Private to witness a demonstration of message delivery by carrier-pigeon. He accepted the invitation, wrote a message to Battalion H.Q., and saw it attached to the bird, which was then dispatched. On arriving by car at B.H.Q. the General inquired about the bird from the Orderly Officer. Unaware of the demonstration and suspecting a leg-pull,. the Orderly Officer replied that he didn't keep birds and couldn't afford to. Unfortunately, the Private had omitted to inform his wife of the experiment, with the result that the pigeon had arrived home, had a feed, and retired to roost.
Clothing, particularly headwear, has always been a problem with the Home Guard.
The insistence with which 6 1/2 size caps have been supplied for 7 1/2 heads drew this comment from a Norbury Home Guard: "Blimey, it's like a nit on a gnat's nut."
The area did not escape damage in the blitz. On Thursday, October 17, 1940, and again on the following Sunday, heavy bombs were dropped, but there were no serious casualties.
During this period the emergency guards which were mounted at each Company H.Q. every night did much valuable work in extinguishing incendiary bombs and were able to save many local buildings from destruction.
Owing to the depletion of the strength of the Norbury Home Guard due to 'call-up,' Lt. Col. Richardson organized a Recruiting Campaign for the week-end of March 8-9, 1941. Personal appeals were made by the C.O. from the stages of local cinemas. Demonstrations of machine-guns and other automatic weapons were given at various points outdoors, and facilities given for volunteers to enrol.
Saturday's activities were followed by a Battalion march on Sunday morning, headed by the band of H.M. Scots Guards and accompanied by other military bands, Bren-gun carriers, field artillery, etc. Brig. Gen. Whitehead, commanding the London Area, took the salute outside Norbury Police Station, where a large crowd had gathered. The march was a pleasant surprise to the residents, who had not realized that their Home Guard had grown to such a strength.
The combined display and march of the Home Guard and the Civil Defence Services in support of Croydon's Warship Week, which opened on February 7, was an unqualified success, and convincingly demonstrated Lt. Col. Richardson's exceptional powers of organization. In addition to the full strength of the 62nd Surrey (Norbury) Home Guard, there were detachments from other Home Guard units and from all branches of Civil Defence Services. Several military bands and many tableaux, including realistic models qf warships, were also included in the long column, which took half an hour to pass the saluting base, where Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Plunket-ErnleErle-Drax took the salute. The parade succeeded in its object of raising substantial funds for Warships Week, and these were augmented by the individual efforts of the Companies in the Battalion, which raised an additional £5,900 in this period.
During the week-end August 30-31, the 62nd Surrey Battalion Home Guard were engaged in a twenty-four hours' Zone exercise, in which all other Battalions in the Zone area and a considerable number of Regular troops took part. Primarily the exercise was intended to test the resource of the Home Guard in drawing rations, making their own cooking arrangements and providing meals for their men during the twenty-four-hour period. The versatility of Home Guardsmen was shown in the excellent outdoor cooking ranges and ovens constructed at short notice from odd materials that lay to hand. Cooking also was of a high standard, particularly by two men who in civilian life are chefs in West End restaurants.
The operational side of the exercise developed during the night when Regular troops from Commando units in the role of enemy attempted to break through the Home' Guard defences. A realistic battle developed in which the 62nd Surrey Battalion Home Guard succeeded in holding up the enemy at all vital points. Lt. Col. Richardson received a congratulatory message from the Zone Commander on the good work of the Battalion.
63rd Surrey (RICHMOND) Battalion V Zone Home Guard
Few units have such a beautiful and historic area to defend as the 63rd Surrey (Richmond) Battalion.
In the early days its members were called on to provide nightly guards on the Thames bridges in their territory and on such historic premises as Kew Observatory and Wick House, once the residence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which stands on Richmond Terrace.
The observation post on the top of Richmond Hill in a blitz was not regarded as a healthy spot. And the difficult climb to it did not agree with some of the elderly gentlemen who had thrown in their lot with the L.D.V. Many amusing stories are still told of those guards by the old hands.
The history of the Battalion from its formation as a Company of the L.D.V. is interesting. There was a great response in the district to Mr. Eden's broadcast appeal. Men besieged the local police stations, and Captain H. Crawford, the Group Organizer, found all types among the volunteers.
One of them, who offered his services to organize the Company was a soldier who had just returned from Colonial service and had had many years' experience of Army administration. He was Major C. W. Cowell, a member of Lord Allenby's staff in the last war, who had held many posts from Adjutant to Colonial Administrator during his long service.
Major Cowell worked with energy and helped to get the Company on a sound footing. Later this officer, who had spent twenty-three Christmasses abroad in the service of the country, became the Battalion's first Adjutant, a position he held until his retirement on reaching the age limit.
But the old Richmond Company of the L.D.V. did not attain Battalion status without a struggle. To the annoyance of all ranks the unit was absorbed by a Battalion based on Roehampton, which later became the 27th County of London. There was a good deal of feeling. Members thought that a Borough with the ancient history of Richmond should have its own unit. And they had a very sound case to put forward in the 'private' war which followed. Their Company had enrolled a large proportion of the total Battalion establishment.
Many futile applications for Battalion status had been made when Lt. Col. E. J. Amoore relinquished command of the Company to join the Regular Army. The command went to Major Alan Bott, M.C., a member of the old Royal Flying Corps in the last war, whose writings under the pseudonym of 'Contact' will be recalled by many and who later described his remarkable adventures in escaping from the Turks after being shot down in Palestine.
Major Bott sized up the situation and increased the pressure on the authorities. In so doing he made himself a bit of a nuisance to some, but he was regarded by most as a man who knew what he wanted and did not intend to leave much unturned to get it.
There were suggestions that the large Richmond unit should be split up into at first two and then three Companies. A scheme was prepared to that end by Major Bott, who at the same time pointed out that it was impracticable without" additional arms. He was supported in this by his officers, who wrote letters of protest.
So the 'private' war continued until he got thoroughly fed-up and undertook a revolutionary tour of the 'big-wigs.' As a result of that final effort and all the good arguments he had put forward, the Company achieved the coveted Battalion status.
Major Bott, who had fought so hard for this, was offered the command of the new Battalion. He refused on the ground that his work did not allow him the time to do the job as he felt it should be done. So the command was given to Sir Geoffrey Evans, C.LE., eminent botanist and soldier, who held it until his appointment as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Major Bott was made second-in-command.
Since the unit became the 63rd Surrey (Richmond) Battalion it has made great strides and has achieved a reputation for efficiency, not only among Home Guards but Regular troops in the area. The old headquarters, which were cramped for space and provided few facilities for training, were soon vacated and the Battalion moved into new quarters.
Their new H.Q. is a fine block of buildings with two large halls and yet to-day it is not spacious enough for the unit. Further accommodation has had to be secured for various Companies by the present Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. A. E. Redfern, O.B.E., M.C., who succeeded Sir Geoffrey Evans.
Col. Redfern took command with considerable experience of the Home Guard and particularly this unit, for he had been a Platoon Commander at Kew, second-in-command at Ham, and had further experience with a factory Company, and had commanded Headquarters Company. He has had the time to devote to the arrangement of Battalion training and the more difficult task of organizing the defences of an area which includes so many large open spaces and stretches of rough country suitable for airborne landings.
So much for the history of the formation of the 63rd. Its operational duty under air attack has not been as extensive as that of some Home Guard units. Yet it had its' moments during the London blitz. Countless bombs were rained on Richmond Park, and surrounding areas also suffered damage. And there was one night in 1940 when enemy aircraft selected Richmond as their target.
Flares lighted the town, incendiaries were showered down and high-explosive bombs followed. On that night the Home Guard turned out as usual on the siren and gave excellent assistance to the hard-pressed Civil Defence Services. One youngster, Dean, of B, was specially commended for his bravery. He is now an officer in the Regular Army.
At Ham, A Company had many call-outs and on occasions controlled traffic and helped in rescue work.
A 2,000-pounder was among the heavy stuff dropped in this area. One night a large water-main was burst, and a weary Home Guard who had been helping the Civil Defence areas fell into a large crater. It was flooded and he had to swim for it.
In the very early days of this unit's patriotic effort there were some amusing sights. There was a Section Leader on one of the bridges, who is now an officer, who paraded his men almost nightly and was always recognized as the man in charge by the 'boater' he affected. Of the originals of this unit there are not so many left. A very large proportion are now in the Forces. Many are commissioned officers. Actually hundreds of men have left the unit since its formation, and yet the strength has been maintained by later volunteers and directed recruits.
The Battalion wears the badge of the The East Surrey Regiment, and its present Adjutant, Capt. G. Garland, has served with the parent unit at home and abroad for seventeen years.
64th Surrey (Kingston) Battalion Home Guard
This Battalion was formed on May I of this year from personnel transferred from the 53rd Surrey (Molesey) Battalion Home Guard.
We also have factories situated in the area and they have their own independent units in the Battalion.
As this is a very young Battalion it will be appreciated that we are more or less, even at the present moment, in the process of settling down.