The Home Guard were tougher and rougher than you might think. Britain’s World War II defence corps were more of a Lad’s Army than a Dad’s Army and were drilled and trained relentlessly to combat the threat of German invasion. In our new video, we rack up the Top 5 Facts about the real Dad’s Army.
1. 1.5 million men signed up
Portrayed by the classic sitcom Dad’s Army as a group of bumbling old men, the Home Guard were anything but. The British government were shocked when 250,000 volunteers signed up within the first 24 hours of the organisation’s existence. By August 1940, numbers had risen to a mighty 1.5 million as Britain’s armed forces struggled on against the Nazi blitzkrieg.
2. They were nicknamed the Broomstick Army
After 250,000 tons of supplies were lost at Dunkirk, there wasn’t much equipment to give to the Home Guard. As a result, in their first few years of existence they were usually armed with no more than wooden sticks and, if they were lucky, personal firearms that had been stowed away at home. Within a few years though, this would change. The Home Guard soldier from the start of the war, looked very different to the Home Guard soldier in the final few years of the war.
3. A Spanish Civil War veteran trained them
In the early days of the Home Guard, the force was trained by Tom Wintringham, who commanded the British Battalion during the Spanish Civil War. He taught the ragtag militia hand to hand combat, basic sabotage and guerrilla warfare techniques. Despite his innovative methods, he was sidelined by the British government due to his well-known left wing political views. After Churchill took over, the guard cost about £1 million a year to finance.
4. Many of the volunteers were young, not old
The Home Guard were more of a Lads’ Army than a Dad’s Army. 50 per cent were aged between 28-65 while the remaining numbers were made up of 22% aged 19-27 and 28% between the ages of 17 and 18. Women weren’t officially allowed to sign up so they formed their own defence corps.
5. They learned German to prepare for an Axis invasion
If Britain’s borders were compromised, the Home Guard wouldn’t be able to match the power of the Wehrmacht. To help the defence of the nation, the volunteers were taught handy German phrases.