The Reeve’s Tale magazine website
Today we laugh at ‘Dad’s Army’, but in 1940 the threat of a German invasion of Britain appeared very real.
Winston Churchill, newly appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, was convinced that the possibility of German troops being landed on the East coast of England should not be overlooked.He argued that forming a home defence force from those who could not be accommodated within the regular armed forces but who were keen to play their part would be popular and would free up soldiers from garrison duty in the home country.
Letters poured in to editorial offices, military headquarters, and the offices of MP’s and the Prime Minister supporting the idea.
Meanwhile the Home Office issued a statement as to what the public should do and should not do in the event of an enemy landing.‘It would not be right for country gentlemen to carry their guns with them on their walks and take flying shots as opportunity offered.’
Senior military authorities also had reservations, foreseeing residents forming ‘private defence bands’ which the Army would not be able to control.
People were already taking matters into their own control.In East Anglia there were reports that ‘farmers are oiling up their fowling pieces, preparing to receive what they call “those umbrella men”’.
On the 14th May 1940, Anthony Eden making his first speech as Secretary of State for War announced the official formation of Local Defence Volunteers.Any men between 17 and 65 wanting to join should report to their local police station.
The next morning queues formed outside police stations everywhere and the poor police had had no warning or instructions. The lack of organisation was to continue to be part of the Home Guard for a long time to come.
Despite its popular image of old men and teenagers playing soldiers, the Home Guard, often as large as the wartime army, became a strong political force.
The Invasion of Britain never took place and the Home Guard was never called upon to fulfil its military role.
Tom Bugdale has written this personal account of the Bawdeswell HomeGuard:-
At the beginning of the war we met at The Ram, where there were some evacuees, and in the Parish Room on some weekday evenings. We also used to have exercises on Sunday mornings. We were issued with 303 standard rifles - but very litle ammunition. Later we had two Sten guns: Raffin Hudson had one and I had the other. Lance Corporal Bob Mann had our only machine gun, which he used once or twice as we only had a few rounds of ammunition.
An old shepherd's hut from Hall Farm was used as a guard hut in the early part of the war. It was placed near the church. Two people would be on duty all night and Quintin Gurney would visit them around 9pm, and usually said,"Boys I've got a feeling they're coming tonight". In the event of an enemy invasion we were supposed to wake Quintin first by rapping on his bedroom window with a pole. We had a hurricane lamp in the hut and were there until about 6am in the morning. On one occasion Billy Bugdale, ex-army and so had 'the' rifle, whilst unloading it one night shot out the hurricane lamp.
We were ordered to stop traffic in the village one night for a security check. For that we were issued with live ammunition. There was a searchlight post a mile or so away just off the Reepham Road at Jordans Lane and for a time one of us had to go there each night. I think I went twice but can't think why we were there! I was made hand grenade instructor as I had a reputation as a good bowler in the village cricket team. We dug a trench for practice on the Rabbit Hills and used live grenades. The shrapnel must still be there.
After a lorry accident Peter Sayer refused any more army lorries and used one of his mill lorries when needed. At the end of the war we celebrated with a real feed - Major Stimpson killed a pig and I think Peter Sayer provided the drink. When the time came for the Victory Parade in London, I went to represent the Bawdeswell Home Guard.
A letter received from Bryan Donoghue, now living in Finland:-
I was also interested and somewhat amused by the reminiscences of Mr. Bugdale regarding the Home Guard. I was one of the “evacuees” to whom he refers, as our family had to move out of London having spent practically all of our nights there in air raid shelters. When we came out of the shelters in the morning, apart from seeing some of the devastation, we boys would drag magnets along to collect the shrapnel from the bombing.
As we lived in the Willows, I had first-hand views of the Home Guard. For most of the war they had no complete uniforms and generally turned up wearing an assortment of civilian clothes with perhaps a battledress blouse. I can still remember one man dressed in work boots and trousers, with a battledress blouse, a flat cap and a white scarf around his neck. Their usual arms were broom handles. Most people thought it was better that they did not carry real weapons as they would have caused more trouble than any Germans who might appear. I remember a group of us boys watching Mr. Lambert who ran the Bell Inn, chopping wood in his barn across the road from the pub. One of us asked him why he did not join the Home Guard. Mr. Lambert looked at us with an expression of amusement and said “me join that lot, if my home needs guarding I will do it myself”.
I also recollect that even as a small boy I was surprised that nobody in the village seemed to understand what was going on in London with the bombing and devastation. In fact they seemed to know almost nothing about what went on beyond Dereham and Norwich at the most.
1945 Bawdeswell Home Guard consisted of 44 volunteers.You can see a group photograph of them
below and read many of their names.