This section is split into:
- The National plans for LDV and Home Guard
- The LDV and Home Guard in Hungerford.
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.
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.
your Council will be interested to hear that our numbers are now well over 10,000 in the County.
- Letter (undated) Gen Ironside to GOC in
- Letter 1 Jul 1940 Lt Col Walton to Mr Munford
- Letter 2 Jul 1940 HM Lieut Berkshire to Mr Munford
- Hungerford Platoon LDV - Communication and
Duties in Action (4 pages of
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.
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]