An account of the Local Defence Volunteers and the Home Guard in Hertfordshire from raising in 1940 to disbandment in 1945
By May 1940 Britain had been at war, much of it ‘phoney’, for nearly nine months. With the evacuation from Dunkirk at the end of the month, huge quantities of equipment were abandoned to the enemy, there was a desperate shortage of armoured fighting vehicles and artillery and the Germans were known to have plans to invade. As this situation developed from April 1940, the government were forced to consider whether extra forces were needed. The regular Army was committed around the world; the Territorial Army had been mobilised but was behind with equipment and training. On 14 May the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, broadcast an appeal for volunteers: ‘We want large numbers of ... British subjects between the ages of seventeen and sixty-five years to come forward ... The name of the new force ... will be the “Local Defence Volunteers”.’ Almost at once 500,000 men volunteered and within a few weeks the force was approaching 1.5 million. Unsurprisingly, in the early months, they were poorly trained and ill-equipped but over time the Home Guard, as they became known, were increasingly integrated into national defence plans so that the absolute maximum number of regular troops could be released for overseas theatres.
The Home Guard in Hertfordshire played their part in these duties to the full. Within a week of Eden’s appeal six thousand men had volunteered in the county, more than there were rifles available; they included a retired Field Marshal from Wheathampstead. Initially, the county’s L.D.V. were organised as a battalion of twenty companies (each on average at least 300 strong) with their headquarters in the towns and larger villages, although one was raised entirely from the staff of the De Havilland Aircraft Company in Hatfield. As the number of volunteers mounted, more companies were formed which were ultimately grouped into fifteen battalions. The Home Guard was formally stood down by the end of 1944 and disbanded a year later.
In this very detailed account of the Hertfordshire Home Guard, the local picture is set against the background of national developments. Over 130 illustrations also provide a fascinating pictorial history of the force in Hertfordshire. This book shows that there was much more to the Home Guard than the BBC’s Dad’s Army would have us believe.
Colonel J.D. Sainsbury was commissioned in the Royal Artillery during National Service, which he spent with a field regiment in Germany. After retiring from a career at the Bank of England, he then spent twenty years as a historical consultant and archivist in the Honours and Awards Branch of the Military Secretary’s Department of the MoD. As a Territorial Army officer he served in local field artillery units and in a variety of staff jobs, until retiring in 2000. He was appointed OBE (Military Division) in the 1997 New Year Honours. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1991 for his work preserving and recording the history of military units raised in Hertfordshire.
ISBN 978-0-948527-12-8; December 2012, 282pp; Paperback