The Home Guard
On 10 May 1940 the "phoney war" came to an abrupt end with the German "blitzkrieg" invasion of Belgium and France. The British Expeditionary Force were pushed back to the Channel coast and it was only by a miracle that nearly 350,000 were evacuated back to England in Operation Dynamo between 26 May and 4 June, thanks to the hastily-assembled flotilla of "little ships" crewed by their civilian owners. On 22 June the French capitulated.
It was well recognised that the Battle of France would be succeeded by a Battle of Britain and on 14 May the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, made a broadcast calling for men between the ages of 17 and 65 to enrol in a new force, the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). By July, nearly 1.5 million men had enrolled and the name was changed to the more inspiring Home Guard. The Home Guard were all volunteers who were otherwise ineligible for military service, such as those too young or too old to join the regular armed services or those in reserved occupations. Their role in the event of an invasion was to try to slow down the advance of the enemy in order to give the regular troops time to regroup, and to maintain control of the civilian population, forestalling panic and preventing essential communication routes from being blocked by refugees, as had happened in France and Belgium. They were also used to defend key communications points and factories in rear areas against possible capture by paratroops or fifth columnists.
Many of the men of Englefield were in reserved occupations so could not be accepted as volunteers in the armed forces. Reservation did not preclude service in the ARP (formed from volunteers in 1938) or the Home Guard and some 28 men from Englefield answered Anthony Eden's call, including some of the older men who had been among those early volunteers of 1914.
Englefield and Theale together formed a Company of the 4th (Pangbourne) Battalion of the Home Guard, affiliated to the Royal Berkshire Regiment whose cap badge they wore - once they were issued with uniform that is, all they had initially was an "LDV" armband. The TV comedy "Dad's Army" contains many a grain of truth and another was the fact that in the first days the only weapons they had were ones they owned themselves or managed to obtain somehow. These were mostly shotguns and .22 rifles that were in regular use around the estate for potting rabbits and vermin. Firearms legislation was less onerous in those days and there was also the odd full bore rifle or pistol, probably a souvenir retained from the earlier war. Later in 1940 there was an issue of 20 rifles but none of that first batch seems to have found its way into the hands of the Englefield platoon.
World War 2
© 2019 Richard J Smith