Home Guard

Home Guard - We know the sergeant is James George Collins (known as 'George')who lived all through the war at 16 Ruxley Lane.  Can you name anyone else?
We know the sergeant is James George Collins (known as "George")
who lived all through the war at 16 Ruxley Lane. Can you name anyone else?

The Early Days

The evening of Tuesday 14th May 1940 saw Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, making an announcement asking for men between the ages of seventeen and sixty five to come forward and offer their services.

"The new force will be called 'The Local Defence Volunteers'. You will not be paid, but you will be armed and given a uniform. To volunteer, just give in your name at your local police station, and when needed, we will let you know."

To say that the response was overwhelming would be an understatement.

Before Eden had finished speaking the first applicants were round at their police station. Across the country 250,000 men had given in their names in the first 24hours.

This was equal to the number of the peacetime army! On 17 June France had surrendered and the Dunkerque evacuation had taken place. Britain stood alone.

By the end of that month the LDV totalled nearly one and a half million men!

The 'command structure' of the force was a bit 'hit and miss' at first. Old WW1 officers took the lead and then chose the next rank down and so on. It really was like Dad's Army! The LDV was very different from the Regular Army in so far as a volunteer could leave having given two weeks notice!

The three main purposes of the LDV were:
  1. Observe and inform
  2. Prevent movement by the enemy landed from the air.
  3. Assisting patrolling and protecting vulnerable spots.

On the 23 July 1940 the name was officially changed to Home Guard, and on the 3 August units were given county titles, e.g. No 2 Platoon B Company, 1st East Surrey Battalion. On 6 August 1940, Army Council Instruction 924 set out the Home Guard's role as part of the Regular Army, and in January 1941 regimental shoulder flashes began to appear. In November 1941 it was announced that conscription would be used to keep the Home Guard up to strength. However, at some one and a half million volunteers, the force was three times larger than was first envisaged.

From January 1942 men between 18 & 51 could be ordered to join the Home Guard for 48 hours a month under penalty of one month in prison or a fine of £10. They could not then leave before the age of 65. These became known as 'directed men'. Existing volunteers were given until 16 February 1942 to decide if they would stay under the new arrangements or leave the Home Guard.

Weapons of war ?

There was a great shortage of weapons in the beginning and many managed with whatever they could lay hands on. A public appeal succeeded in producing some 20,000 weapons of mixed vintage.

Home Guard Training School - Nonsuch Park
Home Guard Training School - Nonsuch Park
Click on image to enlarge.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

There were many stories of 'trigger happy' volunteers letting their enthusiasm get the better of them. There were reports from the shooting of scarecrows to other near misses. Unfortunately the LDV had the unique distinction of being the only army in history to have killed more of its own side than the enemy. Friendly fire is nothing new.

Even when rifles were issued there was still a shortage of ammunition. It was not unusual to find a platoon being issued with one or two rifles and five rounds between the entire patrol. The 'Molotov Cocktail' was the Home Guard's anti tank weapon. This was named after the Russian Foreign Minister of the time, by Finland during a conflict with Russia. This weapon was officially 'stood down' by the end of 1941. By this time a considerably array of official 'bombs' were available.

Many lethal petrol based weapons were devised that were as much danger to the user as to the intended victims. It was probably just as well that these were never put to the test against the enemy. Health and Safety does not exist in war time!

In early 1942 some of the Home Guard volunteered to became anti aircraft gunners, but these units had to be kept up to strength with 'directed men'. Also 7000 men were trained in the skills of bomb disposal.

Home Guard 1 - No 3 Section - July 1941
No 3 Section - July 1941
Home Guard 2 - No 3 Section - July 1941
No 3 Section - July 1941
Home Guard 3
Home Guard 4
Home Guard 5
The above 6 images are courtesy of Peter Barratt © 2008

Home Guard 6
The Home Guard exercising on the brickfields in Stoneleigh
(Cunliffe Road/Alsom Avenue) in the early 1940s. Mr George Rock is 2nd left in front row.

Home Guard 7
The Home Guard exercising on the brickfields in Stoneleigh
(Cunliffe Road/Alsom Avenue) in the early 1940s. Mr George Rock is 2nd left in front row.

Home Guard 8
The Home Guard exercising on the brickfields in Stoneleigh
(Cunliffe Road/Alsom Avenue) in the early 1940s. Mr George Rock is 3rd left in front row.
The above 3 images are courtesy of the Rock Family © 2008


In May 1941 the Home Guard had the honour of mounting guard at Buckingham Palace. A year later His Majesty, King George VI, became colonel in chief of the Home Guard. No specific medals were awarded to the Home Guard in recognitions of their services, although those who had served for at least three years were entitled to apply for the Defence Medal.. There were however thirteen George Medals and two George Crosses won for various acts of heroism.

While a number of 'mentioned in dispatches' were awarded, the first of these went to Peter Derrick Willeringhaus, a sixteen-year-old dispatch rider. He achieved this distinction during a night time air raid on London in January 1941, when he was wounded, had been buried in debris, but ran nearly a mile to deliver his message to headquarters before he collapsed.

When the force stood down they were allowed to keep their boots and battle dress, but only after public protests.

The End

By 1943 the need for the Home Guard had clearly diminished, but it continued until the final stand down on 3 December 1944 which was completed on 31 December. A year later the force was finally disbanded and only met again to take part in the Victory Parade in London in June 1946.

In the years when our Country was in mortal danger 'Tommy Atkins' who served from 1st June 1940 to 31st December 1944 gave generously of his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by force of arms and with his life if need be.

Signed:      George R.I


Mayors Letter of Thanks
Mayors Letter of Thanks
Click on image to enlarge.
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection (Links open in new windows)

Early in January 2014 we were handed a copy of this interesting poem which mentions many of the local pubs.


They like to think they're soldiers
And so they're training hard
On Mondays and on Fridays
God bless the Ewell Home Guard
          On every summer evening
          Or 'neath the wintry moon
          You'll find them all on duty
          The lads of Six Platoon.

We're told to till the meadows
"Grow food's" the slogan now
That's why they guard the WHEATSHEAF
And help to speed the PLOUGH
          The WAGGONERS are wanted
          To help to win this war-
          To show them their direction
          We need a guiding STAR.

Now that invasion threatens
And all church towers are still
EIGHT BELLS are always with us
And th' ORGAN on the hill
          Then just to show allegiance
          In this our time of strife
          Our men call on KING WILLIAM
          And ADELAIDE his wife.

Our Navy is one bulwark
Against our country's foe
So to that gallant captain
LORD NELSON they must go
          Some homes will need rebuilding
          And shelters must be made
          So to our local BRICK KILN
          A visit should be paid.

Though youngsters in our Army
"Jump to it" for the King
The old sweats feeling stiffer
Require a lot of SPRING
          I know that certain strong points
          In Ewell have been missed
          But when you've been round this lot
          You'll all be well nigh P_____.

Composed by L'Cpl. Peach.
Printed by L'Cpl. Youngman.

Three quotes from the excellent Surrey Home Guard by Paul Crook
published in 2000 by Middleton Press ISBN: 978 1 901706 57 4

Another problem seems to have arisen in Epsom. Mrs Pickering, whose father was in the local Home Guard recalls that "to alert the troops a certain set of flags were issued to be run up the flag pole on the tower of Christ Church. The chart illustrating the message that was to be conveyed was not very clearly written, and as neither of the Home Guards on duty had brought his glasses, no message could be sent from the tower."

The training school at Epsom was set up in the main grandstand of the racecourse famous its annual staging of the Derby. Opened on June 21st 1941 by the GOC London District, Lt Gen Sergison Brooke KCB in the company of the Rt Hon Clement Attlee the school was established W Zone, the 56th Battalion providing a large number of the instructors and administrators N manned the school. Thirteen weekend courses were held at the racecourse during the summer 1941, giving members instruction on subjects such as drill, grenade throwing and combating enemy, as well as the use of various Home Guard weaponry. The school was under the command Col A G Bartholomew, who was then a Private in the 56th (Epsom) Battalion.

Joan Johnson did not join the Home Guard but does remember spending time with her father's unit in Ewell. "Whilst waiting to go to college I became quite involved in the Home Guard. I was taught how to fire the rifle but not having any blanks available never actually fired it, which was probably fortunate. I was to threaten any parachutist whilst my mother, armed with the revolver, phoned for help. The dog and I traced the footpaths and farm tracks and later, after the concrete machine gun posts were built, we inspected them for any improper deposits. My reward was to attend the dances at the Drill Hall and dance sedately with older men in Army boots!"

For a recollection of the local home guard see the BBC WW2 Peoples War website. (Opens in a new window).

An interesting Home Guard Website
and the Home Guard Pocket Manual

WW2 Maps
WW2 Maps
Stoneleigh War Remembered
War Memories
WW2 Aircrashes
WW2 Aircrashes
Tragedy on the Home Front
Air Crash at 30 Acre Barn
30 Acre Barn
Peter Simpson