First World War veterans in the LDV line-up for inspection. The LDV was open to men aged between 16 and 65 who had fired a rifle and were ‘capable of free movement’. Neither of these qualifications was seriously tested. At first, there were rifles for only about a third of volunteers. The rest had to use shotguns, sporting rifles or 'weapons' such as golf clubs.
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The Home Guard was set up in May 1940 as Britain’s ‘Last Line of Defence’ against German invasion. Members of this ‘Dad’s Army’ were usually men above the age of conscription, boys or those unfit for front line military service.
On 14 May 1940, Anthony Eden, Churchill's Secretary of State for War, made a broadcast calling for men between the ages of 17 and 65 to enrol in a new force, the Local Defence Volunteers. By the end of July, nearly 500,000 men had enrolled, and the name of this people’s army was changed, at Winston Churchill’s insistence, to the more military-sounding Home Guard.
The Home Guard was at first a rag-tag militia, with scarce and often make-do uniforms and weaponry. It is often regarded now as something of a joke, mainly thanks to the 1970s television series Dad’s Army. Yet it evolved into a well-equipped, trained army of 1.7 million men. The average age of its members decreased as ‘old sweats’ were retired, and 17- and 18-year-old Home Guards received training before they were called up. Men of the Home Guard were not only readied for invasion, the threat of which petered out in 1941, but also performed other roles such as bomb disposal and manning anti-aircraft and coastal artillery. Over the course of the war, 1,206 men of the Home Guard were killed on duty or died of wounds.
On 3 December 1944, with the Allies advancing towards Germany and the threat of invasion or raids extinguished, the Home Guard was stood down.
A Day with the Home Guard: Home Guards advancing under a bridge on the riverfront, 1941, by Edward Ardizzone. Edward Adrizzone drew a series of illustrations on the Home Guard. When later asked in an interview whether his pictures were a fair record of events, Adrizzone replied: 'I think they're a fair record. I think they're very fair. I think the Home Guard are a particularly fair record.'
A Ministry of Information photograph showing factory worker Richard Sainsbury having tea with his family before going on Home Guard duty. Members of the Home Guard did their regular jobs by day and then drilled and patrolled in the evening. They were not paid. Factories were a priority for defence and many had their own Home Guard units