Photo story

The Real 'Dad's Army'

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 or below the age of conscription and those unfit or ineligible for front line military service.

On 14 May 1940, 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 of this people's army was changed to the more inspiring Home Guard.

The Home Guard was at first a rag-tag militia, with scarce and often make-do uniforms and weaponry. Yet it evolved into a well-equipped and well-trained army of 1.7 million men. Men of the Home Guard were not only readied for invasion, but also performed other roles including 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.

With the Allied armies advancing towards Germany and the threat of invasion or raids over, the Home Guard was stood down on 3 December 1944.

  • Qualifications needed?

    First World War veterans in the LDV line up for inspection, 1 July 1940.
    First World War veterans in the LDV line up for inspection, 1 July 1940.
    H 2005

    The Local Defence Volunteers in this photograph are veterans of the First World War. The LDV was open to men aged between 17 and 65 who had fired a rifle and were 'capable of free movement'. None of these qualifications were seriously tested. At first, uniforms and weapons were in short supply. There were only enough rifles for about a third of volunteers. The rest had to use shotguns, sporting rifles or 'weapons' such as golf clubs.

  • Language lessons

    Local Defence Volunteers are taught simple German phrases, 1940.
    Local Defence Volunteers are taught simple German phrases, 1940.
    HU 50154

    Local Defence Volunteers are taught simple German phrases, showing how the threat of a German invasion of Britain was felt to be a very real one in 1940.

  • Patrolling the waterways

    Home Guards patrol a section of canal in Edinburgh, 19 October 1940.
    Home Guards patrol a section of canal in Edinburgh, 19 October 1940.
    H 4938

    Home Guards in the Edinburgh area had organised a motor boat patrol for use on the canals and waterways of the district to protect local factories and buildings. In this photograph, Home Guards patrol a section of an Edinburgh canal in a motor boat armed with rifles and a mounted Lewis gun on 19 October 1940.

  • Training exercises

    Men of the Home Guard round up an 'enemy' parachutist during training, 14 October 1940.
    Men of the Home Guard round up an 'enemy' parachutist during training, 14 October 1940.
    H 4755

    Men of the 5th Battalion (Doncaster) Home Guard round up an 'enemy' parachutist during training, 14 October 1940.

  • Fighting off an 'invasion'

    Home Guards fire at the 'enemy' during an exercise on 20 July 1940.
    Home Guards fire at the 'enemy' during an exercise on 20 July 1940.
    H 11852

    The Home Guards in this photograph fire at the 'enemy' behind the cover of a post-box during an exercise involving the Home Guard, ARP (Air Raid Precautions) personnel and the police in Northern Command on 20 July 1941. After a bitter struggle, the 'enemy' forces succeeded in taking the town but were later overpowered.

  • A Day with the Home Guard

    <em>A Day with the Home Guard: Home Guards advancing under a bridge on the riverfront</em>, 1941, Edward Ardizzone.
    A Day with the Home Guard: Home Guards advancing under a bridge on the riverfront, 1941, Edward Ardizzone.
    Art.IWM ART LD 1342

    This illustration, A Day with the Home Guard: Home Guards advancing under a bridge on the riverfront (1941), is one in a series on the Home Guard drawn by Edward Ardizzone. Many of the drawings in this series are tongue-in-cheek in tone, depicting slightly overweight older men enthusiastically engaged in military training. However, the Home Guard ultimately had a serious purpose and increasingly provided useful training for younger men before their call up to the Army.

  • At home with the family

    Richard Sainsbury, member of the Home Guard, eats tea with his family prior to going on duty, 1942.
    Richard Sainsbury, member of the Home Guard, eats tea with his family prior to going on duty, 1942.
    D 10118

    Members of the Home Guard still did their regular jobs and then drilled and patrolled around their work. They were not paid. This Ministry of Information photograph was taken in 1942 and shows factory worker Richard Sainsbury having tea with his family before going on Home Guard duty. Factories were a priority for defence and many had their own Home Guard units.

  • Churchill's support

    Churchill inspects the Admiralty Company of the Home Guard.
    Churchill inspects the Admiralty Company of the Home Guard.
    A 11597

    Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Admiralty Company of the Home Guard in September 1942. Churchill was a vocal supporter of the Home Guard and it was at his insistence that its name was changed in July 1940. In a BBC broadcast on 14 July 1940, Churchill said of the Home Guard: 'These officers and men, a large proportion of whom have been through the last war, have the strongest desire to attack and come to close quarters with the enemy wherever he may appear. Should the invader come to Britain, there will be no placid lying down of the people in submission before him, as we have seen, alas, in other countries. We shall defend every village, every town, and every city'.

  • Members of a Home Guard Ack-Ack Gun Team

    <em>Members of a Home Guard Ack-Ack Gun Team, September 1943</em>, Eric Kennington RA.
    Members of a Home Guard Ack-Ack Gun Team, September 1943, Eric Kennington RA.
    Art.IWM ART LD 6109

    Two Home Guards load an anti-aircraft gun during an air raid at night in Eric Kennington's Members of a Home Guard Ack-Ack Gun Team, September 1943.

  • The evolution of the Home Guard

    A 1940 Local Defence Volunteer and a 1944 Home Guard, both members of 32 Surrey Battalion.
    A 1940 Local Defence Volunteer and a 1944 Home Guard, both members of 32 Surrey Battalion.
    HU 18501

    This photograph emphasises the contrast between a 1940 Local Defence Volunteer and a 1944 Home Guard. The Home Guard developed into a well-trained and well-equipped fighting force. The average age of members of the Home Guard decreased as 'old sweats' were retired, and young men of 17 and 18 were incorporated into the Home Guard prior to reaching military age and being called up for military service.

This article was edited by Jessica Talarico. Other IWM staff members contributed to writing an older version of this piece.