“Don’t tell him, Barnard!” When our esteemed Penistone reporter told me he was writing an article about the Home Guard and I recounted a few of the stories my late father used to tell about his time in Dad’s Army, I should have guessed he would ask me to inflict them on his readers.
Originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers or LDV, (popularly Look, Duck and Vanish), the Home Guard was set up in 1940 in response to fears of a German invasion. At first they had neither uniforms nor weapons which led to some quite novel improvisation. A carving knife tied to a broom handle was one option. My father chose a hedging bill which I still have – I hope it would have proved a better weapon than hedge cutter. One member had an old muzzle-loading shotgun which was alright except that it took a couple of minutes to load and frequently misfired. Then there were attempts to make a sticky-bomb for use against tanks. Better not describe the design although I think problems with the chemistry would have made it more dangerous to the user than the crew of a Waffen SS panzer. Fortunately all that remains of that experiment is a pair of pliers for crimping a time pencil detonator.
Eventually they received some rifles and later even some bullets. The home made sticky bombs were replaced by the Blacker Bombard, a spigot mortar with a range of about 100 yards which was far less than the guns on the tanks they were intended to destroy.
One of the officers was keen on setting up roadblocks and they would check the identity cards of passers-by, people they had known all their lives! Like a cousin who was often so drunk he relied on his horse to take him and his milk cart back to the farm after he had been drinking with the platoon in a local hostelry. Another officer was obsessed with spies and had them watch a man simply because someone said he had been to Germany. They intercepted some of his post and, steaming open the letters, discovered he was indeed leading a double life – having an affair with a married woman.
Despite the almost comic nature of some of their antics the Home Guard did take part in some serious operations such as manning anti-aircraft guns in Sheffield and, particularly in southern England, rounding up downed Luftwaffe aircrew and parachutists. Seventy-five years on we can smile without losing sight of the fact that they were willing, indeed eager to defend their country in one of its darkest hours and be thankful that we have not been called upon to do the same. Yet.
First published by the Barnsley Chronicle - Penistone Living. June 2017