Manchester Home Guard celebrated at the Museum of the Manchester Regiment

By Richard Moss | 04 January 2013
a black and white head and shoulders photo of a homeguardsman with forgae cap and round glasses
A group of unidentified Home Guardsmen cap badged to the Manchester Regiment.© Tameside MBC

Exhibition Preview: The Home Guard, Museum of the Manchester Regiment, Ashton-under-Lyne, until June 22 2013

We may know them best through the enduring popularity of TV’s Dad’s Army, but in May 1940, when Secretary of State for War Anthony Eden called for volunteers for the newly formed Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), the threat of invasion - and battle - was very real.

As Eden made his broadcast, the mobile war of Blitzkrieg was in full and furious flow across western Europe and the crushing defeat of Allied forces and retreat from Dunkirk was only weeks away. At home, many believed it only a matter of time before the German Army attempted an invasion of British shores.

Amid this climate of fear and resilience, thousands of men rushed to their local police stations to enlist for the new force. 

a photograph of a Home Guard inspection parade
Fourteen battalions were cap bagded to the Manchester Regiment© Museum of the Manchester Regiment
One-and-a-half million men aged between 17 and 65 (hundreds younger and older also slipped into the ranks to do their bit) eventually came forward to serve in what became known as the Home Guard.

As well as acting as a secondary defence force in case of invasion, the men of the Home Guard were also deployed across coastal areas of Britain, on anti-aircraft battery duty and at airfields, factories and explosives stores.

In Manchester, within days of Eden’s broadcast, some 7,000 applications for enrolment were received at the city’s designated Police Stations. Many more came forward as the war progressed.

The Museum of Manchester Regiment pays tribute to these local men by foucssing on some of the recruits to the fourteen battalions affiliated to the Manchester Regiment.

A fascinating haul of objects and photographs reveal who these men were, where they came from, what they did and why. As well as the stories of ordinary people doing their bit in extraordinary times, the objects reveal a tale of resilience and improvisation.

A makeshift anti-tank weapon has been loaned by Clive Williams, whose father, an engineer by trade, served in the Home Guard. He devised and designed the weapon to be propelled on wheels underneath an invading German tank where it would explode, destroying the tank and killing the German soldiers inside. 

Much has been made of the determination of the Home Guard and the ineffectiveness of the weapons they were either given or developed themselves to resist Hitler’s war machine.

The passage of time and a certain TV series have allowed a cosey and sometimes comical view of "Dad's Army" to develop, and there is some truth in this view.

This particular device was thankfully never used or fired, but it exemplifies what Eden later described as the “miracle of improvisation” of the men who served with the Home Guard. Their bravery is something that also shouldn't be forgotten.

  • Open 10am-4pm (1pm Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday). Admission free.

More pictures:

a display case showing photographs, medals, rifles and an imporivised explosive device on wheels
Displays inlcude an improvised anti-tank device intended to be wheeled underneath a tank and exploded© Museum of the Manchester Regiment
a photograph of Manchester Home Guard on an inspection parade
Home Guard Battalions badged to the Manchester Regiment being inspected on parade© The Museum of the Manchester Regiment
a photo of display cases with photographs and objects in them
Personal stories of men who served feature in the exhibition© Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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