WR5 Battalion Harrogate Home Guard

Living History

Welcome to the WR5 Battalion Home Guard History Pages


We are a small group of people interested in the history and development of the Local Defence Volunteers and the Home Guard in Great Britain from 1940 to 1945. We have done occasional history displays and school / youth group visits to explain the history of the Home Guard.

On our site you can find out information about the history of the Home Guard in the Harrogate District and what our group gets involved with, from training events to schools visits.

The picture at left is taken during a break in some TV filming during an event in 2010 at Coleshill House near Swindon where we worked with the National trust on a special 70th Anniversary event we were invited to take part in. We have also done work with the local British Legion, educational visits to local schools, scout groups and wartime events around the country.

We hope that you enjoy your visit here, please feel free to get in touch. We would be especially pleased to hear from anyone who's family was involved with the Home Guard in the 5th Battalion West Riding unit, or in the wider Yorkshire area.

Historical Introduction

After the evening news on the BBC on Tuesday May 14th the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, [pictured here at right] broadcast 
a live appeal on air for men of 17 to 65 to form a new national volunteer force to be known as the Local Defence Volunteers. 

 The details of the force were understandably vague in Eden's short speech. However, it called on the population to register at their local police station and give their names. Within minutes of the end of the broadcast men were putting on coats and hats and going to show their interest in the appeal to the local authorities.

In Harrogate, within days, a small group of men had got together to form the basics of the organisation. The speed with which the L.D.V. came into being meant that the earliest days were somewhat chaotic, because of the rushed nature of its commencement.

It was only on 8th May 1940 that the House of Lords had discussed the issue of forming local armed levies, followed by a War Cabinet meeting on the 11th May at which Winston Churchill presided, having become Prime Minister the day before. Thashing out the basic detail took a further two days with the War Office and G.H.Q. Home Forces establishing the basic framework for a Local Defence Force, finally recieving legal status with the signing of an Order in Council by the King on 17th May 1940.

Once this framework was established things moved quite rapidly. Instructions were issued for the LDV on 18th May to local forces from Army Commands. Tenders were issued to manufacturers for the L.D.V. armbands and the first 250,000 were being distributed by 23rd May, although some local units had been very quick to look at how they could make their own. Many types can be seen in collections including hand stitched ones orprinted locally in black or white paint on green cloth.

The government expected 150,000 men to volunteer for the Home Guard. Within the first month, 750,000 men had volunteered and by the end of June 1940 the number of volunteers was over one million. The number of men in the Home Guard did not fall below one million until they were stood down in December 1944.

Two weeks after the introduction of the LDV denim overalls had begun to be issued to them. These issues took place in the areas considered most vulnerable first, coastal regions in the south and then were expanded as stocks allowed. Questions of uniform and equipment would plague officialdom for some time to come. Some of the stories of how units aquired their uniforms makes amusing reading. One unit which heard they were going to be inspected by the king appealed to the local army Quartermaster for a loan, once aquired they were reluctant to return them, but since another unit was due for a similar inspection days later they were inevitably distributed elsewhere!

When first formed it was with the intention of delaying enemy invasion forces as long as possible to give the regular army time to form a front line from which the enemy invasion could be repelled. The Home Guard were expected to fight highly trained, well armed, German troops using nothing but a few shotguns, air rifles, old hunting rifles, bayonets, knives and even pickaxe handles.

The Home Guard was eventually issued with conventional weapons but supplies and stocks caused problems. Most weapons were either WW1 weapons or they were supplied from abroad. One such organisation, The American Committee for the Defence of British Homes produced appeal poster saying 'Send a Gun to Defend a British Home'. Roosevelt gave a hunting rifle and one wealthy benefactor sent a shipment of tommy guns!

The British infantry rifle of WWI, the .303" SMLE was issued to the Home Guard and American P14 and P17 rifles were also supplied. The P14 and P17 looked almost identical, the only real difference being that the P14 took service .303" ammunition whilst the P17 took the American .30" ammunition. To prevent accidents, the P17 had a red band painted on it to identify the .300 calibre.

  Image © IWM (H 1917)