Orders of the Day — Home Guard.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 18th December 1941.

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Photo of Mr Henry Charleton Mr Henry Charleton , Leeds South

I can see that a shortage of man-power may arise, and I should like the Minister to consider whether companies of the Home Guard raised by railways and by industrial works should still remain independent units. There is the position at the old station where I used to work. It has a good Home Guard company of smart and efficient men. Those men are drawn from the district around, and naturally that depletes the number of men available for any other company raised in that neighbourhood. The Minister should consider whether it is necessary for a railway company with stations quite close together to have strong companies of the Home Guard if it means that there will not be so many men available for Home Guards for the district generally.

Then there is the question of equipment. We know the difficulties which arose after our losses at Dunkirk, and we feel the lack of equipment. I am particularly interested in signals. So far as I can see, the only system of signalling in the Home Guard is with flags. With the coming of the aeroplane, flags are really obsolete, because wherever a reconnaisance plane sees flags at work it will know something is going on. I think the Home Guard ought to be provided with daylight signalling lamps. I know the War Office are going to supply them, but we ought to get them pretty quickly. The Home Guard company here have functions in the City of Westminster, because we have to guard Westminster and Lambeth bridges, and there would be difficulty in sending messages from one post to another. "If the balloon should go up," we should not, I suppose, be able to use the telephone, and if our commanding officer wanted to communicate with the officer on Westminster Bridge or Lambeth Bridge or in Whitehall he would have to resort to the use of runners. If the Germans were dropping a lot of stuff around that would be a very uncomfortable journey. The sooner we have daylight lamps the better. If we do not get them soon we shall be having the peace procession before we get the lamps.

There is another question arising out of the introduction of compulsion for the Home Guard. I constantly get complaints from soldiers as to how they are treated in the streets, how the "red caps" report them because of something wrong with their dress. Of course the military police are bound to do it, because there are always officers about and some of them like to show their authority. But take the case of a man of 65 in the Home Guard. He has been at work all day, he hurries home for his evening meal, gets into his uniform, and rushes off to parade. Is it to be expected of him that he should go through all those saluting evolutions that the young soldier of 18 with nothing to do is expected to perform? The average man of that age is thinking while he is walking. Young people do not think very much. That fact should be taken into consideration. After all, the Anzacs were able to do their fighting without all this spit and polish and were quite good at pushing back the Prussians, who are the leaders in all this heel-clicking and goose-stepping. There is no spit and polish about the Russian Army. Russian soldiers learn to fight and do their job, and that, it seems to me, is the example for the Home Guard. The Middle East Forces are fighting in shorts and open-necked shirts. I see by the paper this morning that a sergeant got into trouble because he had a tie on with his collar and the top button of his tunic was undone. That sort of thing is very silly and it ought not to be imposed upon the Home Guard.

The Home Guard stepped forward voluntarily, without any encouragement, to guard their hearths and homes. They never had a thought of being organised in battalions and big companies. They always thought they would have to guard their homes in little bands of men, and they have gone on, in spite of the War Office, so to speak, because they did it "on their own." They will still go on, and consideration should still be given to them. The War Office should warn officers that the men in the Home Guard are still home guards who work hard. There are men in the mines and railways all over the country who do heavy work during long hours, with very much less food than is enjoyed by the ordinary soldier. Their bodies are not quite up to the well-nourished state of the soldier in the Army. I feel sure that the Minister will accept these words of warning. I believe that the Home Guard will loyally accept the new position so long as it is carried out in the spirit which I have outlined.