Orders of the Day — Home Guard.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Anthony Marlowe Mr Anthony Marlowe , Brighton

When I first entered this House, about a month ago, I was given two pieces of advice. One was to remain silent for about three months, and the other was that, when I broke that silence, I should avoid any form of controversy. I hope that the House will have no reason to think it is a pity I have ignored the first part of that advice, and I hope I shall not be considered guilty of controversy if I express the view that what has been put forward by the Government at this stage does not really go far enough. I understand that there will be no increase in the numbers of the Home Guard where the present personnel is considered adequate, but I have to ask, What is adequate? To my mind nothing is adequate, except that every man and woman should be trained to defend the country, and nothing short of that will do. It is no use trying to disguise the fact that many people feel discontent and resentment that they are not being allowed to do enough or to shoulder burdens which they would choose to shoulder; I think that became apparent in our recent Debate on manpower.

In the Home Guard there is a great opportunity for people to serve in the way in which they wish to serve. We are apparently being hard pressed in the Far East, but we ought not to be. We have had plenty of time to prepare there, and ample warning of what was coming. If there had been a really efficient Home Guard there, we should not have found ourselves evacuating Sarawak or withdrawing in Malaya.

I do not claim to have any special knowledge of troop movements to or from this country, but it is a reasonable assumption that the more we become involved in other spheres of the globe, the more important becomes the function of the Home Guard in this country. The Home Guard are approaching the time when they will become the front-line troops. It is possible to visualise the time when, the bulk of the Regular Army having been sent overseas, the whole of the defence of this country may fall virtually upon the Home Guard alone. I know that when that test comes they will not be found lacking in courage and determination, but there is an uncomfortable feeling that they may be found wanting in training and equipment.

As to the latter, obviously the supply must depend upon the demands which are made elsewhere, but I want to urge upon the Government a changed attitude of mind towards the Home Guard. I want the Government to regard the Home Guard not merely as a subsidiary unit to the Regular Army, to be employed in catching spies, rounding up parachutists and maintaining lines of supply, but as a self-contained Army upon which the safety of the country may one day depend. For that reason, it is vitally necessary that the Home Guard should be trained and equipped as such an Army, and shall not be left to the last, to be provided with modern and up-to-date weapons when all other orders have been fulfilled. The Home Guard must receive its share now and at once. There must be a considerably increased amount of compulsory training. It is impossible to train an Army—I reiterate that it must be regarded as an Army, and not as a trained band, or a half-trained band, or as an amateur week-end party—in the number of hours which it is now suggested should be compulsory. There is no lack of enthusiasm among the members of the Home Guard themselves, but I complain of the mentality which regards the Home Guard as a body of secondary troops. The time may well come when they will not be secondary, but will be first-class in importance.

As we have learned to our cost, modern war demands highly trained troops equipped with modern machines. You cannot achieve that goal by means of evening classes and Sunday parades. It demands also a highly disciplined Army. I know of no reason why the Home Guard should be, as it is now, under a kind of compromise discipline whereby it is subject to military law on some occasions and not on other occasions. That position is symptomatic of the attitude which I wish to see altered. I wish to see the Home Guard put rather upon the footing of soldiers who are given time off to become temporary civilians, and not civilians who are given time on to become temporary soldiers. As I have said, it is a question of the attitude of mind, and the Government should give a lead on this matter, not only in relation to the Home Guard, but in relation to the whole of the civil population.

I hope that I am not getting out of Order if I refer to the lack of direction as to the role of the civilian in the event of invasion, but if I am, perhaps I can get back into Order by urging the Government to consider the position of women in relation to the Home Guard. I remember, last year I think it was, reading a pamphlet which I gather was issued by the Government or with their approval, instructing the populace what to do in the event of invasion. I cannot at this stage recollect all that appeared in that document, but the burden of it, if I remember rightly, was, if the invader comes, not to give him lunch, but to telephone to the nearest village constable. That was admirable advice, so long as, first, the telephone was working; second, the village constable was not otherwise engaged with a thousand similar calls or perhaps inquiring into the validity of someone else's dog licence; and, third, the invader had not views of his own as to whether he took lunch or not. I wish to assure the Government that you will not stop the invader, when he comes, by giving instructions to the local policeman to take his number and copy down his particulars in a note-book.

There must be, I suggest, a change of attitude of mind as to what is to be done in the event of invasion We have good reason to believe that Russia has gone a long way towards saving herself. She did not do that by the kind of attitude of mind to which I have been referring. She did not stand submissively by, nor did her women and children. She saved herself—if, as we hope she has done— because when the invasion came every man, woman and child rose up and smote the intruder. What she has done we can do, and this country belongs to the women and children as much as to the soldiers.

I understand—and I base my computation on those figures which seem to be applicable to wages, insurance, compensation and so forth—that a woman of this country is calculated at about seven-tenths the value of a man. In the presence of the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham, I hasten to say that I by no means agree with that computation, but I also hasten to add that, of course, that valuation applies only as to seven-tenths of a British man. I do not think it is too much to say that one English woman is worth 10 Germans. I urge upon the Government the desirability of giving a lead in that direction, and of pointing out that it is not throwing too great a burden on the womanhood of this country if every 10 women are asked to kill one German. If that were done, one could be sure in the event of invasion that there would not be one German left alive.

Perhaps in these observations I have wandered a little from the matter which was before the House, but I do. not think I am really guilty of that, because I want the Government to see that, when the invasion comes, not only will the Home Guard be trained and equipped to meet it, but there will be no pusillanimity in scorching this fair Island if we have to make that great sacrifice. If we are called upon to do that, I want the Government to see that we are ready for it. By issuing the necessary weapons and, perhaps, by a more intelligent use of information and propaganda, they could ensure that when the invader came every man, woman and child in this country would rise up and strike him, even if only with half a brick. If that mentality can be inculcated into the people, it would be found that they would be inspired with that vigour, that hatred of Germans, and that knowledge that they were sharing in the battle which, if I were a German, would make me a very frightened man.