Posts Tagged ‘Dad’s’

Inside the real life Dad’s Army training camp

February 3rd, 2016

Faced with all these leaderless recruits, the newly launched news magazine Picture Post decided to take matters into its own hands. Along with the rest of the media, it was forbidden by the Ministry of Information from reporting on almost anything directly related to the war. So, in the spirit of trailblazing tabloid journalism, the Post decided to make the news itself. In the process, it showed the War Ministry what it really ought to be doing – and set up an amateur training school for the eager volunteers and, years later, provided Jimmy Perry and David Croft, co-writers of Dad’s Army, with the storyline for the “Battle Camp” episode.

The Post set up its battle camp in the grounds of Osterley Park, a large Georgian estate to the west of London, funded by proprietor Edward Hulton, where volunteers could be trained in what editor Tom Hopkinson described as “’do-it-yourself’ war”.

As de facto guests of the estate owner, the Earl of Jersey, and unattached to the official war effort, they could be easily – and exclusively – photographed for the magazine. Hopkinson later recalled: “Hulton phoned the Earl and he came round at once. Yes, of course we could have his grounds for a training course; he hoped we wouldn’t blow the house up as it was one of the country’s showplaces and had been in the family for some time.’’

Trainees, or “first-class irregulars”, were instructed in the use of guns and grenades, camouflage, scouting, stalking and patrolling, self-defence and “ungentlemanly warfare”, such as attacking people from behind. The structure of the school was deliberately democratic. It provided a few hours of training a week for anyone prepared to learn the essentials of street fighting and guerilla warfare. There was to be no compulsory uniform, rank, parades or drill, no bayonet practice – and no living in.

The teaching staff were equally irregular. Camouflage techniques were taught by Roland Penrose, the surrealist painter, while Stanley White, leader of the Boy Scout’s Association – who had himself been taught fieldcraft by Robert Baden-Powell – gave instruction in “confidence and cunning, the use of shadow and of cover”. Bert ‘Yank’ Levy taught knife-fighting, while Hugh Slater, the man responsible for shooting practice, “when not fighting wars, is a painter and journalist”. Future Labour MP Wilfred Vernon was, “a mixer of Molotov cocktails, inventor of new bombs and rather mad”, according to Slater’s wife Janelia.

And, for three months, it really worked.

“The response was instant and fantastic,” wrote Hopkinson. “Our school could have been filled three times over.”

Naturally, Osterley also provided the Post with plentiful copy. Interspersed with photos, staff profiles and passionate op-eds were instructions on “Making Your Own Mortar for 38/6”, and the advice that “since powder taken from fireworks is not reliable”, they wrote, “we made our own gunpowder”.

As for weaponry, the Post again took matters into its own hands and arranged for a consignment of arms to be sent from the United States. “A shipload of assorted guns, revolvers and ammunition arrived for us in Liverpool,” said Hopkinson, “varying from gangsters’ tommy-guns to ancient buffalo guns and long rifles from the Louisiana Civil War of 1873. They even included ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt’s favourite hunting rifle.”

Captain Mainwaring will be played by Toby Jones

As a Quaker, Roland Penrose was a pacifist, but when he was approached by Hopkinson to teach disguise and camouflage techniques, he was happy to agree. “For two years, I was occupied playing boy-scout games with the Home Guard, giving lectures and demonstrations all over England and Wales in preparation for the invasion that never came,” Penrose wrote later. He put his experience to good use, writing the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage pamphlet which was later handed out to all army trainees on enlistment and contributed to the eventual redesign of military dress.

One of his best-known camouflague experiments involved his wife, the photographer Lee Miller. On a warm summer’s day, Miller and Penrose went to see their friends, the Gorers, in Highgate, north London, taking with them a large tub of olive-green ointment.

As he later wrote: “Lee, as a willing volunteer, stripped and covered herself with the paste. My theory was that if it could cover such eye-catching attractions as hers from the invading Hun, smaller and less seductive areas of skin would stand an even better chance of becoming invisible.” A photograph shows four characters splayed on a hot summer lawn, Penrose bare-chested, the Gorers uncomfortable, and Lee, naked, olive green and covered in shrubbery.

“Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy”

The school was headed by Tom Wintringham, a veteran of the International Brigade who like many of the staff had direct combat experience from the Spanish Civil War and who was practiced in guerilla warfare techniques. He was also a bona fide Marxist, whose explicit aim was the overthrow of democratic government and its replacement with a Communist state.

In the end, the War Office solved the ‘Wintringham problem’ by taking over the school itself and building on its early successes. After three months of prominent coverage in the Post, and having trained several thousand volunteers, Osterley had done its job.

And that might have been that, if the strange history of the Picture Post battle school had not been spotted by a couple of foraging scriptwriters a few decades after the end of the war. As it turned out, Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy. Those few vital months gave the Home Guard a kick-start – and Dad’s Army its inspiration.

• Bella Bathhurst is author of The Long Shot: The Story of the Picture Post. Dad’s Army is released on February 5


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Don’t Panic! Real Dad’s Army was ‘ruthless guerrilla force’ say historians

January 29th, 2016

The BBC television series and other depictions have done a disservice to the real Home Guard, which was composed of deadly serious volunteers who believed invasion was imminent.

Many of the guard were in fact fit young men in reserve occupations which meant they could not join the regular forces, Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the museum said.

He said: “I think the popular culture depiction has done them a little bit of a disservice. In a lot of cases, it was more a lads’ army, than a Dad’s Army.”

Documents and artefacts outlining the reality of the Home Guard will go on display when the museum reopens in November after a two year refurbishment.

Records show half of some units were aged in their mid-20s or younger. Of the older men, a significant proportion had combat experience from the First World War.

Dr Johnston said: “These were very serious people and these were very serious times. It’s easy to look back and laugh now at people making their own weapons, but it was a desperate time in 1940.”

The Home Guard, which was originally called initially the Local Defence Volunteers, was formed on 14 May 1940. By the end of July there were more than a million volunteers.

With regular forces taking priority for equipment, the Home Guard volunteers were at first poorly armed with their own weapons or obsolete firearms. The original idea was that the guard would act as a secondary defensive force behind the Army, guarding roads, canals and airfields.

But they were soon converted to a more aggressive role to deal with a potential German invasion, Dr Johnston said.

The German invasion plan ‘Operation Sea Lion’ called for a landing force of 67,000 German soldiers along with an airborne division to parachute in land beyond the British beach defences.

The German forces planned to push north and encircle London. The German plan estimated that if they advanced as far as Northampton, the UK would surrender.

If the Home Guard were to stand and fight well-trained and well-equipped German troops who had pioneered and mastered Blitzkrieg warfare, they would suffer enormous casualties for little gain it was decided.

So the guard was reimagined as a guerrilla force that would limit the German advance.

Dr Johnston said: “They would be a secret army, sabotaging and attacking the enemy from the rear, slowing them down to buy time for the regular Army to regroup further inland and re-establish defensive positions.”

The Home Guard drilled twice a week, took part in regular camps, and was trained by the regular Army. Within a short space of time it was probably the equivalent of today’s Army Reserve, he said.

Life in the Home Guard was also dangerous with 1,206 members being killed in the war.

Though the invasion never came, the Home Guard remained active in British defence and manned anti-aircraft guns. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dr Johnston said: “Had the invasion come in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard would undoubtedly have fought with great commitment but probably been able to accomplish little. But the longer the delay in the planned German invasion went on, the stronger the Home Guard, and British forces overall, became, and better able to resist any prospective assault. They were a vital part of Britain’s defences throughout the war.”


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'No withdrawal': WW2 scrapbook reveals defiance of real-life Dad's Army

March 27th, 2014

Experts said the soldiers would have had a “cat in hells chance” of repelling an invading force from the tiny New Forest village of Beaulieu, with a population of around 500.

But they planned to “harass” and “hinder” the enemy while obeying their orders to “hold their position to the last man and last round.”

Their sacrificial efforts were meant to give the regular British forces time to manoeuvre into a position where they were better placed to thwart the attack.

Lt Col Crofton, who died in the 1950s, was second in command of the 9th (Forest) Battalion, and later commander of the nearby 28th (Bay) Battalion.

His scrapbook contains dozens of previously unseen official documents – stamped “secret” – that he produced for his troops from September 1943.

It contains defence plans, letters, and orders showing a series of machine gun posts, tank traps, road blocks, snipers and a mine field.

One of the book’s most detailed plans is a hand-drawn map showing how the picturesque village of Beaulieu was turned into a defensive garrison.

In the event of an invasion, a group of 44 men were to be stationed at five pillboxes, roadblocks and numerous firing positions from local buildings.

The firing positions included the Montagu Arms – now a Michelin Star restaurant and hotel – and a wall with firing holes at Beaulieu Abbey.

Some remains can still be seen today, including four of five bunkers which can be seen in the village’s former dairy, mill, and garage.

One typed document – headed New Forest District Defence Scheme and with a red “secret” stamp – outlines the troops’ responsibilities.

It reads: “The task of all tps (troops) under Comd (command) is to prevent enemy seaborne and or airborne raiders damaging vital Installns (installations) or equipment, and to destroy, harass, and delay any enemy who set foot in HAMPSHIRE.

“All tps will be allotted a definite role and will hold their positions to the last man and last round.

“THERE WILL BE NO WITHDRAWAL.”

The Home Guard were defending Fawley oil refinery, road and rail links, and fuel supply lines through the New Forest National Park.

Major Edward Crofton, Lt Col Crofton’s son, has loaned the scrapbook to the New Forest Remembers World War II Project run by the New Forest National Park Authority.

Gareth Owen, from the project, said: “We’re very grateful to the Crofton family for this unique collection full of top secret orders and maps that probably should have been destroyed once it was read.

“Yet they were kept and they offer a real insight into how the Home Guard operated in the New Forest.

“The image we have of the Home Guard, due largely to Dad’s Army, is of a shambolic if well-intentioned group playing at being soldiers.

“However the documents in the Crofton book show how well-organised and dedicated the Home Guard were and how they were willing to give their lives to delay the advance of any invading German force.”

He added: “They were of a mature age and not suited to jumping in an out of trenches but they were highly skilled individuals.

“It is unlikely they would have been much resistance to an invading force, but they would have harassed them enough to have delayed their progress, and could have given them a black eye.

“That would have been crucial in giving the full time British forces enough time to get into position further back.

“Some of the Home Guard would have known they did not have a cat in hell’s chance of beating the Germans, while others believed they could have sent them packing.

“To say they were like lambs to the slaughter is unfair, but it is likely they would have suffered casualties and were clearly prepared to sacrifice their lives if needed.”

Major Crofton, from Petersfield, Hampshire, said: “A lot of the documents in the book were marked top secret so they probably shouldn’t have been kept.

“But knowing my father I don’t think many would have questioned him hoarding them.

“I’m very glad they were not binned. We’re very lucky.”

In the past two years, the New Forest Remembers World War II Project has unearthed more than 1,300 previously-unseen documents, maps and photos as well as record more than 72 hours of oral histories.

The entire project, including the contents of the Crofton book, has now been digitised into an online archive.

Julian Johnson, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “The project has been a great success.

“Fascinating tales of royal visits, prisoners of war and secret bombing tests have come to light to give us a fuller picture of that time.

“The digital portal will provide a lasting legacy for future generations to discover more about this fascinating period.”


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