On 14 May 1940 the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, broadcast an appeal
on the B.B.C. Home Service for men aged between 17 and 65 to join the Local Defence
Volunteers (L.D.V.) which was being formed. There was no shortage of men who wished
to join the L.D.V. and a number of companies were established in East Lothian, including
those at North Berwick, Aberlady, Broxbum and Macmerry. By the 15th, 100 men had
volunteered at North Berwick and 15 in Gullane; by a week later the numbers had risen
to 142 in North Berwick and 100 in Gullane. In fact the number of men who came forward
meant that it was equipment and weapons which were in short supply, not volunteers,
it being mid June 1940 before uniforms became available. What weapons were available
in the period following Dunkirk were in extremely short supply, but First World War
rifles from the United States helped the motley collection of broom handles, pitch
forks and antique hand-guns with which the L.D.V. were initially equipped.
Officially renamed the Home Guard on 23 July 1940, following a speech by Winston
Churchill in which he referred to them by that name, much criticism has been directed
at the L.D.V. regarding their usefulness. Probably due to the popular view of the
Home Guard as bumbling fools which has resulted from the B.B.C. TV. series Dad's
Army, it has been claimed that had the German Army invaded Britain, the Home Guard
would have been of little use and would have been decimated by the superior numbers
and firepower of the invaders.
However, closer study of the Home Guard reveals that it is unlikely that they would
have been as ineffective as it might appear. In particular, the members of the Home
Guard knew the local countryside - many were farmers, ploughmen or gamekeepers -
and thus would have been able to use the terrain to their advantage, placing roadblocks
and obstructions in the most favourable locations. As such, the Home Guard would
have been able to delay the advance of German troops until such time as mobile reserves
could hopefully counterattack.
The use of such static defences would have been made more effective with the arrival
from late 1940 of more and better weapons, such as Lewis machine-guns, Thompson sub-machine-guns,
Mills Bombs (better known as hand grenades), Northover Projectors which could fire
Molotov cocktails, and Spigot Mortars which were spring-fired anti-tank guns. Along
with these weapons came increased stocks of ammunition. When the Home Guard started
many members would have no ammunition at all, but by August 1943 it was estimated
that Home Guard units in the Lothians and Peeblesshire held a total of almost half
a million rounds of small arms ammunition, and this turned out to be an underestimate!
Prepared for an invasion that never came, much of the time spent by the members of
the Home Guard was taken up with training. Such training required hard work and enthusiasm,
both of which were in apparently plentiful supply. In September 1941 members of the
1st Battalion, East Lothian Home Guard, from Gullane, Dirleton and Aberlady held
a weekend camp at the Hopes, near Gifford. Within a short space of time from their
arrival in army trucks on the Saturday afternoon, tents had been erected, pits dug,
a cook-house established, stores issued and they were ready for action. The afternoon
and early evening were taken up by platoon exercises, patrolling, messages, communications,
a talk on reconnaissance patrols by day and night, and in some ceremonial drill practice.
The last activity was given particular emphasis when it was discovered that the camp
was to be visited by a Field Marshall.
Mrs. Mary Stenhouse, a schoolchild living in the valley now occupied by the Whiteadder
"The War Office decided we should have a branch of the Home Guard in the glen, so
the Marquis of Tweeddale came as commander or whatever to organise the men. One young
man had a motorbike so he was immediately elected dispatch-rider. The school-headmistress's
husband was a retired gamekeeper so he was put in charge of the one gun: a double-barrel
shotgun belonging to the Marquis. Various pieces of uniform were issued to whoever
fitted them, though everyone got a tin-hat. A bonfire was built on Priestlaw Hill
to be lit in case of invasion.
One older gentleman was stationed beside the one telephone in the glen. Early one
Sunday morning his grandson came knocking at the window saying the invasion was expected
any moment, whereby my father and the young shepherd who lodged with us went back
to bed till their normal rising time. My father and the old gamekeeper with the one
gun were to go on watch on Priestlaw Hill at 11.00 a.m., so after a quiet wander
up the hill, they lay down in the shelter of a stone wall and lit their pipes to
await the call to arms. An old cock grouse landed on the wall and perched there looking
about, so the old man pointed the gun saying, "Man, John, what a grand shot that
would be," at which my father told him not to fire or the whole of the south of Scotland
would think the invasion had begun!"
Stand down of the Home Guard finally came on Sunday 3 December 1944, with the need
for a home defence clearly past. That day the East Lothian Battalion Home Guard held
Stand Down parades. 'D' Company from Gullane were inspected by Colonel D. H. McCririck,
Lothian and Borders Sub-Division Commander, and at 12.50 p.m. marched past the saluting
base at the war memorial in the town, and into the history books as part of the preparations
for the defence of Britain against an invasion which, thankfully, never took place.