By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE images revealing the real-life Dad’ Army have been released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first episode of the iconic British sitcom.
Stunning pictures show the Home Guard training in the correct use of a bayonet during World War Two, arriving first on the scene of an enemy aircraft crash and winding along a cliff edge to their posts.
Other striking shots show instructors advising on the use of the ‘sticky’ bomb and other up-to-date anti-tank devices, Sgt Bill Davies, a miner, setting out to mount guard in South Wales and the LDV practice shooting down a German parachutist using a teddy bear.
The wartime photographs are included in Norman Longmate’s book, The Real Dad’s Army, published by Amberley.
Longmate, ex-Private ‘F’ Company, 3rd Sussex Battalion, Home Guard, joined ‘Dad’s Army’ at the same age as the fictional character ‘Pike’, seventeen. To this day he contends that the much-loved sitcom was remarkably accurate in its portrayal of life in the Home Guard.
“At first many hardly knew what platoon they belonged to, let alone what battalion, and empire-building commanders were able to ‘poach’ whole Sections from their less wide-awake neighbours,” he writes.
“The LDV was treated from the first day by the Whitehall bureaucrats who drew up the detailed regulations and vetted the accounts with outstanding meanness so at the beginning almost everyone connected with the LDV was out of pocket.
“Many commanders set up headquarters in their own homes, bought typewriters, and engaged clerks, with their own money.
“Several headquarters had their telephones cut off by the Post Office for not paying the bill; in Cambridgeshire one battalion was told it could not train on Sunday unless it was prepared to pay overtime to the signalman who had to be on duty to open a gate for them.
“The official upper age limit of sixty-five was not at first enforced. The earliest MP to sign on admitted to being sixty-eight and one unit boasted that its officer had been personally nursed by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea — though this seems unlikely, as it would have made him at least 104.”
The Home Guard (initially Local Defence Volunteers or LDV) was a defence organisation of the British Army during the Second World War. Operational from 1940 until 1944, the Home Guard was composed of 1.5 million local volunteers otherwise ineligible for military service, such as those too young or too old to join the services, or those in reserved occupations. Their role was to act as a secondary defence force, in case of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany and their allies.
The Home Guard were to try to slow down the advance of the enemy, even by a few hours in order to give the regular troops time to regroup. The Home Guard continued to guard the coastal areas of the United Kingdom and other important places such as airfields, factories and explosives stores until late 1944 when they were stood down, and finally disbanded on 31 December 1945, eight months after Germany’s surrender. Men aged 17 to 65 could join. It was unpaid but gave a chance for older or inexperienced soldiers to support the war effort.
Dad’s Army is a BBC television sitcom about the British Home Guard during the Second World War. It was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, and broadcast on the BBC from 1968 to 1977. The sitcom ran for nine series and 80 episodes in total; there was also a radio version based on the television scripts, a feature film and a stage show. The series regularly gained audiences of 18 million viewers, and is still repeated worldwide.
In 2004, Dad’s Army was voted fourth in a BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom. It had been placed 13th in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000 and voted for by industry professionals. The series has influenced British popular culture, with the series’ catchphrases and characters being well known. It highlighted a forgotten aspect of defence during the Second World War.
Norman Longmate’s book, The Real Dad’s Army, published by Amberley, is available now. RRP £10.