Look Duck and Varnish – Gaming the Home Guard on its 80th Anniversary

 

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Left – an old  home cast Home Guard painted and gifted by Alan Tradgardmastre Gruber and right a Britains hollowcast Home Guard consult one of the volumes in my library.

 

Eighty years ago today 14 May 1940 was the founding day of the Local Defence Volunteers, the LDV or the “Look Duck and Vanish” as some unkindly folk called them – you might now them by their Churchillian rebrand as “The Home Guard”.

Here is the text of Anthony Eden’s original radio appeal for volunteers on the evening of 14 May 1940 – http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/J1GeneralInformatonEden.htm

http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/J2GeneralInformatonWOMessage1.htm

It would take another twenty five years and a TV sitcom for them to earn their modern nickname of “Dad’s Army.”

Over my last forty odd years or more of shoving tiny plastic figures meaningfully around a felt covered tabletop, vaguely inspired by historical events, the Home Guard has been a World War Two theme that I have often returned to.

Small numbers of Airfix German Paratroops and Infantry frequently encountered the lightly armed Airfix British infantry who were my “Dad’s Army” figures, invading some fictional village or small town, lashed together from spare buildings and scenery borrowed from my model railway making family. Sadly, being the 1970s, no photographs exist of these tiny titanic struggles.

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My 1980s painted (toy soldier style) 54mm versions of the 1976 Airfix OO HO German Paratroops.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/peter-laing-15mm-and-airfix-54mm-german-paratroops/

After the 1984 40th anniversary, gaming D-Day with my Airfix landing craft felt a little too close in history. It was well within living memory. My game scenarios often shifted and reversed then to a British setting for the familiar  Airfix Beach Head and Coastal Fort play-sets, manned by spindly Airfix British Infantry seeing off tankloads and Landing Craft loads of determined Germans and,  after 1976, OO/HO German Paratroops.

Watching the Dad’s Army movie and episodes, then and now often on TV, obviously had some influence on my childhood games. So too did the glimpse of the odd pillbox, dragons teeth by the railway line and occasional blank .303 bullet, found with a metal detector.

The fact that Britain wasn’t invaded keeps the tabletop game of war as one of “what if?” historical fantasy, rather than gaming people’s lived experience as I grew up.

Growing up in the 1970s, there were plenty of older men and women around who lived through the war as children, civilians or service personnel, my evacuee parents included, some of whom had unpleasant experiences.

I wish now I had spoken to them more about this period of history but the general rule of “getting on” and “putting it behind you”  meant that if they didn’t readily tell, you didn’t ask. As an older child, I slowly felt slightly conflicted that I did not want to trivialise their real-lived and often unpleasant experiences of war into my ‘games of toy soldiers’.

The Home Guard and the early war period of Operation Sea Lion, preparing for the invasion of Britain that thankfully never happened, were a different matter.

These Sealion and Home Guard  games were in many ways an Imagi-Nation of Britain in 1940 and 1941 in much the same nostalgic way many railway layouts are a fictionalised portrait of “Britain in Steam in the 30s to 50s”. “The past” as L.P. Hartley wrote in The Go Between (1953) is a “foreign country, they do things differently there.”

What happened during  four years from 1940 to stand down in late 1944 was effectively a series of mostly realistic gaming scenarios, live action role play, played with a deadly earnest and a determined purpose. These are set out in Home Guard training manuals (and often form the episodes of Dad’s Army, drawn out by Mainwaring in chalk on his black board ).

Pages from John Brophy’s Home Guard Manual

Dad’s Army at the same time on TV also gave me a key that it was possible to explore this invasion scenario in a respectful but imaginative way. It also gave the strong impression of the boredom, bravery and occasional buffoonery of service life.

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The training against other Home Guard patrols and regular troops also gives some interesting possibilities for “non-lethal warfare”.

Adapting rules to Home Guard  “non-lethal training exercises” against other Home Gaurd or regular units as “the enemy” should prove interesting.

These non-lethal training exercises are quite similar to the Scouting Wide Games that I have also been exploring on the Tabletop, working with fellow blogger and Tabletop gamer Alan Gruber, Tradgardmastre of the Duchy of Tradgardland.

I posted recently about Wide Games in Richmond Park based on a fabulous map drawn up by the First World War version of Dad’s Army, the Volunteer Training Corps (VTC) (dubbed at the time Grandad’s Rejects, Grandad’s Army or Gorgeous Wrecks).

Alan has also been posting recently about gaming the Home Guard.

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No 1 Company Falmouth Home Guard memorial, Pennance Point near Maenporth Beach, photographed by Alan Gruber 2019. This company was part of the 7th Battalion (Falmouth) of the Cornwall Home Guard.

The inscription reads:  “For Freedom. This seat and the path leading to it thereto have been provided as a memorial to the men of the Number [1?] Company  (Falmouth) Home Guard who during 1940, 41, 42, 43, 44, after their day’s work, nightly patrolled this coast armed and vigilant against German landings. Thus they watched 1000 dawns appear across these great waters which form our country’s moat.”

https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/57699

There are some excellent reprints of Home Guard manuals around, a short Shire History volume  and some great resources  for your local area about the Auxiliary Units of the Home  Guard from Coleshill House, the British Resistance Archive.

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A small part of my Home Guard library of training manuals, both reprints and originals.

The Home Guard look to be a suitable focus for future WW2 themed games.

As my free 3 Gigabytes of Man of TIN blog on WordPress are now three quarters full or used with photos since 2016,  I will give  “Look Duck and Varnish” WW2 Home Guard Games for the Tabletop their own separate blogspot as needed, as I have done with Scouting Wide Games for the Tabletop:

https://lookduckandvarnish.wordpress.com

There are many excellent training scenarios to try out and even a section in the Home Guard  Manual 1941 on military use of the  Sand Table for training games with a map and scenario, explored here https://lookduckandvarnish.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/gaming-the-home-guard-with-sand-tables-1941/

Now where do I source some cheap OO or 54mm Nuns for my next Home Guard game? Typical Shabby Nazi Trick!

The Home Guard 1940 – 1944, Brave men (and women) all.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN on the 80th anniversary of the LDV / Home Guard forming on 14 May 1940.