May 1, 2024

1944. The British Home Guard Stands Down

The Home Guard Ceremony in London

Bill Downs

CBS London

December 3, 1944

Ten thousand men from all over Britain paraded the streets of London today to mark the passing of an era in this war against Germany. Representative Home Guard units from every part of the United Kingdom paraded before the King for the last time in an official stand-down ceremony which in effect disbands Britain's civilian army.

There were tears in the eyes of many spectators as the long line of very old and very young men slung past. They marched well; every man was well-equipped.

It was a far cry from the days of 1940 after Dunkirk when the government issued a call-to-arms for all civilians. In that time these same men, these civilians, took up shotguns and pitchforks and clubs to patrol Britain's vulnerable coastline. No one pretended in those days that the Home Guard could stop a modern Nazi invasion force, but the Home Guard was willing to die in the attempt.

Today they were either too old or too young for the army. There was the smart-stepping old veteran with only one arm. Many elderly men limped, and the beardless youngsters looked embarrassed.

Included were a Home Guard contingent of Americans; middle-aged businessmen long resident in England who for four years thought they should fight for the hospitality and freedom that allowed them to work in this country.

The significant thing about this farewell ceremony is that while this nation is disbanding its civilian army, the Nazis are just organizing theirs. But as late as last week, when I was on the Geilenkirchen front, I looked at the German civilians who were supposed to make up Hitler's Volkssturm civilian army.
They do not have the look of the British Home Guard. It's hard to explain, but in the lean, wrinkled faces of the men who marched for the last time today, there was something far different from what you can see in the face of a German. It's the look of a man who knows he's right—as opposed to the look of a man caught thieving.

This is Bill Downs returning you to Admiral.