HL Deb 04 February 1942 vol 121 cc680-710

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the probable increase in the numbers of Home Guards owing to the new conscription plans and compulsory hours of training, arrangements will be made for an increase in the number of weapons provided, with the ammunition necessary, and for a larger number of N.C.O. instructors to carry on during the extra hours of training; and if the public are to be instructed to what extent they are to co-operate with the Army and the Home Guard in the event of invasion; and to move for Papers.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I want to say that this debate, staged in my name, was originally arranged for last Wednesday, but, at the request of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I very gladly charged it to this Wednesday. Although it is a little late, better late than never. I shall take the points in the order I raise them on the Order Paper. Firstly, comes the question of weapons and ammunition in view of the increasing numbers, of Home Guards under the new conscription scheme. Those of your Lordships who have served in the Army, Navy, or Home Guard will recognize how discouraging it is for a man who has been trained to have no weapons provided for him at all. This has happened quite often in certain areas in the Home Guard There is a definite shortage of the number of weapons provided. I can safely say that I can give the Under-Secretary of State for War details which I think will convince him that in some areas there is still a distinct shortage of weapons and ammunition.

One cannot go too much into detail publicly in your Lordships' House on these matters, and for that reason I was very glad to arrange with the noble Lord to give him any detailed matters when I saw him this morning at the War Office. But there are many general matters I feel should be aired publicly. For instance, we have heard so much from Government spokesmen and others recently about the efficiency and proficiency of the Home Guard all over the country. Although the bulk of the men themselves are splendid, one cannot help wondering how they can really be considered efficient to deal, with a possible, most ferocious, sustained and up-to-date air-borne invasion on a big scale unless they are fully armed and fully trained. We have heard recently in another place from the Prime Minister, as from Lord Beaverbrook, a most wonderful account of the way production of every kind is mounting in this country, and also that the Home Guard is more and more expected to take the place of the Regular Army, a great part of which may be leaving these shores. In other words, greater responsibilities are going to be put upon us. If our new production figures are really so good, surely the extra rifles and ammunition to make us safe could be obtained rather than risk a Home Guard "Singapore" when the attack comes.

What I urge is that the Home Guard should be given more rifles and ammunition so that they may have a fair chance of observing and delaying the enemy tactics, which, as your Lordships know, is their chief role. I am, of course, speaking chiefly of the Home Guard, not in the cities or urban areas—I know nothing about them—but in the large scattered areas of which I have had long experience owing to the fact that I have a very large area under my own authority. I know the men are splendid, but you cannot fight against a Tommy gun with a claymore or pike. "We will give them pikes if we cannot give them rifles" has been suggested. The least you can do is to give everyone a rifle with sufficient ammunition to use it to the best advantage. If you want them to hold up tanks at road blocks, you must give them antitank rifles in addition to the weapons they already possess. This is a thing we do not already possess, and it seems to me you must do one thing or the other. Either you must say "Here is the Home Guard, a magnificent citizen army, which must be fully armed with the latest weapons and brought absolutely up to date, and given great responsibilities," or else you must say" Here is the Home Guard; they are not very well armed or efficient, but being numerous and on the spot, we will use them for what they are worth to back up the Regular Army in tight spots here and there, and they are capable of observing and possibly delaying the enemy." The Government must decide in which of these two ways they are going to mould the Home Guard.

Now we have finished with the question of sufficient arms and ammunition, and we come to the second important question, that of training the Home Guard both to use these weapons efficiently and to fight—not in the way they fought in the last war, but in the most modern and up-to-date manner. In scattered country districts, where company commands are stretched over miles of country, a regular non-commissioned officer instructor is required for each company for training purposes. I was glad to see that The Times advocated this in a leading article on the Home Guard the other day. It is impossible to run a whole battalion of the Home Guard scattered over a vast area with one instructor. We must have one instructor per company if we are to make them efficient. That is, in my opinion, the absolute minimum. It has been said, "You must find instructors in the Home Guard and get them trained." The answer to that is that you hardly ever find an instructor belonging to the Home Guard who is up-to-date. He is usually thinking of the last war, and a short course of three days or five days cannot teach him half as much as a Regular Army instructor knows.

Now that they are going to get increased hours of training under the new conscription scheme, a Regular N.C.O. instructor per Home Guard company is essential, because there will be much more to do. If they are going to train three days a week, the instructors who have been doing the work cannot go on instructing them in the same things. You must have fresh blood and more people. I am not speaking, of course, of urban areas or areas where regular troops who can supply instructors are stationed. I am speaking only of those far-away country areas where the Home Guards are isolated and alone. In England there are a great many places where you have regular troops, and in those places you can have all the instructors that you want. I am talking about those remote places in the country districts. I find that the Home Guards on the whole do better under N.C.O. instructors than they do from lectures given by officers. They prefer that; that is the opinion I get from many people. As I said before, the average of one instructor per battalion is grossly inadequate. I should think by now that plenty of instructors are being turned out by the Regular Army after the long training they have had. I do not see how, in scattered areas like those in the far North and West, more than 24 hours' training per month could be attempted. In these areas some of the Home Guards are shepherds and such like, who could not even do that amount. That, of course, must be left to the local commanding officer to decide.

Now we come to my last point—the one upon which it is most important for us to have Government guidance. A short time ago a report of a most interesting lecture was sent round to the Home Guard senior officers by the Commander-in-Chief, Scotland. I also received a letter from the Commander - in - Chief, who strongly approved of the lecture, and asked me to do all I could in my own county and elsewhere to support the plan involved. The Regional Commissioner for Scotland also supported the plan. The gist of the lecture was as follows: We are fighting a total war, and, as in Russia, every man, woman and child in the country should be told what to do in the event of invasion; it was ridiculous that strong men should loll on sofas in their houses when the attack was going on outside, just because they were not in the Home Guard or defence forces. The public has only been told to stay put; on the contrary there should be a job for everyone against the invader. This should apply not only to factory workers, A.R.P., police, special constables, fire-watchers, and others, but to every able-bodied man and woman in the country, whatever their job; and if that was going to be arranged it was high time this arrangement should be organized.

After all, if Hitler is supposed to be arriving here in April we have not very long to prepare for him. That was the purpose of Colonel Nock's lecture which was very fully approved by the Commander-in-Chief in Scotland and the Regional Commissioner for Scotland, Lord Rosebery. To-day I want to know if His Majesty's Government also approve it, because if they do I would like to know what steps they propose to take to bring it about, and what instructions they propose to issue. It may be there that they cannot give us a full answer at the moment, but we should like to know what we can be told. We should also like to know if they do approve of the instructions they propose to issue to the county councils, the police, the mayors of cities and to the public, or are we all to be governed on the old lines of International Law and The Hague Convention, most of which apparently has gone by the board so far as the Russian war is concerned? We feel that we would like to know what is in the minds of the Government in regard to this matter. We want a lead from them one way or another. If the Regional Commissioner says something for Scotland and the Commander-in-Chief also says something, what we want to know is, what do the Government say? The Government ought to tell us beforehand so that everything can be prepared. Since Colonel Nock's lecture was delivered I understand things have moved forward a good deal, but I will not say any more about that, because the Under-Secretary of State for War will be able to tell us later.

I should like to quote another senior Home Guard officer of great repute who said: I feel very strongly that to the extent that arms of one kind or another are available, every able- bodied man. should be enrolled and trained to fight an invading enemy. When that enemy is in the immediate vicinity no man should stand aside on civil defence. No other task should take precedence over the duty of destroying the invade. The Home Guard, as the second line of defence of the country, should have the best remaining available men. Compulsory enrolment, combined with the suggestions I have put forward, should provide them.

Further, I would quote one or two paragraphs that are the absolute pith of the case which was set out in the lecture which was given with the approval of the Scottish Commander-in-Chief and Regional Commissioner by Colonel Nock. Dealing with what ought to be done he said: It seems very strange to some of us that a country which is fighting for its life, should be organized for the struggle with the workers in one compartment knowing little, if anything, about the functions of those in the others; this fosters the very opposite of friendly and helpful co-operation. This is a powerful drag on collaboration. It induces the attitude, ' You have your job and I have mine,' and makes no provision for the fact that, in the event, it may be necessary for all hands to be applied to the same pump to prevent the spread of a conflagration which threatens to destroy the means of carrying on any job at all. It cannot be denied that co-operation at some levels is spasmodic and half-hearted. The Army has its different branches: fighting troops, sappers, administrative and supply services, pioneers, and so on, all organized into one co-operative whole. Civil "Defence is organized in the same way: it has its casualty service, police, fire service and so on. is there any reason why the whole nation should not be organized for national defence? There is no insurmountable obstacle in the way of mobilizing everyone's efforts in this common task. Suppose we call them ' Home Defenders ' the task of guarding our homes has a lot of different sides to it. The military forces which include the Home Guard and Home Defenders, surely they should join hands. Can there be any doubt that when the last despairing efforts of the beast at bay is made the. most urgent duty of every person in these islands will be-to, help to kill Germans. And yet thousands of able-bodied citizens of this country at this moment have no idea how to set about doing it, how to help the military forces to increase their fighting capacity.

We must not forget the greatly increased number of rifles which will be required now owing to the larger number of Home Guards coming under the new call-up. There is no use conscribing a man if you have not got any arms for him. The only other way is not to conscribe so many men but to limit them to the number of rifles we have. If every man is to be called on also to fight, then many more rifles will be required, or at any rate many more weapons of a suitable character will be required, for total warfare. When the Home Guards were first formed at a time of great emergency, after the Dunkirk evacuation, we accepted quite naturally the great shortage of rifles, ammunition, etc., on the assurance that one day this would be made good. Now. after nearly two more years of war, when we have been told that our production output is both astounding and prodigious, we are in some units still in the same position as regards rifles and ammunition as we were in at that date, although it is true we have been given other weapons of different sorts since that date. But I still think the deficiency in rifles and ammunition suitable for the Home Guard should be made good before we can be considered a really effective and dangerous force. I beg to move.


My Lords, I wish to add one word in support of what the noble Duke has said. He speaks with great knowledge, having all through the war been responsible for a great area in the North of Scotland with a large number of Home Guards. I would only address your Lordships and the War Office representative here, Lord Croft, on two points. I feel strongly that, although there has been this great increase in production, there may well still be a shortage of rifles and of anti-tank rifles and ammunition, because not only of the losses, which are inevitable, but of the immense calls, notably those for Russia, that have been made upon our supplies. May I say this to Lord Croft, and I beg him to note it and, if he can, get the Army Council to agree to it? I think the mistake we are making in this very difficult business of the Home Guard, in regard to which I know they are doing their best, is that we have not done for the Home Guard what has been done for other forces that I have known both in these islands and in the Colonies, and those with which I myself have served, as have many of your Lordships, in different wars.

Always, before, you have said, "When we give you a rifle—and with that we include an anti-tank rifle or machine-gun—\the one thing we insist upon is, however much ammunition or however little we are going to give you, in the end that will depend on how much we have got, but we give you enough to practise and get proficient, and we insist that you shall have this ammunition and that you shall practise." Now in the case of the Home Guard, this elementary truth was forgotten and it has gone on being forgotten to this very day. When I see the Commander-in-Chief of a particular area in which I may be and say, "Oh well, but is it not rather absurd that there should be all these tens of thousands of men who really have not got confidence in their weapon because there is no ammunition? "he says," Well, you had better ask the War Office." Really the War Office have on this occasion forgotten the first elementary rule and reason for a fighting force. When you give a man a weapon, give him enough ammunition to ensure that he shall get confidence in it and used to it. Far from the Home Guard coming to my noble friend and saying, "Please will you give us some ammunition?" I want him to say, through the Commanders of the Home Guard, "Here is the ammunition." Do not let them have to be asked how many rounds may be necessary, but let what is required be found so that the men may have confidence in the use of their weapons. I beg my noble friend to do that. However great the shortage may be, let him see that the same rule applies to the Home Guard as applies to every other force that I have ever heard of.

The second point is the point raised by the noble Duke in quoting Colonel Nock, who wrote the well-known memorandum in which he humorously suggests the strange thought that when the Germans landed it would not be the people playing golf, as in the well-known poem, but the people lying on their sofas and saying, "I do not belong to the Home Guard, I do not belong to the Regular Army, and I do not belong to such other force as may be named; I am going to loll on my sofa." May I venture to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Croft, that the man who lies on his sofa when the sudden onslaught comes is committing a crime against the law of the land? If he doubts that it would be a very good thing if he would consult the Attorney-General, who will tell him that by the law of the land, whenever an enemy suddenly appears, every able-bodied man is bound to leave his sofa, spring to his feet and by every possible means in his power join with others in repelling the enemy. The point of the Hague Convention was raised again. I beg the noble Lord who represents the War Office to ask the Law Officers to give him a resume of that Convention by which we are still bound.

Of course, as we have a great many prisoners in our hands and the enemy has our prisoners in his hands, it is not for us to say that we do not stick to that Convention. By that Convention it is made abundantly clear that the signatories to it are pledged—and none of them have gone back on their word—to respect the action of any man who assists in repelling the enemy when the enemy suddenly attacks him. There is no question about it whatever. Not only is a man entitled to do it by International Law, but by the law of England he is bound to do it. The consequences of that position have been well described by the noble Duke. We want more rifles and more instructors, but what I want made clear to the country as a whole is that a man who lies on the sofa when the enemy comes is committing a crime against the law of the land and is liable to severe penalties. I hope the noble Lord will make this clear and, above all, that he will see that there are sufficient munitions to enable every armed man to have confidence in the use of his weapon.


My Lords, I am in the happy position, though taking no credit for it, of seeing that every one of the major reforms for which I have pressed since the days of the Local Defence Volunteers have been brought about. There are, however, one or two things that still must be said and I will endeavour to say them with the greatest brevity. The question of arms and ammunition has been dealt with by the noble Duke, and my noble friend Lord Elton has something to say on that point, so I will turn to the question of training. The Home Guard in my view cannot as a body become proficient without the support of the Army. In the area in which I am privileged to serve that co-operation has been most helpful and most friendly. If I may have your Lordships' permission to digress for a moment, I would like to pay a most whole-hearted tribute to the Canadian forces for what they have done for the Home Guard. There seems to exist between us a special bond. I cannot quite identify its quality, but it does exist. They have done everything they can for us and I wish I could express my gratitude more publicly. Of their efficiency it is not for me to speak—it is well known—but: perhaps it would not be out of place for me to say that the Canadian tank regiment is composed of as fine a body of mo as I have seen for many years.

Passing from that, the point I wish to make is that this co-operation, however full, however generous, is not in itself enough. Some measure of control is needed, and if my noble friend who will reply will forgive me reminding him of this once more, it has been expressly laid down that the Army is to accept responsibility for seeing that the Home Guard is trained. Such responsibility must extend to matters such as criticizing officers, reporting on them, considering training programmes, but never have I found responsibility accepted or interpreted in that sense. Until it is you cannot make the Home: Guard a teal, efficient and effective fighting force. You will not, until that happens, get rid of constant complaints about training. In the last few weeks I have had several instances. One is of a volunteer who resigned because, after working hard all day, he had to spend many hours each week sitting up at night under conditions in which no useful purpose whatever could be served. Another is of a man who tried to accept every opportunity for training but whose platoon commander gave him only one parade a month. I suggest that until you get the Army actively saying "We are responsible and these things must not be," you will never be able to rely on the Home Guard to the extent which its fighting spirit deserves.

To pass quickly to my second point, the question of relationship between the Home Guard and the Civil Defence Services, I would point out that as your Lordships of course are aware compulsion for the Home Guard is purely local and operates only in those vulnerable areas which are already short of men, where man-power cannot meet the twin demands of Civil Defence and the Home Guard. It is in these very areas that one would suppose a sense of reality would exist, for in this country we have a front on which we cannot say we under-estimated the strength of the enemy, a front from which we cannot withdraw. Yet we cannot deny the possibility of invasion. If it be coming it may well come in the spring. That being so it must be our urgent duty to get these new Home Guard recruits and train them without delay. Weeks slip by, weeks which once lost can never be recovered. Yet it seems that nothing is being done. I was privileged last week to take part in a conference at which a representative from the Regional authority was present. To say that I was surprised is to put it mildly, when I learnt the position of fire-watchers from whom we expected to get the bulk of recruits, for in this area fire - watchers outnumber the Home Guard by three to one. When you take into account special constables, the Auxiliary Fire Service, air-raid wardens and other people in Civil Defence, the proportion is six or seven to one.

In the event of invasion where would you be? The fire-watchers would be evacuated and would leave the town. How are we then to defend it? Any person who entered this town after compulsory enrolment escapes compulsion. Furthermore, if he is not registered at a labour exchange you cannot" trace him. I was told of special constables, exempt from the Home Guard, who have never performed a single act of duty as special constables. One, indeed, told me that he had just received a medal for long and meritorious service, although he had never performed a single act of duty. When at last I was invited to partake of tea I felt that all that was required was the presence of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare to complete the gathering. I ask my noble friend bluntly: Are the Government serious, do they mean to get these men or not, and having got them will they be trained without delay?

Then there is the question of the flood of correspondence, this flood of paper which never diminishes; these constant returns which irritate and exasperate. There is another matter of which I quote two examples. Several times weapons have been issued—and that takes time in rural areas—but hardly are they issued before they are called back again for examination. Surely it should be possible to have weapons properly checked and to be certain about them before they are issued to us. Only last week every rifle, every weapon was called in for inspection—a perfectly sound and perfectly proper precaution. But it takes time. It is not easy in these rural areas where there are no telephones, and in many cases, it may mean a house-to-house call. The moment we got the weapons in, the inspection was cancelled. They had all to be sent out again, and the inspection, no doubt, will be carried out at a later date. That kind of thing does press hardly on us, and I hope something will be done to check it.

One other point; the question of these women who help us in our Home Guard offices. They are sworn in in our area under the Official Secrets Act, and their work is of first importance, and of a confidential nature. I feel sure that where they are not very young women, and where they cannot be replaced, the Ministry of Labour will exercise a sympathetic attitude towards us, and will not disturb our organization by calling them up if it can be avoided. It needs but some imagination and some further effort and out of the Home Guard we can forge a weapon for the defence of this country which will never fail us.


My Lords, I think that in any discussion on the Home Guard we should do well to remember the sombre background against which we are talking. Whenever, and wherever, so far, the enemy has struck first, has got in the first blow against our land forces, he has driven us back with heavy losses. These grievous blows have so far been dealt us on the circumference of the vast struggle. We have accordingly survived; we have been accorded time to learn lessons from our defeat and to begin painfully, under the strokes of war, to equip our troops with the armaments with which they should have been provided at the outset. But if ever scenes remotely resembling those which we have had to witness in France, in Greece, in Crete, and in Malaya, were to be enacted in this small island, there would be no time for recovery, no time for learning—it would be extinction, swift, and, possibly, for ever. Therefore it is against some such background as that that we should consider the problems which we are discussing this evening, and ask ourselves whether the Home Guard may not be suffering from much the same deficiencies of administration which have brought about the catastrophes we have had to witness elsewhere.

As to equipment, it is, as the noble Duke has observed, very difficult to speak with any particularity in your Lordships' House. I fully believe that there are many areas in which, the Home Guard are lavishly equipped, in which, in fact, as we have rather gathered, from the last speaker to whom we have listened, there are more arms than men. It still undoubtedly remains true that there are also far too many areas in which there are more men than arms. But, no doubt, the noble Lord will reply, as he is entitled to reply, that the areas in which the arms are less than the men, are areas regarded by His Majesty's Government, by the War Office, as not being danger spots. I only wish that I felt any confidence that that reassuring opinion was shared by the German High Command. We have seen a good many guesses of our own High Command as to the enemy's intentions, and they have not been so uniformly correct that we should stake very much of our confidence on their being correct this lime. If the noble Lord will permit me, I shall pass to him in private certain typical statistics with regard to the equipment of certain sections of the Home Guard, which may be no surprise to him, but which would be, I think, a considerable surprise to some of your Lordships.

I would like to say that I can introduce to the noble Lord from among my own friends and acquaintances, with many of whom I have served as a private in the ranks—men from various walks of life, but alike in being veterans of the last war, and in having served in the Home Guard, since the first hour of its enrolment—able-bodied men, fully fitted for this hazardous service, not one of whom has yet received a rifle, not one of whom has yet had the opportunity, since the last Great War, of firing a single practice shot from a Service rifle on a range. That, of course, is not Lord Croft's fault. He has never been one of those who told us that our salvation would be disarmament, or who has resisted or misinterpreted our belated demands for rearmament. I suppose there is no one in your Lordships House more anxious to see every wearer of the Home Guard uniform fully equipped. Responsibility, I suppose, rests chiefly on the Minister of Supply, as to whose magnificent achievements we hear so much. I hope that the next time: he sees fit to address us, he will tell us a little of what he has done, and also a little about what he has not done, for the Home Guard.

I would like to suggest that apart from that very grave responsibility resting on the Minister of Supply, there are certain responsibilities resting on the British Regular Army, and the Government Departments too. I would suggest that, if as I understand is the case, Lord Croft has recognized the obligation Of the Regular Army to assist in the training and supervision of the; Home Guard, that obligation is not taken sufficiently seriously, at any rate; in many parts of the country. Too much of the Home Guard training is haphazard and unco-ordinated, depending not on clearly thought out plans bearing obvious relation to the needs of that particular area, but rather to what some harassed platoon commander can vamp up out of the exiguous resources at his disposal. It may be that Sergeant This has been through a course on decontamination. "Oh, very well," it is said, "let him give instruction in gas." Private That has been employed at a printer's, where he has had something to do with maps: "Let him lecture on map-reading." And when all else fails, there is always arms drill to fall back on.

Over this question of filling up time with close order drill or presenting arms, I do suggest to the noble Lord that the War Office could do very real service to the Home Guard by expressly prohibiting more than a small percentage of its hours of training being devoted to anything remotely resembling barrack-square drill. I know of erne Company Commander in the Home Guard who obtained some promise of co-operation from the neighbouring unit of the Regular Army. He received an offer of training for his motor-cyclists and he laboriously prepared a list, a list of the kind that the Army so loves, giving even birthplaces of the men and, it may be, the Christian names of their mothers. At last the men went to the appointed place at the appointed hour, full of enthusiasm and interest, but they were told,," There is no instructor for you; you had better go home." That was four weeks ago. Nothing has since been heard of any instruction, and these men are beginning to melt away. That is one example of lack of co-operation, contact and supervision between the Regular Army and its neighbours in the Home Guard.

Another Battalion Commander has prepared his road blocks and his tank obstacles; he only needs some small minor works by the local Regular Royal Engineers to prevent the enemy tanks—as they can at present—sailing round his obstacles with scarcely a check in their onward progress. He received a promise that this would be carried out. That was four months ago, and still the work is uncompleted. This kind of incident is, I think, largely due to the practice of moving on Regular battalions quickly, so that they do not often take root in any one place, and a promise made by one unit may be completely unknown to its successor. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly unsatisfactory, and I would suggest to the noble Lord that there is a dangerous tendency not only to starve the Home Guard of its proper equipment, but to deny it proper supervision and assistance.

Finally, do not the Government need to pay more attention to the needs of this great citizen force in the plans which they are laying down for the latest call-up to the Forces? After all, we cannot have it both ways. If the Home Guard is important enough to require compulsion to be applied to it, then it is important enough for its key men to be left to it. I know of a battalion which has a railway platoon which until recently was under the command of a railway specialist, deeply versed in all the railway technique of derailment and so on. Then came the call-up and, in spite of every effort by his Battalion Commander, that man has been taken away. He is now serving as a private in a non-specialist line battalion, and it has proved quite impossible to provide an efficient substitute for him. I suggest that in the provisions for the call-up, not only to the factories, but to the Forces, some further regard should be paid to the needs of at all events the indispensable key men of the Home Guard battalions. The enthusiasts who are the core of the Home Guard are a magnificent body of men. I have served in the ranks, as many of your Lordships have, during the last few months, and that at least I know of them. They have an incomparable incentive to valour and self-sacrifice, such as no other body of troops in the world possesses. They are not only fighting for their country and on the soil of their country, they are fighting, if invasion should come, on their own familiar streets and fields, almost within sight of their own wives and children. I ask the noble Lord to make every possible effort to facilitate the work and efficiency of men 'such as these, and to see that at long last they get the weapons that they will undoubtedly know how to use.


My Lords, I was unable to be present at the debate which was initiated by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, about ten days ago, and I had hoped that we might have heard him again to-day lay emphasis on that particular point which he raised on that occasion—namely, the great need for closer co-operation between the Home Guard, the military, and Civil Defence. I was much impressed by the argument he brought forward on that occasion, and, on reading the debate, I shared with him disappointment, and I might almost say dismay, at the answer he received from the representative of the War Office. It seemed to me that in that answer the noble Lord did not appreciate the position at all. The most that he could say was that this was a matter which for some time had been in the mind of the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said when he opened his speech just now, these are extremely grave times, and it is with a grave background that we speak in a debate of this kind. Surely, after two years' illustrations of what has had to be faced in Poland, in Russia, in Yugoslavia, in Norway, in Greece, in Crete and in France, the Government could have made up their mind by this time. After these months and years of travail, surely it is time for a speedy deliverance. There is an urgent need for more instructors, more weapons and more men.

I shall not go over those points in detail which have been dealt with by the noble Duke and other speakers, but I feel that I must, as the lecture has been quoted by more than one speaker to-day, mention that Colonel Nock is one of my own Battalion Commanders. When the Home Guard, or rather, the Local Defence Volunteers, as they were then called, were originally started, the Government took one of the few opportunities they have had during this war of consulting the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. He has been, so far as I know, generally cold-shouldered in any responsibility in regard to this war, but on that occasion he was consulted, and was asked to recommend someone to act as zone organizer. It seemed to me when that responsibility was laid on my shoulders that the one thing that mattered for the organization of really efficient service was to ensure that that service had the closest possible liaison with Civil Defence, or A.R.P. as it was then called. I nominated the A.R.P. Controller of the county, and he was accepted.

For a year he carried the dual responsibility of zone organizer and became Zone Commander and A.R.P Controller. Throughout the county there has been a very close liaison of the two Services, built up on that principle that you should take advantage of the communications, take advantage of what one Service can do to build up the other, recognizing that it is difficult to find man-power for everything. But before that had been allowed to grow into complete fruition, the whole thing was smashed—smashed deliberately by authority from above, who dictated that there must be a complete divorcement between the two Services. Public opinion, I think, is swinging the pendulum now back again to closer co-operation, but it is not yet realized, or has not yet been made clearly public from the point of view of the responsibility of the Government, that they authorized this close co-operation. Various passages from the lecture which has been referred to have been quoted to your Lordships explaining the views of Colonel Nock, the Battalion Commander who has been in charge of that battalion ever since the inauguration of the Home Guard.

I wish to bring one other point before your Lordships in that respect, and that is in regard to the instruction which can only be given from above. What do the Government really mean by asking the civil population to "stay put"? It has been already referred to by one other speaker this afternoon, but I want to take it a stage further. What is meant by "staying put"? Surely it is that every man, woman, and child shall be given a job to do, and helped and encouraged to take their own part in the defence of their own homes. There must be no shielding of one Service as against another, no disposition or attitude on the part of one Service to say, "This is my job—you get on with yours." We have only got one job and that is to defeat the enemy, to defend our own homes. So I put it that if the Government would come out much more strongly with this kind of instruction, and make it quite clear that when they say "Stay put" they are giving to each citizen occupation of mind and body and letting him feel that he is needed, as needed he is, we shall have no refugee problem and no panic. In this lecture which has now the approval of the Scottish Command and of the Regional Commissioner—I wish it had a little bit more approval from the Regional Commissioner and more lead from the Government—it is suggested that in certain places there should be local committees, and that the Home Guard should take the lead in these local committees. It may be that the Home Guard representative in a village is merely a volunteer or a platoon or section commander, and it is difficult for him, without real guidance from above, to make sure that such plans as he may make for the defence of his own locality are in accordance with the plan for the whole country.

There needs to be much more guidance from above as regards the formation of these local committees and as to what they are to do. We are confronted at once in the local committee with a problem such as this. The police have their instructions, but they are secret; the Home Guard have their instructions, but they are secret; Civil Defence workers have their instructions, but they are secret. How can we discuss them? If you are really to enthuse a local population, if you are to instruct the individual man, woman, and child as to what to do, you must get their confidence, and the only way of getting their confidence is to let them know what the position really is. Various speakers this afternoon have spoken about training. On these matters, possibly, the War Office are a little bit apt to be guided by, and get their picture from, the Home Guard centred round and about London. The noble Duke has already pointed out the peculiar difficulties that may exist in sparsely populated country away from big centres.

Let me put another difficulty such as I have experienced during the past two years. In that locality we have not had the assistance of the British Army. We have had the assistance, protection, and collaboration of the Polish Army. I should wish to pay a great tribute to the gallantry, courage, spirit, and endurance of the Polish Army, but your Lordships will appreciate that it is very difficult to get that same loan of instructors from a foreign nation as you can get from the British Army. So there is a special need, in localities of that kind, for an extra provision of instructors, from localities where there are large numbers of British troops such as the area the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, mentioned.

One aspect of training has not been referred to this afternoon, and I do feel a great deal of good could be done by an extension of that kind of training such as was given by actual illustration in two forms—first, a visit from a Commando actually performing certain duties of attack, and, second, a visit by a travelling wing from the Home Guard School. I feel a great deal more could be done on these two lines than has yet been attempted or achieved. The lectures of the travelling wing were tremendously appreciated by all my Battalion Commanders. Again, another method by which much training could be given, which has not yet been developed, is the film. We should develop the film in the instruction of the Local Defence Committees. It is the public who want to see these films as well as the Home Guard. I would like to conclude by saying that the time is now ripe for a new definite move forward by the Government. Let the noble Lord, Lord Croft, take his courage in both hands. Let him go to the War Office and say, on the responsibility of this debate to which he has listened, that he stakes his reputation, and let us get some real results, some real deliverance from the difficulties in which we are placed.


My Lords, I venture very briefly to lay stress on three points in connexion with this subject. The first is that it is very desirable that priority in equipment should be given to the men who are defending aerodromes, whether the ground staff of the aerodrome itself or members of the Home Guard or any other unit which has this most important responsibility laid upon it in the interim period till the new force is fully organized and in position. My own observation, in a remote and exposed part of the country, has suggested that the authorities have been somewhat slow in recognizing the great importance of this matter.

The second point concerns the Home Guard rank and file. Most of the men are in full employment. One of those, for instance, with whom I go on patrol at night, has to leave the post at six o'clock in the morning because he has to go to work. His work is important, urgent, Government work. It is only right to be economical of the energies of such men, and to concentrate the training, somewhat meagre as of necessity it must be, on essentials. Let first things be always kept first. Every man should have his musketry course. He should be familiar with the use of the weapons at his disposal. Every man should have practice in getting quickly to his action station. The action station should be placed in a state of adequate preparation. Communications should be practised and arranged in some detail. Liaison with the Civil Defence should be improved, and so on. In every exercise of the Home Guard, invasion or an invasion raid should be envisaged. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has already said, barrack square training, presenting arms, and that type of thing must be reduced to the absolute minimum. I realize that the Home Guard authorities, and especially the highest authorities, recognize this; but I do not think any harm is done by reminding them of it occasionally, and especially reminding the authorities who are intermediate or lower. Here, I believe, lies one of the secrets of Home Guard discipline. The relationship between officers and men in the Home Guard is in the nature of things somewhat different from the relationship between officers and men in the Regular Army. The difficulties that arise are brushed aside if all ranks have this one object steadily in the centre of the picture the whole time.

The third point is this. It is greatly to be desired that changes in schemes and commands should be reduced to a minimum. Constant rearrangements are discouraging and even bewildering. It is difficult to stop all sorts of rumours circulating among the rank and file and reducing confidence. I do not want to labour the point, but these choppings and changing" have been very trying. If I may say so, we have great confidence in the General now commanding the defences of the county in which I live, and we hope he will be allowed to stay for a considerable time. If he is to be moved, we hope the General who succeeds him will adopt his dispositions, or at any rate the main lines of them and so preserve as much continuity as possible; and that, of course, applies generally throughout the country. May I add in conclusion that, as I move about, I find encouraging evidence that the Home Guard as a whole is keen and determined and has steadily gained in efficiency? I am now only asking that even more attention should be concentrated on the three points which I have mentioned.


My Lords, I will intervene if I may for only one or two moments, because there are one or two very important questions which have not been quite touched on, although they have been very nearly touched on during the debate. The first is the question of liaison between the Home Guard and the Regular Army and the Home Guard battalions themselves. I have been Acting Deputy Adjutant of a battalion, and I find that there is really very inadequate liaison with the military and also between battalion and battalion of the Home Guard. Whose fault that is I cannot make out. The Battalion Commander has done his best to put it right. There ought to be somebody who can co-ordinate and put out of the picture anything of this sort. I beg that my noble friend when he replies will deal with that, but if he does not reply to it, I hope he will remember it, because it really is happening to-day in an area which, of course, I will not mention.

The next point I want to raise is this. It was touched on a little by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. There are many places where the men have rifles, but they do not practise with the rifle with which they are going to fight. They are given their fighting ammunition, and their fighting rifle, but they practise with another rifle, which is not sighted in the same way as their fighting rifle. That no doubt is a matter for the Ministry of Supply, but everyone who has done any soldiering knows very well that you want to get your men so familiar with their weapons that it becomes to them just like a walking stick—something they can handle which is very familiar to them. I hope this question will be very seriously gone into, because I am aware that when the shooting at a real man has to come, one will shoot a great deal better with the rifle one has practised with than with a rifle one has never fired at all. There is one other point on that. This debate perhaps would have been much better if it had taken place in Secret Session, because one cannot say very much now. There are other weapons which have been served out. We all know that a big noise is very frightening to people who are not familiar with it, and some of these weapons make a great noise. If we are to get men, particularly when they are in a real battle, not only familiar with the fire of this weapon which I speak of but others, we ought to have more opportunity for training in their use. If that is done I think our results in killing the Boche when he comes will be very much better. That is all I have to say.


My Lords, before answering the noble Duke, I would like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on what I understand is his first incursion into debate in this House. I am sure I am voicing the opinion of all your Lordships when I say that we hope his voice will be frequently heard here. He has displayed so many virtues. He was so concise with the three main points which he put before us and which I promise him will receive the consideration of the War Office. He made himself heard; and he seemed to be extraordinarily brief. I would also like to say how much we appreciate the great work which is being done in the Home Guard in that part of the country from which he comes, and I hope that he has not fallen foul of my warrior cousin, who takes such a big part in the Home Guard in that area.

I am sure we were all pleased to hear the speech of the Duke of Sutherland, because we all realize what an immense amount of time and labour he has given to the Home Guard as a Battalion Commander in one of the most difficult areas. Many of us know he would have been here on several previous occasions but for the fact that he felt it was his duty to remain there amongst his people training them in the military duties which he has done so much to impart to them. The points he has raised have, of course, been very carefully considered both before and since the introduction of powers for compulsory enrolment and training in the Home Guard. However, I would like, if I may, to correct any impressions that may be abroad that the introduction of compulsion is intended to involve any large immediate increase in the numbers of the Home Guard, except possibly in some limited areas. This being so, your Lordships will appreciate that the question of a large increase in weapons and ammunition on that account does not immediately arise. It is, in fact, a separate problem, and, as I indicated not long ago in the debate on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Cork, it is inseparable from the problems of supply of weapons and ammunition to the Army generally.

There seems to be a feeling abroad that the rifle is essential as a weapon for all the Home Guard, and I should like to remind your Lordships that in the event of invasion in a great part of this country we shall be engaged in fighting of a close character. For instance, in the actual cities, towns and villages the opportunities for using hand grenades against enemy motor cyclists and infantry, and incendiary and high explosive grenades against vehicles of all descriptions will be immense. If every platoon had its trained sections of grenade throwers or bombers there is no doubt that operating from trenches or from windows or doorways, or suddenly emerging round houses and cottages, they would he able to inflict great casualties upon an advancing enemy. If I were organizing an attack—I am afraid this sounds rather absurd from one so aged as myself, but my noble friend Lord Mottistone, who I always feel is so much younger than many of us, would probably bear me out in this—I would rather have trained bombers for fighting in urban areas, and if a bombing attack could be swiftly followed up by cold steel, it would be most effective. If I were a bomber in such a formation—and I think I have thrown most types of bombs that have been used in the Army—I should like to have a pike in order to follow up my bombing attack, especially at night. It is a most effective and silent weapon.

I think your Lordships will agree that in street fighting many commanders would far prefer to have trained platoons of bombers, flanked by men armed with Tommy guns, rather than a platoon of riflemen, although where you have open country, or in defending the beaches where there is a good field of fire, the rifleman is of course invaluable against parachutists and troops landed from aircraft or the sea. I would suggest to the noble Duke that those men of his battalion who are not fully armed should be trained as bombers, as ammunition carriers, who I think do a vital work, as signallers, as trained scout observers and even as stretcher bearers. I believe they all could perform a very useful function in the Home Guard. In the wider areas the very large number of machine guns and sub-machine guns which we have now issued to the Home Guard will, of course, be invaluable. Now also that the Home Guard have been provided with large numbers of what I may describe as close-range artillery, it would appear wise to have special sections of the Home Guard trained as specialists in this form of fighting. I imagine that this is feeing done. Where Home Guards have this form of artillery, men who have no personal weapons become parts of the gun teams and can take an active part in the operation which only requires to be covered by a limited number of riflemen.

In those company areas which have no priority in the matter of rifles and in which a large proportion are not armed with that weapon, I cannot help feeling that with a little imagination every single member can be armed with offensive weapons and trained so as to take a vital part in the defence of his company area. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, made a good point that if possible more rounds should be found for practice. I am sure we all feel a great deal of sympathy with that, but I am also sure that he and other noble Lords will agree that with a shortage of ammunition it is better to concentrate as far as possible on miniature rifle practice and to let a man fire a few rounds to get used to the kick of the rifle so that he would know what happens when the rifle is used. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, suggested that it was a mistake to issue for practice .303 ammunition when .300 rifles are used. But if you have a considerable amount of .303 ammunition coming along it is far better to give the Home Guard where we can a chance of firing the real thing with .303 rifles, because if they can fire with the .303 then the 300 is a far easier weapon to use hereafter. That is the explanation of that seemingly strange policy. Arrangements for additional practice are at the present moment being worked out and it is hoped that bigger issues may be possible.

I want to make one remark with regard to machine guns because sometimes people seem to have an idea that you ought to have vast reserves of machine gun ammunition. I hope that no machine-gun will ever be tired unless there is a machine-gun target, and that means a group of at least twenty or thirty men bunched together, flank fire on an extended line, or advancing vehicles within decisive range. It is very rare—this will be a platitude to most of your Lordships—that a target will present itself for more than fifty seconds. I remember that in many battles in 1914, 1915 and 1916, we rarely fired a full belt. One minute was the machine-gunner's dream. I hope it may be a dream that will come true for the Home Guard. May I press the imperative need of communications between posts? Company reserves of ammunition must be speedily conveyed to the threatened post from Headquarters or from posts which are distant from the direction of attack. Most of the areas of Home Guard formations are of a circular character so that you have posts all round the area. If you know that the enemy is coming from the north you can take ammunition from the south to the threatened post in the north to relieve the position. If private cars are not available for this purpose I suggest that cadets on bicycles or runners might fill the bill, and I rejoice to think that the Cadet Force will now have that aid which is essential.

When the noble Duke stated that we are still in the same position as regards rifles and ammunition in some units as we were two years ago, I must protest that if that is true in some units it is definitely contrary to the facts with regard to the country as a whole. Many rifles have, since that time, been imported and issued to the Home Guard. Scores of millions of rounds of S.A.A. have been secured from the United States of America and thousands of Northovers, thousands of bombards and many thousands of submachine-guns have been distributed. I always think comparisons are a mistake, but it will be found in regard to a thousand members of the Home Guard that if you take info account their sub-machine-guns, machine-guns and rifles, they have probably a good deal greater fire power than we had when fighting the Prussian Guards in 1914- If noble Lords ask whether we are satisfied I say, "No, of course not," but I can give your Lordships this assurance, that we shall never cease to strain every nerve to secure greater supplies.

I am bound, however, to ask your Lordships how you would act in the matter of priority for rifles. Surely you would put the Regular Forces first. You would say that they must have absolutely the first priority. Would you not put next the Indian Army, with its great perils in the East, in Malaya and Burma and in India itself? Are we to ignore the changed position of Australia and New Zealand? They will want all the rifles they can get. Must we not arm all the trained native forces which we have been building up in West Africa, East Africa, and for the defence of the Sudan? Are we not bound to provide rifles for the trained men of the Allied Forces who have sacrificed so much and who are coming to our aid? And when the call went forth for rifles for the Poles in Russia, surely we were right to provide these magnificent and trained fighting men with rifles?

Let us come home. Is it not the Air Defence Force of aerodromes which perhaps ought to have the most urgent of all answers to the call? Supply all these needs and then any surplus that we have should surely go to the Home Guard, and only when the Home Guard's needs are satisfied, it seems to me, can we possibly think of arming these civilians who have not yet joined the Home Guard with the precious weapons which are wanted all the world over. It is true to say that service rifle production is now on the increase and we hope soon that cur Army requirements will be fully satisfied. I therefore urge the Home Guard to continue to be patient, and, where the units are not yet in the possession of a full complement of rifles, I would suggest that they should endeavour to train their men in other essential forms of fighting which I have indicated, so that they can learn from the Russian guerillas on the one hand and from what our own troops in Libya have done on the other hand, in close fighting in towns and villages. There we found men ready to tackle tanks with the first primitive Molotov cocktails and they did, in fact, do it successfully.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked whether anything could be done to stimulate the co-operation of the Regular Army. I think that in most parts of the country there is now very real co-operation. I find that the Army realizes that it is most dependent on the brotherhood of the Home Guard, and I do know of many Corps whose non-commissioned officers, after being on duty all day, go out at night to assist in training the Home Guard. I have seen N.C.Os. from the Brigade of Guards spending their leisure evenings at work at which one would have thought they would almost have become stale, with remarkable results. One realizes, of course, that there are areas where you have no Regular troops on establishment, and that Is a question into which we have to look. With regard to his point about drill we have long ago realized, in fact we have realized from the very first, that the Home Guard should not be treated like Regular soldiers and have so many drills as to make their work uninteresting, and we have never intended it. Where there is a tendency that way it is in fact actively discouraged. Instructions have been issued to that effect and I should have thought the position was improved very much.

I also want to say this in pursuance of the other side of the question. I have known scores of Home Guards, N.C.Os. and men, who were in the last war, and at the start of the organization were rather distressed to find results so slow because there was no cohesion and no readiness to answer the word of command. I did think of this after seeing a Guard of Honour three days ago. You may say "How absurd having a Guard of Honour of the Home Guard," but I can tell you they were a splendid unit. They turned out, about 150 of them, and they were extraordinarily steady. I assure your Lordships that men do want to do that sort of thing. One has only to sec the results to realize, not only that they do like it, but that it is giving them cohesion and that quality of discipline which must be helpful when the real trouble emerges. I can promise the noble Lord that we are taking steps to see that that side of soldiering is not being overdone.

Lord Elton asked a further question with regard to key men. This is a matter which has been under very earnest consideration. Where a Battalion Commander definitely considers—and he is backed up by the opinion of the Zone Commander—that a man is essential—I think it is in the 35–41 Group—and application is made on the form N.S.300, this man may be reserved for what is regarded as the priority duty of training in the Home Guard.

The problem of providing additional permanent staff including, of course, N.C.O. instructors, has been under consideration for a long time; in fact for some time before the issue of compulsion ever arose. But it is not merely a question, as the noble Duke will realize, of sparing the available man-power which, I admit, even in these days of man-power stringency is of relatively lesser consideration. It is much more a question of finding suitably qualified instructors who are of a sufficiently high standard to justify their appointment to the Home Guard. I think the noble Duke will agree that it is no use providing old and out-of-date men. What are wanted are young and active men with proper training in modern warfare, and, if possible, experience with a field force. There are many demands for this type of N.C.O. and the right type of man is difficult to find. There is also a concurrent demand from the R.A.F. Defence Regiment. The matter is now in hand and I hope that as a result, we shall see, before long, that steps are being taken in the right direction, and we shall not fail to give special consideration to those scattered areas where much time has to be spent by instructors in travelling. I know the noble Duke has those areas particularly in mind.

The action to be taken by civilians in the event of invasion is, I think, an entirely separate matter from those raised in the first part of the Motion. It raises far wider issues, particularly the main issue as to whether civilians should or should not be encouraged to use weapons, and to co-operate with the armed forces of the Crown. My noble friend Lord Mottistone quoted from a lecture which has received some interesting advertisement this afternoon, although I frankly confess that I had not read it before, and referred to a passage in it, about lying on sofas. I do not think there will be very much of that.

I want to say this in conclusion, in answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Buck-master, that the Government are regarding this question as a really serious one. It is the next great step. We have got on, we are training the Home Guard, we are training and have trained the Civil Defence Services, and their co-operation is of great importance, and the next step seems to be—and we have very likely arrived at that now—that perhaps more general instruction should be given to the general public.

But it is not the policy of His Majesty's Government to arm civilians, and my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for War, confirmed this as recently as 22nd January in another place. Instructions as to this were issued in May last in a pamphlet over the Prime Minister's signature entitled "Beating the Invader," and these instructions still stand. I am aware that the course of modern warfare in Russia and elsewhere has caused many people to take the view that these considerations should no longer prevail, but I would remind your Lordships that the presence of civilians actually taking part in operations of war—not hundreds of miles behind the front, as the partisans are in Russia, but actually where your military formations are operating—may by no means assist the responsible military commander in his conduct of the battle. There are many tasks which civilians can perform such as immobilization of vehicles and other stores and equipment which may be of value to the enemy, but haphazard action would not be desirable. The action which civilians should take in these circumstances is a matter for the Civil Defence authorities, and they have already issued certain instructions on these subjects. They will continue to issue such instructions as may be necessary from time to time.

On this matter of co-operation, on which great stress was laid by the noble Duke and by Lord Elton, I would like to say that I believe there is far greater cooperation now, at any rate among the military and Home Guard authorities, with the Civil Defence Services, than there was, say, six months ago. I have myself recently attended one or two very big exercises in one Command, in particular one three or four weeks ago, and I can assure the noble Lord that the whole of the Civil Defence people were out during the whole time of that mock invasion, which I think took place over a weekend.


If the Government would assure me that they favour that co-operation, that would have a much stronger effect than anything else.


I do appreciate that, and I was going to say that I will most certainly convey the ideas which have been so freely expressed in this debate to my right honourable friend in another place, in order that that may be appreciated. As far as I am concerned, we have always been desirous,, especially in the rural areas, that there should be the closest integration of the military with those who are in the Civil Defence Services or in the Home Guard, and personally I am very hopeful that steps will be taken to make that easier, although many local authorities have already done everything they can in that direction. Meanwhile, may I suggest that all civilians who feel that they have the time to train and undergo instruction should volunteer for the Home Guard wherever its ranks are not full, in order that their very proper desire to have fighting knowledge may be satisfied, and before vacancies may be filled by direction under the new scheme? I am very grateful to the noble Duke for the tone and manner in which he has introduced this subject. I am sure the debate has been a great help.


I think my noble friend has not gone into the question of the general strategic liaison, which I find, and the Home Guard find in the area where I live, is very wanting. I hope he will bear that in mind.


Yes, most certainly.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord very much. There are one or two things about which I am a little bit indefinite. With regard to the cooperation of the public, for instance, my Command is in Scotland, and I am asked to approach the county council. I cannot do that without the authority of the Government. I want to know whether the Government favour that co-operation between all the Forces and the A.R.P. I understand something is going to be stated about that at a later date. Is that so?


I can only assure my noble friend that the question is at the present moment under very active consideration. Perhaps I might further it by sending along the gist of the noble Duke's speech.


May I mention the anti-tank rifles? I asked if we could have them at road blocks.


We certainly will give that consideration.


Because obviously we cannot stop tanks without something of the kind——


I should not like that to go out to the public——


May I suggest, not as Lord Chancellor, but as a member of the House, that when a Minister rises to speak it is desirable that the other noble Lord should sit down.


I am grateful to the noble Duke, but that in our opinion is a most fallacious argument, and we are absolutely satisfied that other weapons, generally described as bombards, are most effective anti-tank weapons. They are distributed in many thousands. And do not let those men who have not got rifles believe for one moment that we have not got the hand grenades now, which can be very effective if fearlessly used against tanks or other vehicles.


My Lords, I beg to withdraw my Motion. Although I am not absolutely satisfied, I think the debate will be a tremendous help.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.