Was Dad in Dad’s Army?

Was Dad in Dad’s Army?

Stuart A Raymond provides a guide for family historians researching ancestors in the Home Guard

Stuart A. Raymond,  author of handbooks and guides for family historians

Stuart A. Raymond

author of handbooks and guides for family historians

The amateur military tradition, as Ian Beckett calls it, was still strong in World War Two. The Home Guard, Auxiliary Units, the Royal Observer Corps, and ARP (air raid precaution) wardens all played important roles in the defence of Britain.

The Home Guard (originally known as Local Defence Volunteers) was founded when Anthony Eden broadcast a request for volunteers. The response was enormous: by the end of June 1940, no less than 1,456,000 men had answered the call. Perhaps half of them had served in the armed forces during World War One. They were called upon to release the regular army from the duties involved in civil defence, such as garrison duties, anti-aircraft defences, and bomb disposal. By 1943, there were 111,917 enrolled in the Home Guard’s Anti-Aircraft units. Another 7,000 were engaged in bomb disposal work, and another 7000 were manning coastal batteries. A total of 1,206 men lost their lives while on Home Guard duty.


The Home Guard should not be confused with the Auxiliary Units. Although members of these units wore the Home Guard uniform, they were an entirely separate body. They were raised in the summer of 1940 in order to wage guerilla war if England should be invaded. The uniform was provided in order to blend in, and to avoid attracting attention. The British Resistance Organization has a museum parhamairfieldmuseum.co.uk which is the focal point for research on the Auxiliaries.

Women were not initially recruited to the Home Guard; however, by March 1944 there were 28,000 in the Womens’ Auxiliary. These should not be confused with the Womens Territorial Service, which was the womens’ branch of the regular army.

Before Eden’s call to arms, there had been no preparation. A telegram had been sent to chief constables immediately before the broadcast, warning them that they would have to enrol volunteers, but many police stations were com­pletely unaware that they were about to be deluged with recruits when the first ones arrived. Consequently, the paperwork left much to be desired.

There is no comprehensive publicly available list of the men who served, although officers can be identified in the Home Guard lists for 1941-44. These are similar in format to the better known Army lists (see here). Dates of commis­sions and appointments are given, together with indications of regimental and territorial army postings. Runs can be found in TNA’s library, and in other major research libraries. The complete list of more than 40,000 officers of the Home Guard is now available online at www.forces-war-records.co.uk (subscription required).


Home Guard personnel records and enrolment forms are available, but only to those who served, or to next of kin. Contact the Army Personnel Centre, Historic Disclosures, Mailpoint 400, Kentigern House, 65 Brown Street, Glasgow, G2 8EX army.mod.uk .

Some members of the Home Guard can be traced through the records of the medals they won. Recommendations for the award of the British Empire Medal to Home Guard members is in a file at The National Archives (TNA), class AIR 2/9040. Members of the Home Guard were eligible for the award of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), normally reserved for the armed forces. The registers of this award are in TNA, class WO390. Other civilian awards may also have been made to members of the force.

The records of particular units of the Home Guard have sometimes been deposited in both local and national record offices. Amongst the papers of the Metropolitan Police in TNA, for example, are the report books, platoon roll, and miscellaneous correspondence relating to the Roehampton Battalion (MEPO11/101-4). A variety of nominal rolls for Lancashire Home Guard battal­ions are deposited in the Lancashire Record Office (HG1-13). Somerset Archives & Record Service holds various records relating to the Taunton Battallion (DD\X\POC).

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Many histories of Home Guard units have been written, sometimes including lists of those who served. Some units also maintained unofficial war diaries. A number of these histories and diaries are available in TNA, class WO199, and are listed by both Spencer and Mackenzie (see further reading box). Mackenzie also lists titles in the British Library.


Other titles may be found in local studies libraries and record offices. It may also be worth contacting local regimental museums.

A variety of general policy and administrative papers of the Home Guard are held by TNA. Its general registered papers are in WO32 code 66. Operational records are included with papers of the Prime Minister’s Office in PREM3. Official Home Guard war diaries are in WO166. These provide daily records of events, reports on operations and exercises, intelligence summaries, etc., written by unit commanders.

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