Tag Archives: Home Guard

Britain Alone

Royal Mail has issued stamps commemorating many aspects of World War 2 in the past (you can see many of them in our online exhibition World War 2 in Stamps), but these have tended to focus on military personnel and military achievements. In a new set of stamps released today, entitled Britain Alone, Royal Mail pays tribute to those who stayed at home and kept the country running.

The Britain Alone stamps

The Britain Alone stamps

Civil defence organisations, and the work and sacrifices of ordinary civilians, were vital to Britain’s survival during the 2nd World War. To ensure an increase in food production, millions of women were called on to replace conscripted men on farms as part of the Women’s Land Army, members of which were commonly known as Land Girls.

In the cities and towns, groups of local volunteers, often First World War veterans, joined the Home Guard, who were ready to fight in the event of an enemy invasion. Also important were the Air Raid Wardens, who were responsible for enforcing a blackout during enemy bombing raids.

The Britain Alone issue sees all of these civilian organisations represented on British stamps for the first time, along with the many women who took on factory work during the war, and the Fire Service, who were particularly vital during the Battle of Britain.

Also commemorated, are wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a man who is no stranger to British stamps, seen inspecting the Home Guard; the Royal Princesses, the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret (making her first appearance on a British stamp?), pictured making a morale boosting broadcast to the children of the Commonwealth; and some of the three million evacuees, many of them children, who were relocated to the countryside to be away from the bombs.

To accompany the British Alone issue is a miniature sheet commemorating the mass evacuation of Dunkirk, the nine day operation which saw more than 300,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgium troops, trapped on the beaches of western France by the advancing German army. A combination of destroyers, large ships and around 700 smaller ships, including fishing vessels, merchant ships, pleasure craft and lifeboats, ferried the troops to safety in Britain. This remarkable mobilisation is still remembered with pride, and was most recently evoked as a possible solution to the volcanic ash cloud crisis, which saw thousands of British tourists trapped in Europe.

Dunkirk miniature sheet, 2010

Dunkirk miniature sheet, 2010

Two pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ have been produced to accompany Britain Alone, both of which feature famous propaganda slogans of the period. One of them, Keep Calm and Carry On, has recently become popular, appearing on merchandise and inspiring a recent advertising campaign for the Police.

Britain Alone first day of issue postmarks

Britain Alone first day of issue postmarks

A variety of Britain Alone products are available from Royal Mail.

Update!

Royal Mail have have released a video about the new Britain Alone stamps:

The Post Office Home Guard in the Second World War

To mark VE Day Ph.D Research Student Mark J Crowley looks at The Post Office Home Guard.

The Post Office Home Guard was created in 1939 under the instruction of the Postmaster General. Its purpose was to defend the Post Office from enemy attack. Whilst its initial membership predominantly comprised men, it also accepted women, but their roles initially were confined to duties such as fire-watching. This was to change by the end of 1940, when women performed all of the duties previously undertaken by men. Considerable enthusiasm was expressed by Post Office staff for this initiative. They could volunteer their services to the Post Office Home Guard provided that they did not spend more than 40 hours per month performing these duties.

Post Office Home Guard

Post Office Home Guard

The Post Office Home Guard formed part of what became known as the ‘Factory Home Guard’. They were created as a ‘spin off’ to the National Home Guard. For the Post Office, and for the nation, the defence of communications, essential services and industry were covered by this group. The best defence would be achieved with cooperation between the Factory Home Guard units and the national Home Guard.[1]

Five major roles and responsibilities were identified for the Post Office Home Guard.[2] First, they would work to defend their local Post Office. A small proportion of Telephonists in the exchanges classified as ‘vulnerable’ by a government-appointed Vulnerable Points Officer would then be recruited to the Post Office Home Guard, and trained to operate selected exchanges in the event of an invasion. Second, the Post Office Home Guard would be responsible for providing telecommunications for the Army, Navy, air force as well as civil defence, government and industry. Its main task was to protect vital communications. Third, the POHG members would be exempt from the fire watching duties covered under separate arrangements within the Essential Work Order. Fourth, there were three classifications to Post Office premises, and members of the POHG were expected to defend all three, but the priorities attached to all three were different. Buildings were classified as: key points of national importance; important centres; and finally, premises of lesser importance. Also the POHG were given points in which a constant presence should be maintained. Areas with large sorting offices and telephone exchanges (major cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester) were afforded the highest level of protection by both the National Home Guard and the Post Office Home Guard, in the interest of protecting and maintaining their services in the event of an enemy attack. 

Towards the end of the war, senior Post Office managers and Treasury officials claimed that men over 60 were not fit for Home Guard duties, and neither should they be expected to perform these or any other duties involving defending the country.[3] Others on the committee argued that the biggest problem for the Post Office was that it had its own Home Guard. They believed that if its staff joined the outside Home Guard, then their claims of irksome duties and hours would receive more attention from the government. However, the Post Office Management assured the staff that if there was evidence that their duties in the Post Office Home Guard was detrimentally affecting their Post Office duties, then they would be relieved of this.[4] This possibly explains why all Post Office Home Guard sections had been disbanded by 1946.


[1] BPMA, Post 56/108, Letter from P J Grigg, War Office, July 1941

[2] BPMA, Post 56/108,  F Reid POHG commander to regional directors, 18 April, 1941

[3] Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick (hereafter MRC), MSS.148/UCW/2/1/28, Quarterly Meeting the Executive Council, 12-14 July, 1944, p. 34.

[4] Ibid, p. 34.