The titular quote, part of a statement made by Anthony Eden, is testament to the way in which the Home Guard intended to defend Britain against a German Invasion: with lots of improvisation.
The common opinion of the Home Guard is summed up by Dad's Army, that is that they wouldn't have been much use in the event of an actual German invasion. This assessment is a little unfair, and disregards the fact that these men were prepared to fight an army much better equipped than them using only rudimentary weapons. And even gentlemen in their nineties were willing to join!
With the armaments industry trying to rapidly refit and rearm the regular army after they left most of their weaponry at Dunkirk, the Home Guard did not receive much, if any, new issue kit as there was not enough available. Many of the first parades undertaken by the Home Guard featured myriad different weapons, from knives on brooms to pitchforks, sports and hunting rifles to 12 bore shotguns.
Despite the lack of arms, there was a willingness to get to grips with the enemy - one Home Guardsman took a German pilot prisoner with a 12 bore shotgun, as reported in the Derby Daily Telegraph, Friday 26 July 1940. There were also several incidents of the Home Guard firing on RAF aircrew who had bailed out of their aircraft, believing them to be enemy agents!
There are reports of some units raiding their local museums, and of one former Royal Navy rating setting up a 'Cutlass Platoon'. So bad were the shortages that the Home Office manufactured 250,000 'Pikes' for use by the Home Guard, which was resented at the time for good reason. The Southern Reporter on Thursday 12 February 1942 writes:
The Home Guard also manufactured homemade grenades (milk tins filled with nuts and bolts and milk bottles filled with petrol), improvised means of throwing them (one Railway Home Guard platoon built a Petrol Bomb catapult out of spare braces, railway sleepers and a signal lever) and training of some Home Guard platoons in London on roller-skates to act as rapid responders & messengers, pictured top. Other Platoons practiced 'rooftop scrambles' in order to get above the enemy.
Another even built themselves an 'Armoured Car'!
Eventually, the shortages began to be overcome via American 'lend Lease' equipment, as the Home Guard took delivery of P17 and P14 Enfield Rifles (manufactured in the United States under license) and old WW1 Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles. Some units also got Thompson submachine guns, or 'Tommy' guns, and Browning Automatic Rifles. The odd Bren also crept through.
The shortages remained, however, and some units would barely be equipped at all, even by the stand-down of 1944. The Home Guard is remembered mainly because of Dad's Army. This is a little unfair on these remarkable chaps. Any man who is willing to face a fully equipped modern army with a pitchfork for the principle of it is a man of exceptional courage, and one I personally wouldn't want to cross.
If a member of your family was in the Home Guard, why not share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!