The LDV, Railings And Carrots. This is the first in a series about The LDV, Home Guard and London 1940
‘Stratagems’ Chambers Dictionary, offers terms to apply to Government chicanery, most of them apply at times of crisis, and never more than in 1940, when the LDV, the Local Defence Volunteers, was inaugurated. I believe it was a moral booster, a “We are all in this together” type shot in the arm, a distraction from the parlous state we were in at the time of the Evacuation of Dunkirk. I am also certain it also applied to the Home Guard. They were cynical acts of people who knew the futility of it all.
Fifteen years old, evacuated to a little village nestling in the South Downs, just behind Brighton, I joined the LDV as a dispatch rider, with a ten year old second-hand bike. I hadn’t a clue where I was to ride to, and we never had a message anyway. It is absolutely true to say, we were apprehensive, and convinced we would be looking down the barrel of a Luger, any day soon. All the silly stories of one rifle among ten, pitchforks, and ten-gauge shotguns are absolutely true to the letter. Night after night, some of us were always up on the Downs in the dark, with our greenish grey arm band which was totally invisible, standing looking South, discussing anything but the hordes of paratroopers we were looking for. The most surprising thing about this pantomime was that we couldn’t see just how ridiculous it all was, and I’m convinced this was because we were all itching to get into the fray, schoolboys, shopkeepers and pensioners, and this was our only route.
The next insanity was ripping up iron railings to melt down for munitions. Throughout the country railing of all shapes and sizes were commandeered in the most ruthless manner, leaving amputated stubs sticking out of concrete and hand carved stone alike. Some of the most beautiful and precious wrought iron was sacrificed in this ill-gotten theft. It was theft because at the end of the war it was still lying in yards and some was reclaimed and re-erected. But they didn’t stop there; a plea to patriotism went out for copper and brass. My evacuation hostess was a fanatical patriot who asked me to smash up priceless brass ornaments and put a pick through the most beautiful brass pans and trays, to make them un-saleable. Some could not be damaged seriously. I unsuccessfully pleaded with her saying it would all be diverted, and at the end of the war I was proven right, it began to reappear, up and down the country in small amounts at a time..
A few years later in the War it was put about that night fighter pilots were fed carrots to improve their sight – carrotin can marginally affect eyesight – I believe the idea was to boost carrots as a food at a time when vegetables were in short supply. I think it worked, people were actually talking about it seriously. They are still at it – governments – the old conjuring trick – provide a diversion and you can get away with anything – one must think most critically.