Defence Against
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On 14 May 1940 the Secretary of State for War, Anthony Eden, broadcast an appeal on the B.B.C. Home Service for men who were either too old or too young to join the Regular Army, to join the Local Defence Volunteers (L.D.V.).  This was a locally based formation being created to aid the Regular Army in the defence of the country at a pretty desperate time in its history. Nationwide there was no shortage of volunteers and a number of companies were established in East Lothian, including those at Aberlady, Broxburn, Macmerry and North Berwick. The L.D.V. was officially renamed the Home Guard (H.G.) on 23 July 1940. 


In effect, the Home Guard was a force of part-time soldiers, those who were waiting to reach call-up age and those who, during normal working hours, worked in a whole range of reserved occupations.  Many H.G. members in East Lothian were from farming communities or from a variety of rural occupations.  In the evenings and at weekend these men came home, had their meals, donned their H.G. uniform and headed out to do whatever duty or training was theirs to do. 


Early Days


By the 15th May 100 men had volunteered at North Berwick and fifteen in Gullane; by a week later the numbers had risen to 142 in North Berwick and 100 in Gullane. In fact, the number of men who came forward meant that it was equipment and weapons which were in short supply, not volunteers, and it was mid June 1940 before even uniforms became available. Following Dunkirk weapons were also very hard to come by but a supply of First World War rifles from the United States helped boost the motley collection of broom handles, pitch forks and antique hand-guns with which the L.D.V. had been initially equipped.

In East Lothian there were two Home Guard Battalions: First Battalion with its HQ at 1 Dirleton Avenue in North Berwick and Second Battalion with its HQ in Haddington. Both were affiliated to the Royal Scots (whose cap badge they wore) and were commanded by Lt. Col. Douglas J Blake and Lt. Col. Hon. HJ O’Brien respectively. A considerable proportion of the officers were farmers.

North Berwick Home Guard comprised two platoons: West platoon commanded by Lt. David Broomfield and East platoon commanded by Lt. Dan Wilkie. Both had their base and armoury in the Hope Rooms, North Berwick.


Matters Improve


The Home Guard’s manning of hastily constructed static defences, like Pill Boxes or road blocks, was made much more effective from late 1940 with the arrival of more and better weapons, such as Lewis machine-guns, Thompson sub-machine-guns, Mills Bombs (better known as hand grenades), Northover Projectors which could fire Molotov cocktails, and Spigot Mortars which were spring-fired anti-tank guns. Along with these weapons came increased stocks of ammunition. When the Home Guard started many members would have had no ammunition at all but by August 1943 it was estimated that Home Guard units in the Lothians and Peeblesshire held a total of almost half a million rounds of small arms ammunition, in the event an underestimate!  The local Home Guard units also looked after the operation of the Flamme Fougasses around the county.




While preparing for an invasion that never came, much of the time spent by the members of the Home Guard was taken up with training. Such training required hard work and enthusiasm, both of which were in apparently plentiful supply. In September 1941 members of the 1st Battalion, East Lothian Home Guard, from Gullane, Dirleton and Aberlady held a weekend camp at the Hopes, near Gifford. Within a short space of time from their arrival in army trucks on the Saturday afternoon, tents had been erected, pits dug, a cook-house established, stores issued and they were ready for action. The afternoon and early evening were taken up by platoon exercises, patrolling, messages, communications, a talk on reconnaissance patrols by day and night, and in some ceremonial drill practice. The last activity was given particular emphasis when it was discovered that the camp was to be visited by a Field Marshall.


Home Guard exercises often tried to instil a measure of initiative in H.G. members. Platoon members were sent on exercises to test their skills and often those of the regular forces who also needed more realistic training.  For example, on a number of occasions East Lothian H.G. units were set the task of breaking into East Fortune airfield to ‘blow up’ the aircraft there and the airfield guards given the reciprocal task of defence and prevention.  All East Lothian H.G. units carried out regular exercises in the Lammermuir hills both by day and by night. 

Here is a typical example from a private in the Home Guard of the range of exercises and training he could expect to undertake.

Jan. 23rd        Spigot Mortar training

Feb. 6th          Standing to and Action Stations

Feb. 20th       Knowledge test and cartridging Spigot Mortar shells

Feb. 27th        First Aid demo

Feb. 29th        Fired Spigot Mortar

Mar. 5th & 12th    Ditto

Mar. 19th        Action Stations practice, grenade revision and test

Mar. 26th       Exercise - Spigot Mortar

Apr. 2nd         Grenade test

Apr. 4th          A week’s course beginning with night training.

                         Exercise ‘Flanelette’.

                         Section in attack with live ammunition.

                         More night training.

                         Exercise  ‘Airborne” - acted as ‘enemy’ so HG could mount a pincer attack

                         Taken by lorry and dumped twenty miles away. Dropped in threes and had to make our own way back

                         F Company attacked D Company

                         Demo of Spigot Mortar, sticky bombs and Hawkins Grenades

May 7th          Lecture, rifle cleaning, bike test and run

May 14th        Shooting on open range

May 18th        Assault course

June 4th         Inspection, bike test, range firing

June 18th       Battalion exercise

July 22nd       Night Duty, rifle cleaning.


North Berwick Home Guard training near the town.

The effectiveness of the Home Guard


The BBC comedy ‘Dad’s Army’ has created the impression that the Home Guard would have been a poor match for an invading German army.  While an element of truth lies in this observation (especially in the ill-equipped early days) the members of the Home Guard possessed a number of important advantages. Most importantly they knew the local countryside well - many were local East Lothian farmers, ploughmen or gamekeepers - and thus would have been able to use the terrain to their advantage, placing roadblocks and obstructions in the most favourable locations. In addition many Home Guard soldiers were knowledgeable veterans of the 1914-18 war: one can see the medal ribbons on many a chest in the Home Guard unit photographs.  There is little doubt that the Home Guard would have been able to delay the advance of German troops, probably at great cost to themselves, but hopefully until such time as mobile Regular Army reserves could stage a counterattack.

Stand down


Stand down of the Home Guard finally came on Sunday 3 December 1944, with the need for a home defence of this nature clearly past. That day the East Lothian Battalion Home Guard held Stand Down parades across the county. For example, 'D' Company from Gullane were inspected by Colonel D. H. McCririck, Lothian and Borders Sub-Division Commander, and at 12.50 p.m. marched past the saluting base at the war memorial in the town, and into the history books as part of the preparations for the defence of Britain against an invasion which, thankfully, never came. It is a little known fact that the Home Guard across the UK lost 1,206 of its members to enemy bombing, strafing and training accidents. Some 557 were injured. Proof, were proof needed, that this was no ‘Dad’s Army’ but a very real attempt to provide a locally based defence force at a time of great danger.

Haddington Home Guard. Fergus Main, the saddler, is third from the right.

While these pictures are quite realistic one would have to assume that the members of the Home Guard would have paid greater attention to staying under cover in a real-life situation!

The eyewitness also alluded to the presence of a Flamme Fougasse at this site.

Artist: Stuart Carruthers


Innerwick Home Guard Unit in 1944

The Home Guard

Recollections of the Home Guard in the Lammermuirs


Mrs. Mary Stenhouse, a schoolchild living in the valley now occupied by the Whiteadder Reservoir, recalls:


    "The War Office decided we should have a branch of the Home Guard in the glen, so the Marquis of Tweeddale came as commander or whatever to organise the men. One young man had a motorbike so he was immediately elected dispatch rider. The school-headmistress's husband was a retired gamekeeper so he was put in charge of the one gun: a double-barrel shotgun belonging to the Marquis. Various pieces of uniform were issued to whoever fitted them, though everyone got a tin hat. A bonfire was built on Priestlaw Hill to be lit in case of invasion.”


    “One older gentleman was stationed beside the one telephone in the glen. Early one Sunday morning his grandson came knocking at the window saying the invasion was expected any moment, whereby my father and the young shepherd who lodged with us went back to bed till their normal rising time. My father and the old gamekeeper with the one gun were to go on watch on Priestlaw Hill at 11.00 a.m., so after a quiet wander up the hill, they lay down in the shelter of a stone wall and lit their pipes to await the call to arms. An old cock grouse landed on the wall and perched there looking about, so the old man pointed the gun saying, "Man, John, what a grand shot that would be," at which my father told him not to fire or the whole of the south of Scotland would think the invasion had begun!"


Recollections of the Home Guard at Gleghornie, a farm near North Berwick.

Written by Leila Reynard (née Shepherd)


   “All men who worked on the farm were Home Guards.  Having worked a six-day week they were on parade on Sunday, the seventh day of the week. My father, Thomas Shepherd, was the Lieutenant. Paddy Duggan, an Irishman who lived in the Bothy, having served in World War One, was the Sergeant.  During the week whilst working on the farm he was at the lower end of the social scale. On Sundays, with his Sergeant’s stripes, he was the top! The men took their duties very seriously. One exercise that I was told about involved the Gleghornie Platoon getting through a heavily guarded area (held by the North Berwick Home Guard) to reach a rendezvous beyond. The Gleghornie Guards lay down in a hay-cart, pilling lots of hay on top. One Guard had his farm working clothes on and he sat in the front of the cart while the Clydesdale horse plodded to the check out. He was waved on!  They got through and the Gleghornie Home Guards ran back with their guns saying ‘Bang, bang! You’re dead!’”


             Andrew Ross (left) by the Spigot Mortar mount at the top of Pencraig Hill

Andrew Ross

Andrew served in the East Linton Home Guard and, when he was interviewed at the top of Pencraig Hill on the old A1 above East Linton, described his time in the force. He said that he’d only fired one live round from a Spigot Mortar on a mortar range in the Lammermuirs though he had fired a couple of dummy rounds. Andrew had joined the Home Guard when he was sixteen and a half but had only run messages and appeared on parade. He’d only been given his rifle, ammunition and uniform when he reached seventeen in 1941. He had served till the force was disbanded in 1944.

Andrew told how there was about 100 men in the East Linton  Home Guard because “...there was an Auxiliary unit and another to look after the railway and the station. We had nothing to do with them.” He said that, “...we’d the same kind of cock-ups [as in Dad’s Army] but, of course, it was all taken very seriously. You had to take it seriously when you were the last line of defence. Mind you, we had our amusing moments. I remember one exercise when we were given orders to try to break into East Fortune airfield to give the RAF Regiment some practice. I was called everything in the book because I knew a back way in that the Air Force used as a shortcut and I led my section in there and got in behind them and caused all sorts of ... . It wasn’t in the rules of the game. ‘Fortunes of war’, I said! They all took it in good part but my sergeant asked me what I thought I was doing.”

Andrew took part in many exercises. He described one:

“A Section might be sent out early in the morning and we were sent to try to catch them, pretend they were the enemy, throw chalk grenades at them and such like.”

Home Guard at Tor Bridge, near Innerwick


These two pictures show a re-creation, based upon an eyewitness description, of how the Home Guard might have looked when preparing to blow up Tor Bridge near Innerwick to deny it to the enemy.  

East Lothian Home Guards march through North Berwick on  3rd December 1944  ‘Stand Down’ parade

Spigot Mortar mount

18pdr Field Guns


Wartime censorship was responsible for ‘hiding’ the fact that the Haddington Company of the Home Guard was one of the very few Home Guard units to be equipped with 18pdr Field Guns.  The East Lothian Courier reported in October 1994 that fifty years before Haddington’s Home Guard company had been issued with the guns.  The article explained that:


“It can now be stated that the Haddington Coy was one of the two Home Guard companies to be issued with 18 pounder field guns.


These were supplied to the Haddington unit in 1942 and since then the gunners have had to put in many hours work keeping the guns and making themselves efficient in their use.


Early this summer they secretly fired live ammunition for the first time in the Lammermuir Hills and on that occasion the men were congratulated on their performance.


This was all the reward the men asked after their months of hard work, for they had practiced regularly two nights per week and every Sunday.  On Sunday, the guns were again taken to the Lammermuir Hills for practice, when three of them fired off 150 rounds.


Lieut. McKenna demonstrated in no uncertain manner that since their earlier test his gunners of Haddington had improved their performance.  All the members of the Home Guard deserve congratulations for their work – a great deal of it unacknowledged because of censorship regulations – which have been in force for the past four years.”


The guns were stored in Pringle’s premises, now the car park of the Newton Port Surgery. Amusingly the North Berwick Home Guard’s anti-tank weapon was stored in the Caddies’ shelter on the town’s West Course!

Stenton Home Guard Vickers machine gun and Lewis machine gun teams above and the same unit’s anti-tank gun team on the right

Newfoundland Overseas Timber Corps and East Lothian Home Guard

See section ‘Home Front’ and ‘Timber Corps’

East Saltoun Home Guard

I am indebted to David Scott, formerly farmer at Howden, for many of the following identifications and background information:

Back row: Rt to lft - RT Cornwall (worked Saltoun East Farm); Johnnie Hamilton (worked on the farm at Samuelston South Mains during the war then moved to Gilchriston Farm); Jimmy Millar (worked at the Lime Kilns along the Gifford Road. Played the fiddle at some of the social evenings in the village hall); AlecEc’ Stenhouse (worked at Howden Farm); William Hastie (worked at Howden farm); Tommy Dickson (later worked at Lennoxlove); Bob Punton; David Wilson; B. Dickson; Jim Tait (son of Tom Tait who farmed at Greenlaw Farm).

Middle row: Rt to lft - Unknown; Peter Wilson (Worked at Greenhead at one time. Known as ‘Pete the Dabber’); Tom Peacock (was originally from Ormiston but lived in East Saltoun. He had been a coalminer but had to give up work due to a lung disease which was common among miners); George Watt; Oliver (Ollie) Main (Worked at Middlemains Farm. His father Jim was Farm Manager at Saltoun Home Farm); Adam Maxwell (farmed at Cauldshiel with his brother John); J. Turner; Roy Tait (brother to Jim Tait from Greenlaw).

Front row: Rt to lft - Jim Buglass (worked on the farm at East Saltoun. He was beadle in the church for a long number of years); Jimmy Houliston (was grieve at Greenhead ); Jim Baptie (was the Head Gamekeeper on Saltoun estate for Captain Fletcher.); Robert (Bobbie) Watson (foreman at East Saltoun farm and was awarded the Military Medal during his service in the First World War. He went with Fred Durie and held the horses while they were being shod after he retired); Peter Prentice (was also in the First World War and was schoolmaster at Saltoun School); Fred Durie snr (was the village blacksmith for many years. He made his own headstone which can be viewed in Saltoun churchyard); Stewart Addison (worked on the Saltoun estate, perhaps as a forrester); Nicol Hislop (farm manager at Samuelston South Mains, farmed at that time by Miss Cadzow).