Signing Their Lives Away – The Observer Corps and The Home Guard

In remembrance, we it is rare that we take a look at those who are usually forgotten; those who did not actually give their lives to fighting in wars. However, they did put themselves up to defend Great Britain, and it was very certain that they wouldn’t survive had the call to duty arisen. I would personally give an equal amount of respect to such individuals and those who did actually give their lives at war. We are of course talking about The Royal Observer Corps in the Cold War, and The Home Guard in the Second World War.

The Royal Observer Corps

Established in 1925, the ROC were local volunteers tasked with keeping a watchful eye on the country’s skies. Through to WW2, it was their job to observe Britain’s airspace and spot/identify any enemy aircraft coming over. They would be based in ROC posts, at this time usually square brick constructions with an open roof to spot planes, zeppelins etc. They operated keeping a watch over bombers during the Blitz, fighters in the Battle of Britain, and possibly invading gliders containing German troops had an invasion occurred. In the Cold War, from 1945-1991, their job involved greater danger. If a nuclear attack on Britain or the US was deemed imminent, it was the ROC’s role of not only to observe Soviet aircraft from ‘orlit’ ROC posts, which would have been a dangerous job exposed to radioactivity (this was a less common task however), but dominantly to live in small and confined nuclear-proof ROC monitoring posts, classic ‘nuclear bunkers’, yet only around a room in size. They were placed around 14-foot underground, and would hold a handful of people. They would have worked in local groups and would have had a post to work in each. They would use specialist equipment to observe the nuclear war which would have been destroying the world as we know it outside, and report back via radio to larger underground headquarters.. Their supplies would have been limited, and they would have had to change a ‘Ground-Zero Indicator’, a pinhole camera which would have record nuclear blasts onto graph film. It was located just next to the post hatch, and having to change it once or twice a day would have let in radioactive material, and would have exposed the inhabitants too. In other words, if you were not killed previously by nuclear bombing, or starvation in an ROC post, then radiation would have had its effects on the body and would likely have killed you soon after. Wikipedia describes the task as a ‘suicide mission . Fortunately  this war never did materialize  although in 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis almost did result in a nuclear exchange. what did happen though, was that many of Britain’s public volunteered to leave their family, safety, and lives, in case a nuclear war broke out. The ROC folded in 1996.

Images not courtesy of Beyond the Point

The Home Guard

Originally called the ‘Local Defence Volunteers’, the Home Guard were tasked with defending Britain from Nazi German conquest from 1940 to 1945. Like the ROC, the Home Guard were local volunteers who were usually older or younger than to fight in the main theatre. These 1.5 million, nicknamed ‘Dad’s Army’ due to their age, were a secondary defense force to the British troops fighting on the front-line. They mainly guarded coastal areas of Britain  and would have used everything from tank traps to improvised explosives to weaken Jerry as he was expected to arrive. It was however known that the Home Guard would eventually be outmatched, and be put to slavery or death if found. Receiving training every now and then in the local vicinity, the HG were given mostly American weaponry in the early war, later upgraded to the armaments of the British Army. This was due to Britain financial struggle. Although invasion never occurred, the quantity of pillboxes built and remaining across Britain, playing an active role in the landscape even this 70 years later, show the importance and inevitability of invasion. If this did happen, the Home Guard would have put their lives in grievous danger directly for their own country. They too would have had to leave their families, probably not even meeting again.

Image not courtesy of Beyond the Point

Of course, the same situation was taken up by numerous other groups across wartime history, and this is a tribute to them all.

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