To the Last Man (Hardback)
The Home Guard in War and Popular Culture
As featured by;
- Mail Online: No Dad's Army here! Fascinating pictures dispel the myth that Britain's Home Guard was full of pensioners as youthful volunteers are seen blowing up dummy tanks and learning to kill at close quarters
- The Daily Telegraph: New book by Malcolm Atkin explodes the myth of the comical Dad's Army of TV fame
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The Home Guard was formed in 1940 to fight an uncompromising and essentially suicidal campaign that was to buy a few hours grace for the regular forces to re-group after a German invasion. But the Dad’s Army TV series has led to a serious distortion in the perception of the Home Guard and, as Malcolm Atkin reveals in this thought-provoking and meticulously researched book, its image was manipulated from its earliest days.
Using official documents, contemporary histories, stories, artwork and poetry, and comparing these with post-war films and histories, he takes a unique perspective. He explores how the myths of the Home Guard arose and were exploited by official propaganda and the wartime and post-war media. He also shows how the strong sense of gallows-humour amongst its volunteers – which fits in with a long tradition of self-deprecating humour in the British army – was taken out of context and became the basis of the TV series.
To the Last Man strips back the myths and forensically analyses how the modern perception has evolved. The result is a new, gritty, sometimes shocking, appreciation of the role that the Home Guard was expected to play in the Second World War.
The Dad's Army TV series is a serious contender for the best-loved comedy series of all time, and behind the humour, the writers showed with uncanny accuracy the dedication of the ordinary men who could not fight, often because of their age, as they prepared to defend their country from the possibility of German invasion. Malcolm Atkin's book goes one step further than Dads' Army, because it concentrates on the actual men who became members of the real Dads' Army, and then it goes on to look at popular culture and how it portrays those same men. A brilliant, entertaining and thoroughly gripping account of real experiences and how they are seen by others. A fantastic read.Books Monthly
We also served who only stood and waited!Robert Bartlett, June 2019
Malcolm Atkin has written a number of books about the Civil War and the Home Front during the Second World War. This book brings together a great deal of his meticulous and broad based research particularly into the lesser-known area of the Auxiliary Units, the role of women and their links to the Home Guard.
Dad’s Army has not been good for the memory of the Home Guard though pluckiness and willingness to get stuck in is always present. It is certain that all the characters from the TV show could be found within the huge organisation that by 1941 numbered over 1.5 million members. As comedy writers they have overlooked the professionalism of the organisation, the reality over their arms and equipment and the true nature of the role. Yet without Dad’s Army the Home Guard could easily with the passing of a generation slip from the national memory. Formed in response to the immediate invasion threat Atkin corrects that failing. You cannot but be impressed by an organisation of volunteers whose role if attacked was to hold the advance for just a few minutes, the time gained by multiple interventions and harrying of the enemy to allow the Army to concentrate its forces to fight the invaders. It is not too dramatic to call the role following invasion, a suicide mission. Yet upon formation what the role was to be was unclear and for some it was to be some form of Special Constabulary. How that would have changed policing during the War and possibly thereafter!
The main national training school for the Home Guard was at No 1 Training School, Denbies House just to the north of Dorking in Surrey now the site of a major vineyard. One view was training at Denbies was not to mould regular soldiers but “to develop any flair for improvisation, to encourage individualism, and to produce first-class irregulars or even rural bandits.” It was an extremely tough course to get through!
Much of the research is based on documents at the National Archives telling the story of the men who worked at their jobs during the day and took up arms at night. The pressure of wartime coupled with lack of sleep caused in effect by two distinct jobs. Tiredness must have been the overwhelming sense and memory of this stage of the war. It was not without dangers with 1,206 men killed on duty before the organisation was stood down on the 3 December 1944.
This is an excellent book. Amongst all the explosions is another that can be heard today as the myth of the Home Guard is blown up and destroyed. This must surely become the go-to book for anyone with an interest in the true history of the Home Guard and life on the home front.
New book by Malcolm Atkin explodes the myth of the comical Dad's Army of TV fame.Daily Telegraph 11/4/19
New book reveals Home Guard was not a group of doddery old men made famous in BBC comedy Dad's ArmyMail Online