Sunday, 21 February 2016

Writing - Dad's Army truth and fiction.

When we write we're advised to write from where we are at. We try and include some level of verisimilitude so that readers can engage, fact and fiction but there are times when fiction has to be taken as such.

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The original TV series was pure fiction, even the theme tune sung by Bud Flanagan, was created for the series and was not a well known war time song as is often believed. The cast no doubt had great fun portraying the bumbling, foolish, intensely British group as representing the last line of defence in case of invasion by the Nazis. The programme has intrigued and entertained people for nine years from 1968 through to 1977 and beyond with repeats. They can be still seen today. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, it was a screaming success. Those two prolific comedy writers have a lot to answer for. However they truth of the matter is somewhat different.

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In reality, the Home Guard was a tough, dynamic fighting force. It worked hard to be ready for the real possibility of invasion.

1. They recruited young athletic men.

On May 14th 1940 Anthony Eden called for a Local Defence Volunteer force. The response was overwhelming and within a week 250 000 men had registered and by the end of July that had risen to almost half a million. Of that number over half were under the age of 27 and were at home because they were in restricted occupations and therefore not allowed to go to war. It was said at the time that the Germans wouldn't have had an inch, they wouldn't have had to fight over if they'd crossed the channel.

2. Arm yourself to the teeth.

Initially, the force was armed with a myriad of weapons but within a year, thanks in part to the Americans the Home Guard were issued with proper weapons.

3. Create a radical people's army.

There was some criticism due to the Home Guard's class-ridden hierarchy, displayed on small and large screen by the role of Captain Mainwaring, but some saw the army as a democratic vehicle for protest. George Orwell was one who commented that the rifle on the wall of the working-class flat or the labourer's cottage was a symbol of democracy. In fact there was an anti-establishment feeling growing in the country that culminated in the Labour Party's landslide victory in the 1945 General Election.

4 Train elite troops to fight dirty.

Within the Home Guard were the Auxiliary Units, the elite wing of the Home Guard that would have carried out  a guerrilla campaign against the Germans in the event of an invasion. They were known as Churchill's Secret Army and were tough, self-reliant men with good knowledge of the area in which they were stationed. At their peak in late 1941, the Auxiliaries comprised 3500 men in 600 patrols.

5 Become a miracle of improvisation.

The organisation was in  fact very efficient, so much so that when an analysis was carried out into the organisation the annual cost to the nation was £9/year/man. Women were recruited from 1942, which was a massive break from tradition, and some originality could be seen in weaponry. Grenades and Molotov cocktails were adapted, rocket launchers created and in great numbers. By 1941 6 million such devices had been produced which caused Anthony Eden to say that they were 'a miracle of improvisation.

It is okay to dramatise the roles of groups and individuals but I feel that the closer you can sit next to the truth the easier it is for potential readers to get hooked.

God Bless