Many coun­tries have fallen back on part-time vol­un­teer forces in times of cri­sis, with some truly shap­ing their na­tion’s des­tiny


Or­gan­i­sa­tions sim­i­lar to the Lo­cal De­fence Vol­un­teers have ex­isted in many na­tions through­out the course of his­tory. Of­ten aris­ing, as in the case of the UK’S Home Guard, through a fear of in­va­sion, they have also stemmed from a dis­taste for large stand­ing armies.

In the fledg­ling United States, Pa­triot mili­tia could be called upon when­ever Bri­tish or Loy­al­ist forces ap­peared in a colony. Train­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tion was rudi­men­tary at best, and Ge­orge Washington, the com­man­der-in-chief of Amer­i­can forces dur­ing the War of In­de­pen­dence, was scathing in his crit­i­cism of the sys­tem.

The mili­tia, how­ever, was the de­cid­ing fac­tor in Bri­tain’s de­feat at Saratoga in 1777, which drew the French into the war as an ally of the Amer­i­cans. It also plagued Bri­tish forces in the south­ern colonies when the fo­cus of the war switched in the later stages of the con­flict.

A dis­trust of stand­ing armies was also a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor in 19th cen­tury Ger­many, where fear of in­va­sion from France or Rus­sia dur­ing the March Revo­lu­tion of 1848–49 was an­other spur for the cre­ation of cit­i­zen-based or­gan­i­sa­tions. Re­quest­ing and re­ceiv­ing ar­ma­ment from the state, these men, num­ber­ing in the tens of thou­sands were var­i­ously re­ferred to as ‘Com­mu­nal Watch’, ‘Se­cu­rity Guard’ and ‘Cit­i­zen’s Mili­tia’. Much like the Home Guard, these units never ful­filled their pri­mary pur­pose, be­cause there were no in­va­sions for them to face up to, and the mili­tias were dis­banded in the sum­mer of 1849.

In Aus­tralia, the Vol­un­teer De­fence Corps di­rectly mim­icked the Home

Guard, right down to the use of World

War I veter­ans and the lim­ited du­ties of static de­fence, ob­ser­va­tion and guer­rilla war­fare train­ing.

The need to mo­bilise the pop­u­la­tion in the face of an in­va­sion was also the mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor be­hind the plan­ning for a Vol­un­teer Fight­ing Corps in Ja­pan to­wards the end of World War II.

Ini­tially en­vis­aged as an un­armed civil de­fence sys­tem, the de­ci­sion was later made to arm and form a mili­tia. Ja­pan’s large pop­u­la­tion might have seen mil­lions of such fight­ers con­front Amer­i­can in­vaders had the war not been ended by the drop­ping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki.

In Switzer­land, civil­ian sol­diers are the back­bone of the mil­i­tary, with only a lim­ited corps of full-time sol­diers. The na­tion is tra­di­tion­ally neu­tral in wartime, but around 20,000 el­i­gi­ble males un­dergo an 18-week train­ing course each year, be­fore tak­ing their place in the ranks of the Swiss Armed Forces. Each sol­dier is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing his own uni­form, equip­ment and weapon, and much of this is kept at home. The num­ber of men in the Swiss forces has steadily re­duced in re­cent years and cur­rently stands at around 100,000.

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