Home Guard had a deadly serious role during war
Trained for possible Japanese invasion
The New Zealand Home Guard was based on the British model, familiar from the television programme Dad’s Army. In Britain in 1940, the Home Guard was a voluntary organisation in which the only qualification needed was the ability to fire a rifle. There was no upper age limit.
In October 1940, the New Zealand Home Guard was formed as a voluntary organisation to work with the New Zealand Army to become a vital localised defence force. There were no uniforms; armbands were the only identifying insignia.
Local overlapping groups in neighbouring areas of Whanganui were set up so our exposed local coastlines could be defended with barbed wire on the beaches and pillboxes facing the sea, manned by the Home Guard. More than 15 pillboxes were situated along the coast at the time. Today some remains can still be seen at Mowhānau Beach and Castlecliff. At the airfield, posts were sunk along the runways to deter or destroy enemy aircraft.
Hanging in the hall of my early home in Whanganui was a framed photograph of 25 uniformed men, identified as the Wanganui Home Guard Officers in 1943. In the front row at second left was my father, identified as Capt. S. J. Timbs.
Suddenly, in 1942, the threat of invasion had become much nearer as Japan’s devastating invasion caused the fall of Singapore in just seven days, between February 8-15.
Immediately the emphasis was on the strength of the New Zealand defences. For the Home Guard, the call was “the defence of the people by the people”. Enlisting was made compulsory for all male civilians aged between 35 and 50. Training was
essential for weapon handling, as well as night drills and parades, especially on the weekends. “No shows” were fined.
Uniforms and boots were needed but these were initially in very short supply. Weapons were not easily available either, so inevitably there were interesting innovations resulting
from such shortages. Scrap metal was redesigned in backyard foundries and it is reported that dried cowpats were ideal for practising grenade throwing. Petrol was scarce so bicycles and horses came into play and fundraising activities were organised by the townspeople.
It was all deadly serious. My
cousins, as pupils at Taihape District School, were issued with identifying dog tags to be worn around the neck or the wrist, which is sobering, and my grandad created an air-raid shelter in the back garden.
Among our family archives is a very professional sketch of the defences of Whanganui for the area along Anzac Parade from Georgetti Rd to Shakespeare Cliff, Portal and Taylor Sts, and up Durie Hill. There are dots marked in line with the numbers 9 and 10; number 11 is the Whanganui Town Bridge. Each of these denotes a roadblock, effectively frustrating any enemy attempt at entry to the town.
The war over, the Home Guard was disbanded in December 1946.