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(Article from January 1942)

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On this page is reproduced in full an article which appeared in the specialist press in January 1942, discussing the role of Home Guard Despatch Riders in the event of an invasion of this country. The nation had lived with this threat for the previous 18 months. Despite the entry of the USA into the war the month before, the danger of invasion or incursion remained in early 1942 very much more than just a remote possibility. It would continue to be so for a further two or more years. The writer of this article, and many others, felt that local H.G. Despatch Riders would have an important part to play in support of their Battalions if and when "the balloon went up".

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 of above article                                                                                                                                           

If the Home Guard Goes into Action

The Motor Cyclist Despatch Riders, with the Immense Asset of Local Knowledge, Will Constitute a Vital Link in the Chain of Defence : On Them May Depend the Entire Success of the Operations : The Training and Facilities Necessary for Efficiency

By ARTHUR BOURNE, Editor of " The Motor Cycle "

SHOULD the Home Guard have to go into action—if there is an invasion, in other words—would the part played by its despatch riders be important or not? In some quarters the view appears to be "Not! " Others are more enlightened, but from all I have seen and heard few of those who hold sway in the Home Guard realise that the motor cyclist despatch riders constitute a vital link in the chain of defence. In my view, the probability is that everything would depend upon their knowledge and efficiency.

Many will challenge such a categorical statement. I will enlarge upon it. First, my case does not rely purely on the facts that telephone lines can be cut, wireless rendered useless and there is, in any case, no equal of a written message. Many senior officers of the General Staff have said in my hearing that nothing can displace the motor cyclist despatch rider. Some officers of the Home Guard appear to dispute this. Cyclists and runners are suggested as meeting the needs of a local force. In at least one area, until comparatively recently, pathetic faith was placed in the telephone system. As if it would be available in the event of serious trouble in the locality.........

Would Main Roads be Available ?

I agree that with some units motor cyclist despatch riders are likely to be of little use. The reason is the failure of those in command to grasp realities—to appreciate what is needed, to lay on proper training and give the facilities that are essential. I have come across cases where there is no training and the most the D.R.s do is to deliver letters via ordinary main or secondary roads. In certain instances Don Rs spend duty spells sitting about H.Q. all the time and on Sundays merely parading with the rest.

Would the main and secondary roads be available under active service? Would they be healthy? Would there be the certainty of the despatches being delivered? The greatest asset of the Home Guard, surely, is that it is a local force—has local knowledge. That asset, so far as the D.R.s are concerned, can be immense. A portion of the countryside is invaded. Units of the regular Army are moved into the locality. They will have no specialised knowledge of the area, and the maps with which they are "armed" will be "Quarter-inch." If you have worked on maps of this scale I need not tell you the difficulties and the small amount of detail shown. The value of the D.R.s moved into the district will be limited, both by day and by night. No D.R. can count upon having a "One-inch" map, and in any case, the knowledge afforded by such a map can never be so up to date and comprehensive as that of the local man, the Home Guard D.R., properly trained. Only recently, when working from such a map in a search for a watersplash for Army training, I visited a point marked "Ford" to find that there were high banks and a plank bridge which had been there for years......         
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Few without knowledge of the locality would dream of using the gated road of which this is part, especially when they saw from their maps that a river had to be forded, yet it is a gated road that can be tackled with ease and saves a detour of some miles through areas quite likely to be hostile

"....and there should be lectures and work-shop facilities"


As the only men who know all the paths, field track and by-ways, the efficiently trained Home Guard despatch riders are the D.R.s who will maintain and help to maintain the communications—not only for their own units but for those drafted in. This has been proved in big-scale exercises; it would be proved to the hilt in the event of invasion. And communications are vital.

That is why I stated, "The probability is that everything would depend upon their knowledge and efficiency."

I have found that there is realisation of all this when it is pointed out and that steps are taken to develop the Don R side. What facilities are needed? What form should the training take?

First, of course, the motor cycles used by the Home Guard D.R.s must be reliable. They must be kept in good fettle, be ready for instant use (and I mean instant: fuel and oil always aboard and start readily) and be equipped with reasonably good tyres that give some hope of the machines getting across country. Incidentally, they should be well silenced. For the machines to be maintained in a satisfactory state there must be adequate mileage, and therefore mileage money, and there should, in addition, be lectures and workshop facilities—vide the article "In a Home Guard Workshop'' in our issue of January 15th.

The Necessary Training

Secondly comes the training. As it cannot be assumed that good roads will be available on the day, there must be training in cross-country riding. The best basis, I suggest, is the specialised ''Training on the Lines of Reliability Trials" which has been standardised by the Army. Our descriptions of the Army-wide and Army Command demonstrations have given full particulars. Naturally, the whole scheme would not be laid on for a single day. One morning or afternoon a couple of the special types of hazard laid down would be tackled, with the accompanying lectures and demonstrations. In a series of three mornings or afternoons all six hazards would be embraced and just about every lesson in cross-country riding got across. Correct choice of hazards is necessary, of course. This is training—not a civvy club's half-day trial. Trials sections as such are not required. In areas where the going is sameish, suitable hazards can generally be improvised even though the Home Guard has not the working parties, water carts and other facilities of the regular Army.

So much for the basis, except to point out that experience has shown that this initial training should not be too spread out and that in cross-country riding constant practice is necessary. Having been shown and told how to tackle all types of going, the Home Guard D.R.s need next to brush up their knowledge of their whole locality—to learn all the field paths and by-ways and how best to negotiate them. This keeps them in trim, provided they are at the work at least fortnightly: much better, of course, weekly. They should go out irrespective of the conditions. None can guarantee what the weather will be like if and when invasion occurs. Daytime alone, of course, is not sufficient.

By such means, in operation month after month, and with map-reading and the other necessary instruction, the D.R.s will become the tower of strength that they should be and, in my view, must be.



Initial training on specially picked hazards, with lectures and demonstrations, is desirable in order that there may be the knowledge necessary for the efficient negotiation of paths, field and woodland tracks, etc.

In the Yorkshire Dales, and in many other parts of the country, knowledge of the tracks and ability to negotiate them would prove essential. It is also desirable to be experienced in riding in a respirator
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