With the release of the latest Small Arms Survey data that puts most firearms (8.4 out of 10) in the hands of civilians worldwide, I thought the below artifacts from the Imperial War Museum would be interesting.
Winchester M1894 sporting takedown rifle .30/30 Winchester (FIR 5292) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. They mounted a public appeal for firearms and binoculars which could be sent to aid the defence of Britain. Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30035096
Springfield Model 1878 rifle (FIR 7917) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30032392
While of course, on the outset the pair of smoke-poles above would seem hard-pressed to arm a British store clerk or country gentleman against a Fallschirmjäger with an MP38 and some potato masher grenades, they were better than nothing. In the early days of the Local Defence Volunteers and Home Guard firearms of any sort were a rarity. Remember the fictional Sergeant Wilson’s weapon report to Captain Mainwaring in the hilarious “Dad’s Army” sitcom that they stood ready to meet Hitler’s parachutists with “15 carving knives, one shotgun, a No. 3 Iron, and Lance Corporal Jones’ assegai.”
The first muster from the fictional Dad’s Army
Yes, the program was a slapstick comedy, but it should be noted that it was based partly on co-writer and creator Jimmy Perry’s own experiences in the LDV during the War and in many respects is dead-on.
The 1940 British Local Defence Volunteers, not far off from the above image
At one point, pikes were famously planned to arm the local militia force.
Yes, Pikes. Via Home-Guard.org.uk
It wasn’t until 1942 that quantities of Lend-Leased Great War-era M1917 Enfield, Lewis guns and M1918 BARs in 30.06s, mixed with newer weapons such as Thompson submachine guns started arriving in force.
A long service sergeant in the Dorking Home Guard cleans his Tommy gun at the dining room table, before going on parade, 1 December 1940. He likely went “over the top” along the Somme some years earlier.
British Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service members unloading a fresh shipment of lend-lease crates ca. 41-42. The boxes contain Model 1894 Winchester lever action cowboy guns
By 1943, the possibility of outright German invasion had atrophied although the need to have armed locals in place to police up spies, saboteurs and shot down Luftwaffe aircrews would remain very real.
Three soldiers of the Home Guard pose with a wrecked Messerschmitt shot down over south-east England during the Battle of Britain. Note the Lend-Lease M1917 Enfields
The “Baby Blitz” of Unternehmen Steinbock saw He 177A’s, Do 217s and Ju 88A-4s flying over London as late as May 1944. In that point, 800,000 unarmed volunteers of the ARP and another 1.6 very feisty Home Guard stood ready to defend the Home Isles out of a population of about 49 million, which is impressive especially when you keep in mind that the country at the time fielded a 3-million man Army, a 1.2-million strong RAF capable of pulling off 1,000-bomber raids, and a million-man Royal Navy that included 78,000 Marines and 50 (albeit mostly escort) carriers.