This bronze statue of Capt Mainwaring is situated close to the bridge which crosses the River Little Ouse in the centre of Thetford, Norfolk. Captain Mainwaring was the commander of the fictional World War II Home Guard unit featured in the British sitcom, "Dad's Army". Much of the series was filmed in East Anglia.The statue shows Mainwaring wearing his Home Guard uniform, seated on bench, with his baton across his knees. (U.S. Air Force photo by Suzanne Harper)
Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.
Commentary by British Billy
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
9/10/2010 - ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- I have just spent a week in the company of one of my favourite people, Mary Davis. Mary was just a teenager at the outbreak of World War II, and as soon as she could, she helped in the war effort. She and her friends can tell many stories of both the adversity and the camaraderie of those war years. During her stay, Mary and I enjoyed watching episodes of a programme called "Dad's Army" on the telly. It has many local connections and is a part of British culture I feel you would enjoy knowing more about. Let me explain.
As the German armies threatened invasion, the entire British nation, whether civilian or military, child or adult, man or woman, had to accept great changes to their everyday lives. In May 1940, the Germans had already begun their invasion of The Netherlands and Belgium by dropping their soldiers by parachute, and it was feared Britain would be next.
All the fit young men were 'called up' to join the army, navy or air force. Women between the ages of 19 and 30 had to register for war work; some joining the forces, while others worked in factories making war materials. 75,000 women joined the Land Army to help grow more food and many others joined the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, providing meals and clothing for survivors and rescue workers.
There were many men who could not join the forces because their jobs were vital in wartime to keep the country running. Some men were not fit enough to join, and they sometimes volunteered as fire fighters or air raid wardens. Another option was to join the Home Guard.
On May 14, 1940, the Government made an urgent appeal on the radio to all men aged between 17 and 65. If men were not already serving in the armed forces, they wanted them to volunteer as part-time soldiers. Within 24 hours of the broadcast, a quarter of a million men had volunteered, and by the end of July, this had risen to more than a million.
Home Guard units had to protect Britain from German parachute attacks. They kept a look out for spies and guarded factories, airfields, beaches and seafronts. Their nickname was "Dad's Army", because some of them were quite old.
At first the Home Guard volunteers had no uniforms and little equipment. The public were invited to offer up their shotguns and pistols to help them out, and within a few months, 20,000 weapons had been handed in. Ever resourceful, many of the Home Guard units made their own weapons too. They were given rudimentary military training but their main aim was not to engage with well-trained enemy soldiers, but rather to slow them down until the regular troops could take over.
If you were to ask many British people today about "Dad's Army", most would start to tell you of a sitcom about the Home Guard in World War II which was broadcast between 1968 and 1977. It is still shown on the BBC to this very day and is regarded as one of our best-loved TV comedies.
"Dad's Army" featured the exploits of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring (pronounced 'Mannering') and supported by the debonair and indecisive Sergeant Wilson. Each week the platoon would attempt to protect England from German invasion and became embroiled in many hilarious adventures. Memorable lines from the sitcom have drifted into common usage, and my favourites are spoken by the elderly yet fearless Corporal Jones who would frequently be heard to say, "Don't Panic!" and, "They don't like it up 'em".
Many famous scenes from Dad's Army were filmed locally in East Anglia. Thetford has long been revered as the 'home' of the war comedy, and the town now houses a museum in Cage Lane, behind the Guildhall, dedicated to Dad's Army.
If you visit Thetford and you wander down by the bridge in the town centre which crosses the River Little Ouse, you will come across a life-size bronze statue of Captain Mainwaring, made by local sculptor, Sean Hedges-Quinn. The statue was unveiled in June 2010 by David Croft, who co-wrote "Dad's Army" with Jimmy Perry, and it features Mainwaring, wearing his Home Guard uniform, seated on a bench with his baton across his knees.
It says so much for the human spirit that we can find a ray of sunshine in the darkest of times, and as you talk to those who lived through the war years here in Britain, you will find that there is great nostalgia, in spite of so many dreadful memories, and a love for the characters and story lines as portrayed by the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. Their lives, though fictional, reflect a nation's defiance in the face of an uncertain future, and we are proud that it forms part of our collective history.
9/13/2010 3:47:16 AM ET My grandparents were bombed out of London during the Blitz in 1940 and went to live in a village in the Sussex countryside. I can remember watching this program with them on the TV when I was a little girl. They loved it - it reminded them of the war and characters that they met whether British or Canadian soldiers or Dad's Army volunteers. As a result I came to love the TV show and I thoroughly recommend visiting the museum in Thetford if you have a couple of spare hours on a Saturday morning. It is open from 10am - 2pm.
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