By Mike Anderson
In the summer of 1940 Britain (and its wider empire) faced Nazi Germany alone, and as many had feared and predicted the front line in the fight against the European fascist powers moved from Spain to Sussex and Kent as the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above the South East.
Preparing the British people for the Blitz with his “Finest Hour” speech, Winston Churchill expressed his belief that the nation would be able to stand up to the ordeal “like the brave men of Barcelona”.
Spain had provided an important training and testing ground for the Luftwaffe. A Nazi propaganda film of August 1940 shows a German Fighter still bearing Spanish Civil War markings over Southern England.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.
In Britain’s darkest hour the newly formed Home Guard became an important part of the Nation’s defence measures. One of the Home Guard’s instigators was Tom Wintringham, former commander of the British Battalion in Spain. In 1940 Wintringham and Tom Slater, former commander of the British Anti-Tank Unit in Spain, established the first Home Guard Fieldcraft School at Osterley Park a stately home in West London. Instructors at Osterley Park included exiled Spanish Republicans and International Brigade veteran “Yank” Levy.
International Brigaders used their experiences in Spain to continue the fight against fascism.
John Langdon-Davies who had been a war correspondent in Spain for the centre-left paper the News Chronicle and was an anti-Fascist and supporter of the Spanish Republic writing “Behind the Spanish Barricades” in 1937.
Langdon-Davies lived at Bowman’s Farm a mile or so South of Burwash in East Sussex. Following Wintringham’s example Langdon-Davies set up a Home Guard Fieldcraft Training School at Bowman’s. In from “Dusk to Dawn” writer A.G. Street described the routine at Bowman’s Farm where trainees including Kent miners, farmers and landowners were told to imagine at every moment that Burwash was in enemy hands with machine guns trained on them.
Artist Roland Penrose who was listed as a Camouflage Officer at Bowman’s Farm was a friend of Picasso’s and in 1938 had organized a tour of his masterpiece “Guernica” to raise funds for the Spanish Republic. Both Penrose and Langdon-Davies had been conscientious objectors in World War 1.
John Langdon-Davies in 1940-anti-Fascist war correspondent and author.
Imagine Burwash is in enemy hands with machine guns trained on you
Picasso’s friend Roland Penrose used his artistic skills to continue the anti-Fascist struggle.
Langdon-Davies used his journalistic skills to edit and write a number of Training Manuals which often used the experiences of fighting Fascism in Spain as examples of how a citizen’s army could continue the struggle if Britain were invaded.
“We shall study in detail the experience gained in the Spanish War…”
“Fifth Column is now used for the activities of Nazi sympathizers…..”
TEACHING THE HOME GUARD HOW TO KILL NAZIS.
Bowman’s Farm and Osterley Park had originally been set up as private initiatives by anti-Fascists using their Spanish Civil War experiences as inspiration. They were so successful that the War Office eventually took them over, using them as a blue print for similar establishments.
Kent Miners, farmers and landowners learning how to kill Nazis in the East Sussex countryside.
Field Marshall Montgomery inspects a training session at Bowman’s Farm.
Dad’s Army was a popular sitcom about a fictional Home Guard Platoon on the South Coast commanded by the pompous Captain Mainwaring who was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. The episode “Battle School” features Spanish Republican Instructor Captain Rodrigues who tells the saluting Captain Mainwaring that he isn’t interested in arm waving as he’s only interested in “teaching them how to kill Nazis”.