We Know Our Onions

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"We Know Our Onions"
Dad's Army episode
Episode no. Series Six
Episode 057
Directed by David Croft
Story by Jimmy Perry and David Croft
Produced by David Croft
Original air date 21/11/73 8.00pm
(recorded 15/06/73)
Running time 30 minutes
Episode chronology
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"The Royal Train"
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"The Honourable Man"

"We Know Our Onions" is the fourth episode of the sixth series of the British comedy series Dad's Army that was originally transmitted on 21 November 1973.


The platoon take part in a Home Guard efficiency test. If the men pass with flying colours, they will be graded a 12-star platoon. Travelling with their Smith Gun in the back of Jones' van, they notice a huge mass of onions - Walker's order for Hodges - and decide to use them as a novel form of ammunition.


The platoon are examining their new Smith Gun, which they have to take on a Home Guard efficiency test for the weekend. Wilson is told off by Mainwaring when he complains 'do we have to drag that gun about, what an awful fag'. Godfrey and his sisters have made an inappropriate cover for the gun out of a flowery old sofa cover.

They are going to the test in Jones' van, but Walker has been using it to fulfil a blackmarket order for Warden Hodges, the greengrocer, and has half a ton of onions. These cause the platoon (especially Pike) some discomfort on the journey and Hodges is so incensed about the non-delivery of the onions that he follows them.

Before the start of the test, Wilson shares some information from a friend who previously took part in the test, where the test officer will fire a lot of questions at the platoon and then leave the room, whereby someone else comes in disguised and plants a bomb. Jones shows them his rumāl, a thuggee scarf used to throttle a victim from behind. Meanwhile, Hodges and the Verger appear outside one of the windows, and they constantly pester the platoon over the course of the weekend as they attempt to retrieve Hodges's onions.

The test is supervised by a Captain Ramsey, a tough, no-nonsense officer (played by Fulton Mackay) who berates the platoon for their shortcomings, particularly Pike, who is crying from the onions. Ramsey informs them that they will have to pass tests to be awarded stars, 12 being the maximum that can be earnt.

The first test requires the platoon to respond to role-playing scenarios. However, it does not go well for them as Wilson is so indifferent to the role-playing that it loses all effect, Jones attempts to throttle Ramsey when his back is turned (because he had told Jones he was going to be a Gestapo officer) and Wilson ruins Mainwaring's test by pointing out that Mainwaring wouldn't have to push anyone out of a declining hot-air balloon as he could wait for it to land on the ground for the excess passenger to step out.

Ramsay gives up, goes out and sends in an NAAFI canteen girl. Remembering Wilson's advice from before, the platoon grab her, knocking over her trolley and pulling her hair, believing it is a wig, to which she responds, "Oh, you're worse than the Regulars!" Told to get rid of the urn, Pike throws it through the (closed) window, where it hits Hodges and the Verger, and empties all over the Verger.

The next exercise is to get one man over a tall electric fence in half an hour using only equipment provided to them (mostly wooden planks and oil drums). Jones inevitably volunteers to be the man over the fence, and tries to get Walker to catapult him over the fence, but in doing so they break the only decent long length of wood, thus dooming all other attempts to failure. After half an hour the platoon still have not done it, so they plead for more time. They try until midnight, with no success. Ramsay is not impressed the next morning, revealing that he did not award the platoon any stars for the first test and only one star for the second for "perseverance".

The next exercise is using the Smith Gun (an artillery piece unique to the Home Guard) to repel an assault by Ramsey's regular troops. The ammunition for the gun lies behind the same type of electrified fence the platoon were meant to have learnt how to scale in the previous test. Meanwhile, Hodges and the Verger have finally got the key to Jones's van from Walker, and they rush off to transfer the onions to Hodges's van. The platoon suddenly realise that they could use the onions instead of the ammunition for the Smith Gun. They rush to Hodges's van with Mainwaring demanding the onions "in the name of the King", but is forced to buy them off Hodges. They rush back to the Smith Gun, load and fire the onions at the advancing troops, who retreat in confusion. The platoon are jubilant. Ramsey returns and congratulates Mainwaring, saying he has never seen such initiative displayed by a Home Guard unit and awards them 12 stars outright. They all then rush to retrieve the fallen onions.


Cultural references[edit]

The centre of this plot is based around the scarcity of onions in 1942. This fictional story echoes a real incident in which an enthusiastic Home Guard unit involved in an exercise repelled the enemy by discharging small green apples from a Northover Projector.[1] Fulton MacKay's portrayal of Captain Ramsey closely resembles his character from Porridge, Mr MacKay, right down to similar personalities and mannerisms. However, it should be noted that only the pilot episode (Prisoner and Escort) of 'Porridge' had been screened by the time of this episode's recording.


  • Croft, David; Perry, Jimmy; Webber, Richard (2000). The Complete A-Z of Dad’s Army. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-4637-X. 
  • MacKenzie, S. P. (1995). The Home Guard — A Military and Political History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820577-5. 
  1. ^ MacKenzie, 1995, p123