30th December 1940. ARP.
‘No use to us we refuse to assist in war and war preparations’, scrawled on returned Public Information Leaflet No 2 and signed family man Leigh-on-Sea (July 1939), shows national unity was somewhat lacking.
Today in 1940 ‘fire watching’ became compulsory after the enormous damage to buildings by the first phase of the blitz.
Air Raid Precautions (ARP) were mobilised as early as September 1938, during the Munich crisis under Sir John Anderson and supported by official literature and sets of Cigarette Cards. (See below).
These ‘Faggies’, in pictorial detail, showed how to scoop up incendiaries and place into a bucket of sand, how to make a refuge in one’s house against gas attacks, by sealing all apertures, and how to put gas-masks on etc.(1)
By September 1939 a million and half had enrolled in the ARP with 400.000 in full-time posts and on duty before, and during air raids. Thus many a night’s sleep was disturbed by incidents and false alarms until the ‘All Clear’ siren wailed.
On Wednesday September 11th 1940 the Daily Telegraph announced: Roof Spotters for All Factories; Sirens as alert warning only. It said that ‘sirens will be regarded as the alert and not as an alarm signal’.
‘Work was to continue until, ‘watchers on roofs give warning of danger when workers will take cover… experience of the last few weeks has taught us that one of the greatest problems in this country is to maintain our production in spite of air-raids’.
ARP in many rural areas was casual but represented an integral part of the Civil Defence Movement which was concerned with search and rescue particularly in the cities. They often had to rescue people from bombed buildings and with their stirrup pumps were able to deal with most incendiary fires.
Many old and young who had worked all day did duty at night as fire watchers, a task particularly important as they quite often were the first to spot the fires, give warning and deal with the problem to the best of their ability and the equipment available.
The ARP wardens were the most visible of the Civil Defence (CD) part of the ‘fourth line of defence’, at first equipped with nothing but an armband, a silver badge and a tin helmet and attracted hostility from Press and public alike for ‘dodging’ military service and slacking.
In fact full-time ARP personnel were better paid than men in services at £3 per week. If an incident was a major one the ARP would do what they could until the other CD services arrival.
All Civil Defence forces were disbanded on December 19th 1944.
(1) It is just as well we weren’t subjected to a gas attack as Donald Nicholson later famous in chemical metabolism recalled that he was Nottingham’s Poison Gas Detecting Officer equipped with two buckets of lime!(Daily Telegraph Obit. 2012)