A scarce appointment card for an Information Officer at a Rest Centre in Derbyshire. Appointment (sometimes called Warrant) cards are quite regularly seen for ARP Wardens and other Civil Defence services but it is quite rare to see one for an Information Officer or other position within the Air Raid Welfare organisation.
Rest Centres were set up in locations (quite often schools) where those who had been bombed out could find food, temporary shelter and also renew documentation if their originals had been lost. The Information Officer would be able to advise them on the ways they could seek further assistance from the local authority.
The ARP Pattern 44 felt hat is probably one of the scarcest survivors of all the headwear issued to Civil defence personnel during the second world war. Initially the hats featured a red and blue ribbon but with the official change in the name to Civil Defence General Services in 1941 this was replaced by a gold and blue ribbon (ARP Pattern 143) as shown below. Image courtesy of Jon Mills.
This photo shows members of Swindon's Fire Guard showing off toys they had made. The photo is interesting on a number off levels. Firstly, it's quite rare to see the diamond-shaped Fire Guard instructors badge being worn (two in evidence here). The lady bottom left also has one (probably the locally-trained Local Fire Guard Instructors (LFGI) badge) plus another instructor's badge of the type similar to the LARP version (Local Air Raid Precautions (locally trained silver badge)). She also has an ARP badge on here beret. There appears to be quite a text heavy shoulder board on her tunic but it is not possible to determine what this is.
At the beginning of the second world war the vast majority of badges on Civil Defence and other service uniforms were of the embroidered variety. With the growth in the numbers of personnel in uniform on the Home Front it was necessary to look at ways to minimise the cost of badge production. One method was to print badges and the Calico Printer's Association manufactured numerous badges, not only for the Home Front, but for the armed services as well. Below are original examples courtesy of Jon Mills.
A battledress has cropped up on eBay priced at £160. Nicely badged up with three rank chevrons denoting a Head Warden in Leicestershire. The owner was a First World War veteran and the left sleeve has a red wound stripe. Looking at the breast badge it appears to have been factory fitted. There are also war service chevrons on the right sleeve. The maker's label from Montague Burton sadly omits a date of manufacture but I would imagine this is probably an early example.
It all looks kosher but you never can tell whether the badges are all original to a battledress. It's known for a blank jacket to have had badges later added to help the item sell for a higher price.
The below Deputy Fire Guard Officer shoulder title badge cropped up on eBay and sold for £46. I'd not seen this particular shoulder title before and is has quite a unit shape. The rank was the second highest in the Fire Guard organisation (one below Fire Guard Officer (badge was square) and above Assistant Fire Guard Officer (badge was oval). Personnel holding this rank wore a white helmet with one broad band below one narrow band.
The Mechanised Transport Corps, a group of volunteer women drivers between 1939 and 1946, worked for a wide variety of government bodies. Originally an offshoot of the First World War Women’s Legion its 6,500 members, without official recognition in the early years of the war, offered their services to many Civil Defence organisations. Even before war broke out they were driving members of the newly-formed Women’s Voluntary Service and instructing women volunteers in the skills necessary to drive the ambulances of the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service (LAAS).
In Lambeth, forty members of the MTC’s No. 1 Company volunteered to drive the Borough’s ARP Stretcher Parties for the statutory ARP wage of £2 a week, their example followed in further areas in Greater London. By early 1940 members driving for Civil Defence had acquired their own arm badge. In March 1941 two Lambeth SP drivers – a housewife and secretary - were presented with the British Empire Medal by HM The King for helping rescue trapped casualties at a major air raid incident.
Medical assistance of another kind was performed by those driving for the American Ambulance Great Britain (AAGB), a fleet of large cars paid for by American donors to carry mobile surgical teams to bombing incidents. When Queen’s Messenger Food Convoys were created to take emergency food supplies to badly bombed cities, a large number of their vehicles were driven by the MTC. In Leeds thirteen MTC volunteers drove for the Regional Commissioner’s Volunteer Transport and Messenger Service, its Birmingham Counterpart working for the Ministry of Information calling itself the Auxiliary Drivers Association and wearing its own distinctive badges.
Apart from its work for Civil Defence the MTC also drove for – amongst many others - the Home Guard, the Blood Transfusion Service, the Admiralty, the Allied Free Forces, the US Army in Britain and the Inter-Service Research Bureau, a cover name of the Special Operations Executive. And they served in Africa, started the Girls’ Training Corps and formed the basis of the post-war Government Car Service. Not bad for an organisation that nobody originally wanted!
Back in 2008 I published No. 4 in my sadly-incomplete series Within the Island Fortress. Compiled from the personal papers of the Corps’ second Commandant Mrs. Resy Peake – who I was privileged to meet – this told the MTC’s story in detail, illustrated by some fifty original photos and examples of the Corps uniforms and badges.
I have recently had a small number of No. 4 reprinted which I am offering for sale for £15 inc. UK postage. If you would like a copy please email me at email@example.com.
For cost cutting purposes shoulder titles were printed from the mid-war period. The below shows how the printed titles were delivered to local authorities on long rolls. Individual titles would be cut from the roll and issued as required. I've seen two ways that these printed titles were applied. Firstly, applied as cut, and secondly, the edges folded over and then sewn to the shoulder of the battledress. This method provides for a much smarter appearance.
I am indebted to Jon Mills, the author of many books on WW2 insignia (see "A People's Army - Civil Defence Insignia and Uniforms 1939-1945" ) for the below images. A very rare AFS London helmet transfer and the cover of Display Patents Ltd catalogue plus the details of helmet transfers for the Civil Defence Services (the same company that was advertising in ARP & NFS Review magazine).
In all my years collecting and visiting various militaria sales (both online and in person), I have never come across any of the helmet transfers that were made during the war. The below advert from a company called Display Patents Ltd details their wares. Amongst the items are various transfers for helmets.
Of interest is the list of 'shoulder flashes' (usually called shoulder titles). I've not (yet) seen an example of "Ambulance Driver' or "Equipment Officer" being worn.
I manged to pick up some copies of the Civil Defence Journal - ARP & NFS Review. I've seen copies on eBay a few times but the below looked to be of keen interest for this blog. The magazines cover a wealth of Civil Defence news as well as copious amounts of adverts aimed at CD / Fire Brigade workers. Having the whole series would make for an excellent resource.
The introduction makes it clear how different the use of insignia within the Civil Defence Service could be:
"In Civil Defence the discretionary power vested in local authorities means that considerable variations are to be found; two men, of equal rank, on either side of a street forming a regional boundary may have different rank markings."
There is also some excellent information on helmet markings.
I recently posted a blog about the Rest Centre Service badge. I was contacted by a fellow collector that two versions of the badge exist - one with a blue enamel centre and one with a black centre. I've been collecting Home Front badges for many years and did not know about the variations (thank you Andrew S.)
Going by the colour difference and also the distinct difference in pin assembly I would imagine they are from different manufacturers. At present though almost nothing is known about who requested, designed or manufactured the badges (a presentation card from JR Gaunt with a blue centre badge is known to exist so it looks like that company may have produced that version). It appears that they were issued to Rest Centres in cities across the country .
I believe the blue centre badge was one of the very first badges in my collection, and I was able to pick the black version up on eBay last week (August 2020). I have to say that I have not added a badge to my collection for just a fiver in a long, long time...
The below lamp is a traffic obstruction lamps and although not specifically an ARP item, evidence exists showing one being used to mark an incendiary bomb. They are marked "Ministry of Supply Pat No. 1420/41" (production starting in 1941) and feature a paraffin burner that illuminated red hooded slits on the side. It appears one additional side had a sliding circle that would allow for more light to be shown when revolved.
They appear to have been painted an army green at the factory. A similar shaped lamp with white X s on four sides also exists. Some collectors have been informed that they may have been used to mark the entrance to ARP shelters.
The lamp below is available from stuart-bray-motorcycles.co.uk.
A few days ago I wrote a short blog post about the River Emergency Services that operated on the Thames. Coincidentally the following badge and ID card appeared on eBay. I have yet to come across a clear photo of the circular badge that the RES volunteers wore on their ski caps pre-war and early in the war but I assume it was similar in design to the badge shown.
The Port of London Authority (PLA) coats of arms is also shown below in detail. It is described as:
"Azure (blue), issuing from a castle argent (silver), a demi-man (half man) vested, holding in the dexter (right) hand a drawn sword, and in the sinister (left) a scroll (the one representing the Tower of London, the other the figure of St Paul, the patron saint of London).
Crest: On a wreath of the colours, an ancient ship, the main sail charged with the arms of the City of London.
Supporters: On either side a sea-lion argent (silver), crined (meaning having hair), finned and tufted or, issuing from waves of the sea proper, that to the sinister (left) grasping the banner of King Edward II; that to the dexter (right) the banner of King Edward VII."
The Latin motto is "Floreat Imperii Portvs", meaning "May the Port of the Empire Flourish".
Members of various Civil Defence services that had undertaken and passed the St John Ambulance Association (SJAA) first aid courses could wear a cloth badge on their right pocket. This badge is often seen on period photographs. This photo below shows a member of a FA Party wearing a small metal St John Ambulance Association badge. There are a few versions of this badge but his appears to have a black enamel centre - see the second photo. This badge is available with both the half-moon lapel fitting and the pin brooch. The SJAA also issued collar insignia but it would appear that these are always in plain metal without any enamelling.
With the threat of war building through the spring and summer of 1939, the London County Council undertook measures to assist people affected by air raids. in August 1938 the Ministry of Health made London County Council (LCC) responsible for organising the Rest Centre Service.
Across the 28 metropolitan borough (plus the City of London), ten areas were created headed by an Area Control Office. Each of these offices provided reports to County Hall. Each area sought out schools and church halls that could be used for assisting bombed out citizens. At the start of the war some 98 buildings had been selected. By may of 1940 over 500 buildings had been selected that could house up to to 100,00 refugees.
Support to run the centres came from the Public Assistance Department but was also assisted by the WVS and other volunteer groups (especially those drawn from church groups).
As the Blitz on London commenced the service came under enormous strain. Many more refugees than expected arrived and they stayed longer than hoped for (either bombed out or unable to return home due to unexploded bombs).
The Rest Centres provided a place to stay and also provided food. Additionally the centres could provide identity cards and other documentation lost during a raid.
The below badge is a very common badge that can usually be obtained very cheaply (for a fiver or less). Although there seems to be thousands of these badges I have yet to see one in a period photograph. The design has a rather complex centre motif of the letters R, C and S intertwined. Every example I have seen to date has a pin brooch fitting. There is a rarer version with black rather than blue enamel as well.
The badge appears to have been issued nationwide as well as in London.
Regularly appearing on the tat-bazaar that is eBay are faked lighters, cigarette cases, Vesta match cases and stamp holders bearing poorly soldered on ARP buttons and badges. A certain person is producing these items (and many, many others featuring army, air force and navy motifs) on a weekly basis and selling them on eBay. They are so clearly recent fakes that one would think no one would be taken in by them. Alas, they regularly sell. They are all bullsh*t of the highest order.
Following the Munich Crisis in September 1938, the British Government implemented a number security measures to defend the nation. Amongst them was the defence and protection of essential port services in London and elsewhere should war be declared. It was foreseen that the River Thames, with its warehouses, docks and wharves, would be a prime target of the Luftwaffe.
The River Emergency Services (RES) was founded in late 1938 as a River Thames-based civil defence unit under the control of the Port of London Authority (PLA). Its duties included casualty rescue and evacuation, running floating ambulances and coordinating communications. A somewhat similar service, the Clyde River Patrol, ran in Scotland.
The formation of the River Emergency Services included the requisitioning of boats (pleasure steamers were converted into ambulance boats and floating first aid stations), the purchasing of equipment and allocation of manpower.
Following the declaration of war against Germany on 3 September, 1939 all UK ports were put under the control of a Port Emergency Committee (PEC), responsible to the Ministry of Transport (this was part of the larger Emergency Powers (Defence) Act passed on August 24, 1939). Sir John Douglas Ritchie headed the Port of London committee; he had succeeded David Owen as general manager of the Port London Authority (PLA) in 1938. By the outbreak of war, the RES had 14 fully equipped ambulance ships and 135 smaller vessels available.
As part of the National Service initiatives, Girl Guides, Sea Scouts and Sea Rangers could join the River Emergency Services. Ambulance ships were manned by a registered nurse (Sister), Red Cross nurses, first aid-trained RES volunteers, a doctor and boat’s captain plus stretcher bearers and two signallers (often Scouts) and sailors manning the boat.
The first attack by German planes on the lower Thames Estuary occurred in November 1939. However, with no enemy action against London’s port facilities or the city during the Phoney War a number of the volunteers in the RES left for other services. At its height the RES was made up of 1,500 personnel operating 170 small craft and 14 river ambulances. In June 1940, the Admiralty took control of all RES craft except the river ambulances.
The first significant attack on London came on 7 September, 1940. Some 375 enemy aircraft attacked the city and its docks, wharves and warehouses along the Thames. This was followed by 57 days of consecutive raids. By the summer 1941 the River Emergency Service was operating eight fully-manned ambulance ships.
The RES continued to operate until it was stood down in May 1945 and personnel with the requisite time served could apply for the Defence Medal.
Uniform & Insignia
River Emergency Service uniform for men was of naval pattern with peaked caps. The caps featured the RN-pattern crown and wreath but with RES letters rather than the RN fouled anchor.
Women of the RES wore dark blue trousers, shirt and tie. Some of the shirts had the letters RES embroidered in white above the left breast pocket. A lanyard was also worn. For headwear, there was the ski-cap similar to that worn by members of the Civil Defence ambulance service. This ski-cap initialled featured a circular badge and was later replaced with a crown over a circle containing the letters RES in gold wire or yellow thread. A curved shoulder title was worn on a dark navy-blue greatcoat.
An area showing a continuing growth in interest is the collecting of WW2 paper ephemera relating to ARP and Civil Defence Services. Whilst the common HMSO booklets are regular sellers on the likes of eBay, a number of other items are also now generating a lot of bids. Prices are certainly going up for rarer items like Christmas cards and postcards. The below was kindly shared by GO, a regular contributor to this blog.
During raids the ability to ensure the right rescue services were dispatched came down to efficient communications. At the Report & Control Centres, trained telephonists took incoming calls and passed on important details of air raid incidents. Without their contribution, the ability to deal efficiently and quickly with a developing raid would not have happened. Their contribution is often overlooked. I am grateful to Roger at Home Front Collection for the images shown below.
Even though the heavy bombing of British cities was yet to come the Ministry of Home Security was developing and producing training and operations memoranda. The attached file is from May of 1940 and over four pages defines the roles of the police, fire services and ARP services as well as creation of incident posts for air raid incidents. Within a few short years a whole booklet of 76 pages would be produced regarding the managing of Air Raid incidents (Civil Defence Training Manual 4 - Incident Control - 1st Edition. November 1943).
Doing the rounds again is the Shelter Marshal Hammersmith armband. Previous incarnations of this particular armband saw it having been liberally sprinkled with tea in a poor attempt to age the armband. Now we have a pristine example with a number stamp added (in the hope that adds some level of provenance). The armband also appears with a red cross poorly sewn to the front as well (a well-known auction house in the West Country, known for being rather lax in apportioning provenance, has had this particular armband for sale a few times...). I believe these were originally sold as repros by Andrew Butler Insignia.
Ensuring messages got through to Report & Control Centres was essential and despatch riders were utilised by every Civil Defence region for this purpose. This photo shows nine riders and several motorbikes. They have the standard battledress but one gentleman has no regulation trousers. It appears the only insignia is a CD breast badge and an area marking.
Below are two fake Air Raid Shelter signs currently up on eBay. The seller has dozens of shedmade wooden signs from all sorts of areas across Europe (British and German). He adds spurious details on provenance - usually about salvaging or rescuing the signage from a factory in such-and-such a year - all utter bollocks. I'm amazed anyone would fall for such blatant fakes but it appears he's regularly selling this garbage.
This officer in the Wardens' Service has placed his rank insignia on his epaulettes. The prescribed location was just below the shoulder title. Alas, there's no area marking on the uniform but the photograph has a photographer's studio address in Barnsley. It could be that CD officers in that particular area took to wearing their rank insignia on their epaulettes.
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