This is a pretty standard end of war 'stand down' photograph. The vast majority of civil defence personnel had these photos taken. There's nothing too surprising regarding insignia and uniforms but on the far right it looks like a gentleman has a different colour lanyard to the others. I've not seen this before and the colour may be a red lanyard whilst the others are old gold. I cannot determine the location from the area title alas.
A small group of Fire Guard pose with a (small) trophy. Probably the winners of a local competition there is an interesting helmet marking on the chap bottom left. I'm unsure currently what the extra letters relate to. It looks like a P and an L. The gentleman bottom right does not seem at all pleased with the proceedings...
Going by the information on this letter, the PL on the helmet almost certainly refers to "Party Leader". Seems there's quite a lot of hierarchy in the Fire Guard here - Sector Captain, Party Leader and then Sector Clerk.
This unique style of badge recently appeared among a selection of military badges for auction. I've not seen this style before and I'm uncertain exactly where it would have been worn, possibly on bluette overalls given the red lettering.
I've been receiving a number of emails requesting how someone may go about researching a member of their family who was an air raid warden or in other ARP and Civil Defence services. The key starting point is their local archive usually at the library (or sometimes called a local history centre, local studies centre or archives centre). The online starting point would be the 'Search local archives' website.
However, I have searched through a number of these in the London area and details about an individual who may have served are generally absent. Unless they were a senior member (along the lines of an Incident Officer) then it's unfortunately highly unlikely the archive will have much more detail than their name appearing on a list of wardens (but even that is difficult to come across).
Finding details about an individual at these archives is therefore generally not going to happen. The archives do hold minutes of council meetings and some have letters from individuals but overall finding out about one person will not be possible. A few archives may have lists of wardens and the post they occupied but I have only seen one such list so far and it was for just a period in the summer of 1941.
Some areas do have active local history groups that can assist research but again the likelihood of finding any detailed information on one person is unlikely.
There is also the National Archives but their search engine often directs a user to the local archive. They hold numerous ARP and Civil Defence records but these are generally related to governmental business.
An aide memoire for wardens not use to using the 24 hour clock.
I've previously included this photo on the site but this is a better quality image. The Divisional/District warden here is helping a child with her Mickey Mouse style gas mask. The interesting part of his uniform is that he has the battledress jacket but is using the original red insignia on his lower sleeve (before the 'old gold' insignia was introduced in late 1941). The three bars with out star usually relate to a deputy chief warden (which clashes somewhat with the designation on his helmet). Again this is an example of the mix-and-match approach found on many period photos. He has placed his Kilburn area title above his medal ribbons and above this his ARP badge. The use of the Civil Defence armband was usually not allowed on uniform but this is probably a publicity photo and was used in this instance.
I have seen a few other photos of the County Borough Of Southport ARP Mobile First Aid Post but this particular image was new to me. This first aid post was constructed from a modified bus and was of quite an intricate design. I am assuming that the idea was that the bus could attend at major air raid incidents when the local first aid posts may have been overwhelmed.
In April 1943 the Fire Guard organisation was established as a separate service. Control passed from the Chief Warden and the Fire Guard Staff Officer to a Fire Guard Officer as head of the service. With this change a number of full-time paid positions came into force such ‘Fire Guard Area Officers’ and a number of part-time unpaid ranks was formed, for example, ‘Area Captains’, ‘Sector Captains’, ‘Block Leaders’ and ‘Street Party Leaders’. The lowest uniformed rank was that of Sector Captain.
The below collection of insignia came up for auction a few years back. Of interest is the Bradford area title. It very rare to see any period photos showing a Fire Guard wearing a an area title, even more so one in white lettering. Given a large number of the new shoulder titles for Fire Guard ranks were white lettering it follows that in some areas local area titles may also have been manufactured, more than likely as a private purchase item. Bottom right in the Fire Guard beret badge - another private purchase item.
A group of ladies pose in their ARP Pattern 71 tunics and slacks. The lady on the far left appears to have double chevron stripes but with a star above - a most unusual combination. At the front there is a beret with the CD beret badge.
This helmet has cropped up for sale at auction. I've never seen anything like this before. Be interesting to learn what the chequered emblem relates to.
A couple of variations for Fire Guard shoulder titles cropped up on eBay. First is a yellow Sector Captain; I've seen this in white before but yellow may be a local variation. Second is a Senior Fire Guard; I've seen this as as written in one line before but this variation again maybe a local variation. From the same seller is a red Fire Guard title that is also thought to be of wartime production.
A gas decontamination squad squad pose in front of a bus. Possibly a London Underground group going by the cap emblem on the gentleman second from the right.
80 years ago today, on the 1 September 1939 (two days before war was declared), the British government introduced blackout restrictions. From the Lord Privy Seal's office this message was communicated: "A lighting order has been made under Defence Regulation No. 24 and comes into operation at sunset tonight as a further measure of precaution. The effect of the order is that every night from sunset to sunrise all lights inside buildings must be obscured and lights outside buildings must be extinguished, subject to certain exceptions in the case of external lighting where it is essential for the conduct of work of vital national importance. Such lights must be adequately shaded”.
Every house, shop and factory was now under strict blackout rules. No light must escape from any source including from car headlamps. Preparations for the blackout had been taking place for years previously. The recruitment of ARP wardens had begun in March 1937 when the Home Office sought to recruit 300,000 volunteers (take up was initially slow but as the threat of war increased numbers grew). Trials of the blackout had started in 1938 and the crises in Europe intensified. The government also sent every household a number of information leaflets in 1939; leaflet number two covered the requirements for the blackout with details on masking windows.
During the previous couple of years the Air Ministry had reviewed how bombers may attack the UK. They thought that bombers would primarily attack at night. To counter this threat they advised the extinguishing all ground light sources would hamper the navigation of enemy bombers and affect the accuracy of their bombing.
To ensure no light escaped every house was expected to place heavy cotton fabric or brown paper over every window to stop light creeping out (or paint windows or place cardboard or wood panels over the windows). Preparing a house each evening for the blackout soon became a chore. And with no air raids happening people quickly tired of the process and also of the ARP wardens who enforced the regulations.
With fines for those breaking the blackout, wardens soon became the bane of many households. Newspapers published that day's blackout times which would be 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise.
For shops and pubs, the need for customers to leave their premises without light escaping led to the introduction of double curtained entrances. Somewhat cumbersome and expensive to deploy.
In factories, the same blackout regulations were enforced. Many businesses permanently covered windows and skylights which led to increased use of interior lighting at all hours. The impact of this was both expensive in extra electricity consumption and also a lowering of employee morale due to the lack of natural light in the day.
For car drivers the blackout became a motoring nightmare. No interior lights were to be shown and only one headlamp could be used, pointing immediately downwards, which also had to have a special housing to limit the amount of light (introduced in 1940). Indicators and rear brake and running lights also had to be dimmed and screened.
The immediate impact of the blackout was a dramatic rise in car collisions and pedestrian accidents. Over a thousand people had been killed on the roads of the first month of implementation. By early 1940 handheld torches were allowed but batteries became scarce and expensive to obtain. The speed limit during the blackout was also lowered to 20 mph. White lines were painted on the roads and also on kerbs, telephone kiosks and post boxes. A number of business sold items that claimed to be luminous (badges and armbands) which would aid people in the dark, but in reality their usefulness was extremely limited.
The blackout also saw a large rise in reported crime - from muggings, looting and burglary to assaults and murders.
The Ministry for Home Security issued a plethora of posters and leaflets to inform the public how to better navigate in the blackout. These included how to hail a bus in the dark with their torch to taking extreme care when exiting from a train carriage. As elsewhere all train carriages were screened and accidents at railway stations rocketed.
Blackout restrictions were not eased until September 1944 when the dim-out was introduced. Lighting equivalent to that on a clear full moon night was allowed but had to be extinguished if an air raid alert was sounded. It was not until April 1945 that full street lighting returned to Britain - in London this was symbolically started with the lighting of the four clock faces on Big Ben on 30 April 1945.
Send me items to blog about via my contact page