Eric Caxton was a pre-war highways engineer who became involved with civil defence planning run by Surrey County Council. Early in the war he helped set up the Rescue School at Redhill.
In 1942 Caxton set up the Casualties Union and introduced into civil defence training the idea of casualty simulation whereby instead of extricating dummies from bombed buildings during training, real people were used that had been made-up to look injured. The Casualties Union continues to this day.
Caxton wrote a number of guides, such as "Practical Rescue Training" handbook shown below, as well as a autobiography entitled "More Ways Than One of Fighting a War".
The below is currently for sale on eBay for £40.
In 1945 Harrap & Co. Ltd. published Stephen Spender's book "Citizens in War - and After". The book detailed the activities of a wide range of Civil Defence Services during the war years. The book also contained a forward by the Home Secretary / Minster of Home Security Herbert Morrison, as well as 48 colour photographs by John Hinde, a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and pioneer of British colour photography (he later became renown for his colour postcards that sold in the millions).
There are some excellent studies of individuals and interesting shots of wardens and Incident Officers. One particular shot of a Control Centre in 1944 shows the main plotting board and map of the area being covered.
A selection of these colour photos by John Hinde can be viewed on the Science & Society Picture Library.
Published in March 1941, John Strachy's book entitled "Post D - Some experiences of an Air-Raid Warden" details his time as a warden in London. It's well worth reading Strachy's bio on Wikipedia - an MP in 1929, he sided breifly with Oswald Mosely, dabbled with communism, was in the RAF in WW2 and post war became Minister of Food in Atlee's Labour government.
It's quite a rare tome and prices are usually up over £40 and first impressions are much more. This copy is on a German website for just €9 put postage is another €18 on top. However, it looks to be a pretty sound copy for just £23 delivered.
I've been after a copy of Terence H. O'Brien's History of the Second World War - Civil Defence for several years. It was published in 1955 by the Stationery Office as the official history of Civil Defence in the UK and is a whopping 729 pages. The level of detail is remarkable. The planning for ARP from the 1920s and through the 1930s is particularly interesting. Every area of Civil Defence is covered and for those wanting the chapter and verse on the Civil Defence Reserve I've not read anything better.
My copy was a withdrawn edition from a library and was just £8 on eBay; a bit of a bargain for a book that is quite rare to lay your hands on these days. The first 180-odd pages are available to read on the Internet Archive website.
Some ARP Wardens and Policemen were trained in the reconnaissance of unexploded bombs. This was an extremely dangerous undertaking as Delayed Action bombs were designed to explode a short time after impact. Other bombs were designed to explode if disturbed. Their detonation could be caused by vibration from a passing vehicle, or by other bombs nearby. ARP personnel did lose their lives carrying these important duties. Those trained in Bomb Reconnaissance wore an armband, later a sewn on patch.
Norfolk based Bomb Reconnaissance Officers examine where an unexploded anti-aircraft shell struck a wall before hitting the ground. (Notice that both men are wearing the Bomb Reconnaissance arm band. The chap on the left is wearing it low on the sleeve, no doubt to avoid covering his other insignia.)
One Warden killed investigating a UXB was Charles Gaetjens. On outbreak of war he signed up and went with the Royal Artillery to France. Evacuated at Dunkirk, he was invalided out and joined the ARP.
Gaetjens was killed as a result of injuries sustained by a bomb that exploded 52 minutes after it hit the BBC’s Broadcasting House on 15 October 1940. At that time a number of people, including Gaetjens, were assessing how to remove the bomb. Six others were also killed by the blast, the muffled explosion heard by listeners to the nine o'clock news as it blew a hole in the side of the building.
Many properties had parachute mines crash through their roofs without exploding. These could be temperamental and detonate if disturbed. One such mine hit 21 Quernmore Road, Harringay, London.
In the early hours of 27 September, 1940, a message was received at the Borough’s Central A.R.P. Depot, stating that a Rescue Party was required at this property.
ARP personnel departed at once, under Leader Sidney Harold (a 36-year-old carpenter) and Deputy Leader Joseph Sweetlove (another carpenter, aged 33). On arrival, Harold ordered his men to leave their steel helmets and other un-necessary equipment which might affect the mine magnetically, in their lorry at the end of the road.
The property was a large house with four floors. On entry through the front door, it could be seen that an unexploded mine was lodged in the first floor with its nose protruding through the ceiling over the entrance hall. An an old lady was known to be on the top floor.
Harold judged it unsafe to attempt to go upstairs, as this might explode the mine. He therefore had a ladder put up in front of the house and ascended it, followed by his Deputy, Sweetlove. They could plainly see the old lady who was very frightened, lying in bed. She had locked the door of the room before retiring.
To reassure her, the men lit their badges up with their torches and then forced an entry through the window. They explained the situation but she seemed unwilling to accompany them. Eventually, however, she asked for time to put on some clothes. To this Harold consented, but when he found that she was evidently intending to make a ‘full-dress’ occasion of it, he would have no more. Sweetlove put her over his shoulder and went down the ladder, assisted by other members of the rescue squad, plumber, George Denton and bricklayer, Charles Johnson. Other members of the squad, Hymms, Hutton and Brodie, were also at hand waiting in front of the house. They were all very much at risk from the mine.
During the whole incident, shells were bursting overhead and shrapnel was falling, while a nearby gun was making the whole building vibrate in such a manner that it threatened to dislodge the mine from its precarious position and explode it at any moment. In fact at 03.33 the mine did explode, destroying number 21, and the adjoining houses, whilst blast rendered almost every other house in the street uninhabitable. The evacuation had been so effective, however, that there were no serious casualties.
It is my intention to put a number of similar stories of the bravery of people like those above into a book. It will focus on ‘civvies’ who spent time around UXBs during WW2 in order to help others. Watch this space!
If you are interested in UXBs, please check-out my previous books, ‘Bomb Disposal in World War Two’, and ‘Disarming Hitler’s V-Weapons’.
Please support this website's running costs and keep it advert free