Following the Allied breakout from Normandy in August 1944, the Allies swiftly moved north and east into northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Belgian port of Antwerp was liberated by the British Second Army on 4 September, 1944 and became a target for German V-weapons in early October, 1944.
In November, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) requested assistance from the Department of Home Security with dealing with the aftermath of incidents caused by the V-weapons in Antwerp. In early December 1944 it was announced that special “No. 1 Overseas Column”, made up of Civil Defence volunteers, would be sent to Antwerp to assist the Belgian authorities and Pioneer Corps there.
224 volunteers were drawn from the Regional Columns of the Civil Defence Reserve, including 20 vehicles, mobile workshops, canteen, motorcycles and rescue equipment. The column had veterans of the air raids on London, Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and Glasgow amongst its ranks. The column included heavy rescue, first aid, decontamination and incident control. They were to wear a new shoulder title “C.D.R. Overseas Column” on their dark blue battledress. Although under military control they were not members of the armed services and were not armed.
The column, commanded by Charles Newman CBE, was organised at Sutton Park, north of Birmingham, and left for Europe on Christmas Day 1944. They stayed at a transit camp until 27 December and then onboarded their vehicles on an LST for the sailing to Belgium on 28 December. However, poor weather meant they anchored in port until 30 December. They finally reached Belgium on New Year’s Day 1945. They travelled to their headquarters in Antwerp and reported to 21st Army Group on 5 January as ready for action.
On 16 January, 1945, the Overseas Column suffered its first casualty. Following the explosion of a V2 missile, 44-year-old Group Sergeant Thomas James Parkinson (formally a member of a Manchester Rescue Squad) entered through debris to assist people trapped inside. A wall collapsed and although pulled out by fellow CD members he died. Party Leader Mahaffy was injured in this incident but later recovered. Parkinson is buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery. Sources quote 18 February as the day Parkinson died and this appears on his headstone and in press cuttings from the time. Parkinson received a posthumous King's Commendation for Brave Conduct which was gazetted in September 1945.
Between January and March 1945, 427 V1s and 256 V2s landed in the greater Antwerp area. The Overseas Column attended 44 incidents caused by V-weapons. The city featured buildings with deep basements that had not been reinforced. When struck by V-weapons this basements often filled with debris making the task of the Overseas Column exceedingly difficult. In some areas of the port they also had to contend with the presence of moats and waterways hampering rescue attempts. The Overseas Column also trained the local P.L.B. (Passieve Luchtbescherming - Passive Air Defence) and police in dealing with incidents.
Attached to the column was Don Dallas as Liaison Officer. He was an experienced member of a rescue squad and also a journalist. He had written for many magazines on ARP and Civil Defence matters since the start of the war. He volunteered his services for the Overseas Column and his position was discussed in papers because he was a conscientious objector. However, he was sent with the column to Belgium and wrote a number of articles on the performance of the column in Antwerp.
With the end of hostilities in Europe on 8 May, 1945 the Overseas Column was stood down. A thank you parade on 14 May, 1945 was organised by Camille Huysmans, the major of Antwerp, to thank members of the Civil Defence Reserve - No.1 Overseas Column for their assistance.
Apart from the files held by the National Archives, there appears to be very limited information or photos of the Overseas Column in Antwerp.
This article would not have been possible without the assistance of Chris Ransted. The group photo is courtesy the Bunker & Airplane Archeo Antwerp website.
Interesting Warden's Household Register from the County of Warwick. Going by the A.R.P./W/2 notation on the cover I assume these were issued nationwide but they appear to be quite scarce. A warden's sector would cover a few streets and the details of the households in the sector would be noted down (there is also space for detailing the issue of respirators). Following an air raid incident it would be used to find out how many people were to be expected to be found at each address.
I am indebted to Michael Hodgson for sharing the below images. The Royal Life Saving Society ran courses to train people in artificial respiration. Many members of the Civil Defence Services qualified via these courses. Upon completion a specific 2" square badge (introduced in 1941) could be worn on the right breast pocket of battledress and Pattern 71 tunics . On civilian dress a plain metal badge was also available (at least one photo shows the coloured badge being worn by a warden very early in the war - possibly issued pre-war - see photo towards the bottom of this page).
A small certificate was also issued (see below). Below are the Respiration Service "RS" badge and certificate issued to Eugene Jennings. The issue number on the box is of interest as it allows for some understanding of other numbered examples being wartime dated. It looks like the owner hand painted parts of their badge in red.
An interesting little booklet of the Gospel of St. John with ARP logo to the frontispiece. Similar editions were printed for the AFS and other volunteer services during the war.
With the ever-growing threat of war building in the late 1930s, the government prepared the nation with a series of booklets and pamphlets. In January 1939 a guide was sent to every household detailing the various voluntary organisations that could be joined as well as information on the armed services and mercantile marine. Below are the pages relating to recruitment to the Air Raid Precautions Service.
Perhaps understandably the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) services created in the late 1930s initially attracted few female recruits to their ranks. In spring 1938 Lady Reading, widow of a former Governor of India who had a long record of voluntary charity work, was asked by the Home Office if she could help set up an organisation to assist Britain’s local councils in interesting women in the work of these new ARP services. In June 1938 Lady Reading launched the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP – a cumbersome title quickly shortened to WVS - with a radio broadcast on the BBC and the following January they featured prominently in the National Service recruiting guide distributed to every home in Britain.
Local authorities proved keen to make use of those women who volunteered for work with ARP and the organisation quickly outgrew its original purpose of acting as a recruitment agency, WVS members being involved in many aspects of the preparations for war. In February 1939 the WVS, recognising this change of role, amended its official title to the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence. When war broke out seven months later the WVS was already viewed by the government as an auxiliary service to ARP in much the same way as the WRNS, ATS and WAAF were to the armed services.
As the WVS’s original role was to encourage volunteers to join the ARP services, it was not envisaged that a distinct WVS uniform would be needed but, following the example of the ARP services, in November 1939 a simple lapel badge for wearing on civilian clothes (below right) was introduced for those who having volunteered for service had then undertaken a series of lectures "to prepare themselves to carry out their duties"
WVS greatcoat, felt hat, two-piece suit and maroon blouse
Within a few weeks of the Home Office’s June 1939 announcement that ARP volunteers were to be issued with uniforms, a standard greatcoat in the WVS colours of green and grey which was to be worn with a green felt hat, became available for purchase ‘by badge holders, at their own expense’. For indoor work members could also buy a simple green overall, the letters WVS embroidered on the breast pocket. By the outbreak of war a two-piece suit - designed by a leading fashion house - worn with a maroon blouse was available, Lady Reading encouraging members to wear it to raise the public profile of the WVS ‘if convenient and not distasteful to you’. On the right cuff of the suit jacket members wore an embroidered version of the WVS badge (below), a bar below indicating the county from which the member came.
WVS and evacuees
The WVS made their first impact on the nation with the evacuation of children from Britain’s cities in the summer of 1939. WVS ladies, many wearing their distinctive, newly-introduced uniforms were foremost in ensuring that the evacuation worked smoothly. At railway stations in the cities from which the evacuees left and in the country districts where they arrived, WVS volunteers laboured tirelessly to make this traumatic dispersal work as smoothly as possible. When the children arrived in the country WVS members not only used their local knowledge to arrange billets but helped both children and “foster parents” adjust to the new challenges caused by such an upheaval. That no children were lost or injured in the course of such a massive undertaking owed much to the work of the WVS.
WVS and welfare
As the war began to affect the whole country the variety of tasks the WVS was called on to perform multiplied. Having helped to evacuate children to the country they became involved in providing social clubs and nurseries there for mothers and babies. To provide for the welfare of the numerous service personnel moving about the country they opened canteens and refreshment stalls at the railway stations through which they travelled. At the beginning of 1940 as shortages of raw materials for industry began to be felt the WVS were asked to assist local councils with the running of their salvage campaigns and in many areas the campaigns were run successfully by the WVS for the entire war. When the autumn of 1940 brought air raids the WVS were to the fore in equipping and staffing the hastily-improvised Rest Centres established to help the bombed-out. With many losing the entire contents of their homes, the WVS provided advice at the centres on how to replace such essential wartime items as identity cards and ration books and how to go about obtaining compensation for air raid damage.
WVS assistance at air raids
As air raids struck Britain’s cities and the civil defenders worked all night to extinguish fires and rescue those trapped, mobile canteens, many bought with funds from overseas but staffed by the WVS, went to the site of air raid incidents where they served tea to cold, wet and tired firemen and rescue workers. In April 1941, when the Ministry of Food established the system of emergency feeding convoys known as Queen’s Messengers to be sent to badly bombed cities like Coventry, they were staffed almost entirely by WVS volunteers.
WVS bar brooches, berets and armbands
Although the WVS did not have a rank structure in April 1940 it introduced a series of bar brooches showing the posts held by members. Originally worn on the lapel of the uniform jacket they replaced the metal WVS badge which became the hat badge. With a green beret available as an alternative to the felt hat from February 1941, the metal badge was authorised for wear in this as well, the cloth badge worn on the arm suggested as a more suitable alternative. Members without uniform wore the brooch immediately below the WVS badge on the left lapel. By 1942 a need for economy in all materials saw WVS uniforms restricted to essential users who needed a permit to buy uniform items and much greater use was made of simple, locally-made armbands.
WVS Housewives' Service
The WVS quickly realised that many women willing to work as volunteers had domestic or family commitments preventing them from doing so full time. They could however help their local air raid wardens by having detailed knowledge of the residents in their streets and assisting with the care of casualties at an incident before the arrival of the first aid services. The title Housewives' Service for these on-call volunteers which originated in Barnes on the outskirts of London in early 1940, quickly spread throughout the London CD Region and later the country. By 1943 there were 265,000 members of the service nation-wide, their presence shown by a blue WVS card placed in a convenient window. On duty, especially in the flying bomb raids in the summer of 1944 Housewives Service members wore distinctive armbands.
WVS rationing, clothing exchanges and British Restaurants
Yet more jobs were undertaken by WVS volunteers as the war progressed, many connected with wartime rationing schemes. After the introduction of clothes rationing when new clothes could only be bought with a ration book, the WVS ran a network of Clothing Exchanges for children where mothers could hand in items their own youngsters had outgrown in return for larger items donated by other mothers. These exchanges also distributed gifts of clothing supplied by overseas well-wishers, most notably from America, where they had been donated or purchased by organisations such as the British War Relief Society. WVS members were at the forefront of the ‘Make Do and Mend’ drives which encouraged housewives to remake old garments into new ones. Food rationing, a feature of life from 1940, saw the growth of locally-run communal feeding establishments – which Churchill said should be renamed ‘British Restaurants’, which, almost entirely staffed by WVS members, offered busy war workers good, wholesome meals at low prices.
WVS Volunteer Car Pools
When petrol rationing removed private motorists from the roads the WVS helped organise and provide drivers for the Volunteer Car Pools (VCP) which permitted car owners a small petrol ration if their car was used as transport for essential war work. So varied was the work done by the VCPs that a VCP driver in Kent recorded that in one week she not only drove passengers on government business but also transported loads of salvage, clothing, rose hips and chestnuts as well as boxes of cod liver oil and orange juice for the children’s welfare food schemes. When the American forces arrived in Britain, the WVS helped out in many American Red Cross canteens, Aero Clubs and Donut Dugouts even though American legislation prevented them from wearing WVS uniform.
In September 1945 Lady Reading told members that with the war over, the government had agreed that it could continue in existence ‘for a further period, possibly two years’ to help with the problems likely to arise from post-war reconstruction in Britain. Over 80 years later what is now the Royal Voluntary Service continues doing invaluable work for the community.
Text courtesy of Jon Mills - for more information see his book the Women's Voluntary Services (WVS).
An interesting little booklet from 1943 is the Rank and Badges in the Navy, Army, RAF & Auxiliaries. The booklet has a half page with the Civil Defence General Services. Not a great deal of detail for the CD but a useful chart nonetheless.
I recently posted an identification card for an Invasion Defence Organisation member in London. I was recently sent this Stationery Office booklet "Consolidated Instructions to Invasion Committees, 1942".
It would appear that terminology varied between areas - some use Invasion Committee and others Defence Committee - but it appears they provided a similar response to an area being invaded. Primarily to maintain a semblance of order in the area, ensure the roads were kept clear of refugees, assist the military where necessary and ensure the local populace were informed about water, food and cooking facilities in the event the electricity and gas were cut off.
All the Civil Defence Services were brought together along with police, Home Guard, local councillors and volunteer groups such as the WVS. All of these would have responsibility in ensuring the public were informed about what they should do.
Courtesy of George Pagliero.
I have a keen interest in the way fonts and lettering are generated and these pages from a British Standards book in 1940 detail the exact methodology used to generate the 1940s font used on ARP / Civil Defence / Fire signage.
Also included is the exact size of the various signs. I was somewhat confused why 7/8" was used instead of 1" on the Shelter 'S' signage but someone mentioned saving material (which makes sense) but it doesn't seem to follow through on vertical signs.
I'm including the files as downloads as well.
Courtesy of Roger Miles.
Steve Crookes was kind enough to share images and information about LAAS driver Jean Campbell:
Rosemary Jean Campbell was born on the 7 August 1911 in Surabaya, Java. She was the daughter of Lady Edith Jane Warren (1880 -1951) and Sir Edward Campbell M.P. (1879-1945), Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Kingsley Wood (Secretary of State for Air – 1938-1940; Lord Privy Seal – 1940 & Chancellor of the Exchequer – 1940-1943). Sir Edward was the brother of Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell V.C. and of Rear-Admiral J.D. Campbell. Her brother Flight Lieutenant Gillian Campbell D.F.C. was killed on 24 December 1942
Campbell joined the ambulance service before the war, and at the outbreak of hostilities was mobilised and posted to London Auxiliary Ambulance Service (LAAS) Station 141, Green School, Ainsty Street, Rotherhithe. In 1941 she was awarded the British Empire Medal (B.E.M.) for her excellent leadership and devotion to duty during air raids on London. In 1942 she was admitted to the Order of St. John as Officer (Sister).
She became a Volunteer Worker for the American Red Cross in Great Britain in September 1942. Lived at 41 Rotherhithe Street, London. Jean, as she was known, participated in the Victory Parade in London on 8 June 1946. She married John H. Hansard on 28 May 1943 and died on 10 July 1991 in Surrey.
I've come across a few items relating to invasion defence but haven't managed to read a full account of the organisations yet. From what I gather, local authorities created the organisations and members were taked with maintaining local systems in the event of invasion. I believe this included assisting the army in the area (advising on locations of petrol, food, shelter etc) and also to manage refugees passing through the area.
The little I have encountered on the subject seems to relate to the period when the threat of invasion was at it highest - summer 1940 through to summer of 1942. This card is dated 1943 and the organisation was still being maintained.
If you know more about the Invasion Committees and Organisations, please let me know.
‘Supplementary Fire Parties’ (SFP) were created as part of the ‘Memorandum on Emergency Fire Brigades Organisation’ in 1937. Teams of three or five volunteers were trained to use stirrup pumps to tackle small fires and incendiary devices. They were initially controlled through by the Air Raid Wardens’ Service.
By April of 1940 local fire authorities selected, trained and organised ‘Supplementary Fire Parties’ and issued them with armbands that featured red SFP letters on a dark navy blue cotton.
The major reorganisation of the fire services in August 1941 saw the introduction of the Fire Guard Organisation. Street Fire Parties replaced the former Supplementary Fire Parties and the SFP armband was replaced by the Fire Guard one.
The appointment card below was issued in May 1941 towards the end of the Supplementary Fire Party existence. Interestingly the term "FIRE WATCHER" is still being used.
George P. was kind enough to share these sheet music covers for "Mister Brown of London Town" and "When They Sound The Last All Clear". Throughout the war many songs were written with regard to the events that were happening; quite a number played on the warden, air raids and the black-out.
I wonder if the Mister Brown one had an input into the famous Dad's Army theme "Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler?". There's a line in that song that goes, 'Mr Brown Goes Off To Town On The Eight Twenty-One, But He Comes Home Each Evening And He's Ready With His Gun'. Although thought by some to have been a wartime song, it was actually written by Jimmy Perry and Derek Taverner and performed by Bud Flanagan in the late 1960s.
By early 1942, London's Civil Defence Organisation had been through the Blitz and was developing into a substantial organisation. The below, a confidential booklet from February 1942, details the various positions of authority within the Civil Defence, from the over-arching regional hierarchy to the heads of the individual groups within the city and boroughs. It also details London Regional Council members such as Sir Ernest Gowers (Senior Regional Commissioner) and Admiral Sir Edward Evans (Regional Commissioner).
Included are details of all the various branches, such as "A" Branch (the Fire Guard organisation), "G" Branch in charge of shelters and "K" Branch covering the National Fire Service (plus other branches).
The page for south-east London (shown below), headquartered in Lewisham, shows the various Group Officers (this was repeated in the other nine groups, many also containing sub-groups).
An interesting document detailing the scope of the Civil Defence Organisation in London at this point in time.
Images courtesy of Bryan Jones.
A nice little pre-war grouping from Barnet. A certain Mr Skinner had passed the examination to be an Air Raid Warden in October 1938 and also received alongside his certificate a card "AIR RAID WARDEN" display sign for his window.
A fantastic collection of medals and commendations to ARP Rescue Squad member Mr. Albert Dore. The collection for sale at Dix Noonan Webb on 11 March 2021 (est. £200-£240). Dore was in a group that rescued the inhabitants of a bombed house in Streatham, south London, on 11 January 1941.
Included are a Defence Medal, in original box of issue, two King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct plastic pin-backed badges in box of issue, two King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct silver laurel leaves in box of issue and the Albert Dore's ARP silver lapel badge.
Initially titled as a single page wall sheet and later a double-sided broadsheet, The Midnight Watch included news relating to the Fire Guard and was "To be displayed in Fire Guard posts and wherever Fire Guards gather". Although there is a date of 1940 on the footer of this sheet, I believe it was issued after the formation of the Fire Guard in August 1941. It would appear it was initially published bi-monthly and later quarterly; issue No. 18 is dated October 1943 and issue No.19 is dated February 1944 for example.
Of note on this sheet is the Battle Honours section relating to Holborn ARP Warden Maurice Cohen Starr (George Medal recipient) and Warden Clifford Arthur Thomas Stratton and Fire Guard Walter Alfred Ricketts (both British Empire Medal recipients). The London Gazette snippet details their award. Ricketts was the first Fir Guard to be awarded a bravery medal.
Kilburn Heroes in the Blitz details the events behind the awards but sadly it omits Ricketts name:
Seventeen-year-old Clifford Stratton was an electrical engineer’s assistant who lived at 42 Buckley Road in Kilburn (later in the 1950s and 60s he is shown at No. 48). He had been a volunteer warden for six months.
On the night of Wednesday 16/17 April 1941, 685 German bombers attacked London. This was the largest attack since the Blitz began and some planes made two or even three sorties that night. A huge number of buildings were destroyed, and 1,720 Londoners were killed in what became known as 'The Wednesday'.
Clifford was part of a team of stretcher bearers who rescued a man and two girls trapped on the fourth floor in flats in Portpool Lane, off the Grays Inn Road Holborn. The building was on fire and more bombs were falling. Climbing to the top of their ladder they found it was too short, so they jumped onto a windowsill, and after tying the girls and the man to their backs, they were lowered to other wardens on the ladder. They were incredibly lucky, a few minutes after the rescue, part of the building collapsed.
The team leader, 30-year old Maurice Cohen, was awarded the George Cross, and Stratton was given the British Empire Medal (civilian). Clifford was a scout in the 15th Holborn troop, and he was also given a Silver Cross scout award. He had only recently returned to warden duty after an operation on his foot."
The threat of invasion across the Channel remained a concern through the spring and summer of 1941. The below directive, sent though the Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence Eastern Area, details the requirements for vehicle owners to ensure they undertake measures to deny their motor vehicle to the enemy.
A certificate of service for a part-time volunteer in the Messenger Service. Dates gives are between February 1939 and the stand down of the Civil Defence Services in early May 1945.
Always interesting to see, especially if of an area you know, are the wardens' posts and sector posts maps. The below is for the area of Mayfair designated as Group 'D'.
The German SD 2 "butterfly bombs" were small air-dropped anti-personnel/fragmentation devices. Dropped in containers that opened at a pre-determined height, the 'wings' opened and rotated the device thus arming it. It could be fitted with a variety of fuses - from impact to delay. Various colours from green/grey to yellow were dropped, some with red or yellow stripes on the wings.
The first use of the butterfly bombs was in Ipswich in late October 1940. Later attacks on Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Hull in June 1943 caused tremendous loss of life and disruption to the area.
The Ministry of Home Security issued warning pamphlets regarding the bombs. A Ministry of Information film detailed the dangers of the butterfly bombs.
Southern Railway memorandum number 2 from March 1943. Interesting note about the use of butterfly bombs (the mention of colours proves both were being dropped) and a DIY fix for the canvas mittens protectors that were worn over the anti-gas oilskin gloves.
Thanks to George P. for the image.
Although not directly related to Civil Defence this telephonist certificate from 1941 was probably similar to those issued to Report & Control telephonists. Not an overly exciting piece of paper ephemera but the last line is intriguing: "You are expected to comply with the instructions issued to you by the Post Office Authorities respecting your teeth if you have not already done so." Now what is that about...?
Thanks to George P. for the image.
Two course completion certificates issued in 1942 and 1943. It's quite rare to see LAAS certificates.
A certificate issued by the Central Wandsworth Division, Fire Guard Organisation in November 1942. The attendee had passed a course in dealing with incendiary bombs.
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