Jon Mills, author of many Home Front books, shared the following personal anecdote with me recently.
In the early 1970s I was a trainee librarian working in my local library in Putney, south west London. Knowing my interest in WW2 one of my colleagues suggested I have a look in the library's basement which had "something to do with the war". What I discovered was a small ,abandoned ARP sub-control centre now used as a store. Over the next few weeks I spent many lunch hours down there exploring the debris and rubbish, In one room the anti-gas ventilation/filtering system was still complete, in another was a pile of wartime fund raising flags and collecting tins of the Their Day campaign, in a third a pile of paperwork and ledgers, one of them a record of ARP equipment issued to local wardens which contained the signature of my grandfather a local warden, for receiving a steel helmet.
The best find in the largest pile of rubbish was a German MG 15 aircraft machine gun, complete with ball mount and a piece of the fuselage surrounding the mount. The barrel was complete but bent at a right angle about half way down, evidence of some great impact on landing. I decided that much as I would have liked it , eyes might have been raised amongst my fellow staff and I reburied it in the pile of dirt whence it came. As far as I knew no German aircraft crashed in the Borough of Wandsworth but I'd be happy to be proved wrong.The basement disappeared in a subsequent rebuilding.
I did however rescue the stores ledger which still resides in my collection some 50 years later.
A scarce WW2 double-sided cork dartboard sold on eBay for £435 including shipping. The reverse side is called 'Blitzkrieg Bombardment' and the maker was was called 'ARP Supplies' on The Strand in London. Cracking item for a Civil Defence club.
First Field Dressings were introduced for use by the British Army during the Boer War. They were also issued during the First World War. They contained two bandages with safety pins and were to be used om wounds before the injured person could be carried to a first aid station or similar. Each serviceman had their own First Field Dressing and if you came across an injured soldier you were to use their own bandage on them. Special pockets in the tunics were incorporated to hold the bandage and later pockets on the leg of battledress did the same.
With the fear of bombing attacks on civilian populations growing (the bombing attack on Guernica during the Spanish Civil War occurred on 26 April 1937) the Home Office saw a requirement for dressings to be available for bombing casualties by first responders (in many instances members of the Warden's Service). The bandages would deal with injuries associated with bombing (shrapnel, flying glass etc) before the injured could be transported to a first aid post or local hospital.
The below is an October 1938 First Field Dressing made by Smith & Nephew. As no uniform was issued to the fledgling Civil Defence Services at this time the bandages were most likely issued as part of small first aid pouches or even carried in pockets.
I've not heard of instances of the bandage carried in a pocket of the bluette overalls. I assume the requirement was not necessary as dedicated first aid responders were available from 1939. With the introduction of the serge uniforms (battledress for men and tunics for ladies), special pockets were incorporated in the designs. Civil Defence trousers followed the British Army pattern and included a pocket on the front right of the trousers. On the Pattern 71 tunic a special pocket was made in the lining to hold the bandage (similar to how they had been for First World War soldiers).
A larger bandage called a 'Shell Dressing' was also made with Home Office approval and examples are also dated from 1938.
Try as I might on Grace's Guide I have been unable to find out the full name of the company behind the manufacture of WW2 gas rattles. The name "B & E Ltd" plus ARP and a date appear on numerous rattles. Dates start in 1939 and go through to 1942. If you know, please drop me a line.
UPDATE: A potential candidate as the maker of these rattles is Bluestone & Elvin at the Beeanese Works, Blackhorse Lane, London E17. They were furniture makers and so that ties in to the rattle. They later released a series of furniture called Beeanese. I can find nothing on Grace's Guide about them.
Splinter goggles were made to protect the eyes from flying debris during an air raid. The below are in excellent condition and show clearly the way the surface was painted and how the foam padding was used. An elastic head band held the goggles in place. The goggles pivoted in the centre to allow a level of adjustment for different head sizes.
The below pair of splinter goggles are currently available at Click Antiques & Vintage.
The description of this photo is:
"Another way of dealing with fire bombs. At the base of this London lamp post an asbestos snuffer together with a face guard and gloves of the same material take the place of the more usual sandbags. The snuffer is dropped over the bomb; the face guard and gloves protect the Fire Watcher."
The date is probably after the Fire Watchers Order came into effect in September 1940.
Marlows Military Auctioneers have an upcoming sale on 5 November, 2020 that includes a number of lots with ARP and Civil Defence interest. One lot contains a variety of celluloid matchbox covers - for the ARP, Auxiliary Fire Service, Home Guard & Civil Defence, a collectable ARP ashtray and ladies' compact.
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.
Regularly appearing on eBay are mementos featuring German incendiary bomb fins. These "souvenirs" of various city blitzes usually all have a find plonked onto a block of wood and a made up label added for that extra level of "authenticity". From Coventry Cathedral to Liverpool Docks, the London Blitz to Southampton fire-bombing, fraudsters have been faking these items for years. The sad fact is that collectors new to the hobby fall victim to the fakes. It may well be a real incendiary fin (but again these are now reproduced - I've seen them for sale at £30 a pop at militaria fairs) but the provenance is completely made up. The one below isn't even German and claimed to be a captured French example dropped in Reigate... They often come from the very same sellers who always seem to have them available. The below sold on eBay in June 2020, fools and their money...
It seems I am spending an inordinate amount of time at the moment detailing fake WW2 ARP items on this blog. We have had a whole slew of fake ARP badges and faked helmets recently appearing on eBay. The seller of both the fake badges and helmets also has fake splinter googles for sale every six weeks or so.
The fake splinter googles are always the same and never have the original padding around the nose and forehead found on originals or the original adjustable head strap. There appears to be a few original styles with some articulated at the centre. Clearly the faker cannot manage to copy that but is listing these regularly. He's also using his acid bath to age the goggles. Sadly, they are always selling for over £40.
I should add that these googles are often marketed as being for RAF use. It appears a single reference in a book has led to this being taken as gospel. The truth is that they were not ever used by the RAF in WW2.
Stephen Crookes was kind enough to share photos of his Belling Bomb Snuffer. I'd not seen an actual example before. Using a long pole the device was to be placed over a burning incendiary bomb. Appears from the advert that the bomb snuffer also contained dry sand that smothers the incendiary device (the top of the container had flammable divider that once burned through would allow the sand to fall). I'm guessing it would prevent showers of burning metal but if the device was on a wooden floor I would assume it would continue to burn through that though.
In passing, I'm also slightly concerned with another Belling 'war-time necessity' mentioned on the advert - a "Baby Cooker"...
A pair of second world war Tangent air raid sirens are up on eBay priced at £350. A large number of sirens (or syrens) on eBay are claimed to be WW2 vintage but are actually from the Cold War period. Gent & Co. Ltd of Leicester were the manufacturer of Tangent sirens and they made both hand-cranked and mains-powered models.
To ensure that communications could still be maintained during a gas attack, telephone operators were issued with specially adapted gas masks. A microphone was fixed close to the filter and an integral headset was included that would be plugged into the normal telephone exchange board.
A lovely original mint condition pair of Joseph Lucas Ltd No. 68 A.R.P. Bicycle Lamps. Hooded at the front to reduce light exposure. Almost impossible to get batteries to fit these particular model but modern 3D printed inserts can be bought on eBay. These slide into the body and take AA batteries. More lamps and torches
For keeping a gas mask safe at home a number of manufacturers made tins for the general public. The blow is a fine example of such a tin.
Matchbox covers for various home front services were made during the war. This one is for the Civil Defence services but HG (Home Guard), AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) as well as previous blogged ARP were sold. I do not know anything about the companies responsible for making these, but if you do, please share more.
ARP fire fighter's goggles which have blue tinted lenses and are GR and crown marked.
A number of different style of helmet carrier were manufactured during the war. The below example has been stamped as 'ARP Helmet Container".
This 12.5" off-white stoneware ARP food container, made by Doulton, cropped up on an auction site. There was also a jug with 'ARP Drinking Water' written on it . Usually a marketing ploy during the war, this would have been a standard jars and jugs but with the addition of the lettering.
The gas mask made especially for babies and infants up to the age of two was developed in 1938. It covered the majority of the child and required someone to use the manual pump on the side to activate the filter. Sometimes called a 'baby helmet', the lower canvas section that tied around the child was rubberised to prevent poison gas seeping into the interior. Various bodies demonstrated the use of this gas mask to ensure parents knew exactly how to use the gas mask in an emergency. Also manufactured was a gas-proof pram.
British Pathé also made a short film about the gas masks.
Following on from the small leather matchbook cover with ARP logo, Steve Crookes was kind enough to share this image on the Facebook page for this site. Now I'm wondering how many other 'novelty' items were made...
With the likelihood of an air raid cutting off the electric and gas supplies there was a need for other forms of light. This Float-A-Lite was a small wick and floating cap that would provide a little light (a imagine very little). The instructions are interesting - it could be placed in an egg cup, a port glass or tumbler...
This ARP-branded item recently appeared on eBay. I'd not seen this particular piece before but it ties into a few other ARP-related items I've seen such as an ashtray featuring the ARP logo.
These lamps/torches could be fitted to the brim of a helmet to give the wearer hands-free light when working. The battery pack could be clipped onto the wearer's belt and the wire usually run up the back and over the shoulder to the lamp head. They appear in many ARP equipment catalogues but few photographs exist showing them being worn. This example was posted on eBay for £70.
The most common air raid whistle found is the J. Hudson whistle that has "A.R.P." engraved on it. Also manufactured during the war was the Adie Bros. (Brothers) version that appeared in 1941, identical in design to the Hudson one. This company, also based in Birmingham, had previous government contracts for whistles and many appeared with the Ministry of Defence broad arrow - crows foot mark /|\ - and some with a year date.
In 1941 Adie Bros. received a contract for 40,000 ARP whistles (previously it appears that just Hudson has been manufacturing ARP whistles). Hudson's received a contract at the same time for 60,000. The reason for so many was that a change in how the alarm for the fall of incendiary bombs was to be made. Short blasts would indicate incendiaries. At this time whistles were now issued to all reserve wardens and fire guards/ fire watchers. Oddly, Supplementary Fire Parties did not get them. The Adie ARP whistle features the maker's name (ADIE BROS), city (BIRMINGHAM), royal cipher (GR VI) and year (1941). The 1941 ARP whistle omitted the MoD broad arrow as the contract came through the Ministry of Works & Buildings.
Read more about the history of ARP whistles
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