It was once assumed that gas attacks would be the main threat to civilians during the second world war but it soon became apparent that fire would be the main enemy on the Home Front.
As a result, Fire Parties and Fire Watchers stood by in their millions, armed with just a helmet, a stirrup pump and a bucket of sand in most cases. Their role was to spot, report and, if they could, neutralise the threat. Helmets, either the Civilian Protective Helmet (“Zuckerman”) or one of the Mk. II types, were often marked ‘SFP’, ‘FW’ or just ‘FP’. These markings are therefore probably the most numerous of all applied during the war.
There were two groups which operated under the ‘SFP’ banner, although in reality both undertook the same tasks. The main difference was one of recruitment with Street Fire Parties being recruited and trained by the Wardens’ Service to cover their local area whilst Supplementary Fire Parties were organised by the Fire Service. Despite this they are often referred to in the same breath. In LRC No. 324 (6 March, 1941) the Chief Administrative Officer, states “Where supplementary (street) fire parties are given helmets, the letters “S.F.P.” should be painted in black at the front and rear of the helmet.”
Supplementary Fire Party members were issued with blue armbands with ‘SFP’ in red in 1940 and the use of red sometimes extended to the markings on helmets (see above) whilst they were still under the control of the Fire Service. The provision of helmets was another matter, with one part of the SFP having them provided as part of the ARP Storage and Loan of Equipment Regulations, whilst the other part had to provide their own.
The two sets of parties operated alongside one another for a while and it is probably fair to say they operated below par. Recruitment and leadership were less than satisfactory despite a rallying call by Herbert Morrison in late 1940. In addition, with the Wardens’ Service, the Local Authorities and the Fire Service, there were too many bosses. Changes came on 6 August, 1941 with the introduction of the Fire Guard. Those who joined the Local Authority Fire Guard were instructed to overpaint their ‘SFP’ helmet markings and replace them with ‘FG’ in white, whilst those who didn’t retained their old markings. This means that some helmets retained their original grey base colour with “FG” in white on the front whilst others, belonging to ex-SFP members, will have been less consistent.
In addition to the SFP, Fire Watchers were also looking out for fires although, at first, they lacked organisation and structure. It wasn’t long before simply looking out for fires wasn’t enough. The risk to commercial premises was too great and in September 1940, under the Fire Watchers Order, the role was formalised. Later, in 1941, the Government wanted to “knit together the Fire Watchers in the residential areas and thus to constitute them into a homogeneous and effective organisation” (HSC 174 / 1941, 6/8/41). It was deemed important that this new group should recognise that they were delivering an “important national duty” and as such they too received a new collective identity as the Fire Guard, operating as part of the Wardens’ Service.
Theoretically at least, helmet markings should have then undergone a large-scale refresh but whilst the aforementioned communication touched lightly on the replacement of armlets (‘FIRE GUARD’ replaced ‘SFP’) no mention was made of helmets or their markings. However, that same year, where people previously with a Fire Party became a member of the local authority Fire Guard, they were instructed to repaint their helmets and apply ‘FG’ in place of ‘SFP’. This became the first iteration of the Fire Guard.
The use of ‘W’ for the senior ranked Fire Guards was deemed inappropriate so a hybrid marking ‘W(F.G.)’ was agreed and this was communicated via HSC 139/1942 on 9 July, 1942. In London, seniority was represented by a white stripe (one inch and two inches wide) on grey helmets and these were marked ‘W/FG’ front and back (LRC No. 705 27/10/42 – consolidated). Unsurprisingly, variants exist as shown in this grouping.
It was standard practise to mark helmets of deputies with the same markings as their bosses as their role was to stand in for the senior rank as required. However, records show on more than one occasion seniors didn’t appreciate “their” markings being shared with subordinates. In the case of this collection, not only has a “D” (Deputy) been added for clarity but a new unofficial thinner stripe has been introduced. This resulted in two different stripe widths for the same role. The 1-inch stripe was worn by the Senior Fire Guard and the 2-inch stripe by the Head Fire Guard.
Other rank markings are perhaps more common, although the upper echelons are understandably harder to find nowadays.
The Fire Guard was to undergo a further change in 1943 when it was detached from the Wardens’ Service to stand alone (HSC No. 23/43). A totally new set of helmet marking was discussed early that year with the most senior staff having black helmets with white stripes running front to back but records show that these were “discussed in general terms….no action required at present”. An explicit instruction was contained within Circular HSC No. 63/1943, issued on 9 April, 1943 that read, “To facilitate recognition, the helmets of all members of the Fire Guard Organisation will be of the civilian type, as at present issued to rank and file Fire Guards. Service type helmets will be withdrawn by the scheme-making authority from persons transferred from the Wardens Service. The civilian helmets of Party Leaders and higher ranks will be painted white, with the appropriate rank markings. The letters F.G. may be painted on the helmets of rank and file Fire Guards if facilities are available; but this is not essential. No rank other than those specified in Appendix 1 are authorised and no other markings of any description may be painted on helmets.”
It would appear therefore, that it was to be Zuckermans for everyone! Whilst all the official changes and nationwide instructions were being issued, regional and local variations continued. Region 6, headquartered in Reading, adopted stripes over the top of their Fire Guard helmets and in HSC 63/43 it was felt necessary to stress that stripes should run “parallel with the rim of the helmet” and not front-to-back (as in Region 6) suggesting that misinterpretation had been a challenge.
The Fire Guard was eventually stood down in September 1944 having experienced tremendous growth, change, a confusing leadership structure and the introduction of several helmet marking schemes along the way.
Adrian Blake, author of the book Helmets of the Home Front.
Following on from yesterdays' blog about the The Queen's Messengers Convoy, Adrian Blake was kind enough to share two helmets from his collection. Adrian is the author of Helmets of the Home Front. the reference bible for all things helmet related on the British home front in WW2.
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.
This Fire Guard Zuckerman helmet with "Boots" hand-painted emblem sold on eBay for £142 (+£6 P&P). I'm never too sure when I see these company-marked helmets like this. A number have appeared over the past year or so on eBay and most have been called out as outright fakes (for example, London Underground ARP Shelter badges attached to Zuckerman helmets). I'm currently on the fence about this one. The boot lace is obviously not original but the liner is.
UPDATE: I was contacted via email regarding the Boots logo. The blue ovoid/lozenge background was not used by the company until the 1960s. It was also originally a black background before becoming blue in the 1980s. Consequently, this helmet is a fake.
More info on Boots branding/logo
A large number of fake and reproduction items are up at auction at East Bristol Auctions on 22 May 2020. The description of most of the fake ARP badges says "unknown origin" and for the buyer to ensure they know what they are buying. A large number of lots are from the same militaria forger found on eBay. Included is another fake London Underground Zuckerman as well as a Straits Settlements ARP badge added to a Zuckerman. There is also a pair of faked splinter googles. There'sa fake GPO Warden helmet and a stencilled LCC Ambulance helmet. There is also a fake Women's Home Defence enamel and embroidered badge.
Amongst the other lots are other items regularly offered for sale on eBay by shysters - fake First World War airplane fabric, WW1 tank metal face masks and WW2 linen flags. Caveat emptor...
A few weeks ago I received an email from a collector asking about a recent purchase he had made. The item - a Zuckerman helmet with London Underground Public Shelter badge - was bought on eBay from a notorious faker of militaria and I informed the buyer he had been conned. The buyer subsequently found the badge had been glued on with modern adhesive and bent to fit on the helmet. The helmet had also been slightly dented to accommodate the badge. The fake blue residue was an attempt at enamelling but was just blue paint. Thankfully, the seller complained to eBay and managed to get their money back (over £150). The seller continues to hawk fake items and con collectors alas.
Faked WW2 ARP helmets on eBay appears to be becoming a regular issue these days. One particular area the fraudsters are regularly attempting to exploit is the combination of ARP services (Warden, First Aid Party etc) and the various railway companies that existed during the second world war (LMS, GWR, LNER etc).
We recently had a Zuckerman helmet with a made up badge for the London Underground and the below is another fantasy piece. The fraudsters take a genuine WW2-dated helmet, often with original markings and then slap a railway badge onto the helmet. There's a reason there's no original photographic evidence of these helmets ever appearing and that is they were never made in the war.
Adding a badge, especially screwing it into a helmet makes absolutely no sense. First, you now have screw ends and bolts that can pierce your skull. Secondly, it comprises the integrity of the helmet reduces its efficiency. These fakes are complete and utter b*llocks but buyers continue to fork out outrageous sums for them.
An excellent portrait of an early-war Gas Identification Officer - GIO - designated by two black diamonds on a yellow helmet. One black diamond was for an assistant to the GIO. Three black diamonds were for Senior Gas Adviser. From 1942 helmets were standardized across the country:
Gas Adviser - Senior Gas Adviser
GIO - Gas Identification Officer
GI - Assistant to GIO
FOOD - Food Decontamination Officer
DC FOOD - Food Treatment Squad
A member of the Facebook group related to this site sent these photos and this very interesting research about this Party Leader Ambulance helmet: "Every now and then you get a little gem this helmet came with the address carefully written inside along with the name White-Cooper. Rupert Charles White-Cooper won the MC in the First World War with the Manchesters, he became a well known Architect dying in 1970. His wife Mary gained a pilot's licence in 1939. Who's was the helmet we may never know but they both lived at 38 Addison Avenue Holland Park London."
This helmet is currently for sale on eBay (at time of writing bids had already exceeded £175). The seller claims that it is a first world war vintage helmet that was reissued in the second world war. It has 1938 dated chin strap lugs.
Derry & Toms was a London department store on Kensington High Street founded in 1853. It was renown for its roof garden. It closed in 1973 and the building was subsequently developed into smaller retail spaces and office space.
Derry & Toms is also Cockney rhyming slang do bombs, as in "A Tom dropped on my house..."
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.
An interesting photo showing members of a food decontamination squad 'cleaning' a large joint of meat of the residue from a gas attack. The photo details say the centre, located on the outskirts of Hornsey, was Britain's first dedicated decontamination centre. Not sure I'd be too happy tucking into that...
An interesting ARP warden's helmet from Post 30 in Wimbledon. The basic Mk II helmet with a large sized 1939 helmet liner. It features hand painted 'W' to front and rear in a different font to that usually seen.. Owner's details have been written on the inside rim.
This interesting helmet recently cropped up on an online auction site. Quite rare to see a white helmet with black band variety.
One of the lesser seen helmet markings is that related to decontamination of food stores following a chemical attack. An immense amount of preparation went into dealing with expected chemical/poison weapon attacks. Decontamination Squads were to deal directly with the chemical weapons but aside from them specialists were trained to provide direct support in managing food stocks that may have been affected. Another part of the system was the Food Analyst who had the rather unfortunate helmet marking of "FOOD ANAL". I don't have much information about the photo and cannot ascertain for sure it is an original wartime photograph.
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.
Came across this photo recently of wardens on one of the Channel Islands. Thought to have taken in 1940 the photo shows a group of mainly white-helmeted ARP wardens with one gentlemen in the centre with a helmet bearing 'ARP'. It's quite rare to see ARP on a helmet (I have seen in appear more often for wardens in Canada and Australia).
An amazing photograph that captures the moment rescue services retrieve the victim of a V1 incident on 23 July 1944. A lot of white helmets and an ambulance (A) and light rescue (LR) member. It appears that some of the helmet insignia and area markings have been obscured by a censor to prevent knowing the location of the incident. There's a MO on the far left and the helmet at the left extreme appears to have two arrows on the side. In the centre is man wearing a beret with what looks like ARP on it (possibly a reused breast badge).
A visitor to the site was kind enough to share a photo of her grandfather's helmet. He was a GP in the Farnborough area during the wear and held this senior rank in the casualty service. Three diamonds with CS lettering is somewhat rare.
I'd like to thank a friend of mine, Chris, for sending me this photo. This is a photo of a V1 incident along Tottenham Court Road in London. If you look at the chap on the far left he appears to be in bluette overalls but has an American-shaped helmet on. I recall reading of a V1 incident in Aldwych in which passing American MPs were involved but they were in full American uniform. Would appear this fellow has 'acquired' a Yank helmet some how.
The below helmet is currently on eBay and it's something I have never seen the likes of before. From the images (check out the link to see more) you can make out "Air Raid Helmet" and "Grimsby" with a patent pending number. Perhaps a company hoping to make a few bob on creating a helmet for civilians before the Zuckerman helmet was released in 1941.
UPDATE: I have been informed that a number of companies made a similar style of helmet. See the advert below for the 'Defiance' helmet. Seems a number of these helmets came into production around the time of the Munich Crisis in 1938.
It's quite rare to see Fire Guard armbands being worn but this photo from Getty has a plethora of them. Not a great deal of information comes with the photo but it does show Zuckerman helmets and standard Mk. II helmets being worn,
This interesting photograph appears to show a District Warden from Holborn in central London assisting a child with her 'Mickey Mouse' style gas mask. The most peculiar part of his uniform is the placement of the three bars of rank on the lower sleeve. I am assuming these are the yellow bars to denote a district (sometimes called divisional warden). They usually appear at the top of the sleeve. The warden's jacket is somewhat peculiar as well. I thought it was a standard issue battledress but this jacket has chrome buttons to cuff and epaulette - standard issue had revolving shank to epaulettes and a black plastic button to the cuff closure. The area title for Holborn is above the pocket (even above his first world war medal ribbon trio). I think the main badge is the ARP red on black breast badge but I cannot make it out for certain. He also does not have any shoulder titles. The helmet is a standard issue one for a district warden - a single black stripe. He is also wearing a Civil Defence armband which is against the usually prescribed use(they were to be worn over civilian clothes). All-in-all a most peculiar uniform.
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