A rare showing of the Civil Defence rainbow (more often seen on the armbands) on a WW2 helmet.
With the potential of a high number of fatalities caused by the enemy bombing of cities, local authorities implemented schemes to handle the bodies. Volunteers were sought from local undertakers and those employed at mortuaries and cemeteries to collect bodies and transport them to makeshift mortuaries. Initial estimates of fatalities were in the hundreds per day.
Volunteers drove hearses (more often adapted vehicles for the purpose) with CWD written on them. Volunteers wore the same CWD letters on helmets. The below is assumed to be a supervisor but black helmets with white lettering are also known to exist.
It was envisaged it would be a dangerous job, out and about after raids, with unexploded ordnance and fires hampering roads etc. The role of the Civilian War Deaths groups isn't that well documented but it appears that all local authorities had schemes to deal with the envisioned high number of fatalities caused by enemy bombing.
It would appear a spate of Zuckerman helmets are now appearing with spurious (i.e. fake) markings. We've seen this before but this summer has seen them regularly appearing on the tat bazaar (we even had a Zuck with the Austin Warden stencil poorly used...). Most can be quickly categorized in the "Known Shyster Shed Crap". They continue to sell though and that continues the cycle. I doubt a Decontamination Food expert would be caught dead in a Zuckerman but it's an interesting helmet.
Organised in Norwich in July 1940, the Mutual Aid Good Neighbours' Association (MAGNA) worked alongside the ARP services and other voluntary post-air raid groups. It provided support for those that had lost their homes and possessions during the Luftwaffe raids on Norwich. Set up by Mrs Ruth Hardy (a qualified ARP instructor and future Lord Mayoress of Norwich) the scheme had "Street Mothers" and "Good Neighbours" and grew to a membership of some 30,000 women.
The armband below follows the general format of the Civil Defence armband introduced in July 1940 with the addition of City of Norfolk and MAGNA. Image courtesy of the Roger Miles' collection.
UPDATE: after sharing this blog online, a collector shared the Zuckerman helmet with MAGNA markings.
Direct from the garden shed of a notorious shyster in the Midlands is this monstrosity. As ever, it's being hawked on eBay and there are several idiots who think it looks genuine. Completely fake helmet, ARP was almost never used on helmets, adding 15 front and back because of course that's really important and even West Ham is spelt without the space. Doing a little bit of research, buying a book, joining a few forums and Facebook groups and asking a few questions can stop you from wasting away your hard earned cash on crap like this.
When it came to marking your helmet with a Warden's 'W', there were virtually limitless options. Although there were some diktats on size - two-inch high letters - the variances are rather amazing. Various font styles were used, with or without serif, stencilled to 3D designs, large and extra small, detailed to quickly applied. Here's 50 that barely scratch the surface.
Will was kind enough to share the following images. The Fire Guard Officer helmet (two narrow bands over a broad band) has FG front and rear. It belonged to his great-grandfather. This was the highest rank within the Fire Guard Organisation.
I am indebted to Rob Whyman for sharing this Incident Officer blue helmet cover. His grandfather, Albert Edward Smith (called Eddie), was a Head Warden and Incident Officer in New Tupton, Derbyshire. The helmet cover is made of three parts and does not require a string to hold it in place. These covers are quite scarce.
I'll share further photos of Eddie's uniform tomorrow.
An interesting helmet showing a large warden's W that appears to be made of a fabric material. Some owners used letters from armbands, even letters from newspapers but this larger W may have been a commercially available piece. The helmet has a clear 1938 date stamped on the rim
This single W black warden's helmet with Finchley coat of arms recently sold at C&T Auctions for the princely sum of £520 (not including commission and VAT). The estimate was £120 to £189. The prices of many home front items, and especially civil defence and ARP, have been gaining momentum for a few years. Helmet prices are steadily rising.
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.
Send me items to blog about via my contact page