The first person to be directly awarded the newly instituted George Cross was Civil Defence member Thomas Alderson. He was awarded the medal for leading the rescue of trapped civilians on three occasions in 1940. The other medal is the silver issue RSPCA Gallantry Medal. Of interest is the Instructor sleeve badge which also has ARPS above it. The ARPS was the Air Raid Precautions School and the badges just visible on his collar is probably the gold coloured ARPS Instructor badge.
A number of sets of slides for training purposes was created during the war. This set shows how to deal with an incendiary bomb using the scoop and sand container,
Members of a local NARPAC (National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee) rescue a cat from a bombed out building, 11 November 1940.
Image: Imperial War Museum
An interesting photograph showing the band of the Welsh Guards atop an air raid shelter. They are playing to an audience outside the Bank of England, London, during a ward bonds drive,
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
London Auxiliary Ambulance Service (LAAS) driver and attendant with their Talbot ambulance in 1939. The LAAS was created to support the existing London Ambulance Service (LAS) dealing with the expected casualties of air raids on London. Whilst the LAS was organised by the London County Council (LCC), the LAAS was managed by individual ambulance stations.
Image Copyright: London Metropolitan Archive
A most evocative photo of children done up as wardens and a nurse. A cracking photo.
A warden poses in his garden wearing the full gas protective suit. Issued to those involved in dealing with gas and chemical attacks the oilskin plus gas mask and Wellington boots were the only protection against the effects of the various gases. The gas rattle was used to inform the general population that a gas attack had occurred.
A photo from LIFE that shows a gas mask exercise taking place in Kingston upon Thames. It appears tear gas was used to ensure people did indeed use their gas mask during the event. Love the name of the shop in the background - Coronation Tuck Shop.
An image from Getty that I had not come across before. Although undoubtedly a staged photo, the notes for the photo say: "20th January 1940: Ambulance drivers often suffer eye strain from having to drive through the blackout. These eye masks saturated with eye lotion help to ease their discomfort in moments of relaxation." Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images
A photo of two wardens at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London 1939. The gentleman on the left has a gas curtain attached to his helmet.
The most interesting photo and description shows the destruction of street level air raid shelters. Dated April 1945 it shows that by this late stage of the war there was no longer any threat from the Luftwaffe or V-weapons (obviously the remaining airfields were way inside Germany and the range of V2s (about 200 miles) could no longer reach the UK).
This photo was sent to my Facebook page and shows a group of rescue workers lined up in front of their vehicle. It's thought this may be from the Derbyshire area. The car is probably a pre-war American import that has been requisitioned by the local authority and converted for the use by a rescue squad (there's a ladder and stretchers on the roof). Unsure what the make of the car is - some think a Packard and others have said an Auburn.
I am indebted to a visitor of this website for allowing me to share the following marvellous photos. They include his mother, Kathie Noble, who was an ambulance driver for the Civil Defence service in Sheffield during the war. She was stationed at Corporation Street but they also used Pye Bank School Yard. On one particular evening of a blitz on Sheffield her ambulance was stopped from attending an incident as it was going to an area from where she lived. I have previously included a photo from Sheffield that included Kathie Noble. She is on the far right in that photo.
A small group of Fire Guard pose with a (small) trophy. Probably the winners of a local competition there is an interesting helmet marking on the chap bottom left. I'm unsure currently what the extra letters relate to. It looks like a P and an L. The gentleman bottom right does not seem at all pleased with the proceedings...
Going by the information on this letter, the PL on the helmet almost certainly refers to "Party Leader". Seems there's quite a lot of hierarchy in the Fire Guard here - Sector Captain, Party Leader and then Sector Clerk.
I've previously included this photo on the site but this is a better quality image. The Divisional/District warden here is helping a child with her Mickey Mouse style gas mask. The interesting part of his uniform is that he has the battledress jacket but is using the original red insignia on his lower sleeve (before the 'old gold' insignia was introduced in late 1941). The three bars with out star usually relate to a deputy chief warden (which clashes somewhat with the designation on his helmet). Again this is an example of the mix-and-match approach found on many period photos. He has placed his Kilburn area title above his medal ribbons and above this his ARP badge. The use of the Civil Defence armband was usually not allowed on uniform but this is probably a publicity photo and was used in this instance.
I have seen a few other photos of the County Borough Of Southport ARP Mobile First Aid Post but this particular image was new to me. This first aid post was constructed from a modified bus and was of quite an intricate design. I am assuming that the idea was that the bus could attend at major air raid incidents when the local first aid posts may have been overwhelmed.
A group of ladies pose in their ARP Pattern 71 tunics and slacks. The lady on the far left appears to have double chevron stripes but with a star above - a most unusual combination. At the front there is a beret with the CD beret badge.
A gas decontamination squad squad pose in front of a bus. Possibly a London Underground group going by the cap emblem on the gentleman second from the right.
80 years ago today, on the 1 September 1939 (two days before war was declared), the British government introduced blackout restrictions. From the Lord Privy Seal's office this message was communicated: "A lighting order has been made under Defence Regulation No. 24 and comes into operation at sunset tonight as a further measure of precaution. The effect of the order is that every night from sunset to sunrise all lights inside buildings must be obscured and lights outside buildings must be extinguished, subject to certain exceptions in the case of external lighting where it is essential for the conduct of work of vital national importance. Such lights must be adequately shaded”.
Every house, shop and factory was now under strict blackout rules. No light must escape from any source including from car headlamps. Preparations for the blackout had been taking place for years previously. The recruitment of ARP wardens had begun in March 1937 when the Home Office sought to recruit 300,000 volunteers (take up was initially slow but as the threat of war increased numbers grew). Trials of the blackout had started in 1938 and the crises in Europe intensified. The government also sent every household a number of information leaflets in 1939; leaflet number two covered the requirements for the blackout with details on masking windows.
During the previous couple of years the Air Ministry had reviewed how bombers may attack the UK. They thought that bombers would primarily attack at night. To counter this threat they advised the extinguishing all ground light sources would hamper the navigation of enemy bombers and affect the accuracy of their bombing.
To ensure no light escaped every house was expected to place heavy cotton fabric or brown paper over every window to stop light creeping out (or paint windows or place cardboard or wood panels over the windows). Preparing a house each evening for the blackout soon became a chore. And with no air raids happening people quickly tired of the process and also of the ARP wardens who enforced the regulations.
With fines for those breaking the blackout, wardens soon became the bane of many households. Newspapers published that day's blackout times which would be 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise.
For shops and pubs, the need for customers to leave their premises without light escaping led to the introduction of double curtained entrances. Somewhat cumbersome and expensive to deploy.
In factories, the same blackout regulations were enforced. Many businesses permanently covered windows and skylights which led to increased use of interior lighting at all hours. The impact of this was both expensive in extra electricity consumption and also a lowering of employee morale due to the lack of natural light in the day.
For car drivers the blackout became a motoring nightmare. No interior lights were to be shown and only one headlamp could be used, pointing immediately downwards, which also had to have a special housing to limit the amount of light (introduced in 1940). Indicators and rear brake and running lights also had to be dimmed and screened.
The immediate impact of the blackout was a dramatic rise in car collisions and pedestrian accidents. Over a thousand people had been killed on the roads of the first month of implementation. By early 1940 handheld torches were allowed but batteries became scarce and expensive to obtain. The speed limit during the blackout was also lowered to 20 mph. White lines were painted on the roads and also on kerbs, telephone kiosks and post boxes. A number of business sold items that claimed to be luminous (badges and armbands) which would aid people in the dark, but in reality their usefulness was extremely limited.
The blackout also saw a large rise in reported crime - from muggings, looting and burglary to assaults and murders.
The Ministry for Home Security issued a plethora of posters and leaflets to inform the public how to better navigate in the blackout. These included how to hail a bus in the dark with their torch to taking extreme care when exiting from a train carriage. As elsewhere all train carriages were screened and accidents at railway stations rocketed.
Blackout restrictions were not eased until September 1944 when the dim-out was introduced. Lighting equivalent to that on a clear full moon night was allowed but had to be extinguished if an air raid alert was sounded. It was not until April 1945 that full street lighting returned to Britain - in London this was symbolically started with the lighting of the four clock faces on Big Ben on 30 April 1945.
A fantastic portrait of an ambulance driver or attendant - the name on the rear is Elma May Stamp (nickname Buzz). The lady also wears a medal ribbon which looks to be the Royal Red Cross (which is a blue centre with red bars either side). The award is made to a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service, military or civilian, who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period, or who has performed an exceptional act of bravery and devotion at her or his post of duty. There looks to be an additional badge on the shoulders of her coat but it is not possible to discern what this relates to.
From the archives of Am Baile, the website covering the culture and history in the Scottish Highlands, comes this interesting photo of a decontamination squad. They are actually painting a rock white in the harbour to assist people in the blackout.
This portrait, from a series of staged photos, shows a Warden from the Westminster area of London. She's wearing the standard issue ARP Pattern 71 tunic with slacks. The tunic features the ARP embossed buttons (tunics are also known to have white metal CD and crown and from 1943 black plastic buttons featuring CD letters and crown). She's has a civilian style respirator sack slung over her shoulder and the lanyard is probably white (boroughs of London generally adopted this colour).
Going by the lack of bluette overalls this photo is probably a pre-war shot of a warden with the basic equipment they were issued with at that time - an unmarked black helmet, whistle, armband and respirator (with the basic respirator sack worn on his left hip). It appears he may have added his own binoculars to the kit (the case seen on his right hip).
This interesting photo shows wardens belonging to the Maidenhead area. Going by the number of war service chevrons the photo is probably a stand down photo following the dissolution of the Civil Defence services in May 1945. Of interest is a triangular badge on the left sleeves of a number of wardens. It is unknown at this time what this badge represents. At the back is a single lady warden wearing a private purchase side cap.
Photo is currently available on eBay.
News about interesting insignia, ARP related info and period photos that turn up.