The Officer-in-Charge (three red chevrons on his bluette overalls) of a Stretcher Party provides first aid to a victim of a bombing incident in London.
Wearing the standard issue driver/attendant lancer coat and ski cap this portrait also shows the wearer using a helmet carrier. A number of companies manufactured helmet carriers but they appear seldom in photos (often anti-gas curtains are mistaken for carriers).
I am indebted to Donna Cook for sharing the following images of her grandmother and great aunt. Both were Civil Defence volunteers working with ambulances in Hull. The city was subject to 82 air raids during the second world war and an estimated 1,200 people were killed.
Alice Weston is shown wearing her silver ARP badge on her tie, which is somewhat unusual but was probably done especially for the portrait as she is not wearing any headwear. Emily Weston is wearing the Pattern 71 tunic and slacks with the drivers' ski cap.
George Medal for James Brennan, Divisional A.R.P. Operations Officer & Depot Superintendent, Willesden
A photo of James Brennan showing his George Medal to other medal winners (Flight Sergeant Archibald Murray, DFM & Leading Stoker Frank Tyler, DSM) at their investiture at Buckingham Palace in October 1941.
Brennan had helped rescue a women from a bombed building at Whitmore Gardens in Kensal Rise, London on 17 November 1940. He was awarded the George Medal on April 30, 1941 and received it at an investiture on October 7, 1941.
From the London Gazette, 23 May, 1941
James Brennan, Divisional A.R.P. Operations Officer and Depot Superintendent, Willesden.
A bomb partially demolished a house and a woman was trapped from the knees downwards beneath some debris. To effect her rescue it was necessary for the woman to be lifted almost to a standing position and held there to allow someone to work near her feet. While she was being held up, Mr. Brennan slid down into the crater on his stomach and worked there for some considerable time, removing bricks by hand.
Although there was a strong concentration of coal gas in the hole where he was lying head downwards, Mr. Brennan persisted in his efforts and after some time the casualty was released and removed to hospital. Throughout this incident Mr. Brennan was in danger from the wreckage under which he was working, from the ruins of the house, which were likely to collapse at any moment, and from the high concentration of gas.
A group photo of members of London's Auxiliary Ambulance Service. I assume this is early in the war given that only bluette overalls are in evidence. I've not seen many photos of LAAS insignia on bluette.
See this previous blog post on LAAS lapel badges.
Image courtesy of Matthew Smaldon.
On 15 December, 1940, Dennis Bingham, a 16-year-old member of Sheffield's Messenger service, was badly injured during a raid on the city. Though injured, Dennis still managed to relay a message to the Report & Control Centre regarding the incident. He was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his devotion to duty.
From the Supplement to the London Gazette, 11 April, 1941:
"On leaving his Post with a message, Bingham was injured and rendered unconscious by the explosion of a H.E. bomb. Recovering consciousness, he endeavoured to get his message through. He had covered some distance over the debris of demolished buildings when he collapsed. He managed, however, to crawl to the home of another messenger and pass on his message. Bingham showed great devotion to duty although suffering from serious injuries."
The Queen's Messenger Convoys (some references state initially 18 convoys, later 21 in total) were created in early 1941 to provide emergency welfare assistance to areas affected by bombing. The then Queen donated towards the creation of the service and the vehicles were marked with "Gift of H.M. The Queen". Vehicles were also paid for/donated by the USA and a number of period photographs show a circular sign of the flags of the UK and USA with "American Committee for Air Raid Relief to Great Britain" written on it. Other dominions (such as Jamaica) also paid for vehicles.
The QM convoys were managed via the Ministry of Food. A standard eight-vehicle convoy consisted of two stores lorries (with 6,000 emergency meals), two kitchen lorries plus three mobile canteens and a water tanker (300-350 gallons). The convoys also contained several despatch motorcyclists. Later the size of convoys varied with some also containing a welfare vehicle. They had "Queen's Messenger Convoy" written above the cabs and "Food Flying Squad" written on the side of the vehicles and they had a distinctive yellow and blue paint job.
Most of the convoys' members were volunteers. Some of the convoys were staffed and assisted by members of the WVS (seen in period photos). Regional Food Officers could appoint paid drivers if necessary. Vehicles would add "battle honours" denoting the locations that they had assisted.
Following the Normandy Landings a number of the convoys were lent to UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration founded in 1943) to help people in the formerly Nazi-occupied countries.
This photo shows members of Swindon's Fire Guard showing off toys they had made. The photo is interesting on a number off levels. Firstly, it's quite rare to see the diamond-shaped Fire Guard instructors badge being worn (two in evidence here). The lady bottom left also has one (probably the locally-trained Local Fire Guard Instructors (LFGI) badge) plus another instructor's badge of the type similar to the LARP version (Local Air Raid Precautions (locally trained silver badge)). She also has an ARP badge on here beret. There appears to be quite a text heavy shoulder board on her tunic but it is not possible to determine what this is.
Members of various Civil Defence services that had undertaken and passed the St John Ambulance Association (SJAA) first aid courses could wear a cloth badge on their right pocket. This badge is often seen on period photographs. This photo below shows a member of a FA Party wearing a small metal St John Ambulance Association badge. There are a few versions of this badge but his appears to have a black enamel centre - see the second photo. This badge is available with both the half-moon lapel fitting and the pin brooch. The SJAA also issued collar insignia but it would appear that these are always in plain metal without any enamelling.
Following the Munich Crisis in September 1938, the British Government implemented a number security measures to defend the nation. Amongst them was the defence and protection of essential port services in London and elsewhere should war be declared. It was foreseen that the River Thames, with its warehouses, docks and wharves, would be a prime target of the Luftwaffe.
The River Emergency Services (RES) was founded in late 1938 as a River Thames-based civil defence unit under the control of the Port of London Authority (PLA). Its duties included casualty rescue and evacuation, running floating ambulances and coordinating communications. A somewhat similar service, the Clyde River Patrol, ran in Scotland.
The formation of the River Emergency Services included the requisitioning of boats (pleasure steamers were converted into ambulance boats and floating first aid stations), the purchasing of equipment and allocation of manpower.
Following the declaration of war against Germany on 3 September, 1939 all UK ports were put under the control of a Port Emergency Committee (PEC), responsible to the Ministry of Transport (this was part of the larger Emergency Powers (Defence) Act passed on August 24, 1939). Sir John Douglas Ritchie headed the Port of London committee; he had succeeded David Owen as general manager of the Port London Authority (PLA) in 1938. By the outbreak of war, the RES had 14 fully equipped ambulance ships and 135 smaller vessels available.
As part of the National Service initiatives, Girl Guides, Sea Scouts and Sea Rangers could join the River Emergency Services. Ambulance ships were manned by a registered nurse (Sister), Red Cross nurses, first aid-trained RES volunteers, a doctor and boat’s captain plus stretcher bearers and two signallers (often Scouts) and sailors manning the boat.
The first attack by German planes on the lower Thames Estuary occurred in November 1939. However, with no enemy action against London’s port facilities or the city during the Phoney War a number of the volunteers in the RES left for other services. At its height the RES was made up of 1,500 personnel operating 170 small craft and 14 river ambulances. In June 1940, the Admiralty took control of all RES craft except the river ambulances.
The first significant attack on London came on 7 September, 1940. Some 375 enemy aircraft attacked the city and its docks, wharves and warehouses along the Thames. This was followed by 57 days of consecutive raids. By the summer 1941 the River Emergency Service was operating eight fully-manned ambulance ships.
The RES continued to operate until it was stood down in May 1945 and personnel with the requisite time served could apply for the Defence Medal.
Uniform & Insignia
River Emergency Service uniform for men was of naval pattern with peaked caps. The caps featured the RN-pattern crown and wreath but with RES letters rather than the RN fouled anchor.
Women of the RES wore dark blue trousers, shirt and tie. Some of the shirts had the letters RES embroidered in white above the left breast pocket. A lanyard was also worn. For headwear, there was the ski-cap similar to that worn by members of the Civil Defence ambulance service. This ski-cap initialled featured a circular badge and was later replaced with a crown over a circle containing the letters RES in gold wire or yellow thread. A curved shoulder title was worn on a dark navy-blue greatcoat.
Ensuring messages got through to Report & Control Centres was essential and despatch riders were utilised by every Civil Defence region for this purpose. This photo shows nine riders and several motorbikes. They have the standard battledress but one gentleman has no regulation trousers. It appears the only insignia is a CD breast badge and an area marking.
This officer in the Wardens' Service has placed his rank insignia on his epaulettes. The prescribed location was just below the shoulder title. Alas, there's no area marking on the uniform but the photograph has a photographer's studio address in Barnsley. It could be that CD officers in that particular area took to wearing their rank insignia on their epaulettes.
This fabulous photo shows members of District P in Croydon undertaking their stand down photo (probably in May 1945). Of particular interest in the flag; I've never seen anything quite like this before. There's a real mix of head wear on show - the standard beret, felt hat and side cap plus three gentlemen sat at the front in peaked hats - this has been seen before but is quite rare.
This stand down photo features a Civil Defence Reserve group. Of particular interest are the two despatch riders that are rarely seen in photos. Under magnification is appears they all have the Civil Defence Reserve shoulder titles and the berets have the rare printed CDR badge. A number have war service chevrons. Curiously, a number of the battledress have no breast badge; they are the austerity pattern and they may have been issued especially for the photo.
The local authority in Chelsea had issued several hundred brown ARP boiler suits to their ARP wardens and staff prior to the outbreak of war (it appears other services received blue overalls). This great photo shows the style of brown overall worn. It would appear from later photo that the brown overalls were worn into 1941 but sometimes the dates on photos cannot always be verified/trusted.
The blurb for this photo reads:
"Disappointment has been caused in Chelsea by the decision of the Home Office not to allow the borough's Air Raid Precautions volunteers to wear their smart brown and blue uniforms with yellow braided cuffs when the King's review of ARP services takes place in Hyde Park on Sunday. The reason is that Sir John Anderson wants all volunteers to be dressed alike at the review. 500 Chelsea ARP wardens have been issued with brown uniforms and 200 uniforms in blue have been issued to other sections. The uniforms are of the overall type and yellow braided rings on the cuffs are worn according to rank.
Photo shows Mr P. J. Fox (left), the Chief Enrolment Officer at Chelsea in his warden's uniform including a belt holding rattle, pouch for writing pad and other accessories, torch and incendiary goggles. With him is Major Harding Newman, Staff Officer to the Town Clerk. He has chain epaulettes which save the collar bones from being broken by falling masonry. 30 June 1939".
The is a very well known photo showing wardens from Hackney parading with dummy rifles. I only recently came across this hi-resolution image on the Getty website with the description as "7th August 1940: Hackney air raid wardens on the march during training. The rifles they are carrying are dummy ones, used to give a smart effect ! ".
75 years after VE Day, today's celebrations are somewhat muted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a number of documentaries on TV covering the anniversary with some excellent colour footage available to view. The below shot on The Strand in London demonstrates the exuberance of the public at the news of the end of hostilities in Europe.
This very smart group photograph was shared by the Chingford at War Facebook group. The date given was October 1944 but I'm more inclined towards it being a stand-down photo in May 1945. There's an interesting selection of insignia on display including the gentleman sat bottom right who has a wound stripe below his Incident Officer badge (he is a First World War veteran so this may be the red stripe). A few have five war service chevrons and instructor badges. Several have a diamond shaped badge. It could be one of the Fire Guard instructor badges but I'm doubtful HQ staff would undertake that course. If you know of an alternative to this please let me know. One of the gentleman standing appears to have the Royal Life Saving Society embroidered badge on the pocket of his battledress.
I recently picked up this very interesting book entitled “Lloyd’s Under Fire”. It is a tribute to the company’s civil defence forces and was published in 1947. The copy I bought also came with a few letters addressed to a G. L. Knowles. According to the book he was the Officer Commanding Fire Squad No. 6. There is also a drawing of this person.
The book contains information about how Lloyd’s prepared its buildings for air raids and how during the war staff volunteered at both the company’s own air raid shelters but also at public shelters within the London Underground system. This is very interesting as it mentions the “New Tube Shelters” and also that the deep station at Goodge Street was a female-only shelter.
Contained in the book are a wealth of photographs and also one very interesting double page layout showing the destruction caused by bombing around Lloyd’s London headquarters. Amazingly, for such a large building in an area of London that received a lot of Luftwaffe attention it survived the war unscathed.
A nice photo of an ARP Warden officer (two narrow "old gold" yellow horizontal bars on upper sleeve). The warden is wearing the ARP Pattern 71 tunic jacket with ARP Pattern 72 skirt and beret with her silver ARP badge.
A member of London County Council 's(L.C.C.) Ambulance service assists a colleague with their anti-gas clothing.
Another photo from the selection being offered on eBay. This photo was taken in May 1940 and shows signs and posters on the side of Poplar Town Hall on Bow Road, London.
A number of early war photographs have been put up for sale on eBay. The below shows a wardens' post and First Aid Post on Gale Street (the smaller sign second from the top says LMS Station Becontree). Bectrontree is in Barking & Dagenham in London). As per regulations all street signage showing distances to towns have been removed and replaced with other signs. The wardens' post is typical of the many temporary posts built at the start of the war.
During the war a number of instructional slides set were created. These were shown during training classes. The people covers how to deal with patients affected by tear gas.
Two photos of wardens from the Bromley area in south-east London. Going be the lack of war service chevrons and also non first aid badges in evidence I would say this was taken shortly after the group took delivery of the serge battledress blouses and trousers. The same group has posed with and without their helmets.
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