A few CWD (Civilian War Deaths) helmets have come to light over the years; a white supervisor helmet has previously appeared on this blog. The below black helmet is from the Hull area and is shortly to appear at auction with an estimate of £500 to £800.
Very little documentation has come to light regarding the CWD, but the best source is currently a history of the war in the Croydon area. There are also CWD forms on Lambeth's archive. If you know of any further information, please drop me a line.
Civilian War Deaths (The Volunteer Mortuary Service) - from CROYDON AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR
It was anticipated that mass raiding, when it occurred, might mean many dead. There was no announcement of the fact, but those in the counsels of the Government were aware that in an area like Croydon there might be as many as three hundred a night. They would have to be recovered, identified, conveyed to mortuaries and buried or cremated. Quietly, the A.R.P. authorities prepared for the grim prospect.
The old Tram Depot at Aurelia Road and the former brewery building in High Street, Croydon were converted into emergency mortuaries and, while these were being made ready, the Thornton Heath Baths were to be used if necessary. Headquarters were at Mitcham Road Cemetery. An appeal for workers was made to the Croydon undertakers and to the staff of the cemeteries; and by 1941 there were seventy volunteers from amongst these.
The Cemeteries Superintendent, Mr. L. J. Evans, was appointed Superintendent of Civilian War Deaths, in association with Mr. R. A. Ebbutt, who was hidden throughout under the name of "Mr. Robert." Equipment and stores were provided and the members underwent regular special training in their probable duties. A number of vans were converted into hearses, which carried on their front the letters C.W.D. Complete liaison was achieved with all other Civil Defence Services.
Such was the efficacy of the course that when the aerodrome raid on August 15th, 1940, came, with its many deaths, the service went into action with complete competence, the first in the London area to do so. And for the six subsequent years it maintained its efficiency.
Fortunately, the deaths never reached three hundred nightly, but there were nights when there were three score. That the work was an ordeal no one who has heard it recounted would question. It had to be done in all weathers and in war conditions, most often at night and by the light of fires and torches and amidst debris and in cluttered streets. Harrowing scenes were common, for the human body which has died by blast or from falling masonry is not as that of one who dies quietly in the course of nature; it is sometimes not even recognizable as that of a human being and too frequently only pitiful fragments of bodies were recovered. Then, there were the sad and naturally emotional scenes at the mortuary when relatives or friends, themselves under strain, made search for missing people or endeavoured to identify bodies. Only men and women who had steeled nerve and sinew, at the call of what they felt to be an imperative duty, could have done the work. That it was done well, skilfully, and always with sympathy and reverence, is recorded with gratitude.
Akin to this service was the duty imposed on the Corporation from the first raid, to bury the bodies which could not be identified. They rest in a special plot dedicated to this purpose in Croydon Cemetery.
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