Civil Defence 1

Put that light out!
During the inter-war period, fear of airborne conflicts grew and grew. The December 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act made preparations compulsory for all local authorities. Local government became responsible for building air raid shelters, providing gas masks and recruiting volunteers for civil defence and the emergency services.

ARP wardens built Anderson and Morrison shelters, enforced blackout regulations and distributed 38 million gas masks to the public. They also kept order in public air raid shelters, administered first aid and watched for fires.

Wardens were initially the butt of jokes in the first weeks of the war when the German planes failed to materialise. When the bombing began, however, they were often first on the scene and went beyond the call of duty to rescue others.

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The Royal Observer Corps

The Royal Observer Corps was created to detect, track, identify and report aircraft over Britain. It was awarded the ‘Royal’ title by King George VI in 1941, in recognition of its valiant work during the Battle of Britain during which the volunteers provided RAF Fighter Command with the numbers, type and height of incoming enemy aircraft.

The Home Front

The concept of a ‘Home Front’ - when civilians are mobilised en masse to support the war effort during a conflict - dates from World War One, as far as the British are concerned. It was re-activated in 1938 during the Munich crisis, when civilians were encouraged to enrol in Air Raid Precautions (ARP) or the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS).

Anticipating terror from the air
ARP was a reaction to the fear, shared throughout Europe in the 1930s, of the mass bombing of civilians from the air. In the 1930s, government estimates calculated that 600,000 people would be killed and 1.2 million injured in air raids during a future war.

Evacuation had already been running for two days by the time war with Germany was announced on 3rd September 1939. Throughout the war, three million people were moved beyond the reach of German bombers, in what became a fundamentally life-changing event for many. The internment of German and Austrian ‘aliens’ also commenced at the outbreak of war, and those considered high risk were interned immediately. Later, Italian aliens were ‘rounded up’ under Churchill’s orders after Italy joined the war in June 1940.

‘Doing your bit’
The nation’s labour was once again mobilised, and to an even greater extent than World War One. Half a million women joined the uniformed services, and millions more worked in the factories and on the land. Both men (from 1939) and women (from 1941) were conscripted. Men were even conscripted into the coal mines - one in ten of those enlisted domestically.

The regulation of society
Ration books were issued when food rationing came into force in January 1940. Imported items including meats, sugar, tea and coffee were divided equally between all adults and children. These goods arrived by merchant ship and were vulnerable to submarine attacks and blockades. Imported non-food items such as textiles, soap and petrol were also rationed.

The invasion scare of June-September 1940 caused all road and rail signposts and maps to be removed. A call for scrap metal to recycle into Spitfires resulted in the removal of decorative iron railings surrounding many civic spaces, and aluminium saucepans were collected by the million.

Public awareness was heightened by the protective sandbagging of public buildings and monuments, and the growth of allotments (3.5 million by 1943) in every spare area of playing field or village green. The pace of life was controlled by air raid alerts and all clears, as well as the enforcement of a war-long blackout.

Everywhere, Home Front posters exhorted citizens to ‘Dig for Victory’, remember that ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, whilst others repeated Churchill’s phrase ‘Let us Go Forward Together’.


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