05 November 2009
In the first of a new series on the uniforms and badges worn by the civilian uniformed services on the British Home Front, Jon Mills looks at the familiar wartime figure - the Air Raid Warden. ...
The German air raids on London between 1915 and 1918 proved that the Home Front had become an active theatre of war and from 1924 the government’s Committee of Imperial Defence investigated the measures which might be taken to protect Britain’s civilians from air attack in a future war.
The measures agreed on – finally made public in 1935 – envisaged a range of services to alleviate the effects of bombing which were grouped together under the title ‘Air Raid Precautions’ or ARP.
Impressed by a German system of House and Road “Wardens” who acted as ARP guides in the area where they lived, a similar system was organised in Britain, the Home Secretary announcing the creation of an Air Raid Wardens Service in Parliament in March 1936. That night a short radio broadcast asked for volunteers for “this very important part of the work of Home Defence”.
Wardens had two roles. In peace they established contact with their fellow citizens and advised them on precautions against air raids and gas attacks. In war they became the eyes and ears of the whole ARP organisation, patrolling from their local Wardens’ Post to report damage caused by air raids as quickly as possible to a control centre from which specialist services such as First Aid Parties were mobilised to help.
ARP warden training
Training to be a warden required attendance at lectures in subjects as diverse as anti-gas precautions, first aid, message writing, incendiary bomb control and dealing with unexploded bombs or UXBs. Having successfully completed their training, wardens received a government issue silver badge to mark their proficiency. Their training came from many sources including the Red Cross, Police and Fire Brigades as well as local specialists trained in new subjects such as anti-gas precautions at Home Office Schools.
The trained warden was allocated to his Wardens’ Post run by a Senior Warden, or Post Warden as they were known in London. A number of posts – usually between three and twelve – formed a Group under a Head Warden with larger towns divided into Divisions with a Divisional Warden.
The Wardens Service in each town or borough was headed by a Chief Warden who was responsible to the Head of ARP in his area for all aspects of the Wardens Service. Although most Wardens outside London were controlled by the Police (in London they were run by the borough councils), it was decided not to enrol them as Special Constables as it was thought that this would distance them from their fellow citizens. Most wardens were unpaid volunteers although a small number were paid full-timers.
ARP badges and insignia
Apart from the silver badge and a warrant card to prove showing he or she was an Air Raid Warden, the basic equipment provided to a warden was a gas mask and a steel helmet, both necessary for working outdoors in air raids.
Many local authorities provided cloth armbands lettered ‘A.R.P.’ to be worn with civilian clothes so that volunteers could be recognised on duty and on exercises. As ARP services developed these expanded into a bewildering array of multi-coloured armbands, often bearing local crests, to identify the separate ARP services. Pre-war exercises quickly proved that these armbands were not sufficiently distinctive and a white service letter two inches high – for wardens the letter W – was added to the black helmets of each service.
- A full version of this feature is published in the November/December issue of The Armourer magazine.