CHAPTER 2 HOW CIVIL DEFENCE GREW

The details of the gradual development of the Civil Defence organisation are not likely to be of general interest except to ex-members but the following is pertinent if the reader is to appreciate just how, step by step, Walthamstow gradually came into the picture of total war and, equally importantly, how much the citizens owed to local initiative and experiment. Broadly, the Government provided a skeleton which we locally were required to, clothe in flesh and blood but, in fact, so incomplete was the skeleton in many respects, that we had to provide quite a number of missing bones and even to improvise some additional limbs.

I mention that there were gaps in the skeleton scheme only because there should be public recognition of the way in which the Emergency Committee, the Council and the Officers concerned tackled the difficulties which confronted them.

Councillors (and, sometimes, Council Officers), are usually regarded as fair game for snipers to harry but, on this occasion, I think credit should be given for the elasticity of mind and a readiness to tackle new problems efficiently.

On 9th July, 1935, the Government issued their first circular on Air Raid Precautions and stated that while the need for A.R.P. measures in no way implied a risk of war in the near future or any relaxation of effort on the part of the Government to ensure the maintenance of peace, they felt that it was necessary to take precautionary steps such as had, in general, already been taken by the majority of European nations.

The circular referred in broad outline to the various types of services likely to be required and stated that the Government recognised that the services would essentially have to be organised on a local basis, District by District, and they invited each County Council and County Borough Council to prepare schemes, District Councils to be consulted but not to be scheme-making authorities.

During 1936 various reports were prepared by Officers of the Borough Council and in December the Council appointed its A.R.P. Committee. In 1937 the first A.R.P. Act was passed and in March 1938 the Council appointed an Honorary A.R.P. Officer from among their members.

The first public meeting to recruit volunteers was held in April 1938 and by the end of June the organisation had been set up in skeleton form and District Officers had been chosen.

The end of August brought us to the Munich Crisis and on the night that the Crisis reached its peak, the Emergency Committee (without waiting for Lon¬don Region) approved the placing of an order for ten First Aid Posts and these were proceeded with as quickly as possible.

The Munich Crisis passed, respirators were issued to the public and the remainder of 1938 was spent in further recruitment and in commencing training, for we had no faith that the results of Munich would be lasting. As evidence of this we declined to scrap the material already accumulated for trench shelters.

During 1939 we pressed on with our training and with all other preparatory work open to us.

In April the W.V.S. came into being and in May mothers were registered for evacuation and arrange¬ments were approved for the protection of rooms at certain schools which would subsequently be used as A.R.P. District Centres. A local A.R.P. Demonstration of all Services was held on the 10th June and a National A.R.P. demonstration was held at Hyde Park on the 2nd July, Walthamstow being represented by 30 volunteers.

The Government announced on the 30th August that millions of sandbags required to be filled and the public were invited to volunteer to do the job, if possible, on an unpaid basis; if not as an ordinary job or work. The Government having refused permission to Local Authorities to lay in stocks of sand beforehand, now had to arrange in a hurry for provision of excavating machines at various points, these machines bringing up earth, sand, gravel and stones in a manner which subsequently and speedily ruined the sandbags which they were used to fill.

On the last day of the month authority was given to mobilise a proportion of whole-time Wardens (to be paid £3 per week for men, £2 for women), and to open Wardens Posts where they could be made available.

On the 1st September, personnel for First Aid Posts were mobilised in part, together with Ambulance personnel and Stretcher Bearers and the Emergency Committee commenced to sit daily. On the 2nd of the month, all District Centres and First Aid Posts now being in full operation were issued with general and detailed instructions as to personnel establishments, etc.

On 3rd September, War began at 11 a.m. and at 11.15 we had our first Warning Siren.

So far as the public were concerned the war "hung fire" for many months except that they suffered the discomfort of the first black-out winter (and a bitterly cold winter, too!) and they became gradually accustomed to hearing in the shops the phrases " in short supply," " no more are being made," " don't you know there's a war on!". Then came Dunkirk and a realisation that our backs were definitely against the wall.

In May 1940 the Coalition Government was formed and Walthamstow men and women set-to in grim earnest to prepare for the " blood and toil and tears and sweat " foreshadowed by the new Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill.

In June the Battle of Britain began and in July London Region received its first bombs.

Walthamstow came into the battle-line with its first High Explosive bombs on 23rd August (the story of the Raids is told in Part III) and we began to test in actuality the things we had decided in theory.

The Battle of London commenced on 7th September with the bombing of East London and the Docks and from then onwards we in Walthamstow received various missiles, (enemy or defence), for 28 successive days without a break and for 46 days, (i.e., to 22nd October), with only two days clear of incidents.

Our first fatal casualty occurred on 16th September and on the following day we had our first sample of parachute-mines. During the last three months of 1940 we learned in the school of experience many new lessons but improvisation was speedy and, I believe, efficient.

We also learned to know, to hate and finally, for practical purposes, to ignore the Siren. Following the big Fire Blitz in Central London at the end of December, Fire Parties came into being on a wider basis early in 1941, although during the preceding months many volunteer Parties had been formed by Wardens and householders on their own initiative. And so we added another arm to our defences.

May 1941 saw our last incidents of the " Blitz" period.

In the middle of 1941 our Auxiliary Fire Service was taken from us to be incorporated in the National Fire Service and we lost a valued section of Civil Defence. So far as " incidents" were concerned 1942 was peaceful but the war clouds were looming very darkly across the North Sea so, in June of that year, we commenced recruiting for Invasion Defence and spent many months preparing the steps to be taken if by any chance an intruder should set foot on our soil after nearly nine hundred years of immunity.

With renewed attacks early in 1943 the public had a new excitement when the rocket shells ot the A.A. defences proceeded to shower on the Borough what looked like rain-water pipes up to six or seven feet in length but which were, in fact, rocket shell-casings. The winter of 1943/4 was lively in parts and the last bad ordinary raid took place in April 1944 and still further widened our experience when we had H.E. Bombs, (exploded and unexploded), Incendiaries, Steel-nosed Incendiaries, Phosphorus Bombs, Flare Fuses, Rocket Shell-casings and an ordinary unex-ploded A.A. shell all in one night!

Then in June, July and August came the Fly Bombs, (when the siren seemed to wail almost per¬petually), and from September we were bombarded with Rockets. For ten months we strained our ears listening for the buzz-z-z of the V.I. or the dull boom of the V.2. and it was not until the end of March 1945 that our trials ended.

And the services necessary to deal with all these new experiences had to be invented, co-ordinated and improved upon in the light of experience by civilians organised in our Civil Defence Services under the aegis of the Borough Council assisted by the officers and others who volunteered for this new form of social service. (Some idea of the variety of the Services needed can be obtained by a glance at the Contents List for Part II.)

Assuredly the Borough motto was well chosen for " Fellowship is Life" and the lack of fellowship would have meant the death of many now alive.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen