CHAPTER 7 THE SIREN

From the time that the first warning "warble" sounded, a quarter of an hour after the declaration of War on the 3rd September, 1939, until the final clear note of the last "Raiders Passed" Signal, the Siren played an important part in the lives of WalŽthamstow people. During the 1940/41 blitz it was a constant reminder and warning of the approach of enemy planes and, although during the day-time there was a tendency to forget whether the Siren had been sounded or not, there remained a general sub-conscious alertness during siren periods.

The Siren originally was intended to give people warning so that they might take shelter but the continual sounding of the "Alert" by day and night during the Autumn of 1940 blunted the edge of this warning to such an extent that shelter was normally sought only at night or, alternatively, spasmodically with the approach of enemy planes or on local warning by Raid Spotters. There came, later, periods when the Siren was so rare that it came as quite a shock to hear one.

In June 1944, with the coming of the Fly Bombs, the Siren again became almost a matter of course but, as the defences against the Fly Bomb improved and an increasing proportion were shot down before reaching London, the Sirens once more were reduced in number. The message to C.D. Headquarters, accompanying or forerunning the sounding of the Siren, was the "Air Raid Warning Red" and we had, during certain months, so many sirens and so many "Raiders Passed" signals that we rarely knew, without reference to the record, whether we were under warning or not.

Accordingly (as in many cases elsewhere), we developed a system of exhibiting a red card which, when the "Raiders Passed" was sounded, could be turned over to display its white side. In addition, in order to prevent the sounding of Sirens unnecessarily, a warning, indicating that planes were likely to pass over (but without attacking) the territory concerned, was devised in the form of "Air Raid Message Purple." This was distributed by telephone to C.D. headquarters and Depots, and to certain industrial Firms so that lighting specially permitted for industrial purposes - might be extinguished. Both the Red warnings and the Purple messages, therefore, indicated the near approach of enemy planes but the Purple message was not used in the case of Fly Bombs as the extinguishing of lights in that case was not necessary.

Until October 1941, when the arrangement was abolished, we also received "Air Raid Message: Yellow" when planes crossed the coast. Of these messages we had 585 and these were additional to the figures, given below. (A chart showing in diagrammatic form each warning period and its length of time was prepared by Mr. Heaven at Shadow Headquarters and will, 1 hope, eventually find a place in the Town's Museum.)

The total number of Air Raid Warnings Red and Air Raid Messages Purple was as follows: -

  Red Warnings Purple Messages Total
1939 3 - 3
1940 407 80 487
1941 155 103 258
1942 35 10 35
1943 95 21 116
1944 511 15 526
1945 23 1 24
  1219 230 1449

Note: Where a Purple Message subsequently deŽveloped into a Red Warning, it is not included in the above figures as a Purple Message.)

 

1940
1944
September 113 June 96
October 137 July 194
November 95 August 120

The longest "Red" period was during 1940 when the "Alert" was sounded at 6.17 p.m. on Thursday, 5th November, (a not inappropriate date for explosive troubles), and lasted until 8.22 a.m. the following day-a total of 14 hours 5 minutes.

The greatest number of sirens between one midŽnight and the next was in the Fly Bomb period when 14 Alerts were sounded on Friday, 21st July, 1944.

The last warning siren was sounded in WalthamŽstow at 7.54 a.m. on 28th March, 1945, and the "Raiders Passed" at 7.58 a.m.

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