CHAPTER 22 WARDENS' SERVICE

"In the beginning ..."

Originally the duties of the Warden, (as outlined in official publications), were, briefly, to keep people off the streets, to deal with unobscured lights, to report air raid damage and to give warnings of poison gas. They themselves were instructed to take cover during a raid, and, so far as Incendiary Bombs were con¬cerned, they were merely to warn the householder and leave him to deal with them. While Wardens with some knowledge of First Aid might help the injured before the Stretcher Bearers arrived, it was stated specifically that the Warden would not have authority to assume command of First Aid Parties when they came to his Sector.

Development of the Warden's duties.

Experience proved, however, that the Wardens' duties in an actual raid were much different from and of a far wider scope than those originally envisaged. The instructions to Wardens were changed from time to time but usually after experience had shown the need for Wardens to undertake wider duties and only very rarely were the instructions given in advance of the Wardens taking over such functions. In fact, it was events, rather than preconceived theories, that decided the part which the Warden should play for, during the blitz periods, the Wardens found that their relations with the public had become closer and closer, and that it was to them that the public went with the hundred and one Civil Defence queries to which they expected an immediate answer. The Wardens were made responsible for supervision of the Shelters, for the supervision of the public using the Shelters, for seeing that the Shelters were kept clean and tidy and that bedding was removed, and also for taking censuses of public shelter users.

The Wardens were required to know the details of situation of Householders' Shelters, to assist in obtaining particulars regarding bunks for Anderson Shelters and for Public Shelters, to assist in the provision of salvaged timber for householders, and to make the enquiries connected with applications under these various items. They not only assisted with the provision of respirators but from time to time, took censuses of respirators held by householders, and arranged for, or assisted with, repairs to these respirators. In addition, they acted as distributors of information to the public by word of mouth, by distribution of handbills, by publication of posters and by display of notices on the notice boards attached to the Wardens' Posts. Post Wardens and Deputy Post Wardens were trained as Local A.R.P. Instructors and were largely responsible for the training of their own Wardens owing to the detached position of the Posts.

Finally, when the Siren sounded not only did they not take cover (as had previously been expected), but they had to be out before and during the fall of bombs, so that their reports might be speedy and their action immediate. That this involved real danger was evidenced by the sad fact that Mr. H. L. Duke and Mr. E. Ellis, (both part-time Wardens), died of injuries received while on patrol duty on 4th October, 1940.

Work at Incidents.

At the actual Incident, the Wardens had to under¬take functions which had never been envisaged for them. They were required to become expert in First Aid and to use their knowledge and the equipment with which they were issued so that casualties might have immediate attention even before the official Casualty Services could arrive. By hard necessity, they had to learn and perform something of Rescue work, and a number of them became fairly expert in this direction.

All these things happened, before the need was officially recognised and before any training in Rescue and First Aid work had been organised regionally for Wardens although we had done a good deal locally in these directions. They are therefore entitled to recognition of the part which they contributed to the rescue of the 219 trapped casualties referred to in the chapter on the Heavy Rescue Service. (Many Wardens were also given Decontamination training locally so that they could be used to supplement the Decontamination Squads if need arose.)

In the early days the Wardens had to cope almost unaided with Incendiary Bombs for the householder knew little of those things at that time and, in due course, it was the Wardens who undertook the training and organisation of Street Fire Parties in their early stages, a job which was particularly difficult having regard to the loosely-knit and purely voluntary and unpaid basis of the Street Fire Party Organisation in the early days. Unexploded bombs and shells had to be investigated by the Wardens' Service originally, without prior training or instruction, and the institution of safety precautions for the public and the bulk of the evacuation work connected therewith fell to the Wardens' lot. In connection with Incidents, the Warden's register of persons living in his Post Area, and his knowledge and records of where they ought to be found during raiding periods, was invaluable and became more and more essential in connection with the tracing of persons missing after an Incident.

Incident Control.

The development of operational work during the raiding period of 1940/1 showed more and more the necessity for an Incident Officer to take charge of all Services arriving at the spot. By nature of the distribution of the Wardens' Posts, the Warden was the man normally to be expected to be first at an Incident, and the first Warden on the spot was, therefore, instructed to take charge of the Incident until relieved by a Warden of Senior rank. Incident Officer work was in itself extremely com¬plicated and the Warden, having despatched his reports, had to arrange for reception, distribution and general direction of the Stretcher Bearers, Ambulances, Rescue Services, and any other Services coming to the Incident. As the responsibilities of the Wardens grew, so did the need for Wardens with a better and more detailed training and, in addition, therefore, to ordinary Wardens' duties within the Post, the Post and Deputy Post Warden, and in most cases also the Wardens without non-commissioned rank, had to receive training in Incident Officer work.

Accommodation.

Accommodation for Wardens provided some very special problems for, in the early days, it was the Government's expectation that the Wardens would use someone's front-room. When, later, this was found impracticable, the smallest possible building was designed to accommodate the Wardens: so small, in fact, that, as the war developed and the equipment of Wardens increased, additional accommodation was required even for storage. When added to this was the need for sleeping accommodation, it was decided that annexes might be erected for the accommodation of part-timers and for storage of equipment.

One of the worst features, however, was the absence of decent sanitary accommodation, and the Warden was officially instructed by the Government that if he desired to use a lavatory, he should try and borrow one at a neighbouring house! It was only after long and continuous pressure that authority was given for the provision of chemical lavatory accommodation.

The Battle of London.

However, despite the early lack of official recognition of the Warden's position he did his job so well that Sir Ernest Gowers, the Senior Regional Commissioner for London, stated after the 1940/1 blitz period, that, while the R.A.F. had won the Battle of Britain in the air, the Wardens had won it on the ground. It was to the Warden (he stated) that the public turned to in the time of direst need and distress. When the bombs were dropping the public looked round and saw the Warden, whom they knew, whom they regarded as one like themselves, and, if he showed no sign of panic, if he kept a cool head the public felt they could also do the same. He was, in short, the outstanding example of the " ordinary man."

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