Category Archives: Blitz

Civilian Duty Respirator

It was quickly recognised in the 1930s that a level of respirator was required that fell between the cheap but limited civilian respirator and the far more effective, but expensive, general service respirator. The government therefore introduced the Civilian Duty Respirator, the “Air Raid Precautions Handbook No1” described it as:

The Civilian Duty respirator has been designed for members of civil air raid precautions services and others who might be called upon to carry out their normal duties in the presence of gas, but who are not likely to be continuously exposed to the highest concentrations.

The civil duty respirator was issued with a canvas haversack, an anti-dimming set and an instruction leaflet:imageWe will take a closer look at the haversack next week, tonight we are concentrating on the respirator itself:imageReturning to the ARP Handbook No1, the following description was provided for the mask:

The facepiece is of stouter construction the in the case of the civilian respirator, to withstand harder wear. It is made of rubber, moulded to fit closely to the face. It is fitted with an outlet valve, imageand has a protuberance on the left cheek to which a microphone can be attached for those regularly employed of telephone work.imageThe facepiece is held in position on the face by elastic bands passing round the back of the head. These can be adjusted for fit and comfort by means of buckles.imageThe rubber of the facepiece fits tightly round the end of the container and is secured by means of a metal band, or, in earlier examples, by cord.

The eyepieces are made of strong plain glass discs fitted into metal rims, and are removable by unscrewing for decontamination purposes. imageThere were three different patterns of canister on these masks, the MK I was made of waterproofed cardboard with metal ends. The MK II was identical but made entirely from metal. The third pattern is the one one this mask:imageC.D. Mark III: an improved and slightly larger container, which is in fact identical with the container of the civilian respirator except that the charcoal in it has a higher degree of activation. The main effect of this difference is that the container can absorb more gas before becoming saturated- i.e. That it’s effective life in use is longer. In this container the inlet valve is at the inner end, and can itself be disinfected, so that no absorbent pad is required as in the case of the Mark I and II patterns.imageThe Mark III container is distinguished from the civilian respirator container by having a red band round the black lacquered body.

This example of the civilian duty respirator is stamped with a date of manufacture, here December 1941:imageThis design of respirator continued in service with the Civil Defence into the post war period and was used throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. Of the three main designs of early war respirator (Civilian, Civilian Duty and Service), it is probably the least recognised, but served for decades, thankfully never for real.

Stirrup Pump (Part 2)

We looked at a stirrup pump back in February, here, that example was incomplete and missing its hose. Since writing that post I have come across another, more complete example, for the princely sum of £5:imageThe most obvious difference between this and the earlier example, is this pump still has the hose with it. This hose is made of rubber, wrapped in reinforcing tape and painted black:imageIt measures thirty feet long and when not in use is coiled up and fastened to the pump. The nozzle on the end does not match the pictures in the Firewatcher’s handbook and may be a later replacement, it is secured in place with a jubilee clip:imageThe hose, when coiled up, is secured with a webbing tab, secured with a metal pin and with a plastic quick release tab. This is nicely marked with a crown and the letters GR:imageThe Royal cypher is repeated on the brass collar part of the pump, albeit faintly:imageA massive move was made to produce enough pumps before the war, but 1940 there were only 86,000 distributed which was viewed by the authorities as woefully inadequate. Here women welder’s work to make the handles for stirrup pumps:imageStirrup pumps appear regularly in press photos showing the work of the Civil Defence services:imageDespite its simplicity, the stirrup pump could be invaluable and St Paul’s Cathedral was saved from destruction using the simple stirrup pump:

When a fire broke out in the cathedral’s library aisle, there was no mains water to fight it — the blaze was eventually suppressed with ­stirrup pumps, buckets and sand.

Then, soon after 6.30pm, an incendiary bomb — one of 29 to fall on and around St Paul’s that night — pierced the lead roof of the dome and lodged in its timbers.

Molten lead began to drip into the nave below. The aged wood of the choir stalls and organ screen, carved by the great sculptor Grinling Gibbons, was at mortal risk, while smoke from the blazing buildings surrounding the cathedral enveloped it. Two teams of specialist fire watchers recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects — and hand-picked because they had heads for heights — were ­crawling along the wooden beams with hand pumps to reach the ­blazing section. But suddenly the incendiary bomb, having burnt through the wood, fell far, far to the nave below, where it was easily put out. Though almost every building around St Paul’s ­perished, the cathedral survived.

This pump was filthy when I bought it and has been carefully washed with hot soapy water. It is far from perfect, but for the price was a fantastic find and it is different from my earlier example.

NFS No 5 Fire Force Area Map

In August 1941 the National Fire Service was formed by amalgamating nearly 1600 local fire services and the Auxiliary Fire Service into a single entity covering the whole country. This new nationwide service was administratively split into around forty regional fire forces and the force covering much of the West Riding of Yorkshire was the No 5 Fire Force. Tonight we have a period map of the region with the different fire forces labelled:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area is the focus of the map and its borders are clearly marked with a deeper and darker outline than the adjoining forces:imageA small key indicates what the map depicts and includes the badge of the National Fire Service:imageNo 5 Fire Force Area’s Chief Clerk, AB Trundell, writing in late 1941 described the elements that made up the new regional force:

For the purposes of administration the No 5 Fire Force Area is within the No 2 Region under the Chief Regional Fire Officer, who is responsible to the Regional Commissioner. The Fire Force Area covers approximately 900 square miles and extends from Sedbergh in the north to Holmfirth in the south, and from Wharfdale on the east to Bowland at its boundary with Lancashire on the west. There are within the Fire Force Area at present time some 33 local government authorities as follows:-

County Boroughs- 3

Boroughs-3

Urban Districts- 21

Rural Districts-6

The area as a whole has again been divided into Divisions covering 84 stations now established. The total administrative strength is 226.

J Downs, the commander of the area reflected on nationalisation:

In August 1941 the territory now known as No 5 Fire  Force Area consisted of 33 local authorities, each possessing fire brigades and AFS organisations of varying sizes and types. These were spread over some 900 square miles and contained the major portion of the woollen and worsted industry, with a population of approximately one million. A very important part of this country and a vital one from an industrial point of view.

The regulations provided for this to be taken over in so far as fire cover was concerned, “lock, stock and barrel” both operationally and administratively.

Operationally it meant the organisation of large numbers of pumps, special appliances and personnel into a unified Fire Force in divisions, and the establishing of an effective system of control with a definite chain of command. This involved new headquarters and control rooms, a complete new lay out of telephone communications, new stations and improvements to existing ones. It involved the up of schools for both men and women where instruction could be given on a nationally adopted standard and where women could be taught to take over duties previously carried out by firemen and thereby release the latter for active fire-fighting duties. It involved the construction of static water tanks with a total capacity of millions of gallons, the laying of 12 1/2 miles of steel piping and the building up of a predetermined water relay system for the purpose of delivering water to the fire ground and replenishment of supplies.

NARPAC Leaflet

Most of the time when we look at the work of charities in wartime on this blog, the story is one of heroic and hardworking volunteers providing an essential service under trying circumstances. Tonight’s story is rather different and shows the infighting and administrative chaos that could arise from well-meaning people having differing priorities and aims without strong leadership to move them in the same direction.

Britain had a large number of charities supporting animals, many dating back to the late Victorian era. Some of these are still with us today such as the RSPCA and the PDSA, others such as ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ are now forgotten to history. At the start of the Second World War it was recognised that there was a real danger to domestic and farm animals in wartime and something had to be done to provide help to owners. The Nation Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed to provide an umbrella organisation to coordinate the activities of these different charities. Tonight we have a leaflet from their formation, the front cover of which gives a list of the main charities involved:SKM_C284e17103009590 - CopyThe organisation saw two main aims for itself during wartime, which it set out in this leaflet. Firstly it was to provide shelters and veterinary care to animals caught up in air raids. Secondly it sought to create a central register of pets to allow lost animals after a raid to be identified and returned to their owners (Click on the image for a larger version):SKM_C284e17103009591In order to achieve this aim the committee needed funds and the back page of the leaflet gave readers instructions on how this could be achieved:SKM_C284e17103009590Unfortunately, despite its lofty ambitions the charity never achieved its potential. Firstly there was a lot of competition between its constituent charities. Most relied on wealthy benefactors for the funding to sustain themselves, whilst others preferred small scale fundraising such as jumble sales. With ever greater pressures in wartime each charity and its board was competing with the other organisations in NARPAC for the same diminishing pot of money. This lead to infighting and accusations of charities encroaching into the fundraising spheres of one another and consequent bad feeling.

Added to this was that many people did not have the time to devote to the organisation, as ARP duties, fire watching, work and volunteer organisations such as the WVS used up much of people’s time. In 1939 NARPAC had 47,000 Animal Guards, by October 1940 this had fallen to 16,000- the official record admitted that the drop was due to ‘boredom and local quarrels’. At a higher level there was deep rivalry between the RSPCA and the PDSA and ODFL- the RSPCA seeing the latter as extremists due to their views on fox-hunting. Into this toxic mix was added the problem that there were not enough funds to cover the costs of the animal registration fees and that most owners were more concerned with the day to day problems of finding food for pets with wartime rationing.

It is unsurprising then that NARPAC never lived up to its potential and is today a footnote to the story of wartime civil defence, with small pieces of ephemera such as this leaflet one of the few reminders of the role it might have played.image

Civil Defence Armband

In 1941 the various aspects of Britain’s air raid precautions, rescue and civil support services dealing with the aftermath of air raids were brought together into a single entity known as ‘Civil Defence’. This umbrella organisation introduced new unified insignia including a simple arm band that could be worn over civilian clothes by those without an official uniform:imageThis arm band is made of blue cotton with the organisation’s logo printed in yellow:imageAmong those who were issued the arm bands were messenger boys such as Roy Jamieson:

In those days we had no equipment other than our Civil Defence armbands. There were two steel helmets at the Report Centre which we had to share. A messenger was not allowed to go out unless he was wearing a “tin hat”; consequently if a message had to be taken out the Messenger had to wait until another Messenger came in before he could go out to deliver the message.

In this view of the King and Queen talking to Civil Defence personnel, you can see one of these armbands being worn by the warden immediately behind the queen:SKM_C45817100408340

AFS Canvas Bucket

Previously we have looked at an example of a canvas bucket that was part of an officer’s traveling camp kit. These are of course not the only examples of canvas buckets in service during the Second World War and tonight we are looking at another example, with some different constructional details to the previous example. This bucket is made from a pale green canvas again:imageUnlike the other bucket though, the handle for this bucket is made from a thick piece of cotton webbing, rather than a piece of rope:imageNote how the handle has been doubled up and stitched for strength over the centre part. Inside the bucket is a faintly stamped marking, indicating that it was made in 1939 by Speedings Ltd of Sunderland:imageThis factory was founded in Sunderland in 1827 and is still in business today, making it one of the oldest companies in Sunderland. They have produced sails, canvas products and flags and today make protective equipment for the emergency services.

To return to the bucket, there is another marking on the inside that is very faint and I have struggled to pick up on the camera, that is a GR and crown mark. Searching around I am fairly confident in saying that this design of canvas bucket was issued to the Auxiliary Fire Service in the early years of the war. I have seen other identical buckets with black stencilled markings on the outside that indicate they were used by the AFS and this seems a likely user of my example. Canvas buckets were very useful for carrying on small AFS fire tenders; large numbers could be carried without taking up much space and bucket chains could be set up using volunteers passing them between each other to help put out small fires.

The utility of bucket chains can be seen in this story from Michael Campbell of Leeds:

One night I was awoken by my parents. We had been bombed and two incendiaries had gone through the roof. Father was in the loft with a stirrup pump and a bucket chain had been formed with people passing buckets of water up the stairs. Water was being poured into the stirrup pump bucket too fast and was missing it, then father put his foot into the bucket —“ Pour it down my b—- leg”, he said. As mother carried me past the hatch, down the stairs and by the bucket chain into the garden to the Anderson Shelter, I could see flames in the loft.

I doubt the buckets here were canvas ones, more likely anything the household could get hold of, but the fire was put out and it shows how useful this simple operation could be.

Rest Centre Service Pin Badge

I am slowly building up a small collection of Home Front pin badges, tonight we have an example of one of the more common badges, a Rest Centre Service badge:The Rest Centre Service offered support to people’s and families bombed out of their homes, giving them shelter and helping them get their lives sorted after the trauma of enemy action. This little badge is stamped and then enamelled in white and blue with the letters ‘R’, ‘C’ and ‘S’ intertwined in the centre. The back has a simple pin fastening rather than a lapel button, reflecting the fact that many involved in this work were women where a pin was more appropriate for securing it to a dress:The Rest Centre Service did much valuable work, as described by William Reeks of Bethnal Green:

In the summer of 1940 I was an 18 year old working as a clerk for the London County Council in Bethnal Green, East London, and the only prospect I could see was waiting for my age group to be called up for military service. Our office was on stand-by for manning Rest Centres at a nearby school, which was equipped to receive bombed-out refugees if air raids on London started. Until the ” Blitz” in the autumn that meant sleeping in camp beds in the office on a rota basis, playing cards and deciding who was to be the cook.

Eventually on 20th October I was called to Rest Centre duty as bombed-out East Enders started arriving: for two months I worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off at Globe Road School in Stepney (empty as all the pupils had been evacuated to the country), tending to the needs of bombed-out families who trudged to the school with what they could salvage from their destroyed houses. The school, and many others had been stocked many months before with tea in chests, sugar in sacks, tinned food, blankets, mattresses etc. I remember the cheerfulness of the Cockneys, who quickly settled in and were soon even singing. Every morning we phoned J. Lyons caterers with the numbers of people and at lunchtime the desired number of hot meals arrived in an insulated van. The organisation and forethought was impressive and helped to alleviate the suffering of the refugees.

I mostly travelled the eight miles to and from my home by bicycle – with the disruption of public transport it was more reliable, though the rubble and broken glass everywhere meant frequent punctures. They were exciting times for young people, and I do not remember any down-heartedness or defeatism.

In December I enlisted in the Home Guard and left the Rest Centre Service to others, and resumed work in the office which enabled me to perform my Home Guard duties in the evenings and weekends.

In this Cecil Beaton photograph a young mother and her children wait in a rest centre in London after losing their home: