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Civil defence

What is civil defence?

The use of the term 'Civil Defence' began in the late 1930s; residing under its umbrella were those services that existed to respond to the threat of air raids.  Organisation of civil defence began before war was declared.  The Government felt any measures taken to reduce casualties from bombing raids should be in place as quickly as possible.  Britain had already experienced air raids during World War One when German Zeppelin air ships and then  Gotha planes attacked in 1917.  There had also been the threat of gas attacks, which thankfully never materialised.  The experiences in Britain during the First World War led to the formation of the Air Raid Precautions Committee (ARP). When it first met in 1924 the purpose of the committe was to examine the organisation of civil defence, home defence, censorship and war emergency legislation; the business of running a war on the home front.   

Air Raid Precautions

With the threat of war hanging over the country in 1935 the prime minister of the time, Stanley Baldwin, began to take measures to protect Britain from air attacks. ARP started life as an information leaflet that encouraged the country’s local authorities to develop plans to protect their towns and citizens.  Some towns built air raid shelters, others ignored the advice and so in 1937 the government created the Air Raid Wardens’ Service and recruited volunteers.  By 1939 there were 1.5 million men and women enlisted in the emergency service.

Were the precautions not taken seriously enough? There were gas masks found in bins after they were distributed in 1939. In a book written by Southampton’s Oral History Team ‘Southampton Blitz, The Unofficial Story’ people recalled rumours that respirators were being sold by enterprising residents to passengers on ships as souvenirs.


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