Links to other pages on this web site are at the bottom of this page.
Part 1: 1. Approach to the Battle || 2. The thing happens || 3. The Battle of the Flames | | 4. The fight for human life
Part 2: 5. That the City might live | | 6. The Man In the Street | | 7. The Londoner's Home
8: A Borough in the Blitz.| | 9: The Front Widens
Part 3: 10: The Attack on the Arms Towns | | 11. The attack on the ports.
Part 4: 12. The Countryman's Blitz. | | 13. Seaside Tip-and-Run | | 14. The Plan of Battle
Part 5: 15. The Front Line Troops || 16. The Achievement of the Many
15 The Front Line Troops
The Front Line Troops
"Is it the smallness of the country, or is it the pride and affection of race-- they have solidarity, or responsibleness, and trust in each other. Their minds, like wool, admit of a dye which is more lasting than the cloth. They embrace their cause with more tenacity than their life. Though not military, yet every common subject by the poll is fit to make a soldier of. These private reserved mute family-men can adopt a public end with all their heat." -- Emerson.
Jump to: The Warden || The Woman Warden ||
The Fireman || The Rescue Man ||
The First Aid Party || The Ambulance Driver
The First Aid Post || Womens Voluntary Services || Two Telephonists || The Messenger || The Policeman
For some time before the blitz he was regarded by most of his charges with anything from cool indifference or mild amusement to active suspicion as a Nosey Parker.
"But it's 'Saviour of 'is country'
When the guns begin to shoot."
The wardens' day came, and it was a glorious one. Their highest chieftains saw the "Cinderella Service" surpass itself and exceed their best hopes of it. Its performance must be written down as a principal reason for the success of the civil defence services.
The men and women of the blitzed towns came to know, and say, that there wasn't half so much to worry about with the warden on his beat.
He played two separate parts, and each was vital to the whole working of civil defence. He was the eyes and ears of the Control Centre in the field: and the chartered "good neighbour" of the blitz.
As a reporter in the field, his just judgment of the extent and severity of bomb damage was what enabled Control to send the right services to the right places. Smooth working and human lives depended on help being sent without excess or deficiency.
When it came he must be able to tell the rescue parties what bodies, living or dead, might be beneath the debris- and where. This he could do only by knowing his neighbourhood and its people as a good gardener knows his rose~beds.
Here the warden's second function met his first. He had not only to know his people, but to earn and keep their confidence. He might need it as much as a subaltern needs his men's, for they might have to follow him through deadly danger and put their lives in his hands.
He must get the bombed-out, unharmed and with due cossetting, to the shelter or the Rest Centre.
He must infect them and every citizen on his ground with his own steadiness. If his people were trapped, and no rescue party at hand, he must get them out, no matter if it meant working for an hour among fallen brick under blazing timber, or protecting them with his body from the risk of falling debris, or fishing for them in the dark in a basement thick with escaping gas, where every second added to their peril and his.
The risks he must run in their service were as various as bomb-damage itself; but his purpose was constant. They were his charge and his responsibility was absolute.
Next day he would go to work at his desk or bench, for in more than nine cases out of ten he was a part-time volunteer. But if the raid was bad he might forget his daily bread and carry on helping to clear up, lending a hand with rescue or shepherding the homeless. In the provinces, when raiding was repeated for a second or a third night, wardens often went on working day and night, till it was all over, snatching an hour or two's sleep when they could, and getting little or no news of their own homes and families.
For they shared the lot of all civil defenders; their battlefield was their own street, and they found their fighting duties and family ties much mixed up together.
They might have to disregard the passing sight of their home ruined, or work for hours on end for other families after hearing news that brought nagging uncertainty about the fate of their own. Sometimes when the bombs began to fall their wives, in the first moment of weakness, might try to claim first place.
It happened in one household (not likely to have been unique) that when the siren went a wife asked her warden husband, as he put on his steel helmet, "Don't we come first?" There followed, as he said, "a spot of argument" until his little girl said, "Shucks, Mummy, let Daddy do his stuff." She carried the day. Soldiers, sailors and airmen are spared such stresses.
These warriors-on-the-hearth were racy of the soil of their own neighbourhood. In dockside areas they were dockers and shipyard engineers; in the more expensive residential districts bank managers and architects; in the arms towns, fitters and riveters; in suburbia, clerks and shop-keepers; in the country, farmers and men of the manor.
Each area produced its own leadership. Some joined because they had an ingrained sense of public duty (or, as they might have put it, because they liked to lend a hand); some, because they didn't like the way things were going with that man over in Germany; some of the whole-timers because they were out of a job and this was one they thought they'd like to do.
The wardens were more than half the membership of the civil defence services; in cities; there were normally six wardens to a post, and a post to every 500 people. They were "thick on the ground" because they were not specialists but men-of-all-work and had much to do. Nearly all the part-time volunteers reported for every raid, disregarding shifts and turns of duty.
THE WOMAN WARDEN
One warden in every six was a woman. The work suited them, they found; and if they couldn't always turn a hand to the heavier jobs, they had their own touch with the nervous or the restless, while their reports lacked nothing in balanced accuracy.
Here are two thumbnail sketches from life.
Mrs. A. was a district warden in charge of seven unusually large posts, having under her 250 wardens, and 25,000 people. When she was appointed, she found some resentment among wardens at the appointment of a woman to a post of such authority.
She is a small slight woman, whose children must find her a very gentle mother. She called a meeting of her wardens and told them she would never ask them to do anything she wasn't ready to do herself. She had no trouble afterwards, and found that her undertaking often helped her to keep her own nerve at a pinch.
"I'm not brave, she said. "When the warning goes or a bomb falls, my inside turns over and I have to get a grip of myself. But when I go out and can see what's going on and have something to do, I'm all right."
She was grateful to the senior wardens with whom she worked when she first joined the service. They took her about, showed her when to duck, and taught her never to feel depressed however wretched the prospect.
One of her difficulties was to make recommendations for gallantry awards, for she was usually so absorbed in her job as to be quite unaware of the colleagues next to whom she might be. working.
One night she was carrying to a police station an incendiary bomb which had not gone off. Someone offered to take it for her. She handed it over (for she had other things to do) explaining carefully and at some length just where it should be held and the importance of not knocking it. Not until breakfast next morning did she learn that her helper had been her husband.
Mrs. B. was present at the birth of three babies during heavy attacks on her town. She is not a certificated midwife but, as she said, "I knows it all." At two of these births bombs were dropping, but doctors attended, so she didn't think they quite counted. The third was her own affair. Neither doctor nor nurse could be got, and she took charge. Immediately the baby was born the roof of the house fell in.
The mother refused to be moved, and Mrs. B. spent the rest of that night sitting at her side under a tarpaulin hoisted on tall furniture and broken joists. She became the baby's godmother.
She developed a sharp nose for coming danger. (This was not uncommon.) One night she dragooned the people out of their houses and into shelter just before a heavy bomb demolished the whole street.
"When the sirens went and it was bad," she said, "if they couldn't hear my voice they used to get a bit panicky. When they heard me they were all right. They'd say, 'we can't hear B.-- it must be bad.' "
"Then I'd shout from one end of the street to the other, telling the children to get inside. That was my one consolation : whatever I said was right, and the people would always do it."
The fireman was taught to avoid heroics. Only the prospect of saving another life justified risking his own. But he found what seemed to him many good reasons for forgetting to calculate chances. He always knew that he was working in the foremost of danger, for fires were the enemy's normal targets.
Sometimes he stood firmly on a flame-lit roadway, as the pictures so often show him, knees a little bent and body braced against the thrust of water through his hose. Sometimes he sank to his chin in oily mud, waded through hot rivers of paint, or leapt to dodge fiery streams of petrol. He was not always "on the branch," holding the nozzle at the point of attack. Often he stood to serve his pump for hours at a time as it relayed water from a distance, until so deafened by its never-ending roar that he could hardly hear the bomb explosions.
He worked at times in heat that blistered the paint on the pump, and turned to steam the water of his jet before it reached its mark. He was taught to "get at it," to close in, with his head held down near the branch where the jet's draught made a channel through the smoke, inching forward until he could pour water on the fire's red roots.
This might mean perching a ladder on the steep slope of a roof and climbing fifty feet. It might mean taking a quick chance under burning rafters, or in a corridor roofed with stone cracking in the heat.
Having got into a building, he might find himself lost in utter darkness, unable even to find his hose and trace his way back. He saw the broken bodies of comrades tossed high in the air with their pump by the direct hit of a bomb. He saw walls fall on them, roofs crash through buildings where they were at work. He fought in churches where the water steamed in the font and the big bell crashed to earth behind him.
Many a time he saw a building that he had quenched by hours of toil re-ignited in an instant by the fall of another bomb. While he had water he had hope, for who knew what great skyscraper of flame might not be mastered by dogged patience? But the water sometimes failed. The jet would die away, the hose go limp. Oddly enough, when it did he always looked back along its length with instinctive expectation; but he knew it sometimes meant defeat.
That really depressed him- watching a great blaze burn itself out with the mains broken, the emergency basins empty, and every line of access to distant supplies cut off. On those nights he would go back to the station with no songs or joking.
Sometimes he worked gas as reinforcement in a strange town after plunging for miles on his appliance through moonlight, or pitch dark, over strange roads. Then from some nearby hill he would see below him the enemy bombs falling on the blazing city into which he must make his way.
Often he crawled among debris in the dark. But when his turn came he would be lifted aloft, a hundred feet up on the turn-table ladder, holding his branch with all his strength waiting for the shock of the oncoming water, which might easily "whip" him six feet sideways, in an instant jerk on his aerial platform.
He saw it like this :-
"You get the best view of all, and you have to give the men down below a. running commentary on all that happens. From time to time the smoke billowsy up and you can see nothing below you. Then you feel horribly alone.
"A flare comes down making a peculiar glare that scares you. Yet when .hear a bomb falling you feel as if you could lean out and catch it."
"When you are playing down on to the top floors of a building and the fire is burning downwards, the floors give way in time.
"Then comes that great whiff of hear and flame, licking up towards you, and you think yourself lucky if you get out of it unscorched.
"On big blitz nights when there are any number of fires going round you, you wonder how, they'll get them all out. But they do begin to die out one by one, except for two or three big chaps that keep going. You can see the crews of your own fire worming their way into the building and attacking.
"The next moment almost, they are up on the next floor, and so they creep up towards you until it's all over.
"There's nothing really exciting about being on top of a turn-table ladder- you get used to it, like most other things."
Those are the words of an ex-milk-rounds-man. Like the rest of the Civil defence services, the auxiliary war-time firemen were from every walk of life: seamen, solicitors, taxi-drivers, motor-car salesmen, bricklayers, warehousemen, hairdressers, mechanics, fish- mongers.
Many were unpaid volunteer part-time firemen. They did their day's work normally, and often had one night in three on duty, another on call and the third free. It might well happen that they would come in at the end of the day's work, turn out again after an hour or two and work hard all night, then do the same things next day and next night -and to work again the day after that.
THE RESCUE MAN
The war has brought prominence to some strange techniques, like armed parachute jumping and the defusing of delayed-action bombs. But so far it has bred up only one completely new craft. It is a sign of the meaning of total war that this should be the craft of burrowing for broken bodies among the ruin of homes. There has never before been the opportunity to develop an intense scientific interest in the behaviour of broken buildings and the way their fragments lie.
Until our own generation, it was hardly a matter of general concern that a house could collapse in three different ways- by total disintegration into mixed rubble, by the curving fall of roofs and floors, held at one side while the other swung downwards, or by the breaking of floors in the middle while their sides held, so that they formed a V beneath the arms of which men on the storey below might be preserved alive.
The Rescue Man was the new technician of the blitz. His pre-war training taught him much, but when the bombs fell he learned much more. He learned how to tunnel through shifting masses of rubble on unstable footings, using whatever head-support he could find- sometimes his prepared lengths of timber, but sometimes a kitchen table or a wardrobe-frame which he pushed before him as he went on. He learned to be very delicate with his big hands, for if he could not withdraw a lump of brick-and- mortar without disturbing by a hair's breadth the broken timber beside it he might bring the tons of stuff above down upon him.
He learned the strange ways of furniture- how a piano might fall half forward and lock with a chair, far below the surface of a dense mass of debris, leaving beneath its tilted keyboard just one clear space with a woman pinned in it.
He grew used to clearing a passage for himself among materials under tremendous pressures and learned to take advantage of their stresses so that when he had finished his picking and hollowing, the sides and roof of his zig-zag corridor were firmly held, and he could come back by the way he had gone in.
His was the most laborious of all the tasks of civil defence. He had been known to keep straining away at a difficult piece of rescue for seventeen hours on end. His work had also its special risks. Underground his fate was always poised precariously over his head.
Above ground he often worked under a tottering wall and lacked the time to deal with it. What couldn't be shored must be ignored. In basements there might be water from broken pipes, rising steadily towards the roof as the parties struggled to get in and release someone, or to get out with him. Gas often leaked from fractured mains or household pipes; it might make any enclosed space into an immediately fatal trap. And so often there was fire, to give the rescuers minutes instead of hours, and threaten them as they hurried.
But there was another side to this. Rescue was not only a craft, it was a calling; it took firm hold on the tough builders' labourers and the others who practised it, and filled them with pride and interest in their work. For they had a quarry. They were working towards a living being- or several. The warden, or the woman next door, had told them definitely of people under that wreckage, who might well be alive. So every now and again as they struggled noisily forward the party leader would call for silence and they would strain their ears for voices, a muffled cry, even the noise of breathing.
As they drew nearer they might be able to talk to their "patient," perhaps for the hours that it took to get through those last few impenetrable feet. Later still they could give the kid, or the old girl, or grandpa, a drink- water or stimulant out of their cupped hand.
This was what gripped you, what made worth while the hours of heavy labour in the thunderiing blackness - this prospect of "getting the old boy out." It was something you liked to do yourself; you and your party, and when you'd got to him you had been known to pick him up, cold-shoulder the stretcher party with a muttered "this one's mine," and take him to the ambulance in your own arms.
Though the ones you rescued never knew who you were, and couln't very often find you to thank you afterwards, you could (and did) find out from the Town Hall or the Hospital how they were going on. The satisfaction was there-fore greater if you were working in your own area for your own people.
" We done all the rough work, see, twelve hours it might 'a bin, and then they want to send us home and let these reinforcement chaps from Walthamstow get the old boy out" Not if you could help it !
FIRST AID PARTY
The First Aid Party, waiting in its depot, was ordered out by the Control Centre to any spot where bombs had caused injury. Four men and a driver made a party. Each was an experienced first aid worker.
Perhaps before the war he was a member of the Red Cross, St. John or St. Andrew''s Society; he was in any case a man drawn tempera- rnentally to the work of healing, ready to face the full risk of war but happiest in one of its most constructive callings. His work did not call for the highest medical skill, but for speed, sound judgment and steady nerve.
The party's first task was to help the Rescue Men to release trapped casualties. Then they must decide whom to treat, whom to send home: of the more serious cases, who should go to hospital and who to the First Aid Post.
On the soundness of these rough and ready diagnoses lives would depend. It was dark: bombs were falling: -perhaps it was raining and there was not a second to be lost. In the earlier days of the attack, before the practice grew up of sending an "Incident Doctor" to the scene, the First Aid Parties made these crucial decisions unaided, as they bandaged and splinted in the night. And the doctors at hospital or at the Post usually found they had decided rightly.
They went out together, driver and attendant, from their depot to the bombed site; and it was the driver's business to get there, whatever craters, fires, trailing wires, boulders or hoses might be in her path.
She had volunteered because she had been used to driving her own car, most likely, or the family's. "Civil Occupation: Housewife," she had written on the application form: or "Typist," or, occasionally, "None"-- what they called a Bright Young Thing.
She had shuddered at a dead bird on the footpath, and now she was going out to deal with death and mutilation in forms as horrible as any battlefield had ever seen.
If she told the truth she might confess that when she swung her ambulance out of the depot gates that first night, what set her heart thumping in her chest was not the bombs but the thought of facing and dealing with her first casualties.
Yet when she got there she could think only of the people she had come to help. Before very long nothing could move her.
To be sure, it was unnerving when you found that, by some mistake, what you had been given as a casualty was in fact a corpse. It was worse still, for a second, when a corpse suddenly asked for a drink of water. That worried you. But having to drive for miles under bombs or through flames, or to sit for hours in the blitz waiting for your casualties, to all outward appearance did not.
FIRST AID POST
There were the doctor, the trained nurse, and the nursing auxiliaries. They had an area with something like 15,000 people in it for their own. They took what the ambulances brought them. They worked away as though there were no air raids, and no such thing had ever happened as a bomb falling on a post like theirs, adding the names of its staff to their own casualty lists.
This was the "fixed" post. There were also mobile posts or units, made up in the same way, on call to any "Incident Doctor," or ready to reinforce a hard pressed fixed post or even a hospital. At a bomb incident, it might fall to one of the nursing auxiliaries to follow a rescue worker down a tunnel into a basement where people were trapped, and there to give them what help was possible. She might sit there for hours relieving their pain and giving them the comfort of her presence until rescue was complete.
The splendid work of the Emergency Hospitals and their staffs is not touched upon in these pages.
WOMENS VOLUNTARY SERVICES
Without them the job could never have been done. In the early stages in each raided city they did for the bombed-out all those simple, human things that official planning had not caught up with. Later they staffed many of the Rest Centres, and came to know a great deal about air raid sufferers. They learned to distrust the first false elation bombed-out people feel at finding themselves alive, and to be ready for the succeeding depression when the full significance of ruined home and lost possessions sank in.
They knew that too much organising wasn't a good thing, and that people would sort themselves out very well if left alone at the right moment. They filled hours with washing up and washing towels, serving breakfasts and dishing out uncountable tea cups, slipping home- if they could-- to see to their own husbands' dinners and then back to reach down the plates for their charges.
But Rest Centres were only a part. They staffed the brightly coloured Queens' Messenger Convoys that went into the raided towns and cooked and served hot food in the first hours of muddle and distress. They drove and worked the mobile canteens, cutting, stewing; and tea brewing; sometimes on the morning after, but often in the blitz when the civil defence workers as well as the homeless needed quick sustenance.
After a big raid on some nearby city, a group of well-found country ladies from manor, rectory and doctor's house would set off in their canteen van on what might turn out to be a six-day gipsying expedition, sleeping where and when they could in the city, and taking up their pitch day by day wherever they found a need.
When America as well as Britain turned out all its attics for clothes for London's bombed, it was the W.V.S. who manned the clothing depots, as they afterwards did all over the country. They looked after those who "had nothing but what they stood up in" and those who stood up in nothing but their night clothes. It was their business to make every case a special one, from theoutsize man who had to be given a. voucher on the neighbouring stores to the old lady who tirnidly whispered,
"I s'pose you haven't got a shemmy, love? I don't feel dressed, like, without."
[Note: shemmy = chemise]
They drove vans day and night, sometimes taking people to shelters or centres from homes at which the flames were already licking, sometimes just moving blankets. Later in the blitz their "housewives' service" organised the hundred and one small errands of compassion that are so large a part of work after the raid.
"After the raid" was an elastic term. W.V.S. women might have to get up at four in the morning for days on end to come from their own peaceful town as reinforcing parties and be at their Centre before the All Clear. Or they might be seen walking in the blitz from their home to the Rest Centre nearby, aproned, and with basins and colanders held above their heads against falling shrapnel. Mobile canteens often came in with radiators, windscreens and drivers' cabins pitted with holes from machine gun bullets and bomb fragments.
In the ports, as the women fed tea and sandwiches to dockers working an urgent load in the dark, a nearby bomb blew them and their canteen into the dock basin-icy water on their backs and scalding hot tea down their fronts at the same instant. Like all other civil defenders they had their own homes bombed, and their own relatives killed, as they worked.
(i) CONTROL CENTRE
She took messages from the wardens and passed them to the service chiefs nearby : or she passed their instructions to the depots where the service parties waited. It was a simple job. All it needed was a clear head, a total disregard for bombs, and the kind of self-control that could take a message about a big incident somewhere in one's own street and pass it on as though nothing had happened.
Often bombs fell near enough to make the floor of the Control Room heave: some times nearer, so as to bounce the rows of girls a foot out of their chairs and back again or nearer still, to put the lights out and leave everything in darkness till the emergency lighting came on. Or you might get a direct hit.
Control Centres had done more than once. Then anything might happen. But it hadn't happened yet, and meantime the messages must get through, quickly, because there were lives to save and jerry to beat.
(ii) G.P.O. EXCHANGE
"Number please? Would you mind speaking up-there's some noise going on round here." In heavy raids, the girl operators dealing with emergency calls at the G.P.O. exchanges were workmanlike about their duties. Sometimes they could sit at their switchboards in shelter, but if anything went wrong they or their men colleagues might have to climb to a top floor and there handle special business while the raid went on.
Bombs blasted in the windows of exchanges, incendiaries fired their buildings, ceilings and rooms filled with rubble, dust and smoke. Operators crouched beneath their switchboards to avoid flying bomb fragments and then got out to carry on.
The exchange might be a one-woman affair in a small village, on which depended the prospect of help for the civil defence services under one of those senseless and devastating attacks that did afflict villages. Then some elderly woman would sit at work for hours among the bombs and fires, all night and well into the next day. Upon her, as upon telephonists in every raided area, pivoted all the complex working of the defence machine.
Two extracts from official reports will tell the Messenger's story.
This is the first :
John Smith. Aged 16. Cyclist despatch rider (part-time). Normal civilian occupation : schoolboy.
During last Thursday's enemy air attack, telephone communications were put out of action at an early hour. Smith maintained contact between the Report Centre and services in action by carrying operational messages on his cycle, riding the whole time except for three short intervals, once when he dismounted to extinguish an incendiary bomb that had fallen in dangerous proximity to a wooden fence, and twice when he was forced to disentangle his cycle from loose telephone wires fallen across the roadway.
The roads were also seriously obstructed by bomb craters and debris, as high explosives were falling continuously in the district. Though exhausted from his efforts, he insisted on continuing to carry messages throughout the area all night. During the ten hours he was on duty Smith was the main channel of communication with the services.
This is the second:
Particular praise is given by wardens to several boys who frankly confessed themselves frightened, but still did not hesitate to go out on long and hazardous journeys, not even when flat tyres could have been used as an excuse.
Among the messengers was a small pale boy who begged to be allowed to take a message, but the Chief Warden, feeling that the danger was too great for him, put him off time after time with various excuses, the final one being that he had no bicycle.
'Please, sir,' said the lad eagerly, 'Billy will lend me his bicycle.' After some hesitation the Chief Warden finally sent him off. After a long time he returned, breathless, wild eyed and bleeding, and covered with dirt.
He asked to speak to the Chief Warden privately. 'Glad to see you back, my boy,' said the Chief Warden as he bent down to listen to the lad's agitated whisper. 'I daren't tell Billy, sir, but I've lost his bloody bicycle. I was blown off it, and when I got up I could only find the front wheel'
There was nothing in civil defence that the policeman did not do. He reported incidents to the Control Centre, and got the services into action, as did the warden. He moved people from threatened shelters. If an unexploded bomb fell he warned the nearby householders, evacuated them, and diverted the traffic. When he came upon people trapped, he went to work to rescue them, until the specialist parties arrived. If they were injured, he applied a tourniquet or splint, or dressed their wounds.
Everywhere outside London it was his duty to take charge of an incident, co-ordinate the work of the parties, and give general direction to their operations. (In London this was the warden's responsibility).
If incendiary bombs fell, he must help to put them out and to deal with the fires they caused, unless these were big enough to need the attendance of the fire brigade.
He had been known to conduct fire-fighting himself ; if all the pump crews were out, he could borrow appliances, muster wardens or civilians from the neighbourhood, connect up to the hydrants and get to work until the brigades attended.
Was a shop front smashed and valuable goods exposed? It was the policeman who found members of the Home Guard and posted them as sentries or mounted guard himself if there were nothing more urgent to be done.
His continually varying work called always for personal initiative. All of it was responsible, and all of it was dangerous. It meant activity in the open, under bombing, for as long as there was work to be done in his neighbourhood. Some of the rescue work done by the police takes rank with the most heroic episodes of that hazardous craft: in a heavy raid, when the calls on the rescue services were many, police Constables might work for hours among the debris in imminent danger of death.
When the raid was over, and the count of dead and injured had to be made, it fell to the police, to keep the tally, to notify the next of kin, and to deal with the mass of enquiries from relatives and friends that descended upon them by every possible channel.
They had to make known their tidings, often hitter and grievous, to people already overwrought by their own personal experiences. There must be no failure in tact and kindness- and there was none.
Every one of these tasks grew directly out of the normal function of the police as upholders of order and guardians of the public welfare. One would hardly compare closely a street collision with the fall of a large bomb; yet both logically and in practice there are points of resemblance between them. So there came to be a saying among the police that an incident was just a large accident. The risks were more severe, but the police were chosen and trained to face risk.
The complexities were greater, but one learned to cope with them. The conditions of work were infinitely more difficult, but the issues at stake were greater and with experience one rose to the occasion.
All these extra burdens, and others not directly arising from civil defence, needed extra shoulders to carry them. So the Auxiliary Police War Reserve was recruited before the war and called into being on the outbreak. It was a. whole-time force. The part-time Special Constables also played an essential part. It was a testimonial to all concerned- to the comradely spirit of the regulars, and the keen intelligence of the newcomers-- that the latter so soon learned to show themselves in practice worthy of the traditions of the British police.
In the provinces the police forces were the linch-pins of civil defence. The services were built around the police. Their members looked to the police for guidance and leadership. The wardens, within their own sphere, became a younger brotherhood to the police forces: more often than not the Chief Constable was Chief Warden.
In London, for administrative reasons arising out of the special status of the Metropolitan Police, who are not a local authority service but are responsible directly to the Home Office, the position was different. The police stood a little apart from civil defence, with their own functions of traffic control, movement of the public and preservation of order.
But the distinction was more complete in theory than in practice. On the ground, the constable many a time worked shoulder to shoulder with the warden, the rescue man or the first aid party, just as he did outside the capital.
THE STORY OF HEAVY RAIDS, Chapter I, ended in May, 1941, though the story of civil defence did not.
How far the Blitzkrieg itself may come to have a second chapter is a question to which the answer is hidden in the dark recesses of the minds of the German General Staff.
When they calculate the chances, there may be many a new prospect or device that will tempt them not to regard too closely the lesson of their past experience. But if and in so far as, they may think it salutary to look back, what will they see as their achievement ?
They will see that (as their propaganda showed) they misread their enemy's mind and miscalculated his attitude to the war. They will see that they were not bombing a deceived, disillusioned and dispirited people to whose other burdens air bombardment would be an intolerable addition. Such an enterprise, which they had undertaken with some success elsewhere (and which may yet be carried to a conclusion against them in their turn) was this time denied them. When they look back, they can see only failure.
During the air attack on Great Britain some 190,000 bombs were dropped up till the end of 1941; 43,667 civilians were killed- -20,178 men, 17,262 women, and 5,460 children under the age of 16 years.
The seriously injured numbered 50,387, - 4,061 of them children. The damage has been sufficiently indicated in preceding pages. The failure to disturb civil morale or to reduce appreciably the flow of production was complete.
The great German air offensive against the back kitchens and front parlours of Britain met with total defeat.
This fact can no more be obscured by telling a grievous tale of death and material destruction than can the Royal Air Force's defeat of the Germans in the Battle of Britain, by pointing to the casualty lists of our fighter pilots. The enemy came: he spared nothing that it was in his power to destroy: and he went with his purpose unachieved.
But the history of the air raids of those months is more than a tale of attempt and frustration. The manner of the attack and of its repulse made it an episode of crucial importance in the history, not only of Britain and Europe, but of our civilisation.
The great dragon of barbaric reaction that had reared his head in Central Europe stood for the creed of Force. In every threat and every act he trumpeted his belief in the power of matter over spirit. For three densely-packed months in 1940 he seemed to make good his philosophy.
It was the conscious privilege of the British people to teach him two lessons- the earliest of all those which the free peoples of the world will yet enforce upon him. The first was the Battle of Britain, when the finest squadrons of his chief weapon of terror were brought low by lesser: numbers of freer men. The second was the defeat of his air bombardment by a general and widespread power of thought, action and endurance, based upon the clear consciousness of a just cause.
The first was the triumph of the few; the second the achievement of the many. The first was the more brilliant; but the roots of the second struck very deep. Before the war it was the British people, the many, who discerned Hitler for what he is; it was they, in 1939, who willed his destruction.
They had earned their, privilege. Mr. Churchill said of Hitler : "He knows that he will have to break us in this island, or lose the war." The civil defence of Britain, by all the men and women in the front line of 1940-41, showed which of these two things it was to be.
Go to entry page for whole web site
Highly recommended further reading: Written by a London resident during the early days of the War, finishing in November 1940, so appropriately timed to couple with Front Line: England's Hour by Vera Brittain, ISBN 0-8264-8031-4.
Access Key Details
Copyright Note: This set of articles is Crown Copyright and carries a publication date of 1942. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48) applies as follows: (3) Crown copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work continues to subsist - if the work is published commercially before the end of the period of 75 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was made, until the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first so published. Therefore the copyright is this material appears to have been spent.