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Silver 1936 ARP lapel badge

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was an organisation in the United Kingdom set up as an aid in the prelude to the Second World War dedicated to the protection of civilians from the danger of air-raids. It was created in 1924 as a response to the fears about the growing threat from the development of bomber aircraft. Giulio Douhet had published his influential Command of the Air in 1921 and his main thesis had been memorably taken into English as "the bomber will always get through". Many of the practices and ideals set forth by the ARP lived on beyond the War through Civil Defence during the Cold war and still exist today in civilian organizations in the United Kingdom and the United States.


The bombing of Britain in the First World War began on 19 January 1915 when zeppelins dropped bombs on the Great Yarmouth area, killing six people. German bombing operations of the First World War were surprisingly effective, especially after the Gotha bombers surpassed the zeppelins. The most devastating raids inflicted 121 casualties for each ton of bombs dropped and it was this figure that was used as a basis for predictions. The 1924 ARP Committee produced figures estimating that in London there would be 9,000 casualties in the first two days and then a continuing rate of 17,500 casualties a week. These rates were thought conservative.[citation needed]

It was believed that there would be "total chaos and panic" and hysterical neurosis as the people of London would try to flee the city. To control the population harsh measures were proposed—bringing London under almost military control; physically cordoning London with 120,000 troops to force people back to work. A different government department proposed setting up camps for refugees for a few days before sending them back to London.

These schemes remained on paper only and while estimates of potential damage remained high, the Air Raids Commandant (Major General H. Pritchard of the Royal Engineers) favoured a more reasoned solution. He discerned that panic and flight were basically problems of morale, if the people could be organised, trained and provided with protection then they would not panic. As part of this scheme the country was divided into regions each having its own command and control structure, in potentia at least.

The 1924 estimates were, during the build up to the Second World War, regularly revised upwards, particularly in the light of the 1937 German bombing of Guernica, Spain. In 1938 the Air Ministry predicted 65,000 casualties a week—in the first month of war the British government was expecting a million casualties, three million refugees, and the majority of the capital destroyed. Measures to control this devastation were largely limited to grisly discussions about body disposal and the distribution of over a million burial forms to local authorities. In the same year the Socialist biologist JBS Haldane wrote a book titled A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) addressed to "the ordinary citizen, the sort of man and woman who is going to be killed if Britain is raided again from the air" and intended it to be a scientific counterbalance to the "propaganda" that comprised the majority of existing literature at the time. In the book, Haldane strongly criticises the measures taken by the government based on his professional knowledge of human physiology combined with his front-line experiences in the Spanish Civil War.[1]

At the outbreak of the war the British government knew that air attacks would be a main part of the German war tactics so they ordered a million coffins after war was declared.[citation needed] The 1939 Hailey Conference had decided that providing deep shelters would lead to workers staying underground rather than working. This policy was reversed in 1940 when 79 tube stations opened for use as overnight shelters and specialised deep shelter construction begun.

Second World War

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An ARP bell

During the Second World War, the ARP was responsible for the issuing of gas masks, pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (such as Anderson shelters, as well as Morrison shelters), the upkeep of local public shelters, and the maintenance of the blackout. The ARP also helped rescue people after air raids and other attacks, and some women became ARP Ambulance Attendants whose job was to help administer first aid to casualties, search for survivors, and in many grim instances, help recover bodies, sometimes those of their own colleagues.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists members of the ARP within its casualty reports for civilian war dead. The Hamilton Road Cemetery in Deal, Kent has the graves of two serving ARP members, one who died on duty during an air raid in 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain, and an Ambulance Attendant who was killed by a cross-channel shelling attack in 1944. As the war progressed, the effectiveness of aerial bombardment was, beyond the destruction of property, very limited. There were less than three casualties for each ton of bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe in many British cities and the expected social consequences hardly happened.[citation needed] The morale of the British people remained high, 'shell-shock' was not at all common, and the rates of other nervous and mental ailments declined.

During the war the ARP was headquartered at Baylis House in Slough, Buckinghamshire. With the development of the Civil Defence Service in 1941, the main function of the ARP fell within the remit of this organisation. However, the term remained in usage and on signage throughout the war. Although disbanded in 1946, the functions of the ARP were revived as part of the Civil Defence Corps formed in 1949.


Air Raid Warden testing his equipment in Brisbane in October 1942.

Air Raid wardens or ARP wardens had the task of patrolling the streets during blackout, to ensure that no light was visible. If a light was spotted, the warden would alert the person/people responsible by shouting something like "Put that light out!" or "Cover that window!". They could report persistent offenders to the local police. They also patrolled the streets during air raids and doused incendiary bombs with sandbags where possible.

Other duties included helping to police areas suffering bomb damage and helping bombed-out householders. ARP wardens were trained in basic fire-fighting and first aid, and could keep an emergency situation under control until official rescue services arrived.

There were around 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain during the war, almost all unpaid part-time volunteers who also held day-time jobs. Initially, wardens were expected to be on duty three nights a week, but expectations were increased as the bombings grew worse. They had a basic uniform consisting of a set of overalls, Wellington boots, and an armlet, along with a black steel helmet, and small silver-colored badge. Prior to the introduction of the overalls, wardens wore their helmets, armlets, and badges on their civilian clothes. From the formation of the ARP until 1939, the badges were made of solid sterling silver, with a crescent-shaped button hole attachment for men and a pin style brooch for women. From 1940 on, the badges were made of a cheap "white" metal as the silver was in short supply. Later in the war, the helmets would be issued with the dark blue battledress issued to Civil Defence members. The steel helmet had W for Warden in bold white writing across it, except for Chief Wardens who wore white helmets with black lettering. Although the standard procedures proscribed the ideal warden to be at least thirty, men and women of all ages were wardens. In certain instances, given special needs of communities, even teenagers were wardens.

Many wardens went considerably beyond the call of duty and a search of medal citations in the London Gazette demonstrates this. The first ARP warden to receive the George Cross was Thomas Alderson, who won his award for actions saving civilian life in Bridlington in 1940.[2]

Fire Guard Messengers

With a general lack of radio communications and telephone communications prone to disruption by air raids, many towns appointed child volunteers aged between 14 and 18 as messengers or runners. These Fire Guard Messengers would run or cycle through the night raids ferrying messages between ARPs and the fire department units and incendiary volunteers with their buckets of sand.[3]

ARP Wardens in Popular Culture

  • In the television series Dad's Army, Chief ARP Warden Hodges is a recurring character.
  • In the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, an ARP warden can be seen in the background during the Portobello Road sequence.
  • The BBC television series Foyle's War features ARP wardens in several episodes.

See also


  1. Haldane, J.B.S. A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) (1928) Victor-Gollancz
  2. George Cross Database - GC facts and statistics
  3. Wartime memories as a Fire Guard Messenger

External links

  • [1] ARP SCHOOLS (c1940) [2] ARP: A REMINDER FOR PEACETIME (c1940) (archive films from the National Library of Scotland: Scottish Screen Archive)

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