A few months ago, Western Approaches was kindly presented with two scrapbooks filled with articles from the Second World War concerning the role of the Civil Defence Service from 1940 to 1945. They were collected and catalogued by Robert Blues, who was the Deputy Chief Warden of Liverpool Civil Defence. The Civil Defence Service was founded in 1935 by the Home Office. It was initially known as Air Raid Protection (ARP), but the name was changed in 1941. Far from the popular perception of the ARP Warden as being solely responsible for ensuring that blackout rules were enforced, Civil Defence Wardens were responsible for undertaking countless duties which were vital to the prevention of additional deaths during the bombing campaigns across the country, such as advising survivors of the locations of aid facilities and coordinating rescue efforts with other services. Wardens were not the only members of the Civil Defence, their service included numerous roles, such as rescue parties and building assessors. The Civil Defence were also responsible for the repair or demolition of damaged buildings. Another branch of the Civil Defence were the Fire Guards, responsible for monitoring incendiary bombs and directing fire services to active incidents, as well as managing small fires themselves. This short list only covers a handful of Civil Defence departments but gives an idea as to their responsibilities and importance.
The articles held in the two enormous volumes that have been donated focus on the role of the Civil Defence in the May Blitz, a 1941 bombing campaign which focused on the week from 1st to the 7th May. In the space of a week, 681 Luftwaffe bombers targeted Liverpool with around 2,500 bombs. Over 6,500 houses were demolished with 190,000 damaged, leaving around 70,000 people homeless. By the end of the bombing, over 4,000 people were killed and a great many more injured across Liverpool and the Wirral, making it the most bombed city outside of London. Many of the articles highlight the complete devastation that Liverpool faced during this time, detailing incidents that should have been joyful occasions such as a Golden Wedding Anniversary and the beginning of newly wed life which turned into tragedy.
Although these stories serve as a record of a period of great tragedy, they also speak of the tremendous bravery and organization of the workers of the Civil Defence. They, alongside other services, fought unrelenting fires, went into collapsing buildings and saved countless lives while putting their own at risk.
The articles also include more comical stories (by their own description), such as the story of the ARP Warden, an off-duty architect, who captured a German pilot at gunpoint when his bomber was shot down. The article was published on May 9th, shortly following the bombing campaign and at a time when it was unclear whether further bombings could be expected, and shows an attempt to maintain morale in the face of the casualties and destruction.
the face of the casualties and destruction.
Also included in the donation is a letter sent to all ‘fellow wardens’ from the City of Liverpool Defence Wardens Service in June 1945 thanking the Wardens for their service, signed by Chief Warden James Bennett and Deputy Chief Warden Robert Blues.
This donation represents an invaluable insight into the work of Liverpool’s Civil Defence volunteers in the city’s greatest hour of need, and we would like to thank Mr. Blues’ nephew for this very kind and gratefully received donation. We hope to share more of the stories contained within these books, as well as more information on Mr. Blues himself, in the near future.