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What was the ARP Service?

The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Service was set up in the prelude to the Second World War, and was dedicated to the protection of civilians from the danger of air-raids.

British Governments had began working on Air Raid Precaution (ARP) from 1924 as a response to the German Zeppelin and Gotha raids of WW1, which had been surprisingly effective. 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 in the lead-up to the Second World War.

It was realized that any future wars could and probably would involve mass bombings of civilians. 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. It was believed that associated 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.

The 1924 estimates were regularly revised upwards. 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, 3 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 mid 1930's, local authorities were made responsible for the recruiting and training of volunteers (e.g. stretcher parties, first aid and gas decontamination) for an ARP service. This was finally made compulsory in the ARP Act 1937 which obliged local authorities to make ARP arrangements with powers to compulsorily purchase land for such arrangements.

For further details of the sort of local arrangements that were put in hand, see the ARP Memorandum issued to the Constable, Mr Ernest Munford in June 1937.

Initially volunteers were slow to come forward, but the Munich Crisis (the disagreement with Hitler over Czechoslovakia) spurred things on with the large scale digging of air raid trenches and the mass issue of gas masks, a surge in volunteers for ARP duties (with numbers made up by paid members of the ARP service) and a large scale public information campaign on how to prepare for air raids. Additional powers were granted to local authorities in the 1939 Civil Defence Act.

During the Second World War, the ARP was responsible for the issuing of gas masks, pre-fabricated air-raid shelters (such as Anderson and 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.

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 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. They had a basic uniform consisting of a set of overalls and an armlet, along with a black steel helmet. Later in the war they 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.

Photo Gallery:

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ARP Service ARP Service
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The ARP in Hungerford:

For further details of the sort of local arrangements that were put in hand, see the ARP Memorandum issued to the Constable, Mr Ernest Munford in June 1937.

In Hungerford, the ARP control centre during the Second World War was at the old National School in the High St. The Chief Warden was Mr M H Percy, who had lived since 1932 at 33 High Street, now known as Wilton House, but the Percys called it "Friars Pardon". (When he and his wife later moved to Charnham St to run an antique shop, the "Friars Parson" house sign went too!).

Mr Percy had devised a technically advanced call system for his ARP warnings. There were two telephone lines with direct link to the police station, who advised if an air raid was imminent. Each ARP warden had a buzzer in his house which plugged into the main telephone system. To alert the wardens a buzzer would be pressed at the control centre, which caused all the individual signals to sound. For the 'All Clear' another buzzer would send a different signal. The ARP control centre was, of course, manned 24 hours a day.

There weren't many actual air raids in the Hungerford area but there were a lot of alerts when enemy bombers flew overhead en route to the industrial midlands such as Coventry and Birmingham. There was a bomb dropped near the railway line at Home Farm, on the back road to Kintbury.

Members of the ARP Service included Mr John Allen, who can be heard describing the buzzer system in the audio archives.

More on the ARP service in Hungerford can be found at the Berkshire Record Office - Hungerford Rural District: Rural District Council and Emergency Committee minutes 1939-1945 (Berks RO: RD/H/CA1/10-12).

Although disbanded in 1946, the functions of the ARP were revived as part of the Civil Defence Corps formed in 1949.

See also:

- Home Guard

- Second World War

- Pillboxes and Hedgehogs

- John Allen, Audio Archives

- National School, 42 High Street