Sound the Alarms!

Tadworth ARP personnel, 1940 (SHC ref 7573/6/1)

Tadworth ARP personnel, 1940 (SHC ref 7573/6/1)

In September 1938 Hitler stood poised to invade Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain flew to Munich to negotiate with him.  At home, people threw themselves wholeheartedly into defence arrangements.  The ARP supervised the digging of trenches in public parks and requisitioned cellars and basements to serve as air raid shelters.  Over 38 million gas masks were issued to adults and children, although none, at this time, for babies.

(SHC Ref:Opie_gas) poster

(SHC Ref:Opie_gas) poster

Although Chamberlain returned from Munich on 30 September declaring Peace for our time, the country’s defences did not stand down.  Plans to evacuate the vulnerable populations of London and the naval seaports continued and Britain’s aircraft production now exceeded that of Germany.  Such was the public demand for sandbags that it took up the whole of the Scottish jute industry by the end of 1938.

The declaration of war on that sunny Sunday morning in September 1939, came as little surprise.  Preparations for war had been underway since 1935 when Britain witnessed the heavy Italian bombardment of Abyssinia.  Consequently, the British government encouraged local councils to adopt Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and systematically began to increase her own air power.

ARP regulations became compulsory in 1937, following Hitler’s march into the demilitarised Rhineland, and training in anti-gas measures began for police and local officials.  Official predictions regarding the strength of a Nazi attack on the British mainland were pessimistic and officials began to prepare for the worst.

Photograph, 2008, showing Anderson shelter (SHC Ref:WWII/BOMB/SHELTER/59/PARK/ROAD/WOKING/1)

Photograph, 2008, showing Anderson shelter
(SHC Ref:WWII/BOMB/SHELTER/59/PARK/ROAD/WOKING/1)

By the end of 1939 Surrey’s air raid shelters had been dug, the ARP mustered and anti-aircraft sites manned.  Yet the subsequent months failed to bring the expected mustard gas attacks and there were few alarms.

Anderson shelters were made of corrugated iron and were designed to be partly buried in the garden with earth piled on top.  With the Anderson’s tendency to be cold and damp, some people risked staying indoors, rather than spend the night in a shelter.  Indoor table Morrison shelters were not introduced until March 1941.

Newspaper cutting, nd [1939-1940] Anderson Shelter (SHC ref 4272/1)

Newspaper cutting, nd [1939-1940] Anderson Shelter (SHC ref 4272/1)

We were living in Croydon Road, Beddington, when the first air raid siren went off.  We all ran out of the house and into the pub [the Plough], which was on an island in the middle of the road.  There were two old ladies who were sitting there in their gas masks.  No one knew what to do. It was all a bit of a shambles really.
Certificate entitling Mrs Hilda Andrews of Epsom to carry out local ARP training, 2 May 1940 (SHC Ref:6409/2)

Certificate entitling Mrs Hilda Andrews of Epsom
to carry out local ARP training, 2 May 1940
(SHC Ref:6409/2)

Mrs Pauline Tombe (nee Fox) of Beddington, who later worked for the War Ministry

I will always remember seeing old Mr Clifford-Smith, who was the Air Raid Warden, standing wearing his tin helmet with a W on it.  (Later, us boys who were in the scouts acted as messengers for the ARP and had our own helmets with M painted on them).

Bert Harrison of Merrow later served with the RAF in North Africa and the Middle East

Mrs Andrews served during World War II as a lay superintendent of a First Aid Post, under the ARP department of the Auxiliary Medical Service in the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

2 thoughts on “Sound the Alarms!”

  1. alan affleck says:

    Having see n the group photograph of the ARP in Tadworth in 1940,my wife believes her father is in the picture,could I purchase an enlarged copy of this photo.

  2. Susan Hedges says:

    I can’ t believe that there is a photo of Tadworths ARP 1940 workers! Amazing! I believe my grandmother served as a cook with the ARP during this period and I would be so grateful if I could obtain a copy of the photo.

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