A snapshot from World War II 17



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Here’s a glimpse of life in the UK during the second world war. Fire watchers were volunteers who stayed up all night, on a roster basis, to warn of fires anywhere caused by incendiary bombs – here are the rules they were instructed to abide by:

There will be 6 fire watchers for each night, in relays of two.

1st watch – 12 to 2.a.m.

2nd watch – 2 to 4.a.m.

3rd  watch – 4 to 6.a.m.

A rota of duties will be exhibited in Mr Plimsole’s shop window. If flares or bombs fall in the village, watchers to give the alarm immediately, by blowing their whistles with a sharp blast, then pause, then another sharp blast and so on. Awaken people from door to door, as you pass along.

Watchers to call up wardens and members of A.F.S. but a messenger must be sent at once to the house where the fire bomb is, and aid rushed there.

Each watcher to carry a list of wardens of A.R.P. and A.F.S. also of the ladder and stirrup pumps that are available.

The A.R.P. warden on duty will call up the first two watchers at or before 12 midnight and hand them each a whistle. These two watchers on ending the first watch, to call the second watch, as per rota, and hand the two whistles to the new watchers, who will, at the end of the second watch, call up the third watch and hand over their whistles to them. On completing the third watch, the whistles should be kept ready for one of the wardens to call for, unless they can hand them in at Mr. Plimsole’s during the morning.

Patrolling streets and lanes will not be expected unless there is an actual raid in the area, or a red warning signal. Those who live in a house with a good view over Draycott are best placed and need not go far for watching. Those in less favourable spots should find the nearest place of vantage and go there occasionally, and be there when planes are passing over the locality, or when a raid is on a town within sound of operations. Each watcher to carry out his duties conscientiously. On quiet nights, this will need more determination than on nights with incidents, but remember the watching is for the safety of Draycott, and to help to defeat Hitler in his purpose of destruction.

Watchword…….Be vigilant on duty!

There then follows a long list of local resident, who were obviously volunteers.

A.F.S. = Auxiliary Fire Service

A.R.P. = Air Raid Precautions

Those who lived in the UK during the war, as I did, will undoubtedly be familiar with the general instructions listed here, while those brought up in Australia or elsewhere will, I’m sure, find it all a bit “Dad’s Army-ish”, but this was the way it was done then, no cell phones or other electronic wizardry, it was all accomplished with a gang of (mainly) retired gentlemen charging about, whistles in their hands, trying to make certain your home, or anyone else’s in the area, was in minimal danger, should a bomb fall on it. It all worked very well too, in small towns and villages, though obviously large cities, considered by the Nazis to be prime targets, needed rather more than a couple of whistle blowers to keep things under control. I’m afraid I doubt that there would be time, in any future holocaust, for brave, elderly gentlemen to come and blow a whistle at our doors to warn us – it would most likely be all over before they could draw their first breath. Let us pray it never happens!


Share your thoughts below.

Brian Lee

  1. it may seem strange to those over here but believe me it was essential. My earliest memory was of a German plane being shot down over our village (in the middle of nowhere!) Three men parachuted out. my father who was in the home guard took his rifle and with one other ,went and brought them in. They were relieved to be alive!!

  2. Such a fascinating insight. When one looks back at those horrific pictures of London during the Blitz,with all the buildings collapsing and in flames you can only have the greatest respect for all those brave volunteers, who looked so little in that backdrop,carrying their whistles and being vigilant against that might and fury unleashed on them. Indeed Brian,may this never happen again.

  3. My mother was a fire warden based at Bulimba in Brisbane during the war. She was in her early twenties at the time.

  4. Dreaded the sound of the siren as a child living not far from London

    2 REPLY
    • I too dreaded the sound of the siren that woke you up in the night,my knees used to tremble and we were told to get under the stairs as this was safe.

    • Even now, seventy years or more later, I still get a slight twinge when I hear the fire siren go off at the CFA station just down the road from us. Their siren has exactly the same rise-and-fall sound as the wartime equivalent!

  5. my father was a firewatcher, I remember the air raids and the bombers passing over our house on the way to bomb the shipbuilding yards at Clydebank My mother always got up out of bed and down on her knees with a bucket and scrubbing brush to scrub the floor

  6. I was one of the lucky ones lived in Devon but my gran used to take evacuees and I never knew who would be there for breakfast.

  7. Great article Brian. We as “Aussies” have as a national sport “stir the Pom” but everyone have nothing but respect for these “ordinary people” and the duties they performed. It was people like this that made a small island nation such a formidable foe.

  8. I lived on the South coast in Sussex.We didn’t get bombed as much as places like London & Liverpool but Gerry used to drop anything they had left on their way home ! The glass was blown out of our windows one night.Had to go downstairs to the shelter when there was a raid nearby.I remember the doodle bugs coming towards us & wondering when they would go silent because they were about to drop !

  9. My Grandad who survived the horrors of WWI was out on patrol at night with a stick. As he said what he was supposed to do if confronted by a German paratrooper was beyond him. He still had to work during the day and my mum was doing twelve hour shifts in a munitions factory, they were prime targets. My mum said in some ways those years were some of her best memories because you never knew if it was all going to end so you lived for the moment and she always spoke fondly of the dances and her romance with dad. When he left to go back to the front she didn’t know if she would see him again. Sadly some never came back.

  10. As a young fire watcher it was the schrapnel from the AAk AAK guns that was a added danger it was as sharp as a razor,remember?

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