|Chief Warden Hodges, as played by Bill Pertwee, together with his nemesis, Capt. Mainwaring as played by Arthur Lowe (Author's collection)
This article is an updated and modified version of a piece which first appeared in the July 2010 edition of this blog.
For those of us of a certain generation and thanks to the constant re-runs, many younger people too, the mention of a Second World War Air Raid Warden will often automatically lead to thoughts of Chief Warden Bert Hodges, played superbly by the late Bill Pertwee in the classic BBC comedy Dad's Army. To use the words of Sergeant Wilson of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, Hodges was a "rather course man" who revelled in his newly-found importance and indeed was heard to state in at least one episode "...I do enjoy this war." What Hodges doesn't realise, at least until much later in the series, is that he is roundly despised by not only the Home Guard platoon but also by pretty much everyone in the town and is shocked into tears when he learns of this - not that it seems to change him much.
|The Bud Flanagan gag, as explained in 'The Bystander' of 27 October 1939 (Author's photo)
|Air Raid Wardens in Lewisham outside their Post (Author's collection)
Faced with this attitude from some councils, in 1937 the government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens' service and over the following year, recruited some 200,000 volunteers. In addition to the wardens, the government extended the provision of public air raid shelters by digging trench shelters in public parks and issuing corrugated steel shelters to households for installation in gardens. These were known as Anderson Shelters after Sir John Anderson, whom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had placed in charge of Air Raid Precautions in 1938. At first, it was decided not to use the London Underground for sheltering purposes but this was quickly countermanded in the face of civil disobedience as soon as the Blitz started.
Once the Blitz started, the public's attitude towards the Air Raid Wardens changed almost overnight, for as well as patrolling during the quieter "all clear" periods, the Wardens would remain on the streets on patrol, invariably in pairs during raids, when they would often be the first to arrive on the scene of an incident. They would then assess the situation, decide which services were required and then make their report to the Post Warden, who would then telephone for the requested services. The warden would then return to the scene of the incident and take charge until such time as the services arrived, at which point they would continue their patrol of their designated area.
Being in the front line as it were, it was inevitable that many wardens would be killed and these were amongst the total of 2,379 Civil Defence workers including 231 women lost their lives during the conflict.
London at War, Philip Ziegler - Sinclair Stevenson 1995
Backs to the Wall, Leonard Mosley - Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971
Blitz, M J Gaskin - Faber & Faber 2005
The City that Wouldn't Die, Richard Collier - Collins 1959
Carry on London, Ritchie Calder - English Universities Press 1941
The Myth of The Blitz, Angus Calder - Jonathan Cape 1991
The People's War, Angus Calder - Jonathan Cape 1969
British Newspaper Archive - 'The Bystander', 27 October 1939