Wednesday 19 June 2019

'Anging 'Round Pubs

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.

Whilst the character of Hodges was obviously written for comedic effect by Jimmy Perry and David Croft - who both were of the wartime generation - as the 'Pantomime Villain' for the series, there are certainly some parallels between the depiction of Hodges and how the British public viewed their real-life Air Raid Wardens, at least at the earlier period of the war. 

Some of the rhetoric and mythology that has emanated from the 1940 Blitz period propaganda is still wheeled out to this day, sometimes by those who really should know better. On the other hand, works such as Clive Ponting's execrable "1940: Myth and Reality" basically would have us believe that everything that happened in 1940 was a lie - at least as far as the British were concerned. This would have come as news to my parents and grandparents, as well as the many others who lived through it!

As always, the truth lays somewhere in between the extremes and one of the happier aspects of any serious research is to sometimes discover that a story that one had come to believe was a complete fabrication, is actually true. This is the case with the assertion, that I have heard from one or two other guides, that an article in a local London newspaper stated that ARP should stand not for "Air Raid Precautions" but instead for "' Anging 'Round Pubs". Good for a laugh but a story that has never been backed up with a shred of evidence, at least not by anyone that I have heard peddling it. Closer investigation of the British Newspaper Archive reveals that such a phrase was indeed heard in 1939 and 1940 but far from it being a local newspaper story, it was a gag used by the great Bud Flanagan in his act, which was then repeated in various articles in the national and entertainment press, an example of which is repeated below. I can now use this gag when guiding groups and have some evidence to support the story!

The Bud Flanagan gag, as explained in 'The Bystander' of 27 October 1939 (Author's photo)

As the Wardens' main job was the ensure the enforcement of the Blackout, there were some members of the public who viewed them as lackeys of the police, whilst others resented their calls of "Put that light out" or "Cover that window" whenever a chink of light was detected, thus breaking the blackout regulations. As with any sample of the population, there were some wardens who were officious and bossy and of course, any reports of such individuals gave the rest of the service a bad name, even though the vast majority were of wardens were diligent citizens doing their best to help defend their local neighbourhood. 

Whilst the relatively few full-time ARP Wardens were paid £3 5s a week for men and £2 3s 6d for women (about £3.25 and £2.18 respectively), the majority of wardens (around 90 percent) were part timers, who were basically paid expenses only. Full-time wardens over 35 were also "frozen" (i.e. exempt) from the call-up to the armed services effective from October 1940. By the end of the war, the numbers of wardens across the country had swollen to some 1.4 million, of whom around ten percent were full timers.

The origins of the Wardens' Service goes back to 1935, when the then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin published a circular called Air Raid Precautions which invited local authorities to make plans to protect their citizens against air attack in the event of a war. Some of the more responsible authorities responded by constructing public air raid shelters, whilst others ignored the advice perhaps hoping that by doing so, the problem would go away.

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.

Published Sources:

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

Unpublished Sources:

British Newspaper Archive - 'The Bystander', 27 October 1939