Here you'll find information about firewomen and air raid wardens.
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Information about Firewomen


During the First World War, women's brigades carried out fire-fighting and rescues in the South of England. During the 1920s, women firefighting teams were employed by private fire brigades.At the beginning of the Second World War, 5000 women were recruited for the Auxiliary Fire Service, rising to 7000 in what was then the National Fire Service. Though trained in firefighting, they were not there for that purpose but for driving, firewatching etc. Many received awards for heroism.


Volunteer female firefighters worked in Berlin and Breslau, during World War I, but ceased at the end of the war. Women were again recruited during World War II, especially as drivers, continuing until 1955, when they had all been replaced by men. In the GDR, women were extensively used in support roles, but not as front-line firefighters. Women really began to take on all roles in 2012. Female professional firefighters now number about 550 (1.3%), and there are 80,000 volunteers (7%).

The formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service


As the political climate intensified in Europe during the late 1930s, an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the formation of a voluntary fire service.

The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) formed in January 1938 and fire stations were set up in buildings such as schools, garages and factories.

A recruitment drive was launched with as many as 28,000 firefighters required to support London Fire Brigade's 2,500 officers and firefighters.

However, since most young men had joined the army, the AFS relied on those too old or too young to go to war. It also marked the first time women would be accepted into the Brigade.

The AFS were issued with one basic uniform - although shortages forced some recruits to wear Post Office uniforms - that included a steel helmet, rubber boots, trousers and waterproof leggings.

The most common piece of equipment used by the AFS was the trailer pump, which was originally towed by taxis.

Women undertook some training but did not fight fires in the Second World War. Instead they became fire watchers and drivers, managed the communications network and worked in mobile canteen vans.

A rank system for women of the fire service was developed during the war in recognition of their service; many women were awarded for their remarkable achievements during this time.

The Blitz

The first targeted air raid on London took place on 7 September 1940 and marked the beginning of the Blitz - a period when London was bombed for 57 nights in a row. For 90 per cent of AFS members, this was their first experience of firefighting.

Most of the bombings happened at night, meaning firefighters spent long hours extinguishing fires or dealing with explosions.

Bombs on warehouses were especially dangerous due to highly flammable products such as alcohol and paint. In the first 22 nights of air raids, firefighters fought nearly 10,000 fires.


In order to take some of the workload off the fire service, small fires were dealt with by street fire parties. These were civilians who were given and taught to use stirrup pumps.
Bombings often occurring while the Thames was at low tide meaning access to water was made even more difficult. Vehicles became vital in transporting water around the city; steel frames were fitted to lorries to enable them to carry up to 1,000 gallons of water.

The public's opinion of the fire service changed significantly as a result of the Blitz. During the 'phoney war', firefighters had been thought of as 'army dodgers'. But, in 1940 this attitude changed; firefighters became known as 'the heroes with grimy faces'.

Fire boats

During the Second World War there were nine fire boat stations, three pre-war fire boats in service, as well as extra emergency fire boats and barges.

The boats held pumping equipment which could provide up to 14,000 gallons of water a minute.

The Brigade's most famed boat is the Massey Shaw, named after the first Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

The boat, built in 1935, played an important role in the evacuation of Dunkirk to rescue 500 troops from shallow waters.

During the rescue mission, the flag from the vessel was used to bandage a soldier's injured arm. This is currently on display at the London Fire Brigade museum.

The National Fire Service

To provide a unified service throughout the country the National Fire Service took control in 1941. By 1943 over 70,000 women had enrolled in the NFS in the United Kingdom.

When peace was declared, London’s fire service had attended over 50,000 calls; 327 of London's firefighters had been killed.

The spirit of comradeship among firefighters and their dedication to their job were commendable and according to Churchill, the fire service 'were a grand lot and their work must never be forgotten'.


Here you have a link from a video of IWW firewomen:

arp01.jpgInformation about Air Raid Precautions


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.

After World War One, military experts predicted that in any future war there would be large-scale bombing of the British civilian population, resulting in huge casualties. In April 1937, an Air Raid Wardens' Service was created. By the middle of 1938 about 200,000 people were involved, with another half a million enrolling during the Munich Crisis of September 1938. By the outbreak of war there were more than 1.5 million in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions), or Civil Defence as it was later re-named.

The most visible members of the ARP were the air raid wardens. ARP posts were initially set up in the warden’s home, or in a shop or an office, but they were later purpose-built. Each post covered a certain area, varying across the country, but with about ten to the square mile in London. Each post was divided into sectors, with perhaps three to six wardens in each sector. An ARP warden was almost always local - it was essential that he or she knew their sector and the people living there.

Since no significant German air raids followed the outbreak of war in September 1939, the main duties of the ARP wardens in the early months were to register everyone in their sector and enforce the ‘blackout’. This meant making sure that no lights were visible which could be used by enemy planes to help locate bombing targets. These activities led to some ARP wardens being regarded as interfering and nosy.

However, during the Blitz of 1940-1 wardens and other civil defence personnel proved themselves indispensable and heroic. Whenever the air raid sirens sounded, the wardens would help people into the nearest shelter and then tour their sector, usually in pairs, at considerable risk from bombs, shrapnel and falling masonry. They would also check regularly on those in the air raid shelters.

In the aftermath of a raid, ARP wardens would often be first on the scene, carrying out first-aid if there were minor casualties, putting out any small fires and helping to organise the emergency response. Other members of the Civil Defence services included rescue and stretcher (or first-aid) parties, the staff of control centres and messenger boys. Their work often overlapped with the fire and medical services and the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service).

A small percentage of ARP wardens were full-time and were paid a salary, but most were part-time volunteers who carried out their ARP duties as well as full-time jobs. Part-time wardens were supposed to be on duty about three nights a week, but this increased greatly when the bombing was heaviest. One in six was a woman, and amongst the men there were a significant number of veterans of World War One. At the beginning of the war, ARP wardens had no uniform, but wore their own clothes, with the addition of a steel helmet, Wellington boots and an armband. In May 1941 full-time and regular part-time wardens were issued with blue serge uniforms.

The Civil Defence services, including the ARP wardens, were maintained through the war. There were still hundreds of thousands of volunteers in June 1944, although the numbers of full-time personnel had fallen from 127,000 at the height of the Blitz to 70,000 by the end of 1943. In all 1.4 million men and women served as ARP wardens during World War Two.

Although the standard procedures prescribed that the ideal warden should be at least thirty, men and women of all ages were wardens. In certain instances, given special needs of communities, even teenagers were wardens.

Many wardens went considerably beyond the call of duty and a search of medal citations in the London Gazette demonstrates this. The first ARP warden to receive the George Cross was Thomas Alderson, who won his award for actions saving civilian life in Bridlington in 1940.

Dorothy Lee


The outbreak of war

In 1939 Dorothy Lee was fourteen years old and lived with her family near Tottenham Court Road. Her siblings were evacuated but as the oldest she stayed at home. When the sirens sounded on September 3rd, Dorothy’s father, an ARP warden, assisted with the evacuation of residents to the Paramount Cinema. Initially Dorothy played with the other children in the street and saw tracer bullets fired. She assisted with putting out fires using sand and water. When raids began in earnest the severity of the situation became clear to Dorothy when a local bank was bombed and the fire spread to the shops.


Joining the ARP

She left school at fourteen and worked at Foyle’s Library, Charing Cross Road. Dorothy applied to be a Land Army Girl but was not old enough. Aged sixteen, she joined the ARP as she got on very well with her father who looked after her. She later moved from Foyle’s to a local factory as she wanted to feel as though she was contributing to the war effort. The ARP did not pay well and the majority of wardens had to upplement their incomes with day-time work.

Life during air raidss
Dorothy hated using shelters but did so when her mother was pregnant. She was not frightened during raids and thinks that this was because she was young. Although her duties could be distressing (i.e. collecting identification from those killed, going to the underground to report bad news) Dorothy found that her job as a warden brought a sense of order during chaos. When the docks were bombed she worried for the safety of others, but was unable to help them.

Whilst working at Foyle’s she visited music shops, momentarily allowing her to regain a sense of normality. When she heard that people had been hurt whilst undertaking everyday activities, it reinforced the severity of the situation. Although largely she was not frightened there were odd occasions when on reflection she feels that she should have been. Despite reports of violence and crime during the blackout she did not feel unsafe.

A changing community

When the war broke out Dorothy lived in an area where people were very friendly. Many of her neighbours were foreign and she feels sad that they were interned. Shops closed and traditions disappeared. People remained friendly during the war but this was also due to fear. Overall Dorothy does not recall being frightened and she dealt with her feelings through keeping a sense of humour – when she was sent for training by the Home Guard she found it funny that she had to run through Regent’s Park in camouflage! Dorothy accepted the situation and did the best she could.