logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

The ARP men: air raid wardens
in World War Two

YOU ARE HERE: home > war > World War Two

World War Two ARP poster advertising for wardens

ARP poster advertising for wardens. Photographed in Lincolnsfield Children's Centre, Bushey

As soon as it got dark the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) came into effect, enforced by ARP men, also known as Air Raid Wardens. In an ARP poster advertising for recruits, all recruits are described as wardens.

ARP wardens wore hard metal hats, some with a W painted on them and some with the letters ARP painted on them.

to top of page

Who ARP wardens were

ARP men were either too old or infirm for military service or in reserved occupations. They wore black battle dress and trousers and a steel helmet painted black with the letters ARP painted in white on the front. Each one carried a police whistle and a torch, a haversack that held a first aid kit, and their own gas mask.

Peter Johnson

to top of page

What the ARP and air raid wardens did

An Air Raid Warden was appointed to every street. His main task was to check everyone's blackout. It was illegal to show any light after dark, so if he saw a chink of light, he would shout out "Put that light out!". Some houses in our road had some of their back fences removed so that the warden could patrol through the back gardens to see if there was any light showing.

Man dressed in authentic 1940s ARP chief warden gear. Note the white helmet with its black W, the gas mask in its canvass bag, 
the pocket chain carrying a whistle, the ARP armband and the ARP lapel badge

Man at Brooklands 1940s Day, dressed in authentic 1940s ARP chief warden gear. Note the white helmet with its black W, the gas mask in its canvass bag, the pocket chain carrying a whistle, the ARP armband and the ARP lapel badge.

He did more: He would patrol his streets all night to watch for incendiary bombs being dropped and starting house fires whilst the householders were hiding away in their shelters.

Peter Johnson

Horror of horrors if the Warden called out, "Put that light out at No.10", because if you lived in number 10, all the neighbours knew you were endangering their lives too! You certainly made every effort to find the source of the chink of light which was causing the ire of the ARP Warden.

Dick Hibberd

The ARP also dealt with the aftermath of an air raid, mainly unexploded and time bombs. The wardens would clear a street of people and wait for the army bomb disposal team. All too often, they would have to clear bombed building and deal with the dead and survivors.

Civil Defence armband as worn by ARP wardens in Britain in WW2

Civil Defence armband.

Everyone had to leave their front and back doors unlocked at night so that if the house was hit by a bomb the rescue people could get in and deal with casualties. It was human nature for some people to take the opportunity to rob their neighbours. So part of wardens' duties were to act as special constables. Houses and shops that had been bombed had a large sign stating "Looters will be shot". I'm not sure if anybody was actually shot, but it was fair warning.

During one air raid I saw ARP men pumping water onto incendiary bombs to put out the fires. My family thought they were very brave. They would stop by our back door and my mum would give them a cup of tea.

ARP men would be on patrol from dusk till dawn the next morning.

Peter Johnson

My father was an air raid warden in the Second World War. He took his turn with other wardens to patrol the locality at night to check the local houses for showing lights in the blackout and do other home front tasks as appropriate. The work meant that he went without sleep for whole nights at a time and then had to do the hard manual work in his day job as a blacksmith - a reserved occupation. This was in Midsomer Norton near Bath. One evening he called us outside as he had heard the noise of a very large plane approaching. Even though it was dark we could clearly see that it was German as it was very low. It carried on to Bath where it bombed the city. Although there was an anti-aircraft unit in there, it all happened so quickly that no preventative measures could be taken. I still have my father's ARP badge which is identical to the one in the photo. It is hallmarked as silver.

Clive Norman

While my father was on an ARP patrol, he saw a German plane or doodle bug (not sure which) heading for our house. This put him in a huge dilemma: whether to rush home to warn my mother or continue his route. Luckily for him the plane suddenly changed course.

Jill Gaisford

There was a chief ARP warden for an area who was responsible for a group of ARP wardens. He wore a white helmet with a black W painted on it, whereas the wardens under him had black helmets with white Ws painted on them.

During the war, the ARP was phased into an umbrella body called the Civil Defence.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

A group of World War Two wardens : air raid wardens, first-aid wardens and a head warden in a white helmet

A group of World War Two wardens in the village of Great Shelford. The group's helmets are: black with a white A (which probably indicates an Air Raid Warden), black with a white FAP (which indicates First Aid Post) and a white helmet for the head warden. Photo in the effects of Alan Cryer who is on the far right.

Man's ARP lapel badge, WW2, 1940s

ARP lapel badge - detail from the above photo.

Chief ARP warden with his white helmet and black W, leading the other ARP wardens with their black helmets and white Ws

Chief ARP warden with his white helmet and black W, leading the other ARP wardens with their black helmets and white Ws. Screen shot from a Dad's Army episode.

WW2 ARP propaganda poster.

ARP propaganda poster, photographed at Brooklands Museum.

What I learnt from my father, an ARP warden

Something my father taught me that has become second nature to me is to back rather than drive into a parking space. This he said was that one could then drive out quickly in an emergency - and I have always done it. In practice he always went to his APR meetings by bicycle, but he hid have a car for getting him to and from the factory where he was employed as an engineer on war work.

Neil Cryer