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Civil Defense

Service, home

Rescuing, decontaminating, supporting

Serving the citizenry, lives saved or lost

Gassed, homeless, injured

Brave, resilient


Considering the disaster on the homefront during the war particularly in Great Britain, the Civil Defense Service (CD) was a real need.  It was a civilian volunteer organization established in Great Britain by the Home Office in 1935. In 1941, during World War II, the use of Civil Defense replaced the pre-existing Air Raid Precautions (ARP). The Civil Defense Service included the pre-existing ARP as well as wardens, firemen (initially the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and latterly the National Fire Service (NFS)), fire watchers, rescue, first aid post, stretcher party and industry. Over 1.9 million people served within the CD and nearly 2,400 lost their lives to enemy action.

The organization of civil defense was the responsibility of the local authority. Volunteers were ascribed to different units depending on experience or training. Each local civil defense service was divided into several sections.

  • Wardens were responsible for local reconnaissance and reporting, and leadership, organization, guidance and control of the general public. Wardens would also advise survivors of the locations of rest and food centers, and other welfare facilities.


  • Rescue Parties were required to assess and then access bombed out buildings and retrieve injured or dead people. In addition they would turn off gas, electricity and water supplies, and repair or pull down unsteady buildings.


  • Medical services included first aid parties who provided on the spot medical assistance. More serious injuries were passed to first aid posts by stretcher parties and to local hospitals by ambulance personnel. If required, bodies could be removed to emergency mortuaries.

Anti-gas-First-Aid-trainingSt. John Ambulance Brigade men instructing Barclay’s Bank workers in anti-gas first aid

  • Gas Decontamination Teams were kitted out with gas-tight and waterproof protective clothing and were to deal with any gas attacks. They were trained to decontaminate buildings, roads, rail and other material that had been contaminated by liquid or jelly gases.

Gas Decontamination

  • Report and Control dealt with the stream of information that would be generated during an attack. A local headquarters would have an ARP controller that would direct rescue, first aid and decontamination teams to the scenes of reported bombing. If local services were deemed insufficient to deal with the incident then the controller could request assistance from surrounding boroughs.
  • Fire Guards (initially called the Fire Watchers Order in September 1940, then the Fire Watcher Service in January 1941 and then reformed as the Fire Guard in August 1941) were responsible for a designated area/building and required to monitor the fall of incendiary bombs and pass on news of any fires that had broken out to the NFS. They could deal with an individual magnesium electron incendiary bomb by dousing them in buckets of sand, water or by smothering.

_48969760_blitzstpaulsSt. Paul’s Cathedral during the Blitz

  • Welfare would support the injured and people bombed out of their homes. This would involve finding suitable accommodation, issuing new documentation (ration books, identity cards) and money to buy food.


  • Messengers would convey information from the site of bombing incidents back to the ARP headquarters. Many messengers were teenagers equipped with nothing more than a bicycle.

The Women’s Volunteer Service (WVS) aided in ARP and observer duties as well as running and operating the mobile canteens and rest centers.


The Civil Defense Service was disbanded on 2 May 1945. On June 10, 1945, before His Majesty King George VI, a farewell parade with representatives of all the Civil Defense Services from across Great Britain took place in Hyde Park, London.


I’ve written about the blitz before and it is hard to fully understand what the people of England experienced.  When I found this computerized map I was shocked.

Bomb Sight: Mapping the WW2 Bombs that Fell on London during The Blitz

Bomb Sight: Mapping the WW2 Bombs that Fell on London during The Blitz

Of course the United States had a Civil Defense Service too.

US Civil Defense

Interested in entertaining movies or television dealing with the homefront during World War 2?  I recommend the following:

My all time favorite, Mrs. Miniver starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon and winner of 6 Oscars.

Television series Foyles War starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks.

Short lived television series Bomb Girls.  The cast includes Meg Tilly.


20 responses

  1. What a fantastic post.


  2. a gray says:

    When you look at the map of where bombs fell in London, walk the streets and think of what was happening, your perspective of the war begins to change. Attendance at a Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph brings a sense of it too when you see among the parading groups, members of Boy Scout units who performed duties during the war.


  3. Wendy says:

    Heroes, all! What a time to have lived, frightening on a daily basis but so many people had each other’s back.
    Visiting from AtoZ


  4. Birgit says:

    These are some of the unsung heroes. That picture of all the bombs that hit London is mind boggling.


  5. You are amazing! This blog always gets my blue ribbon, best in show, cream of the crop, endlessly interesting. Get my drift?


  6. Arlee Bird says:

    They were interesting times. Scary times. When I was in college I worked in an old warehouse that had a civil defense bomb shelter in the basement. It was filled will supplies that must have been 15 years old or maybe older. I guess no one in the government remembered it was there as no one ever checked on it or rotated the supply stock.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Wrote By Rote


    • That stuff should have probably been collected up and displayed in a museum. During the war it sure must have been scary times. Here in the 1960s my husband who is 3 years older then me remembers the duck and cover drills in school. I don’t remember them at all.


      • Arlee Bird says:

        IN the late 50’s and early 60’s I remember doing those drills. In an actual attack they probably wouldn’t have helped much, but it kept us scared which I don’t know was that good of a thing.

        Arlee Bird
        A to Z Challenge Co-host
        Wrote By Rote

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Sue Archer says:

    How impressively organized. Brave, brave people. That map is horrifying. I can only imagine what they experienced!


  8. helenalemon says:

    Funny, I almost posted about Winston Churchhill today because of his amazing leadership during that time. That computerized map really clarified things for me. It was a horrible time. Thanks for stopping by earlier at A GAL NEEDS…


  9. […] became involved with new issues such as rationing, manpower allocation, home defense (See C is for Civil Defense), evacuation in the face of air raids (you may enjoy my flash fiction, Gracie’s Memories), […]


  10. rolandclarke says:

    Great post. That map at the end us enlightening. Having lived in London for a few years, I’ve seen many of the bombed streets and from the style of houses, one can see the scale of the devastation.