PortCities London

Defending the East End


Six-year alert!

Sandbags outside Bermondsey Central Baths.
View full size imageSandbags outside Bermondsey Central Baths, September 1939.
On 23 August 1939, the headquarters of London's Civil Defence went on twenty-four hour alert and stayed that way for the next six years!

Londoners were warned that German air attacks on their city were likely and civil defence preparations had been started some time before.

Air raid precautions

Sandbags outside Dunton Road Police Station
View full size imageSandbags outside Dunton Road Police Station, Bermondsey, September 1939.  

The preparations included:

  • handing out gas masks
  • digging extra trenches
  • sandbagging public buildings and air raid shelters
  • getting the air raid warning system ready.

Borough poster for air-raid shelters
View full size imageBorough poster for air-raid shelters.

People were told to stockpile hoses and fire buckets and learn the air raid warning signals.

This air raid precautions poster issued by East Ham Borough Council called on householders to put up government-made shelters in their gardens.




Defending the city

London Civil Defence
View full size image A member of London Civil Defence.
At the peak of the Blitz (the name given to the constant bombing of the capital between 1940 and 1941), nearly one in six Londoners were in some way involved in civil defence.

As well as building shelters and enforcing the blackout, the Civil Defence was responsible for the emergency services (fire, ambulance and police) and also for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) staff.  

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