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Defending the East End

Air raid shelters
Air Raid Precautions staff and the Emergency Services
Auxiliary Fire Service and Rescue Teams
The blackout, barrage balloons and gun batteries
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Auxiliary Fire Service and Rescue Teams

The Auxillary Fire Service

Firemen tackling a V1 blaze at the Standard Telephone and Cable Co.
View full size imageTackling a V1 blaze at the Standard Telephone and Cable Co. 
The Auxillary Fire Service (AFS) was created to support the regular London Fire Brigade, which was soon overwhelmed by the force of the German attacks.

The new service needed equipment so many of London's taxicabs were taken over by the Civil Defence, painted grey and turned into makeshift fire engines.

On 7 September 1940 (the first night of the Blitz), nine AFS Brigades each used a 100 fire engines to extinguish the widespread fires. The next night one fire engine was in operation for 40 hours. Over 800 fire-fighters lost their lives and 7000 were seriously injured during the Blitz.


How to tackle fire bombs
View full size imageHow to tackle fire bombs.
Despite the best efforts of the Civil Defence teams, the intensity of the German attack on the port was so great that Londoners themselves often had to try to put out the fires caused by the bombs.

This government poster describes how to deal with incendiary devices and what people should do to prevent fires from spreading.



The Rescue Teams

Con Shipton of the Light Rescue Service.
View full size imageCon Shipton of the Light Rescue Service, c. 1944.
When bombs damaged a building and people might be trapped under the rubble, the call went out for the Light and Heavy Rescue Teams.

The teams included people who were too young or too old to be called up for the armed forces. This picture is of 16-year-old Con Shipton of the Deptford Light Rescue Service.





Skilled rescuers

Rescue workers searching bombed buildings.
View full size imageRescue workers searching bombed buildings.

The Heavy Rescue Teams included people who had worked as civil engineers, carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers before the war.

They used their experience to safely demolish collapsing buildings and work out the safest and quickest way to reach those who lay injured beneath damaged buildings.

Anti-gas equipment members of the Arragon Road depot, stretcher and heavy rescue section.
View full size imageArragon Road Heavy Rescue depot in East Ham, c. 1940.

The Heavy Rescue Teams were also trained to deal with the aftermath of a gas attack. Fortunately, Hitler never used his stockpiles of nerve gas on the people of London.

This picture shows the members of the anti-gas unit of the Arragon Road Heavy Rescue depot in East Ham.



Find out more
StoriesDocklands and the Blitz
London in the firing line
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
GalleriesGrowing up in the Blitz
Children in London during the second world war.
Fact fileWinston Churchill
Wartime Prime Minister
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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