When World War Two broke out in September 1939, the world was stunned by Blitzkrieg. Many feared that once Blitzkrieg had finished off the armies of Poland, Holland, Belgium and France, Great Britain would be next. The heroics of the Battle of Britain saved Britain from an invasion – as did Hitler’s desire to invade the Soviet Union – but the government had given the British public a clear brief on how to behave if the country was threatened not only with war but also with the consequences of bombing, evacuation, rationing etc. The following was issued in leaflet form to members of the public by the government in 1939.

Civil Defence

  Some things you should know if war should come.

  Public Information Leaflet No 1

Read this and keep it carefully. You may need it.

  Issued from the Lord Privy Seal’s Office July 1939.

If war should come:

The object of this leaflet is to tell you now some of the things you ought to know if you are to be ready for the emergency of war.

This does not mean that war is expected now, but it is everyone’s duty to be prepared for the possibility of war.

Further leaflets will be sent to you to give you fuller guidance on particular ways in which you can be prepared.

The government is taking all possible measures for the defence of your country, and has made plans for protecting you and helping you to protect yourselves, so far as may be, in the event of war.

You, in your turn, can help to make those plans work, if you understand them and act in accordance with them.

No-one can tell when and how war might begin, but the period of warning might be very short. There would be no time then to begin to think what you ought to do.


  1. Air Raid Warnings:

When air raids are threatened, warning will be given in towns by sirens and hooters, which will be sounded, in some places by short blasts, or in other places by a warbling note, changing every few seconds. In war, sirens and hooters will not be used for any other purpose than this.

The warning may also be given by the Police or Air Raid Wardens blowing short blasts on whistles.

When you hear the warning, take cover at once. Remember that most of the injuries in an air raid are caused not by direct hits by bombs, but by flying fragments of debris or bits of shells. Stay under cover until you hear the sirens or hooters sounding continuously for two minutes on the same note, which is the signal “Raiders Passed”.

If poison gas has been used, you will be warned by means of hand rattles. Keep off the streets until the poison gas has been cleared away. Hand bells will be rung when there is no longer any danger. If you hear the rattle when you are out, put on your gas mask at once and get indoors as soon as you can.

Make sure that all members of your household understand the meanings of these signals.

  1. Gas Masks:

If you have already got your gas mask, make sure that you are keeping it safely and in good condition for immediate use. If you are moving permanently, or going away for any length of time, remember to take your gas mask with you.

If you have not yet received your gas mask, the reason may be that it has been decided in your district to keep the masks in store until an emergency is threatened. If, however, you know that your neighbours have got their gas masks, and you have not got yours, report the matter to your Air Raid Warden.

The special anti-gas helmet for babies and the respirator for small children will not be distributed in any district before an emergency arises.

  1. Lighting Restrictions:

All windows, sky-lights, glazed doors, or other openings which would show a light, will have to be screened in war time with dark blinds or blankets, or brown paper pasted on the glass, so that no light is visible from outside. You should obtain now any materials you may need for this purpose.

No outside lights will be allowed and all street lighting will be put out.

Instructions will be issued about the dimming of lights on vehicles.

  1. Fire Precautions:

An air attack may bring large numbers of small incendiary bombs, which might start so many fires that the Fire Brigades could not be expected to deal with them all. Everyone should be prepared to do all he can to tackle a fire started in his own house. Most large fires start as small ones.

Clearing the top floor of all inflammable materials, lumber etc., will lessen the danger of fire, and prevent a fire spreading. See that you can reach your attic or roof space readily.

Water is the best means of putting out a fire started by an incendiary bomb. Have some buckets handy. But water can only be applied to the bomb itself in the form of a fine spray, for which a hand pump with a length of hose and special nozzle are needed.  If you throw a bucket of water on a burning incendiary bomb it will explode and throw burning fragments in all directions. You may be able to smother it with sand or dry earth.

  1. Evacuation:

Arrangements have been made by the government for the voluntary evacuation from certain parts of the London area and of some other large towns of schoolchildren, children below school age if accompanied by their mothers or other responsible persons, expectant mothers, and adult blind persons who can be moved.

Parents in the districts concerned who wish to take advantage of the government’s evacuation scheme for their children have already received or will receive full instructions what to do, if the need arises.

Those who have already made, or are making arrangements to send their children away to relations or friends must remember that while the government evacuation scheme is in progress, ordinary railway and road services will necessarily be drastically reduced and subject to alterations at short notice.

Try to decide now whether you wish your children to go under the government evacuation scheme and let you local authority know. If you propose to make private arrangements to send your children away do not leave them to the last moment.

All who have work to do, whether manual, clerical or professional, should regard it as their duty to remain at their posts, and do their part in carrying on the  life of the nation.

  1. Identity labels:

In war you should carry about with you your name and address clearly written. This should be on an envelope, card, luggage label, not on some odd piece of paper easily lost. In the case of children a label should be fastened, e.g. sewn, on to their clothes, in such a way that it will not readily become detached.

  1. Food:

It is very important that at the outset of an emergency, people should not buy larger quantities of foodstuffs than they normally buy and normally require. The government are making arrangements to ensure that there will be sufficient supplies of food, and that every person will be able to obtain regularly his or her fair share; and they will take steps to prevent any sudden price rises. But if some people try to buy abnormal quantities, before the full scheme of control is working, they will be taking food which should be available for others.

If you wish, and are able to lay in a small extra store of non-perishable foodstuffs, there is no reason why you should not do so. They will be an additional insurance. But you should collect them now and not when an emergency arises.

  1. Instructions to the public in case of emergency:

Arrangements will be made for information and instructions to be issued to the public in case of emergency, both through the Press, and by means of broadcast announcements. Broadcasts may be made at special times, which will be announced beforehand, or during ordinary news bulletins.

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