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Frank Howcroft - The Diary of an Air Raid Warden - September 1940
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Bolton ARP Handbook


Sept 2/3 1940 (14)

Sirens sounded “action warning” at 22-25 hours and sounded “Raiders Passed” at 00-20. During this time we discussed the matter of reporting for duty on alternate raids. The wardens, however, feel they have a job to do, and declared their intention of doing duty every possible raid. (15) . At 00-55 another warning denoted aircraft in the vicinity and so turned out again, not much doing, so we were glad to be finally released for the night at 01-10 hours.

Sept 3/4 1940 (16)

Out again at 22-55 doing patrols and reporting to our place of contact. Watched various”AA” Barrages, but not yet seen any hostile aircraft brought down. About 01-15 the steady pitch of the sirens sent us home for a while but not to rest for long, as the dismal wailing had us out again. (17) from 02-50 to 03-10. Raids followed on this day

(18) 10-25 to 10-40,

(19) 14-45 to 14-50,

(20) 15-00 to 15-30, after which we were left alone for a few hours.

(21) At 22-10 we were called from our slumbers to report for duty and this warning lasted until 23-20. We were not to have much respite as we were out again at (22) 23-40. 0.

Sept 5 1940

This was to prove the most hectic raid yet, for the bombing and the AA fire were terrific. We rested and patrolled in turn, and watch the battles going on afar off. Towards the South a huge fire was started which lit up the sky for miles around. It looked impossible for such a tremendous blaze to be got under control but after an hour or so the sky appeared as usual, with just an occasional glare, and finally died away altogether. As I watched I could not help being reminded of the Premier's words (Mr. Churchill ) when he took office, and could only offer toil, sweat, tears and blood. The men who worked on that fire must have passed through the whole gamut. At 04-20 our vigil ended and after reporting to the post went home to bed.

Sept 5/6 1940 (23)

After cherishing an illusion that we should have a free night the dread call came at 22-15. Arose and dressed at once to heed the call of duty and after accentuating the warning on my whistle and patrolling my own small area, went to rendezvous to await events. There was soon commotion to the South West of our vantage point and during the early morning hours a huge fire was started. Any amount of bombing and counter measures from the ground defences. Hostile aircraft were circling over us all the time. Besides myself, wardens Brabin, Hubberstey and Shirres were all together watching and listening when suddenly, we had to throw ourselves on the ground as we heard a bomb screaming through the air. I was conscious of seeing a very vivid flash of light and hearing the explosion as the bomb made impact with the earth. Nine people were injured, seven serious and two slight. That to date is our most exciting occurrence, but who knows, the time may be at hand when we have serious work to do. Patrols, rests and looking out passed our time until the sirens liberated us at 03-55 hours.

Sept 6 1940

Whilst coming home on the bus the journey was interrupted by a warning which sounded at 17-45 and lasted until 17-55. Made straight home on foot. A further warning sounded at 23-25.

Sept 7 1940

An action warning sounded at 09-40 hours and “Raiders Passed” about 10-00.

Home again at 12-10 till 12-25. Many people were in the town centre and very quietly went to shelter. No great hurry and no panic.

A further alarm sounded about 22-25 hours but there was little doing and it came as no surprise to hear “Raiders Passed” signal about 23-15. The wardens who reported for duty went to the post to stand by for a while. We were on the point of leaving at midnight when the sirens bid us return to duty. The night was very dark and wet and the prospect of a long raid was not encouraging. There was not much aerial activity; nevertheless the signal to go home was not heard until 03-03 hours Sunday.

Sept 10 1940

Once again the siren's warning bade us turn out for duty at 00-25. Visibility was bad and rain was falling. There was no activity overhead, a lone plane having passed before the warning was sounded. The warning having been recently changed from two minutes to one minute duration is not long enough. The original time is the better. The “Raiders Passed” came in a quarter of an hour at 00-40. We stood by until 01-00 and then dispersed. I calling at the post before returning home.

Sept 11 1940

At 00-15 the sirens sounded the now familiar alert, and dressing with all speed went out to accentuate the warning on my whistle. The moon was very bright and visibility was good. It was rather cold on the shelter's field, and if we are to be called out in the future as we have been in the past few weeks we shall require woollen helmets, gloves and the like. Intense AA fire was witnessed in a South Westerly direction, and as it finished abruptly one can only surmise that the aircraft was brought down. For, almost co incident with the cessation of fire the welcome “Raiders Passed” sounded at about 01-00. Reported at post as usual and then returned home.

Sept 11/12 1940

The “alert “warning sounded at 22-30 hours just as I was preparing for bed. Sounded whistle and hastened to point of contact. Bombing and “AA“ fire were going on for a time in the South West but nothing anywhere near us. When the “Raiders Passed” siren went it was a signal for a general exodus from the shelters. Time 00-45. Quite long enough even though the night was lit by brilliant moonlight.

Sept 12 1940

A lone raider appeared over the town and the sirens went about 10-50 and the warning lasted until 11-05. Later in the day I was informed that the raider had been brought to earth. That is rather encouraging.

Sept 12 1940

Another daylight warning at 19-30 hours. The sky was dull and clouds were numerous and low. Hostile aircraft were heard cruising about. Rain began to fall and things looked like being uncomfortable when at 21-20 the “Raiders Passed” sounded and we went home after visiting the post. Gunfire was heard to a more Westerly direction than on recent occasions.

Sept 12/13 1940

Hopes of a good night's rest were rudely shattered when at 22-30 the wailing sirens sounded. I had been in bed just ten minutes, and after giving vent to my disgust at Goering and co. I dressed and carried on with my duties as usual. The shelters were occupied by the usual clientele. There was not as much going to and fro by aircraft as on other nights, perhaps he is using another entry to approach his object. Things were very quiet on this occasion, and as the wardens kept more in the shelter, there was not much activity. The hours dragged slowly on, and it was a great relief to hear the “Raiders Passed“at 02-45. Visited post and then returned home to resume my interrupted slumbers.

Sept 13 1940

They were again to be disturbed, for at 03-40 another warning went and again I arose at the call, albeit unwillingly. Only one other warden reported, and we soon returned home to standby there. It was not for long however and the sirens welcome “Raiders Passed” sounded at 04-10. During this short period there was most intense firing to the West and North West. This time we were left in peace and hastily tumbling in bed was soon in a deep, and I think well earned sleep.

Sept 14 1940

At 20-35 hours the sirens once again called the wardens to duty. We are rather short handed just now. Two members being too unwell to appear. Being Saturday evening others were perhaps held up in town. No one turned up to take refuge, the wardens being left in sole possession. Desultory firing took place in the West and South West districts. It did not last for long however, for after about an hour “Raiders Passed” sounded at 21-30. Aircraft were heard overhead and it seemed another warning was imminent. Reported at post and then returned home to wait.

Sept 15 1940

The warning came at 04- and on turning out was rewarded by the moon shedding its full brilliance over the earth. It seemed difficult to believe that destruction could hide in such beauty. On the other hand what a wealth of targets was in view. A cold wind was blowing and we were glad to take to the shelters. We had not long to wait before release came with the welcome sound of “Raiders Passed“. Once again reported at post previous to returning home.

Sept 15 1940

This warning at 11-35 found me about ten minutes walk away from home. I covered the distance in much less time than that and went on duty at once. There was nothing doing, however and we spent the time in the shelter until the sirens released us at 12-05.

Sept 16 1940

The sirens at 02-10 hours awoke me from a deep sleep but I was soon upon my now accustomed duty. Very few people came to the shelters. It was rather cold outside so some patrolled and others sat in the shelter. Owing to the brilliance of the moon it was quite light, but we could not see any aircraft, although one was flying to and fro. After a time Mr. Brabin and myself went on patrol and while we were out we called at the post in order to save time when the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded. This actually happened when we were in the post at 03-15 so we were able to make straight home and resume interrupted slumbers.

Sept 16 1940

Whilst on the bus going to work the familiar warble of the sirens sent out their unpleasant message. The bus kept on the move, however and when all the fares had been taken the driver pulled up at the nearest shelter. Whether by accident or design. I know not. Everything was at a standstill in town. It took a little time for traffic to run normal. Length of warning 08-45 to 09-30 hours.

Sept 16 1940

The sirens sounded a warning about 19-38 hours and lasted until 19-55, but as we left the shelters an aircraft was heard, so it was no surprise to hear another warning at 20-05. This went on until about 21-00. We witnessed bombing and “AA“ fire away over to the West and South West of our shelters. After the “Raiders Passed” signal we saw bomb flashes from an enemy plane to the South. He was travelling in an Easterly direction and as he went he appeared to be jettisoning his load doing damage wherever he could, rather than on any particular target. As we were proceeding to the post down Lever Edge Lane, we saw a very vivid flash which lit up the sky for several seconds. We thought at first that a power station had received a lucky hit, but learned later the trailing wire of a barrage balloon had fouled the supply cables and plunged the whole district in darkness. After visiting the post we returned home. Not for long however, for, at 22-15 the wailing sirens once again brought us out on alert. It was a miserable night. Drizzly rain made visibility bad and we were in the shelter most of the time. There was not much doing, and we were all thankful to hear “Raiders Passed“at 22-50, and expressed a wish that we should now be left alone for a while.

Sept 17 1940

A short air raid warning this morning from 10-40 to11-15. There are too many curious people who would come out of doors and gaze skywards. A foolish procedure. At 20-30 hours we were called to duty by the sirens but the warning was only of short duration. “Raiders Passed” sounding at 20-50. Today we began a fresh arrangement in order to give wardens a chance to stay indoors and get what rest they can. Two wardens will be on duty for the whole of the raid. The remainder will accentuate the warnings on their whistles when the warning is sounded. They must then return home and be ready to go on duty at a moments notice when bombs drop in the vicinity. Mr. Brabin and myself were the first two to open up in our area. I had been in bed half an hour when I was awakened. The warning sounded at 22-20 and we patrolled the area and went to the shelter. No one had arrived, so we were lonely. Bombing and anti-aircraft guns made the sky light up towards the South West. The bombers were particularly active, and some place seemed to be getting it hot. It is to be hoped that the “AA “fire was successful in getting some victims. While activity was still going in that direction our sirens sounded “Raiders Passed“ at 23.00, and on returning home met the post messenger who relieved us of the first aid dressing box. Then home to bed and a well earned sleep.

Sept 19 1940

At 00-50 we were called out to duty but only for short time as the “Raiders Passed“ signal sounded at 01-06. As I was not on duty for the actual time of the raid I was in bed, and arose to accentuate the warning by blowing my whistle. I soon returned to bed, but was awakened at 01-50 on the same errand. We all met for a chat before dispersing but before Mr. Harker and Mr. Shirres could leave to go to the shelter the welcome sound of the sirens sent us all home at 02-03, and we were not disturbed again. The next morning came when the day was pretty well advanced and lasted for half an hour from 10-40 to 11-10. Another alert warning at 21-17 I was on raid duty with Mr. McCann. I was acting as deputy for Mr. Hubberstey who is temporarily out of commission through sickness. Bombs had been dropping far afield during the evening, and the sounding of the local sirens caused no surprise. We went to the shelters after our initial patrol but only for a short time as we got our release at 21-30.

Sept 20 1940

At 00-03 I was again roused, but as I had got into bed partially dressed I was soon ready for duty. As I went into the street it began to rain, and as time went on the rain became worse. It looked as though we should have a real miserable time. As usual “AA“fire and bombing were going on in the usual districts. Bolton seems to be singularly lucky in this respect. This is about our 50 th warning and only one or two bombs have fallen in the town. We had settled down for a long, dreary wait in the shelter, and were more than glad to hear the welcome relief note of the sirens about 00-23. After that we were not to be disturbed.

Sept 22 1940

The sirens aroused us from our slumbers at 00-15 and at once I went out into the streets to accentuate the warning as is my usual custom. Mr. Brabin and myself were the wardens to remain on duty for the length of the raid. We met, and proceeded to the shelter but had no sooner got settled than the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded about 00-30 and we at once returned home. A further warning sounded at 08-50. A glorious morning greeted me as I went outside to blow the whistle. Many people were stood at their doors and little knots of people in the streets were gazing skywards trying to find the aircraft. The plane must have flown right over and kept on his way, for we heard the sirens give out their welcome message about 09-20. Later on in the day I was visited by Mr. Holmes who had been informed that three cases had been reported of people having touched gossamer with their bare hands and been burned. Probably artificial gossamer impregnated with blister gas, and discharged from aircraft and trusting to luck for it to fall in congenial places.

Sept 23 1940

The sirens sounded an alert at 20-13 hours and, as usual I went round to add to the warning on my whistle. There was much gunfire towards the West and South West but nothing doing locally and when the “Raiders Passed“ signal went about 21-08 hours we made straight for home. After a time I retired to bed, hoping for a long sleep, but I was quickly disillusioned for the wail of the sirens put us all on the run again at 22-25. We had barely made contact, however, before we were again set at liberty at 22-40.

Sept 24 1940

Having got nicely settled down the sirens caused a rude awakening at 00-25. We wardens performed our usual ritual in the area before proceeding to our rendezvous. Once there, we could see that the same place was in for a hot time. There was a lot of A.A. shells bursting in the air, and at intervals the sky lit up with the flashes of heavier guns. Mr. Brabin, Mr. McCann and myself were on duty to see the thing through. Mr. Brabin will be out, though there was no need for him to be on duty on this occasion. Relays of hostile aircraft flew over every few minutes on their errand of destruction. They certainly met with a hot reception, and we would like to think that many were destroyed. About 02-00 Mr. McCann brought us a drink of hot tea for which we were thankful. It was cold in the shelter as a mist was creeping over the field and it did not spare us. After a while we prevailed on Mr. McCann to go home and get some rest as he had to be at work at an early hour. After a further period of alternate rest and looking out, we set out to patrol the area, and called at the post to get warm. We were given a drink of tea, and before we left the post the “Raiders Passed” signal sent us home at 04-13 hours. From that time we were left alone for the rest of the usual sleeping hours.

Sept 25 1940

We were called out for duty at 20-32 and after performing the usual duty reported at the rendezvous. As usual bombing and “AA“fire to the West and South West, but nothing locally. It was very cold and it was with expressions of relief that we greeted the “Raiders Passed” at 22-02 hours

Sept 26 1940

At 19-45 the sirens had us out on duty again. The wardens for raid duty being Messrs Harker and Shirres. I reported as usual and stayed out about an hour and a half, and during that time there was spasmodic bombing and answering fire. On this occasion the warning was of four hours duration, the sirens sounding at 23-45.

Sept 27 1940

A short warning this morning lasted from 10-42 to 11-13.The sirens sounded again at 19-55 and after a preliminary patrol I made contact with others at our meeting place. Very soon the “AA” guns were in action towards the South West. Always the same district. It must look a bit chaotic by now. It did not last long, however when the fireworks ceased we went into a shelter for a little warmth, as a freshening wind was blowing. After a little while the “Raiders Passed“ signal went at 20-40, so we immediately went home. About 22-00 hours we had another warning but no sooner had we patrolled our own small areas than we were released from duty again at 22-10 hours. A further alert signal sounded about 22-45 and on making contact at the shelter went inside to rest awhile. We did not hear any aircraft about and there was no firing in the distance. We were prepared to stay out for a long period but the sirens gave us the “Raiders Passed” at 23-00 hours, so we returned to our homes.

Sept 28 1940

A short warning this morning lasted from 10-25 to 10-32. Nothing at all doing.

Sept 29 1940

Having had a night free from an alarm we were called out at 22-35 hours, and were kept out until 01-10. In the usual districts the raiders were busy, but the answering “AA” fire let the Bosche know that he would not have things all his own way. It would be a tonic to us if we could see one descending in flames.

Sept 30 1940

Another warning at 05-35 hours. This was a very unusual time, as dawn was breaking. It seemed a foregone conclusion that we should not have to stay out very long. So it was. The sirens giving out the “Raiders Passed” signal at 06-15. The sinister wail of sirens made me shut an interesting book at 22-35. After the initial patrol we made contact at the shelter. The night was pitch dark and we could only recognize each other by the sound of the voice. There was nothing doing, however, we could not hear aircraft, bombing or “AA” fire. A cold night, Stygian black, and nothing to report. We were all doubly glad to hear the “Raiders Passed “at 23-15 hours.

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