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Frank Howcroft - The Diary of an Air Raid Warden - October 1940
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Oct 1 1940

October was barely five minutes old when we were aroused from our various beds to answer the call of duty at 00-05. Messrs Harker and Shirres were on duty for the duration of the raid , and after making contact with them and handing over the first aid kit, I returned to bed, but before I could resume my interrupted sleep the welcome note of the sirens at 00-35 acted as a sedative. Early in the evening, aircraft were heard in the vicinity, so it occasioned no surprise to hear the dismal wail at 22-25. We immediately performed our preliminary duties and then made contact at the rendezvous. Various flashes in the distance told us that the Hun was at his dirty work. One in particular seemed intent on a particular target, for he circled round and round several times. The activity was centred towards the South, (Manchester, we guessed). It must have been very hectic while it lasted. We were all surprised to hear the “Raiders Passed” signal at 23-00, as we thought he would not be out of the area. We came to the conclusion that he must have made his departure a different way, as he usually passed over us on his way back. From the shelter we went to view another meeting place offered us. We may decide to take it. It is in the centre of the area, and contains a fireplace, and is weatherproof. After inspecting it we came outside and immediately saw the glare of a large fire, about Salford I should say. It must have ignited at the end of the raid, for the sky was quite black when the sirens sent us home. It was soon got under control. The firefighters must have worked like demons. Before retiring to bed, I looked out at 23-45, but there was no glow in the sky at all.

Oct 2 1940

This was all to the good for as soon as I got settled in bed I had to get up at 00-04 and accentuate the siren's call to duty. I then went to the shelters and handed over the first aid box to Mr. Hubberstey and Mr. Chadwick, and after wishing them a short stay outside I returned home, but as soon as I had done so the “Raiders Passed“ sounded at 00-15, and so to bed. Retiring rather early that I may get some rest before duty called I was hastily aroused at 22-40 to answer the demand made by the sirens. It was very dark outside and I ran in the middle of the road to avoid running into lamp posts. As soon as we made contact there was bombing proceeding in the Manchester district. The Bosche must have left his trademark this time. It appeared to us, to be the most intense bombing attack in this region. There must have been a whole squadron at work, approaching in relays. The thud of the bombs suggested heavy calibre. This went on intermittently for an hour and a half when quite abruptly at 01-00 the “Raiders Passed“ signal went and I don't think any of us on duty expected hearing it at that time. As on the previous night Jerry departed leaving a big blaze. We immediately set a course for home, and of course, bed.

Oct 3 1940

We now received the wail of sirens with equanimity. They had us on duty this morning at 07-15 and the warning lasted until 07-55. We neither saw nor heard any aircraft, but we did witness some barrage balloons being hauled in.

Oct 4 1940

No sirens sounded in our region during the night, so we were able to partake of a full night's uninterrupted sleep. I suppose this was made possible by bad flying weather. The alarm sounded during the forenoon at 11-03 and as is usual with these daylight raids, so far from the bases, was of short duration. “Raiders Passed“ sounding at 11-17. Out again at 21-35 and, what a night. It was inky black and once I lost my bearings. However, I found our new rendezvous, which we used for the first time this evening and we should be comfortable there. It is the wash house at the rear of 27 Lever Edge Lane which Mr. and Mrs. Hubberstey kindly placed at our disposal. An oil stove has been supplied and I asked for, and got, a storm lamp from the post, so we should be all right. Anyway, we are not continually out in the open, but are quite ready for action at a moments notice in any part of the area. At 21-55 the sirens sounded the “Raiders Passed” signal and we at once dispersed.

Oct 5 1940

We were out on duty again at 21-25 hours and at once I went forth to meet another dark night attended by rain. After a preliminary patrol I went to make contact with the other wardens. Four of us reported in all. Being Saturday evening the others were perhaps in town seeking relaxation, and very necessary too. About 22-15 the sirens sounded their welcome message so we returned home to await the next call. A little “AA” fire was heard in the distance.

Oct 6 1940

At 09-45 we were put on the alert but nothing occurred so we just waited patiently for the “Raiders Passed” which sounded at 10-15.

Oct 7 1940

We were called out again for duty at 20-35 hours and during my preliminary patrol the fun began. I sensed from the outset that it would be a lengthy raid, and so it proved, for we were not freed from duty for 3 and 3 quarter hours. The Bosche made a determined attack this time, and dropped all sorts of bombs, heavy, not so heavy, and incendiaries. He did not appear to have much success with the firebombs, and we have no means of knowing properly what damage the H.E. caused. It can be safely assumed, however, that if a large percentage fell amongst property the havoc must be considerable. The bombs fell too near us to be comfortable, and I made a remark to the effect that our turn had come at last. The Hun did not get it all his own way, as he was met with an “AA” fire greater in intensity than any we have yet seen. A “dud” AA shell struck a house in the sector next to ours, so we very nearly had serious work to do. It was the turn of Mr. Brabin and myself for duty for the whole of the raid, and as he did not turn up as early as usual, I went for him, and learned that he had been caught in town in the raid, and had to walk home. Hostile aircraft completely encircled Bolton on this occasion, and there was never much of a period that the sky was not lit up by gun flash, incendiaries or percussion of H.E.B. bombs. The night was not so dark as the few preceding ones, and late on in the proceedings a watery moon showed it self, and by its light we could see our way about. About midnight Mr. Brabin and I decided on having supper and while we were so pleasantly engaged the sirens sounded the “Raiders Passed” signal at 00-20 so after visiting our contact post to see that all was well, I returned home to partake of a well earned sleep.

Oct 8 1940

Just as I arrived at work at 09-00 the “alert” sounded, so into their burrows went the rabbits. I started out on my round and had barely reached my destination when “Raiders Passed” sounded at 09-25. Another warning sounded at 13-55 and lasted until 14-15. Perhaps photographic expeditions. I am of the opinions that during this raid (Oct 8) I saw a plane drop down in flames. The “alert” sounded at 20-30 hours and after the usual patrol I reported at the rendezvous. The Bosche was soon at his dastardly work again but the attacks were not pressed home so determinedly. After a time went very quiet and them Jerry left us alone, the sirens releasing us from duty at 21-50.

Oct 9 1940

When the sirens sounded this evening at 20-25 there seemed to be a very unpleasant prospect in view, it was very dark, the rain was falling heavily, attended by strong gusts of wind. I was in the Victoria Hall where the Halle orchestra had been giving a concert under the baton of Dr. Malcolm Sargeant. The end of the concert must have coincided with the beginning of the raid. I reported as early as possible and soon bombs began to fall nearby. A few fires were started but were soon under control. After a quiet spell the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 22-10, so we immediately dispersed.

Oct 10 1940

The sirens sounded the “alert” at 21-35 hours and at once I went out to accentuate the warning on my whistle. After the initial patrol we met at the rendezvous. We then went out to see if anything was happening, and we soon heard bombs falling and answering “AA” fire. The aerial activity took place in the main between Manchester and Bury. After a while things went quiet, only to open out again, then there were two very loud reports as from heavy guns. Then quietness again, and at 22-40 the “Raiders Passed” sounded, so we retired to our homes. Not for very long though, for at 22-55 we were called out on duty again, and it seemed rather considerate of the Bosche to allow us an interval for supper. After following the usual initial patrol we met and went out into the open to await events. On this occasion we were rather quiet and were getting bored when the sirens sent us home at 11-25 hours. We at once dispersed and I went home to bed.

Oct 11 1940

Owing to a miscalculation Mr. Brabin and myself thought we were the wardens for the whole of the raid. So we turned out for duty when the “alert” sounded at 00-25. The Hun proved himself a confounded nuisance. There were two very determined actions during the time we were out. The Manchester district seemed to be singled out for special attention. The aircraft was into attack then went away for a time. We patrolled, went to our rendezvous, visited the shelters, then the post, back to the shelters, spent some time looking out, and then about 04-00 we decided to go home and stand by until the sirens went. As we were proceeding home we heard the aircraft overhead so we returned to our lookout point. Bombing and “AA” fire went on like the very devil, both those on the ground and in the air had a hot time. All of a sudden things went quiet so we returned to our homes to wait. We had not long to wait after that, for the sirens sounded at 04-15. Soon I was sound asleep.Out on duty again a few minutes after 21-00 hours and after the usual ritual we met at the place of contact. We then went to our lookout to see if things were happening. Firing was going on round Merseyside. On the whole, things were rather quiet, but we may have been mistaken for although it was a fine moonlight night, there was a ground mist, so visibility was not too good. Nothing of importance occurred in our vicinity, and as the mist penetrated our clothing, we got cold and went to our rendezvous for a drink of hot tea, supplied by Mrs. Brabin. After that we patrolled and finally went to the shelter, and while there the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 23-40 hours so we immediately went home. Mr. Brabin and myself were again the duty wardens for the whole of the raid.

Oct 12 1940

We had an “alert” from 11-10 to 12-10, but there was nothing doing.

Oct 13 1940

An “alert” sounded at 15-20 but as I was at a church harvest festival service I did not report, the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 15-50. At 20-40 hours the sirens called us out to duty, and immediately gunfire was heard. It didn't last for ling, it must have proved too warm for the Bosche, as he turned his direction towards the West coast. At 21-00 the “Raiders Passed” sounded and we returned home. Once again the call to duty came at 22-45 and very soon things were happening in the South West. A terrific “AA” barrage met the aircraft and can only hope it was successful in destroying one or more. It was the turn of Messrs. Harker and Shirres for the whole of the raid and we stayed with them until about half past eleven when we left them on their own. I returned home and stood by for a while. The siren sounded the “Raiders Passed” signal at 00-05, so I immediately retired to bed, and was not further disturbed.

Oct 14 1940

Jerry soon paid us a visit this evening. I had barely finished my tea when the sirens went out their message at 18-50. He was overhead. Before I had completed the patrol of my area heavy calibre guns gave him a welcome. He sheared off towards Manchester and dropped a few bombs, then all was quiet, and the next we heard was the “Raiders Passed” which went at 19-10. So we immediately dispersed to await a further call. As anticipated, Jerry returned to these quarters at 22-35 hours. Mr. Brabin and I were for duty the length of the raid. We met at the rendezvous but found everything very quiet. It as was a very fine moonlight night with a rather cold wind. We shall require extra clothing before long to deal with the East winds. As there was no aerial activity we went into our meeting place for a little warmth, and to await events. We waited in vain, however, and it was with feelings of relief that we heard the “Raiders Passed” signal given out at 23-20. We at once dispersed expecting another call to duty, but as none came, we were able to enjoy a full night's uninterrupted repose.

Oct 16 1940

Just after 19-30 hours we were out on duty. The night was wet and visibility almost nil. After our various initial patrols we met at our rendezvous and while we were chatting the sirens sounded the “ Raiders Passed “ at 19-55, so we retired to our homes to await the next call.

Oct 17 1940

The sirens sounded an “alert“ at 21-20. After patrolling my own area and blowing my whistle en route I met the other wardens at our meeting place. There was activity almost at once. Reports from big guns from an Easterly direction opened the proceedings. It was in the South West, however, that things began to happen. Liverpool and Warrington seemed to be the places chosen for the attack and Jerry ran into a hellish barrage. It was lively at one period; there was not a split second an “AA” shell was not bursting in the sky. After a time it died away and all was quiet, so we went to our rendezvous to get warm. As Mr. Chadwick and I were on duty for the whole of the raid, we broke away from the rest in order to get supper before the other wardens left us to it. While we were thus engaged the welcome sound of “Raiders Passed” sounded at 22-40 hours. From then we were not again disturbed.

Oct 18 1940

As I was on post duty at 19-00 hours I was not able to do my initial patrol when the sirens sounded at 20-00. As soon as someone arrived to take charge of the post I left at 20-20 to join my colleagues. Just as I reached the door of the post, reports for big guns meant that the Bosche was in the neighbourhood. A few bombs were dropped in a North Easterly direction, then quiet. Aircraft were also in the South West but on the whole things were quiet. After a time of looking out we went inside our meeting place and stayed for quite a long time. Mr. Brabin and I were on duty for the length of the raid, and I left about 22-40 to get my supper. As on the previous night, I had only been home a few minutes when the welcome “Raiders Passed” signal sounded at 22-45. On another occasion I shall have to leave them earlier and see if the oracle still works.

Oct 19 1940

An ‘alert' signal at 19-15 was the prelude to what proved to be a long raid. As I was rather far away from the sector when the sirens sounded I was not able to report at the rendezvous as early as usual. On arrival I found only one absentee, which was very good considering it was Saturday evening. The Bosche was soon at his dirty work. Intermittent “AA” fire from various places greeted him. There must have been many planes overhead, and on one occasion in a direct Westerly district from where we were watching we saw two parachute flares. They were of a type we have not seen before. They were like a huge triangle with a light at each end of the base and one at the apex. They hovered in the air and pieces of fire fell off to the ground now and again. By and by Jerry came near us and dropped a few bombs at no great distance away. As the raid proceeded the ground defences got merrier till there was terrific barrage for the Hun to face. After a time things quietened a little and, as we were cold we went to our meeting place for a warm and a drink of tea. When we went out again aircraft were still coming and going, and there was another lively duel; aircraft v ground defences in the Liverpool-Warrington area. The night was cold and the moon shed a light over everything. It should have been easy for Jerry to spot targets. About 23-00 hours we once again repaired to our meeting place, and about half an hour later I left and went for supper intending to return at one o'clock to do duty for Mr. McCann who had to work all day Sunday. Just about 24-00 the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded, the raid having lasted four and quarter hours.

Oct 20 1940

An “alert” sounded at 12-15 but all was quiet and it came as no surprise when the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 12-40. The sirens gave us another run when they sounded at 13-30 but in five or six minutes all was over, and we were free to return home, which we did. At 21-20 hours the sirens interrupted my reading of a good book. I went out at once to accentuate the warning. It was very dark, but on getting accustomed to the gloom, visibility was alright for a few yards. A cold wind was blowing and rain threatened, so a long raid wasn't a very inviting prospect. For the first time I turned out wearing a Balaclava helmet, and it was very warm. It will be a boon when colder weather arrives. We did not hear any aircraft and we went to our rendezvous to sit round the stove. At 22-20 we heard the “Raiders Passed” signal, so immediately left for home. Not for long, however, for at 22-35 the sirens upset our reckoning on an undisturbed night. We had only a fifteen minute interval for supper, which was not long enough. Anyway, all the personnel reported and we went to our lookout, but there was only quietness. Some of us went to visit the shelters for the double purpose of doing something and seeing if any of the shelters were tenanted. They were not, so we returned to our lookout. Very soon the Bosche was overhead on his way to do his foul work. Shortly bombs began to fall and big guns opened out in reply. Some bombs fell at no great distance from where we were standing but nothing occurred in our immediate vicinity. We did not see anything doing in the South Lancs. coastal district. On this raid it was more East to South. When we had had enough of looking out we went in the meeting place to get warm. I was just opening the door to leave for home when the welcome note of “Raiders Passed” sounded a few minutes after midnight 00-05.

Oct 21 1940

After about an hour the “alert” sounded again 01-05 and I hastily dressed and went our blowing my whistle. Messrs Harker and Shirres were on duty for the length of the raid. I did not contact them, but returned home to resume my slumbers. The wardens had a pretty bad time as they were kept on the move in and out of bed until after five o'clock. There were two other warnings, one about 03-20 and another about 04-55 before they were left undisturbed.

Another “alert” sounded at 10-30 hours and lasted until 11-55, but there didn't appear to be anything doing. A warning from 14-20 to 14-35. At 16-30 whilst on the bus returning to the office the sirens sounded again, but nothing untowards occurred. This one lasted just over an hour the “Raiders Passed” sounding at 17-35. What a busy day for raids. At 20-25 the warning came to the call to duty. This being the seventh and last raid of the day. It wasted three and three quarter hours, the sirens giving the welcome sound at 00-10. The time dragged slowly by. There was no sound of any aircraft in the vicinity. On turning out at the beginning of the raid the night was dark, visibility being confined to a few yards. Later on the moon came out, and there was an unmistakable nip of frost in the air. Towards midnight there was a ground mist which enveloped one, and it was cold. We therefore went to our rendezvous and before we were properly seated by the stove the sirens freed us from duty. Mr. Chadwick and myself were on duty for the length of the raid, but as soon as we were left on our own the unexpected occurred. Then home to bed.

Oct 22 1940

A few minutes before 19-30 hours the sirens heralded yet another ‘alert'. We are something past the century by this time. On my preliminary patrol I found it necessary to knock at a few doors as light was percolating through insufficiently drawn blinds. It was cold and dark with more than a hint of rain, but it kept off, however, there was a little “AA” fire from the South West district, but the hostile aircraft must have entered by the coast route. He did not come over our heads as he usually does. In our sector all was quiet. Mr. Brabin and I were for duty all the raid and as we had had a full night in bed the previous night we were quite O.K. We all went in the meeting place and after a time were glad to hear the welcome “Raiders Passed” sounded at 20-40 hours. After that we were not disturbed, so once again we were able to get a good nights rest.

Oct 23 1940

The sirens sounded the “alert” at 22-50. I had begun to think we were going to have a free night. After the usual routine we all met at the rendezvous, and went to look at what was happening. We had not to wait ling before we saw a series of vivid flashes momentarily lit up the ground. There was a lively “AA” barrage and it was at no great distance from our place of observation. In fact, I hurried home to get the family and visitors downstairs as the plane appeared to be making our way. Anyway, after approaching towards Bolton he turned again Manchester way, and all was quiet. By this time we were cold, so we went to get warm at our stove. We turned out again shortly, and went out to brave the weather, but not for long, as there seemed to be no point in staying out just to get cold, so we returned to more comfortable quarters. About midnight we broke up leaving wardens Hubberstey and McCann on duty for the length of the raid. At 00-58 the “Raiders Passed” sounded and no further warnings were heard.

Oct 26 1940

The “alert” sounded just after 19-30 hours but as I was away from the area I could not give the warning on my whistle. I got to our meeting place as soon as possible, and for a time all was quiet. This week Bolton has inaugurated a war weapons week and a Messerschmitt 111, brought down in an encounter is on view. I have been informed that every place the machine has been on view has been bombed, so I wondered if Bolton was to have a visitation. On one occasion Mr. Brabin stopped the buses as there was a plane overhead. The result was that every bus on the route was at the outward terminus at once. Several parachute flares were dropped and suspended in the air for some minutes. Bombs were dropped outside and inside the Borough, but no great damage has been dome, no one killed, but a factory hit, and a few homes shaken. This raid lasted quite a long time, as is generally the case when Mr. Brabin and I are the duty wardens. The remainder left us about midnight, so we had a good walk round the area and then visited the post. Whilst there the sirens sounded “Raiders Passed” at 01-10 hours, the raid having lasted over five and a half hours.

Oct 27 1940

When the sirens sounded at 12-35 I was some distance away from the area, but I got there with all possible speed. There was nothing doing, however, and we were soon home again, the “Raiders Passed” sounding at 13-10. At 18-10 hours we had another “alert”, but there was no aircraft in our immediate vicinity. We had to get the police to a bad case of lights showing, and a caution was administered. There was not much doing so the sirens sounded at 19-35 hours. So we returned home to await the next warning, which came about 20-30. It was very quiet however, and the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 21-20 hours. We were again called to duty at 23-35 but for twenty minutes before that time bombs had been dropping and “AA” shells going up. I was in bed when the sirens went and one crash shook the bed, so it was no surprise to hear the sirens. At once I went into the road, Mr. Brabin was already out and there was a lively duel Kearsley way between aircraft and ground defences. This went on for a time, and the aircraft was made to sheer off and he went towards Manchester, and we saw a string of flaming onions go up, but nothing happened. Again some bombs were dropped locally but nowhere near our sector. After a quiet spell the sirens “Raiders Passed” at 02-15 so at once returned to our homes. During this raid we were supplied with a welcome drink of hot tea liberally dosed with brandy.

Oct 28 1940

At 20-20 hours an “alert” sounded but I was unable to go on duty at once having been to a concert, I managed to get transport within a few minutes and soon joined the other wardens. It was very quiet and it was good to be released from duty at 21-30. Not for long, however, as the sirens called us again at 22-45. This was just about as lively as the preceding warning, nothing doing, so the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded at 23-10.

Oct 29 1940

At 03-02 the sirens woke me so out of bed I jumped, hurriedly put a few clothes on and went round blowing my whistle. As it was the turn of Messrs Harker and Shirres for the duration of the raids I returned to bed and was wakened again when the “Raiders Passed” went at 04-+.

About 20-23 hours the “alert” sounded and after patrolling and whistling I went to our meeting place. There were only three of us this time. Sickness, overtime and other causes have depleted our numbers for this evening. No aircraft came near our vicinity. It was cold, so it was with feelings of relief that we heard the siren's welcome note at 21-50. We immediately dispersed to await the next call.

Oct 30 1940

An “alert” sounded at 14-15 hours and lasted until about 14-50. At 18-25 the sirens sounded another “alert”. Going out into the street I was met by heavy rain, and a lengthy raid did not seem a pleasing prospect. After patrolling we met at the rendezvous, but very soon the “Raiders Passed” was heard at 18-55. Having got nicely dried from a soaking of rain, I had just got settled in front of a warm fire when at 20-13 the sirens once again had us on the run. This time in addition to the rain it was pitch dark. We spent some time getting someone to the door of a house of which the chimney was on fire. It was soon under control. We did not hear any aircraft about nor any bombs or “AA” fire in the distance, so we went into our hideout, and swapped yarns until the “Raiders Passed” sounded about 21-10 hours.

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