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


Dec 1 1940

At 19-59 hours the sirens sent out their message, and after our initial patrol we met at the rendezvous. Five wardens turned out for duty which is more than we have had for a week or two. It was very dark, and as there was no aircraft about, we went into our hideout, but before we could properly settle down, the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded at 20-19, so we immediately made for home.

Dec 4 1940

A short “alert” today from 13-25 to 13-39 hours. Jerry must have been spying out the land.

Another “alert” sounded at 19-34 hours. It was very dark and rain added to the discomfort. It was not long however, before we were dispersed, for “Raiders Passed” sounded at 19-47. Besides myself Wardens Brabin and Chadwick turned out.

Dec 5 1940

Another daylight “alert”. This was longer than that of the previous day, its duration being from 13-00 hours to about 13-37.

Dec 11 1940

Having had a few nights free from interruption the sirens sent out their message at 18-58 hours and in a few minutes bombing and answering “AA” fire were going on about Kearsley and Manchester, that is to say, East to South. The moon was full and the sky was almost cloudless, so it was nearly like day. After the initial strafing by both sides all went quiet, except for the passing and re-passing of aircraft. As we had not been on duty for some nights we had lost our order of rotation so Mr. Brabin and myself started the cycle again. The “Raiders Passed” signal sounded at 21-54 hours, practically three hours. Mr. Shirres came on duty and we were glad to welcome him after a few weeks indisposition. I had just retired to bed but before I had chance to get in the sirens sounded another “alert” at 20-30. I was soon out whistling as I went, and soon made contact with my partner. As on the previous “alert” all was quiet, and it was a relief to hear the “Raiders Passed” at 12-25.

Dec 12 1940

This time I did manage to get into bed, but was rudely interrupted by the sirens at 01-08. Dressing hastily I carried out the usual patrol and met Mr. Brabin. We went in our hideout and sat beside the stove. It was very quiet all the time, and as soon as the sirens released us from duty at 01-5+ we made for home expecting now to be able to get some sleep. It was not to be for long, however, as yet another “alert” sounded at 03-35 hours. Now thoroughly accustomed to being disturbed I dressed and went out carrying out the prescribed duties as I went. As soon as I had met Mr. Brabin, Mr. Laraway came to have a look at us. We went into our hideout and sat beside the stove for a time, but we got fed up and went outside. There was some spasmodic “AA” fire Manchester way. For a time we patrolled with a policeman, and then we went to the post, and we stayed there until 06-00 hours, and then made for home. As soon as we got outside of the post the “Raiders Passed” sounded. I had been in bed only a few minutes when another “alert” sounded at 06-25. I was too weary to get up again so I stayed in bed and listened from there for any unusual occurrence. This time it was only of short duration as the “Raiders Passed” went at 06-35. There was a short daylight “alert” lasting from about 14-55 to 15-15 hours. At 19-25 the wailing sirens had us out again and as soon as we made contact we witnessed a little “AA” fire in the Manchester district. The night was fine and dry, plenty of frost about, also a bit of mist. The moon was full and bright. When the firing died down we went into our place of contact and sat beside the stove, leaving now and again to patrol and see if there was anything doing. About 21-00 hours we brewed up and enjoyed a hot cup of tea. At 21-35 we got the “Raiders Passed” but in less than half a minute the “alert” sounded again, so there was nothing else for it but to patrol again sounding our whistles en route. Before rejoining the other wardens I went home and had supper. Wardens Chadwick and McCann were for duty the whole of the raid, and I went back to join them and stayed till about 23-00. I then went home as I was about all in, and I immediately went to bed and slept the sleep of the just. There I remained unconscious of the rest of the raid. I understand the sirens sounded “Raiders Passed” at 04-10 and that for part of the time heavy gunfire was heard. About eight hours and three quarters in all, for it can be called one continuous “alert” and on the go for eleven hours the previous night. Is our own particular “blitz” beginning?

Dec 15 1940

Another short daylight “alert” today lasted from 13-10 to 13-22. Only Mr. Brabin and myself turned out, but we soon wended our way home. The sirens sounded another “alert” at 20-28 hours. After patrolling we made contact, and almost at once we heard a plane about. He appeared to be travelling in a North Easterly direction. We looked out for a while to see if anything was happening in the usual places Jerry visits when marauding in this district. We did not see or hear anything, and as rain was falling and a fresh breeze blowing cold, we repaired to our rendezvous, and there we stayed until the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 22-15.

Dec 16 1940

Another daylight “alert” sounded at 14-08 and lasted until 14-21. Shortly after the sirens sounded two of our aircraft came over to search for the Bosche. They circled twice, and then made off towards Manchester. Somewhere about 20-20 the sirens sounded an “alert” but I was not immediately able to go one duty as I was at the post re the issue of plugs, and no one in the post heard the sirens. I first knew about it when I heard either gunfire or bombs. So I hastened for my helmet and haversack and made a belated visit to our rendezvous. I was told there that much gunfire had taken place, but nothing of note happened after my arrival. During our talk it was mentioned that this afternoons raider had been brought down, as our aircraft had been seen doing a victory roll. If so, very good. When the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 21-27 we dispersed and went home.

Dec 17 1940

The sirens sounded an “alert” at 14-14 hours. Considering it was a daylight affair it was rather lengthy, for the “Raiders Passed” did not sound until 15-31. We did not hear any aircraft on this occasion, and we could not see anything as visibility was poor owing to fog.

Dec 19 1940

About 21-40 hours the sirens sent out their call to duty, and after patrolling the area made contact at the rendezvous. Before we could go into our hideout the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 21-50.

Dec 20 1940

At 18-40 hours the sirens sent out their message. I had just sat down to have my tea, so I had to do my whistling patrol and return home to have my meal. It was not long after the sirens sounded that the fun began, and once again Bolton seemed to be encircled by airplanes, as bombing was going on all over the place. As soon as I had had my tea I went to our rendezvous, and we each had short spells looking out in order to report any parachute flares or bombs dropping in the Borough. From our point of vantage we would see bombing in a huge semi-circle from about Kearsley to Liverpool. The Hun's chief targets appeared to be Manchester and Liverpool with the latter place as target in chief. All the while a terrific “AA” barrage was put up, and it would be a good thing for us if the “AA” shells were as sure of hitting a plane as the bombs are as certain of hitting the ground. Bombing and answering “AA” fire went on for hour after hour with but little respite. Mr. Brabin and I were on duty for the whole of the raid, and we bade the others “goodnight” about 23-00. We patrolled the whole area in the teeth of a bitter wind, which made us appreciate our little oil stove. Earlier in the evening we had been supplied with a meat pie each from the post, and brought by the messengers. This is the first time we have had any rations. The way things had been going on I was quite resigned to being on duty for eight or nine hours, but six sufficed. As the “Raiders Passed” signal sounded at 00-40 hours and I was very much surprised, for there seemed to be only a lull in the air and ground duel.

Dec 21 1940

At about 18-40 hours the sirens called to duty, precisely the same hour as yesterday. As before Liverpool was the target in chief and what a blitz they had. There was no respite at all. I suppose the dirty Hun had come at a time when he knew the shops would be filled with Christmas shoppers. All night long Bosche aircraft were coming and going. Very soon a big fire was raging and this served as a beacon for other bombers coming in to complete their foul work. In reply the “AA” guns were very active, and I would dearly like to see a Hun machine descending in flames. As I watched the fire and bombing I was hoping that our boys were over Berlin repaying them with 100% interest. We hear that the people of Liverpool have faced the bombing with calm and courage, and I can only add the hope that if our turn must come that we face the terror with equal resolution. One thing stands out clearly, that our people have risen to great heights in refusing to be intimidated by the Luftwaffe. Wardens McCann and Chadwick were on duty for the length of the raid, and at about 23-30 hours we left them to it. I returned home and went to bed, but I could not sleep soundly knowing that I may be wanted at any time. At 04-00 the last of the raiders had departed so the sirens sounded, this alert having lasted nine hours and a quarter.

Dec 22 1940

At 12-55 another “alert” sounded and the “Raiders Passed” at 13-12. I did not turnout on this occasion as I was not ready, having partaken of the luxury of a long lie in bed. The Bosche keeps a good timetable. Once again at 18-40 the sirens sounded. I was ready for patrolling at once, for I expected the sirens to sound and made the necessary preparations. As soon as we had completed our initial patrol the bombing began but not on Merseyside this time. Manchester and district were the selected targets, and it was a night long to be remembered. Very early in the proceedings a conflagration was under way, and of course was a great attraction to later aircraft. At one time there were as many as a dozen parachute flares in the sky at once, turning the night into day. As time went on a few other fires were started but seemed to be very quickly got under control. All the while the first one was burning furiously. Big guns in the vicinity kept having a bang, and there was a danger of falling shrapnel. Once again the shelters were brought into use, the people evidently thinking our turn had come at last. One flare dropped in a field close by but just out of the borough, so it was not for us to report its presence. Extensive damage must have been done, but as there appears no cure for it, we shall have to bear it with all the fortitude at our command. The Huns ought to be repaid in their own coin, and two or more bombs dropped for every one over here. They ought to be given the opportunity to see if they can take it. Wardens Harker and Shirres were on duty for the whole of the raid and they left us to have supper and return about 23-00 hours.

Dec 23 1940

I left for home about midnight, but I could not settle down, as I was expecting a stray bomb in the area at any moment. About 04-00 I joined the duty wardens and the big fire was still blazing away, lighting up the sky for miles. All this time there was no respite from the bombing, wave after wave of Bosche machines coming in to add to the chaos. About 05-30 things began to slacken a little, the light got a bit better owing to the moon having risen, and finally all went quiet. Then the sirens sent out their doubly welcome message at 06-25, just about fifteen minutes short of seeing the clock round. We lost no time in making for home. This was not the end of our adventures however, for another “alert” sounded at 07-05 but it was only of short duration. “Raiders Passed” sounding at 07-17. Jerry was a little later tonight as we did not get the “alert” until 19-10. He was soon active, for as soon as we met after patrolling the area we saw a parachute flare descending, but it did not throw out much light owing to low and thick cloud. As on the previous night the blitz started in good time, and very soon a fierce fire was raging. We learned later that the fire was oil or petroleum. The Hun was merciless, and it is to be hoped that our boys copy his tactics and reign death on Bosche cities. There must have been widespread damage, it just cannot be otherwise. They must have been two agonising nights for Manchester. As the hours passed slowly on the fire appeared to get worse, and from our post (eleven miles away) we could see thick black smoke pouring from the flames. We learned that many fine buildings were razed to the ground. This is the Hun idea of “Peace and Goodwill toward men”. Warden Brabin and myself were on duty for the whole of the raid, but we are used to long “alerts” by now. It seems to me that the Bosche method is as follows. The first plane releases parachute flares over a town and then comes one with incendiary bombs and flies around in a huge circle dropping his cargo en route in order to start a ring of fires. The bombers then come along in waves and drop their high explosive bombs inside the circle. Refreshment was sent up to us from the post and we had a small repast about midnight. We had not a very long time to wait before the “Raiders Passed” sounded at 01-25. We each turned out every so often to see what was taking place, and each time we noticed that the fire was not diminishing. It was still alight at 08-30 when I was going to work.

Dec 27 1940

An “alert” sounded at 12-50 hours. It was not much use looking for any aircraft as the sky was very dull. The “Raiders Passed” sounded at 13-14 hours.

Dec 29 1940

After a day or two of quiet the sirens sounded at 15-10 hours but it was not for long as the “Raiders Passed” went at 15-30.

Dec 30 1940

Another daylight “alert”. The sirens sounded at 13-42 and “Raiders Passed” about 14-00 hours. Visibility was bad and there was heavy drizzly rain.


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