Saturday, 8 November 2014

NOVEMBER 11: We Remember the ARP

Twentieth century warfare increasingly involved the civilian populace as military targets.  At the advent of WWII, Civil Defence responded to the bomber threat of air warfare with an organization called Air Raid Precautions (ARP).  This special unit guarded “the very heart and citadel of the city’s strength―its men, women and children” (Front Line, 39).   Amongst many other duties, rescue parties from the ARP were sent to the site of every bomb-fall to release the buried and care for the injured (Front Line, 39). 

Calling the rescue worker of the ARP the new technician of the blitz, the book Front Line outlines the dangerous duty that members of this special unit undertook on a daily basis. 
A member of the ARP….

            learned how to tunnel through shifting masses of rubble on unstable
            footings, using whatever head-support he could find….He learned to
            be very delicate with his big hands, for if he could not withdraw a
            lump of brick-and-mortar without disturbing by a hair’s breadth
            the broken timber beside it he might bring the tons of stuff above
            down upon him…His was the most laborious of all the tasks of
            civil defence.  He had been known to keep straining away at a
            difficult piece of rescue for seventeen hours on end.  His work had
            also its special risks.  Underground his fate was always poised
            precariously over his head.  Above ground he often worked under a
            tottering wall and lacked the time to deal with it.  What couldn’t be
            shored must be ignored.  In basements there might be water from
            broken pipes, rising steadily towards the roof as the parties struggled
            to get in and release someone, or to get out with him.  Gas often leaked
            from fractured mains or household pipes; it might make any enclosed
            space into an immediately fatal trap.  And so often there was fire, to give
            the rescuers minutes instead of hours, and threaten them as they hurried.

The ARP performed their heavy, dangerous labour in the pursuit of people trapped and struggling for life; in the endeavour to save someone’s child, wife, husband, mother or father.  The horrors witnessed by these workers could only be made worth while by the gift of life that each successful rescue provided, “as they struggled noisily forward” waiting for the party leader to “call for silence and they would strain their ears for voices, a muffled cry, even the noise of  breathing” (150).  As one worker reported afterwards, it was the prospect of “getting the old boy out” that kept each of them going (150).

My grandfather's ARP hatpin over maple leaf on "Front Line," a book dedicated to British civil defence in WWII

Front Line: The Official Story of the Civil Defense of BritainToronto: J.M. Dent
            & Sons, 1943.

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