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Civil Defence Service

Flag of the Civil Defence Service.

The Civil Defence Service was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain by the Home Office in 1935. In 1941, during World War II, the use of Civil Defence replaced the pre-existing Air Raid Precautions (ARP). The Civil Defence Service included the pre-existing ARP as well as wardens, firemen (initially the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and latterly the National Fire Service (NFS)), fire watchers, rescue, first aid post, stretcher party and industry. Over 1.9 million people served within the CD and nearly 2,400 lost their lives to enemy action.


The organisation of civil defence was the responsibility of the local authority. Volunteers were ascribed to different units depending on experience or training. Each local civil defence service was divided into several sections.

  • Wardens were responsible for local reconnaissance and reporting, and leadership, organisation, guidance and control of the general public. Wardens would also advise survivors of the locations of rest and food centres, and other welfare facilities.
  • Rescue Parties were required to assess and then access bombed out buildings and retrieve injured or dead people. In addition they would turn off gas, electricity and water supplies, and repair or pull down unsteady buildings.
  • Medical services included first aid parties who provided on the spot medical assistance. More serious injuries were passed to first aid posts by stretcher parties and to local hospitals by ambulance personnel. If required, bodies could be removed to emergency mortuaries.
  • Gas Decontamination Teams were kitted out with gas-tight and waterproof protective clothing and were to deal with any gas attacks. They were trained to decontaminate buildings, roads, rail and other material that had been contaminated by liquid or jelly gases.
  • Report and Control dealt with the stream of information that would be generated during an attack. A local headquarters would have an ARP controller that would direct rescue, first aid and decontamination teams to the scenes of reported bombing. If local services were deemed insufficient to deal with the incident then the controller could request assistance from surrounding boroughs.
  • Fire Guards (initially called the Fire Watchers Order in September 1940, then the Fire Watcher Service in January 1941 and then reformed as the Fire Guard in August 1941) were responsible for a designated area/building and required to monitor the fall of incendiary bombs and pass on news of any fires that had broken out to the NFS. They could deal with an individual magnesium electron incendiary bomb by dousing them in buckets of sand, water or by smothering.
  • Welfare would support the injured and people bombed out of their homes. This would involve finding suitable accommodation, issuing new documentation (ration books, identity cards) and money to buy food.
  • Messengers would convey information from the site of bombing incidents back to the ARP headquarters. Many messengers were teenagers equipped with nothing more than a bicycle.

The Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) aided in ARP and observer duties as well as running and operating the mobile canteens and rest centres.

The organisation and task evolved through the conflict.

Uniforms and insignia

Initially, in the early part of the war the service had no recognisable uniform. Members would generally wear civilian clothes, (i.e. boiler suits). As uniforms became more available from February 1941, the service was issued with dark blue battledress and berets. Those not issued with a uniform would be issued with a blue armband with yellow Civil Defence written on it.

1939-1945 memorial, at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Insignia included a circular breast badge worn on the left pocket incorporating the letters "CD" topped by a king's crown (in yellow on dark blue or black backing). A similar smaller badge with yellow circle around the CD and crown was used for the beret.

The type of service a member belonged to would be called out on shoulder flashes. Additionally there were instructor badges and first aid badges that could be worn on the lower sleeves as well as red chevrons – each depicting a year of service.

Rank was indicated by yellow bars (212 inches x 14 or inches) or chevrons:

  • Controller – 2 narrow over 1 broad
  • Chief Warden – 1 narrow over 1 broad
  • Deputy Chief Warden – 1 broad
  • Divisional Warden – 3 narrow
  • Head or Post Warden – 3 chevrons (sometimes beneath a star)
  • Senior Warden – 1 or 2 chevrons

Members of the various services were issued with service gas masks and steel helmets, either military pattern or Zuckerman helmets – often marked with an abbreviation of their specific role, for example, "W" for Warden, "FAP" for First Aid Post, "SP" for Stretcher Party 'A' for Ambulance Crews "FG" for Fire Guard. There were may variations in abbreviations, style of letter and colour.


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