British Governments had began working on Air Raid Precaution (ARP) from the 1920’s onwards as a response to the German Zeppelin and Gotha raids of WW1 – it was realized that any future wars could and probably would involve mass bombings of civilians. In the mid 1930’s, local authorities were made responsible for the recruiting and training of volunteers (e.g. stretcher parties, first aid and gas decontamination) for an ARP service. This was finally made compulsory in the ARP Act 1937 which obliged local authorities to make ARP arrangements with powers to compulsorily purchase land for such arrangements.
The main provisions under the 1937 Act were:
• It was the duty of local authorities to submit air Raid Precaution schemes to the Secretary of State.
• ARP Schemes were to make provision for the protection of persons and property in the event of hostile attack from the air.
• Schemes were to limit injury to people and damage to property from air raids (“air-raid general precautions schemes” and the extinction of fires resulting from air-raids (“air-raid fire precautions schemes”).
• County councils were responsible as the scheme making authority and were required to consult with districts within the county. A borough or urban district could apply to the Secretary of State to be a scheme making authority after agreement from the county council.
• Once approved by the Secretary of State, with or without modifications, the scheme would come into force.
• Any county council, borough council or common council of the City of London could compulsorily purchase land for the purpose of this Act by means of an order and confirmed by the secretary of State.
• Local authorities with functions under this Act were also to assist as necessary in any Government plans in the evacuation of the civil population as a result of hostile attack from the air.
• The act gave powers for scheme making authorities to borrow money for expenditure as a result of the act and also that grants would be paid by Parliament for expenditure incurred with the consent of the Secretary of State.
The Munich Crisis (the disagreement with Hitler over Czechoslovakia) spurred things on with the large scale digging of air raid trenches and the mass issue of gas masks, a surge in volunteers for ARP duties (with numbers made up by paid members of the ARP service) and a large scale public information campaign on how to prepare for air raids. Additional powers were granted to local authorities in the 1939 Civil Defence Act.
Air Raid Precautions Act, 1937 - Suffolk Records Office