Civil Defence Organisation

In 1942 GHQ Home Forces produced a summary of Civil Defence Services for the various Commands, which is useful for showing how Civil Defence was organized in Britain.

National Civil Defence Arrangements

Ministry of Home security
The Minister of Home Security was responsible for the general co-ordination of all matters relating to Civil Defence. This included the various Civil Defence services, the provision of air raid shelters, lighting restrictions, air raid warnings and fire prevention.

Home Office
With respect to Civil Defence, the Home Office was responsible for the Police and National Fire Service (formed in the summer of 1941 by the State taking over all fire brigades and auxiliary fire services maintained by local authorities as a war time measure).

Ministry of Health
The Ministry of Health had overall responsibility for first aid posts, gas cleansing of civilians, ambulances and hospitals, emergency mortuaries, evacuation of children and other priority classes, co-ordination of billeting arrangements, re-housing, rest centers for the homeless, first aid repairs to buildings and maintenance of the domestic water supply. The network of local hospitals, some run by local authorities and some voluntary, was co-ordinated under the Home Office’s Emergency Hospital Scheme for the more serious cases (casualties and military sick and wounded).

Ministry of Transport
This Ministry was responsible for shipping, dockyards, railways, roads and canals.

Ministry of Food
The Ministry of Food was responsible for the supply and distribution of food to the civil population and where necessary, communal feeding. This included control over the movement and storage of food and animal feed, the provision and control over Emergency Feeding Centers and British Restaurants.

Ministry of Works and Buildings
In terms of Civil Defence the Ministry of Works and Buildings was responsible for the provision of buildings for Civil Government, either through building, hiring or requisition. It was also responsible for the allocation of labour for air raid damage.

Ministry of Information
The Ministry of Information was responsible for the provision of information to the public and press and advising the press in matters of censorship. It was in effect the mouthpiece of other Government departments in conducting publicity campaigns typically through printed material, public meetings and exhibitions.

Ministry of Labour and National service
This was responsible for the provision of labour and calling up of men and women for compulsory service.

Other Departments

The Assistance Board
The Assistance Board paid out allowances under the Prevention and Relief of Distress Scheme to persons in need who had lost their livelihood as a result of War. It also paid out allowances to replace essential items (clothing, furniture, tools etc) lost through enemy action.

The Board of Trade
The Board was responsible for the control of factories (other than those engaged on Government contracts) and matters relating to the supply of coal, gas, oil and electricity.

Home Defence Executive
This was a joint civilian and military staff at GHQ Home Forces and its main duty was the day-to-day co-ordination between the civil departments and Home Forces.

Post Office
The Post Office was responsible for telephone, telegraph and wireless communication.

Regional Civil Defence Arrangements

Britain was divided into 12 regions for civil purposes. However prior to the War, Civil Departments which had a regional role often adopted different boundaries or had no regional organization at all. This organization was improved so that all regional organizations could act independently in the event of the central Government being cut off.

Regional Commissioner
Each region was under a Regional Commissioner. The Regional Commissioner was charged with all matters relating to Civil Defence within their Region and were authorized “to exercise such authority and control as may be necessary for their due and efficient execution”. Specific powers were delegated to the Regional Commissioners by the Ministry of Home Security and Ministry of Health in relation to Civil Defence and under powers of the Defence Regulations the Regional Commissioner would take complete charge of civil administration on behalf of the Government under a breakdown in communications. The Regional Commissioner had no powers over the Armed Forces.

For administrative purposes, the main local government units were Administrative Counties and County Boroughs under the jurisdiction of County Councils and County Borough Councils. Within an Administrative County, there were also local authorities with more limited powers, namely Municipal Borough Councils, Urban District Councils and Rural District Councils.

The responsibility for running Civil Defence services lay with “A.R.P. scheme making authorities” i.e. County Councils and County Borough Councils. This duty was carried out by Emergency Committees - a sub-committee of the council. Each scheme making authority had an appointed ARP Controller who was responsible for the Civil Defence services, with the exception of the National Fire Service and Hospital Service. The ARP Controller was in charge of the Report and Control Centre, at which information about air raid damage, appeals for assistance and reports of unexploded bombs was collected. These reports were verified then the necessary Services sent out. For larger areas, the main Report and Control Centre may be supplemented by sub-Report and Control centers.

The Services were as follows:

  • First aid party services
  • Ambulance service
  • First aid post services
  • Rescue service.
  • Decontamination service
  • Wardens’ Service
  • Fire Guards

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