Ipswich 1939

Ipswich was a scheme (Civil Defence) making authority and on the outbreak of War the Emergency Committee was formed in order to implement Civil Defence. The minutes of this committee survive in four large volumes so it is planned to cover Ipswich’s Emergency Committee in sections, starting with 1939.

During September the Committee was occupied with organizing as many temporary air raid shelters as possible (with 16 in hand, for example, the basement under Talbot’s Mineral Water Factory in School Street for 200 people and trenches being dug in Hope Walk which could accommodate 270 people) and also matters of camouflaging buildings from aerial observation. For example it was brought to the attention of the manager of the Odeon Cinema that an aerial photo showed that the cinema roof was very conspicuous.

The need for food production was highlighted by a letter received from the Executive Officer of the East Suffolk County War Agricultural Executive Committee that he would exercise his powers in the Borough of Ipswich under the Cultivation of Lands Order 1939. As a result one proposal from the Committee was that school boys could dig some of the Corporation allotments.
A night squad of ARP Wardens was established in September in case of air raids. A certain number would be on duty (and would receive the regulation £3 a week while on duty) while others would be on standby and would receive a retainer of 5/- a week. This was approved by the Regional Commissioner’s office. A 24 hour duty shift was established in the Report Center.
Much further time was spent in establishing the ARP Wardens – from setting up ARP posts to organizing clothing and equipment. This was always not a straight forward matter – the Dock Commission wanted a rent of £1 per year for a term of 21 years for the Wardens post at Nova Scotia; the Committee did not consider this to be reasonable. An early problem encountered was the ARP Wardens having their pay docked by their employer if late for work due to ARP duties. This was resolved on Nov 6th with arrangements put in place to cover lost wages although retainers were discontinued from Nov 17th. There was some concern at the time that this may lead to difficulties in retaining volunteers. Two members of the ARP attended a course in Norwich to deal with the disposal of unexploded bombs. A vehicle was made available for their use and a trench dug in Chantry Park for exploding any bombs.

Arrangements were also made to deal with the grim realities of expected air raids. On Oct 25th a Cemetery Squad was set up from Council workers with a retaining fee of £5 a week. Also 500 canvas mortuary sacks were ordered from Firmins.

Demolition squads were established, largely with the help of the building industry. On Oct 25th a list of 100 names and addresses of men from the building industry willing to volunteer for the demolition squad was submitted to the Committee. On Dec 12th a delegation from the Council of Master Builders attended the Emergency Committee and stated a willingness to establish rescue and demolition squads based at various builders yards.

Mass air raids were expected on the outbreak of war and as a result an evacuation programme was established. Ipswich along with other towns / villages in Suffolk was, for some reason, considered safe and children were evacuated from Ilford (Greater London) to Ipswich. Arrangements had to be made for the billeting of these children.

Circular 1860 from the Ministry of Health received on Sept 23rd required the Emergency Committees to provide shelter and food for the temporary homeless as a result of enemy action. On Oct 5th the Borough Surveyor announced shelter for the homeless as follows: The Chantry (200 people), Holywells (200 people), Northgate School (250 people), Weston School (150 people), Stoke Parish Hall (70 people) and Stoke School (130 people). The use of sports centers and church halls was also considered for this role. An appeal was put out on Oct 16th for volunteer Refugee Officers.

Fire fighting measures included the installation of 5,000 gallon water tanks. Three locations were at Brown Street, Cherry Street and Argyle Street Depot. It was noted that the Borough Surveyor planned to dig shelter trenches at a lower level than the tank at Argyle Street - It was recognized that the risk was two great and the idea abandoned! Other suggested locations included the recreation ground at Shakespeare Road and the playground at the old Whitten School. During October the Borough took delivery of 14 un- mounted heavy water pumps and one self propelling heavy pump for issue to the Fire Brigade. A good number of Stirrup pumps were also ordered.

Medical arrangements were largely concerned with setting up and equipping First Aid Posts. The purchase and requisition of cars for the use of ambulances was also an issue. The Ministry of Health issued Circular 1893 which discussed the conversion of second hand cars to ambulances. Some vehicles requisitioned for medical purposes were found not fit for running.

One particular problem caused by the blackout was that trams were restricted from running after dark due to flashing from the overhead lines, the lights in the bus and headlamps. This caused problems for munitions workers on the shift change over at 8pm as those clocking off had no transport to get home. After representation to the Ministry of Supply it was agreed to extend the running of the trams by ½ hour and the munitions workers to change the hour of shift change to 7:30 pm.

A letter received on Nov 25th from the Ministry of Home Security recommended testing air-raid sirens at regular intervals. This was not viewed favorably by the Committee and no action taken. A letter from the Ministry of Information suggested that notices warning people not to divulge information in the course of conversation should be printed and posted. Arrangements were put in place to do this.

Mention has already been made of air-raid shelters and not surprisingly this matter features heavily in the Committee minutes. By October Anderson shelters were being delivered to the public. By Nov 8th 2,477 had been delivered. An inspection of 150 shelters in October showed that 10 had not been erected. Eight of these were for widows and it was agreed that the Borough Surveyor should organize the erection (by Nov 15th the Surveyor reported that 163 had been erected at the Council expense at 22/- per shelter). The other two cases were served notice that if they were not erected within 10 days they would be taken away. In some cases it was found that water was encountered when excavating for the shelter. These had to be lifted and a further earth covering provided.

Public shelters were provided in either basements or trenches. The minutes for Nov 2nd list the following public shelters completed:

The minutes for Dec 12th list the following reported as ready:

 Below - some of the shelters mentioned above.

One issue with Public Conveniences being used as shelters was that the Public Health Committee on Nov 16th decided to close them at 10pm (Women’s) and 10:45pm (Men’s) when they would not be available as air-raid shelters.

It was agreed that Home Forces stationed in the area could use public shelters in the case of an air raid – for example the Committee agreed that personnel from 161st Field Ambulance could use the shelters in Christchurch Park.

As well as Anderson Shelters being delivered to individual households, communal shelters were also being planned. Some at Shaftsbury Square, south side of Rope Walks and at Wherstead Road were initially planned to consist of a number of Anderson Shelters however these plans were rejected by London and eventually revised plans put in place.

Commercial properties also had to provide shelters under the 1939 Act – the Borough Surveyor was appointed as the Officer who could issue certificates to state that they were completed (in accordance with Home Office Circular 268).

Some people took to constructing their own shelters. For example a trench was begun by the congregation of the Hatfield Road Congregational Church. However it proved too much for them and they asked that the Borough Surveyor arrange for it to be completed. An inspection by the Surveyor found that it was not revetted with timber and had already collapsed in parts. As public shelters were already under construction at Mussay Road Recreation Ground and Holywell Park the Surveyor recommended not taking this one on.

Finally one of the last entries in the minutes for 1939 notes that livestock could be sold for slaughter on Tuesdays market despite Ipswich being subject to the provisions of a special order due to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth.


Ipswich Emergency Committee Minutes, SRO

Basements No. of People Accommodated
Messrs Smith Suitall, Butter Market 200
13 St Peter's Street 98
Public Convenience, Old Cattle Market 100
Vacant shops, High Street 110
No 2 St Stephen's Lane 101
Messrs Smith (Albion House) Ltd, St Matthew's Street 200
Queen's Hotel, 7 & 9 Queen Street 60
Trenches No. of People Accommodated
St George's Street (two trenches) 100
Norwich Road junction with Valley Road 100
Children's Playground, Clapgate Lane 50
Landseer Road 100
Norwich Road railway bridge 100
Woodbridge Road, Fiars Home 50
Woodbridge Road, opposite Khartoum Road 50 50
Garret's Building, St Matthew's Street 325
Basements No. of People Accommodated
No 21 Stoke Hall Road Vaults 200
No 27 Basement under Co-op Furnishing Warehouse, Foxlane 200
Trenches No. of People Accommodated
No 10 Junction of Bixley Road & Foxhall Road 50
No 22 Nacton Road / Mildmay Road junction, land near the Golden Hind 100
No 35 land adjoining Railway, north side of Foxhall Road 50
No 39 Woodbridge Road opposite Colchester Road 50
ipswich shelters2

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