Lowestoft 1942

At the start of 1942 the issue of the “danger”, or “Alarm”, signal occupied the Committee. The Mayor was in correspondence with the Regional Commissioner about using the sirens to sound the “danger warning”. The Regional Commissioner considered that this would not be allowed in any circumstances as he considered there were enough stream whistles to cover the town. The Committee considered the use of steam whistles, locomotive whistles and claxon horns to sound the “danger warning” but thought it impractical. Subsequently the Commissioner considered that there may be the possibility of using sirens to sound the “danger warning” between 7 a.m and 10.30 p.m but not during the night. There was also the possibility of installing the “Cuckoo” note but this would take at least a month. “Cuckoo” referred to a note sounded on an air raid siren – certain towns on or near the South and East coasts that were liable to “Hit and Run” raids were permitted to sound a local alarm signal publicly in addition to the national “Alert” warning.

The issue became more urgent when on Feb 4th when the Mayor reported that a number of workers in Lowestoft had threatened to go on strike if the “danger warning” was not given. The Regional Commissioner finally ruled out any possibility of using the sirens to sound the “danger warning” so the Committee resolved to use steam whistles until the “Cuckoo” system could be introduced. The “Cuckoo” warning system came into operation on Feb 20th.

The matter of the “danger warning” came up again in June following the raid of Jun 4th when not enough warning of the raid was given on the “Alert”. The Committee wanted the “Alert” speeded up to give people at least four minutes warning of the approach of enemy aircraft. Various workers delegations also wanted the “danger warning” to be given throughout the 24 hours of the day as an interim measure until the “Alert” could be speeded up. It was resolved to sound the “danger warning” on Cuckoo after 10.30 p.m and not to clear it until the public “Alert” had been cleared or if there was no following “Alert” then until 6.00 am when the public “danger warning” was resumed. The Regional Commissioner agreed to the interim measure for a trial period of one month (which was subsequently extended by another three months) but urged the Committee to consider the effect on the health of women and children in going to and from shelters on giving the “danger warning”. The Commissioner also stated it was a priority of his to speed up the “Alert”.

The Committee decided to establish a separate Emergency Committee to consider Invasion plans. Prior to this setting up of an independent committee, the matters of the Emergency Committee were dealt with as part of the Town Council’s meetings. The new independent committee was to be delegated the Council’s powers under the Civil Defence Duties (Compulsory Enrollment) Act 1941, the administration of the Fire Guard and Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order.

The issue of food stocks in the event of Invasion was of some concern. This had been considered a year ago but in connection with compulsory evacuation which was now unlikely to take place. It was estimated there was sufficient flour held for 11 days bread supply (assuming a population of 20,000 and a ½ lb daily ration). Tinned meat rations were sufficient for 14 days at a ½ lb daily ration per person. The Food Officer resolved to increase the stock by 20,000 12 oz tins. It was also agreed to increase the stock of milk by 5,000 tins.

Fire watching issues also regularly featured during 1942. The Chief Warden reported that Fire Watchers were using Wardens Posts and he stressed the need to obtain meeting points for the Watchers. Premises at 85 Norwich Road and 122 St Peter’s Street were obtained for use of the Fire Watchers. The Town Clerk was authorized to take action against firms who had not complied with the Fire Prevention Order. In May the need for additional posts for Watches in Normanston Drive and Fir Lane districts was addressed. The Fire Guard Staff Officer reported that 581 stirrup pumps had been received. By June 277 had been issued on loan and 194 sold to residents. Alongside other equipment held at business premises it was estimated that 700 stirrup pumps were in the Borough in June.

On May 15th “Wakeful Watch” was relaxed with Fire Watchers under the Business Premises Order no longer needing to be on duty during daylight except in the case of an “Alert”. Arrangements should be made for someone to be on call if the premises was closed and that access to the property was available without delay.

On Jun 25th the Fire Guard Staff Officer was able to report that 890 persons were performing Fire Watch duties as prescribed. These Watchers were controlled from Report Centers (mainly vacant lock-up shops loaned by the owners to the Local Authority)where they signed on and off duty with the exception of some 49 who were acting as volunteers and were formed as far as possible into stirrup pump teams of three. These volunteers were operating in five sectors, i.e. only three teams per sector which was considered a low coverage. The situation was helped in two of the sectors which had a good cover of business premises acting under the Block Scheme and Naval ratings billed in the area who could play a part.

The Fire Guard Staff officer pointed out the difficulties in maintaining a satisfactory organization in a relatively small Borough which was subject to frequent raids. One successful “Hit and Run” raid could completely shatter an area that had been working well and there was also the continual loss to the Home Guard. The Fire Guard Staff Officer was able to report in September that the Street Fire Parties had been reduced from 890 to 677 persons and the Business Premises from 2031 to 1686 persons due to being called up for Home Guard duties. However should compulsory evacuation be ordered, the 54th Infantry Division had agreed with the Ministry of Home Security that the Home Guard could assist in fire watching prior to “Action Stations” being issued. Arrangements were also subsequently made for a number of Home Guard pickets to be engaged on fire watching duties.

On Sept 3rd a letter dated Aug 7th from the Ministry of Home Security was read to the Committee regarding the compulsion of women with reference to Fire Prevention. By October some 4,194 women had been registered.

Training of Fire Watchers was regularly carried out particularly with practice incendiary bombs in a smoke control hut. The Regional Commissioner noted that the present shortage of labour and materials would cause a delay in the construction of further fire huts and the Committee was authorized to use shelters or any other suitable building in lieu of fire huts for Fire Guard training.

The only mention of air raid shelters in the minutes during 1942 was in regard to bunks for Anderson Shelters. The Council had put in a requisition for 16,000 of which it had received 11,000. On 9th June the Borough Surveyor reported that further supply had been stopped and that the Regional Commissioner had stated that it had proved difficult to obtain the supply of bunks.

Lowestoft Emergency Committee minutes, SRO

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