War on the Banks of the Tyne

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In April 1937 an Air Raid Warden Service was created and by the outbreak of war there were more than 1.5 million people in the ARP. Posts were set up initially in houses or shops with a number of people acting as wardens to cover their local area. Their main duties in the early months of the war were to register local people and enforce the strict blackout so that no lights could guide enemy planes.  Initially, ARP wardens had no uniform, but wore their own clothes, with the addition of a steel helmet, Wellington boots and an armband but in May 1941 they were issued with blue serge uniforms.

The threat of gas attack was real and terrifying. Everyone was issued with gas masks which they had to keep with them at all times. ARP wardens and other involved in civil protection were given details of what might be expected and how to respond.

Prepared for anything

Fire watching was an essential part of defence – an incendiary bomb could be dowsed if found quickly and firewatchers were equipped with stirrup pumps and buckets of sand to tackle them. The war winters were remarkable for their severity so it is no wonder that the ARP requisition for Haltwhistle included a good supply of greatcoats!

Most men and children carried their gasmasks in a canvas shoulder bag but for the smart lady there was the leather handbag which cunningly concealed a boxed gasmask accessible from the bottom.

In the early part of the war invasion was a real possibility and the government feared a mass exodus of refugees from the east coast if the Germans should land in the north. As well as issuing orders to the civilian population, detailed instructions were given to local police and special constables. These were to remain secret to avoid panicking the population.


Issued to George G. Ridley in February 1940 to certify that he had received the necessary training in Anti-Gas precautions.


Information pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Home Security 1942


Issued to ARP wardens, civilians on fire duty, etc

Canisters were said to last 30 minutes. Replacements were not carried.


Box Respirator (Gas mask) supplied to the British Infantry as standard, also used by the Civil Defence and fire personnel during the Blitz.

Used to prevent the respirator eyepiece steaming up.

Instructions for use

“Clean eyepiece with cloth provided. Breathe on eyepiece and apply a little compound with the finger. Breathe on eyepiece again and polish VERY lightly with a cloth so that a thin even film of the compound remains. B.C. Co”


The receipt book for stores received by  Air Raid Precautions (ARP) gives a surprising amount of information about the ARP in Haltwhistle and surrounding villages: the men who signed the book give both their position in the ARP and in some cases the village for which they were responsible:

From 1941 to 1943 the ARP wardens and fire guards ordered 66 stirrup pumps, 18 greatcoats, 4 hats, 2 pairs of leather boots, 4 haversacks, 4 respirators, 7lb of carbide (for lamps) a hand lamp, whistle and boiler suit, oilskin gloves, 439 steel helmets and 4 practice incendiary bombs!

S. Sim                    Senior Fire Guard        Greenhead

G(?) W Robson     Senior Fire Guard        Bardon Mill

H. Gibson               Senior Fire Guard        Melkridge

T. L. Hetherington  Senior Fire Guard         Plenmellor

E. Carrick               Senior Fire Guard

E. Laidlow              SCC Driver

Mr. Liddle                SCC Driver

Mr Hutchinson        Warden

Mr. Birkett               Warden

John Makepeace   Warden

Mr. Burn                 Ambulance Driver

Mr Ruddick             Ambulance Driver

Mr Armstrong         Chief of Rescue party

Mr. Hunter

Mr. Jones



Instructions sent  to George Ridley by George Wright, Sergeant at Haltwhistle Police Station, giving details of the regulation.

“Complaints have been received at this office of incivility on the part of Special Constables when inquiring into lighting offences. It is hoped that complaints are not justified.......”

During the war Gilsland Postoffice was run by Mr. Gregg  and include the telephone exchange which was staffed 24hrs a day by his  sisters.

Instructions sent by Police sergeant George Wright to George Ridley and Fred Hudspith, special constables, in preparation for the expected invasion and emergency evacuation.