".... today, parts of the ancient village, which goes back beyond Domesday Book, are reminiscent of the battlefields of France in the last war." It is difficult to imagine that this could ever have been a description of Dulwich, but it comes from a booklet, The Wardens' Post, published during Spring 1946, after the end of World War II. The editor was George Brown, sometime Warden of Post 60, a well-remembered local resident, Dulwich historian, and former editor of The Villager. The booklet, dedicated to "all our comrades who wore the silver and gold of London's Civil Defence", is one of a number of records of the Air Raid Wardens' Post 60, which have been presented to the Dulwich Society. Another booklet, Pen Portraits of Post 60 by R.K. Spedding, has graphic lino-cut illustrations by Edwin Tucker sometime Senior Fire Guard. The other items in the collection are the actual archives of the Post, a rare survival: the Minute Book, April 1941 - March 1944 and Log Books, August 1941 - April 1942 and June 1944 - June 1945. These latter are brief notes, in pencil, by whoever was on duty that day. Much of the contents of both Minute Book and Log Books is of a routine nature, but as a whole this little collection gives a revealing and human insight into the life and work of one local A.R.P. Post among the thousands that covered the country during the war years. Used in conjunction with records at the Southwark Local Studies Library such as Camberwell Borough Council Minutes 1939-45, the unpublished Camberwell Incidents Register and the published List of Civilian Dead, combined with the memories of local residents, one could build up a detailed history of Dulwich during the war.
Post 60, stationed first at 47 Pickwick Road, then (1940-42) at The Hut, 48a Burbage Road, and finally (1943-45) at Winterbrook Pavilions, 10 Burbage Road, was continuously manned night and day from 1939 to 1945 by three full-time wardens and many unpaid part-time volunteers. Some members left on being called up, but the nucleus was a group of about thirty which developed into a close-knit little community. Long-serving members included R. Dupraz (first Post Warden), A. Eyre (later Post Warden), A. J. Heckrath, and George Brown himself. The team had an intimate knowledge of, and concern for, the neighbourhood which they patrolled nightly to ensure that no lights were accidentally showing in the blackout. Without benefit of computers, they kept a card-index 'census' of every house, and noted when residents were away for the night or had visitors, so that if a bomb fell they would always know how many needed rescuing. George Brown recalled not only the "miserable nights spent in the musty dugout", but also "the 200 yards chase thereto ..... on a bike carrying a box of census cards", when the sirens wailed. The effects of the hostilities on Dulwich, in the front line of the war on London, fell into distinct periods. First there was 1940-41, with its High-Explosive bombs (of which more than twenty fell in the locality) when, in the words of George Brown, there were "search- lights glimmering over the Chapel or stabbing the deep dome of the sky like silver swords as it reflected the fires of London that boiled and blazed around us". Many local residents took nightly refuge in the public shelters. "Although often enough", according to George Brown, "that by the Hamlet Infants' School was so crowded that we had to take turns to sit down, Shelter Marshal Rosie Smith managed to keep the occupants cheery and somehow within bounds". There were two other lesser used shelters by North Dulwich Station, as well as "the homely atmosphere and welcome awaiting us at the one provided by Mr Dean for the dwellers in Lloyd's Yard - that was the place to improve one's local knowledge between the bangs". After the first Blitz came the fire raids, an almost nightly occurrence. "Two or three o'clock on a cold morning, with sirens howling and our own rockets thundering and roaring above, was not a pleasant time to leave a warm bed and pace the roads ready for the worst. Or often during an evening's bridge or table-tennis the alert would sound and immediately the Post sprang to life. Wardens and Messengers would stream out into Burbage Road, fastening overcoats or adjusting tin hats, as they ran or cycled to their particular sectors". Two oil bombs, as well as showers of incendiaries, fell on Dulwich during this period. The actual Minutes and Logbooks begin during the time of comparative quiet on the home front which followed, but always, lest the worse befell, the wardens were vigilant in inspecting and repairing gas-masks. Fortunately neither these nor the joint rifle practice with the Home Guard, begun in May 1942, were ever required in earnest, but with Hitler's troops just across the Channel local defence ('Dad's Army') was no joke, and the threat of invasion was sufficiently real for R. K. Spedding to be designated 'Post-Invasion Defence Warden'. For Dulwich, the war began again in earnest in the summer of 1944, with the Flying Bombs or 'Doodlebugs'. Times of 'Sirens' and 'All Clear' are entered meticulously in the logbook several times a day, and so regularly that, on August 11th, some wit noted: "07.23 Sirens (7 minutes slow!)". Now the Wardens really went into action. Public shelters had to be made habitable once again, and residents to be assisted in erecting 'Morrisons' in their own homes. Dulwich was on the direct route from the Pas de Calais, and 38 flying bombs fell on our Civil Defence Area, which was covered by 17 wardens' posts. Fortunately a number landed on Dulwich's many open spaces, but Dulwich College was hit and the rifle range where the wardens had practised was destroyed. On July 21st, the night Dulwich College Picture Gallery was wrecked, "we had an awe-inspiring picture", wrote Brown, "in which one could not fail to see an extraordinary beauty, despite the destruction. Fire and moonlight lit the scene, making the broken walls and gaping roof stand out as a deep silhouette against the starlit sky". Of many tragic incidents, the worst was on a Saturday afternoon, August 5th, when the crowded Co-op in Lordship Lane was hit. Although not in their area, the wardens of Post 60 raced to the spot to help alleviate the suffering. 23 people were killed and 42 seriously injured on that occasion. After such an incident, the wardens' duties ranged from tactfully informing bereaved relatives of those identified in the mortuary, to dealing with blast damage, which could extend over a very wide area. A roll of 'Steadoglass' would quickly be obtained from the Town Hall, and supplying the workmen employed on emergency repairs with a mobile canteen was also the wardens' responsibility. At 09.10 on September 11th was heard "a loud explosion at no great distance", not preceded by the usual air-raid warning. This, as was later discovered, was the first Long-Range Rocket, the silent and terrible 'V2', to fall on the area. Explosions, sometimes shaking the Post H.Q., continued every few days until March 25th 1945. On November 1st six wardens went to help out at an incident at the junction of Friern Road and Etherow Street, just off Lordship Lane, when 24 people were killed, including (as one learns from the List of Civilian War Dead) some whole families. At 17.10 on January 6th 1945 a rocket hit the junction of Court Lane and Dovercourt Road, killing seven and injuring 36 others. It must not be thought, however, that the records of Post 60 give a wholly grim picture. Conscientious and caring, the model of good neighbours, the Post built up a cameraderie among its own members which outlived the war years. This is evidenced especially in the humorous but affectionate Pen Portraits by R.K. Spedding. To enliven the dreary times there were sports, interpost competitions, concerts and social activities, from which even world-shaking events could not deter them. As the minutes of December 8th 1941 record: "At 21.00 hours the business of the meeting was suspended to listen to the Prime Minister broadcasting on the declaration of war by Japan on Great Britain and the United States of America." On its resumption, discussion immediately continued on the acquisition of a new hut as a Social Club for Post 60, the subscription being fixed at one shilling a week! On August 19th 1944, at the height of the flying bomb attacks, the logbook records that "one dart is missing from the Dulwich Darts Cup." The lady wardens naturally made their own contributions to various pleasurable occasions, notably Miss Lily Jones, 'Queen of the Post', with "her own special apple tart". With its sense of fellowship and devotion to duty, Post 60 "kept right on to the end of the road". At 12.50 on V.E.Day, May 8th 1945, the end of the six year war in Europe, they telephoned the District Officer at his private address to find out why his office was closed, and learned to their surprise that they actually had three days holiday! The Post's records are now deposited on permanent loan with the Southwark Local Studies Library. This article was written by the late Mary Boast and first published in the Dulwich Society Newsletter in October 1982.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28