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London Metropolitan Archives



Reference code(s): MCC/CD/PH

Held at: London Metropolitan Archives


Date(s): 1940-1965

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 0.33 linear metres

Name of creator(s): MCC | Middlesex County Council x Middlesex County Council


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Civil Defence Department existed from 1938-1946 and from 1948-1965. It reported to the Air Raids Precautions Committee (1938-1939) and the Civil Defence Committee (1948-1965).

The development of aircraft and related weaponry in the early twentieth century brought with it the threat of attacks on civilian populations and property at times of war. London in particular had suffered a degree of enemy action from the air during the First World War. In the 1930s the political situation in Europe compelled the government to implement legislation for the protection of the civilian population in the event of a war. In July 1935 the Home Office issued a circular on Air Raid Precautions (ARP) to all local authorities which encouraged them to create ARP machinery and to recruit and train the public in ARP duties. The decision to work through the local authorities was a significant one. In Middlesex some of the lower tier authorities developed high calibre plans (Hornsey for example) while others did very little work. This was a pattern reflected by the whole country. The county of Middlesex was considered by the Home Office to be an area of "especial danger" where civil defence was very important.

Under the 1937 Air Raid Precautions Act local authorities were obliged to draw up ARP schemes in order to protect civilians and their property from air attack. In Middlesex the Air Raid Precautions Committee consisting of County Councillors was formed in 1938. The Committee decided that the lower tier authorities had a major part to play in civil defence and urged them to appoint their own ARP officers and formulate proposals which could be co-ordinated by the County Council. A small Civil Defence Department was set up by the County Council to deal with this work under the leadership of a Civil Defence Officer. The Munich Agreement of September 1938 gave fresh impetus to the development of Civil Defence activities. A recruitment drive for part time volunteers was initiated together with the construction of air raid shelters and the establishment of rest centres. It was anticipated, given what had happened in the First World War, that poison gas would be used so gas masks were issued. First Aid Posts were set up and trenches built in open spaces. The Middlesex County Council area was incorporated into the London Civil Defence Region to form Group 6. The Civil Defence Act 1939 gave further responsibilities to the local authorities. On the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 a civil defence organisation was in being, although not equipped or ready for active service.

Evacuation plans for children and mothers were first drawn up in the late 1930s. The prime movers in this were the London County Council and the government, as Middlesex County Council was not responsible for all education provision at that date. The boroughs of Action, Edmonton, Hornsey, Tottenham and Willesden were included in the plans, and later also Enfield, Ealing, Brentford and Chiswick. Evacuation took place from 1-4 September 1939 and by this date many people had already left London privately. As no enemy bombing started in 1939 many evacuees returned to the capital before the end of the year and did not leave again until the start of the Blitz in September 1940.

Bombing in Middlesex began on 12 July 1940 and the whole of the county was badly affected by the Blitz (September 1940 - May 1941). There was a lull in bombing between May 1941 and 1944 with only sporadic attacks. During this period a degree of reorganisation took place within the Civil Defence services. The stretcher party service was amalgamated with the rescue service, wardens were given First Aid training. Emergency feeding was established by the Home Office and its use pioneered in Middlesex with the Red Cross who equipped and staffed empty houses and then housed homeless people and those suffering from shock. In the summer of 1944 attacks from flying bombs and long range rockets began (V1s and V2s) and Middlesex suffered early on and badly from these. 16,000 casualties were recorded. Notable incidents included 29 September 1940 daylight attack (target presumed to be Northolt Airport), when 200 high explosive bombs were dropped on area around Ruislip Road, Ealing; 30 November 1940 133 high explosive bombs dropped in a night raid on Twickenham and 13 February 1941 housing estate bombed near the Welsh Harp, Hendon.

The Civil Defence (Suspension of Powers) Act, 1945, suspended some provisions of the Civil Defence Acts 1937 and 1939, notably the obligations the local authorities had to prepare air raid precaution schemes, build shelters, train civil defence volunteers and organise the blackout. Full time civil defence staff were no longer required. The Middlesex County Council Air Raid Precautions Officer's Department was dissolved and its remaining duties undertaken by the Clerk's Department and County Treasurer's Department. The Home Office continued to encourage the activities of local Civil Defence branches of volunteers. These branches were strong in the Middlesex local districts so the County Council appointed honorary liaison officers to work with the branches. This work continued until the passing of the Civil Defence Act 1947.

The Civil Defence organisation stood down after the Second World War ended in 1945. In December 1948 the Civil Defence Act 1947 came into force and the County Council again received civil defence responsibilities. The new Act had been passed as an attempt to offer a measure of protection to the civilian population in the event of another war and in particular to tackle the new atomic warfare. The functions of the County Council fell into two areas: the organisation of the Middlesex Division of the Civil Defence Corps and the preparation of plans for the operation of certain war-time services The Civil Defence Committee sat again and a small Civil Defence Department was established under the County Civil Defence Officer. The County Council was again made responsible for the five areas of Hertfordshire within the Metropolitan Police District.

The County Council was responsible for the enrolment and training of volunteers to make up the Middlesex Defence Corps. The Civil Defence Committee decided at a very early stage that the lower tier authorities should play a large role in civil defence and be responsible for enrolling and training volunteers under the County Council's supervision. It was felt that a better response would be received from the general public if volunteers were organised locally. The local authorities were arranged into three sub-groups - Group A: Barnet, Cheshunt, East Barnet, Edmonton, Enfield, Finchley, Friern Barnet, Hornsey, Potters Bar, Southgate, Tottenham, Wood Green; Group B: Bushey, Elstree, Harrow, Hendon, Rusilip-Northwood, Uxbridge, Wembley, Willesden and Group C: Acton, Brentford and Chiswick, Ealing, Feltham, Hayes and Harlington, Heston and Isleworth, Southall, Staines, Sunbury-on-Thames, Twickenham, Yiewsley and West Drayton. The Corps was divided by the Civil Defence Act into five sections; headquarters; warden; ambulance and casualty collecting; rescue; welfare. Recruitment began in November 1949 and by the end of the year 8,579 members had been enrolled. The County Council retained the responsibility for ensuring that the instructors were trained. Qualifications could be obtained at Home Office Technical Training Schools.

Volunteers received basic training and then proceeded to work within the section of the Corps in which they had enrolled. The County Council provided courses for instructors to use for the headquarters, warden and ambulance sections and guided the local authorities in selecting the instructors for the welfare section. To ensure that volunteers were properly trained the County Council encouraged the districts to establish civil defence training centres and authorised expenditure with this in mind. Likewise the purchase of equipment was encouraged. By the end of 1952 25 districts had incendiary bomb huts; 24 districts had gas chambers and 13 districts had gas compounds. The Civil Defence Corps was often called in to assist other emergency services, for example in transport accidents and searches for missing children.

The County Civil Defence Officer was the chief officer of the department. Under him were four assistant Civil Defence Officers, an Assistant Rescue Officer, six full time instructors with clerical and manual support staff. There were personnel within other County Council departments who were charges within the planning of the emergency services and were so involved in civil defence work. There was a sub-divisional Civil Defence Officer in each local authority for whose salary expenses the local authority was reimbursed by the County Council.

In 1962 central government initiated an overhaul of the running of Civil Defence Corps. The aim of this reorganisation was to enhance the status of the Corps, to improve efficiency, and to develop a nucleus of highly trained volunteers. These changes took effect from 1 October 1962 and the most significant effect was to improve the standards of training. The civil defence functions of the County Council passed to the new London Boroughs and the county councils of Hertfordshire and Surrey.


Scope and content/abstract:

Photographs from the Middlesex County Council Civil Defence Department, including photographs of war damage in Middlesex, with some views of damage in the London area, 1940-1945. Also civil defence photographs, 1949-1965, including civil defence exercises, emergency feeding, training, demonstrations and displays, award ceremonies, personnel and civil defence volunteers assisting at the Harrow and Wealdstone railway crash, 1952 and the Southall air crash, 1958. Also stills from the Civil Defence film 'The Waking Point' produced by the Home Office.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

The archives have been arranged into 2 series: MCC/CD/PH/1 War time photographs; MCC/CD/PH/2 Civil Defence photographs.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: City of London

Physical characteristics:


Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Acquired with the records of its parent authority, the Middlesex County Council, and with successor authorities.


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

See also MCC/CL/CD and MCC/CL/L/CD.

Publication note:

For further information on the history of the Middlesex County Council please see Middlesex by Sir Clifford Radcliffe (2 editions, 1939 and 1953), LMA Library reference 97.09 MID; and The County Council of the Administrative County of Middlesex: 76 years of local government, 1 April 1889 to 31 March 1965, by Middlesex County Council (1965), LMA library reference S97.09 MID.



Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: April to June 2009

Air accidents | Accidents | Disasters
Civil defence | Defence | State security
Civil emergencies | Emergencies (events)
Railway accidents | Accidents | Disasters
War damage | War | International conflicts
World War Two (1939-1945) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
Civil defence x Defence

Personal names

Corporate names
Civil Defence Department | Middlesex County Council
Home Office
MCC | Middlesex County Council x Middlesex County Council

London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Middlesex | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe