THE CIVILIAN FRONT LINE
AN ADDRESS BY
A. E. ROBERTS
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Sanderson.
Thursday, April 2, 1942
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Gentlemen: The whole world knows that Hitler has introduced a totally new kind of warfare. It isn't merely the intense mechanization of forces; it isn't merely the use of that mechanism as a spearhead which, so to speak, mushrooms out once it has penetrated the opposing line; it isn't merely the development of an Intelligence Service and of spies in co-ordinated Fifth Columns; it includes also the intensification of bombing from aeroplanes, and the bombing not only of military but also of civil targets. And in this, as we know, he is making a calculated attempt to impede military strategy, to stop, if possible, military mobility; and, secondly, he is aiming to destroy civilian morale.
Where the destruction of civilian morale has succeeded, the populations have been able to do nothing but endure. Where these tactics have failed, as they have so notably in England, it is because of the carefully organized preparations which were made for meeting the attack. Those preparations in Britain have, in effect, put the whole civilian population in the front line.
The Empire Club of Canada and its visitors are particularly fortunate today in having Mr. Roberts come from London, England, to tell us of his own experiences in organizing that civilian front line. As you all know, he was Warden of District D in the east end of London during that terrific blitz there, and he was an A.R.P. official for Manchester. It is, therefore, a particular pleasure, Gentlemen, to present to you Mr. Roberts, who will talk to us on "The Civilian Front Line". Mr. Roberts. (Applause.)
MR. A. E. ROBERTS: When Mr. Comber telephoned to me, and asked me to come along and give you this talk, I had rather mixed feelings about it. You see, these introductions I have had for my various talks in Toronto have been very pleasing to listen to, but I still feel a little embarrassed about it all, because over home I am only a small cog in a very vast machine. I felt, however, that it is my duty, as it is also the duty of any other of us who are over here, to give at least some idea of what you can do to prevent the repetition here in Canada of the blitzing of England.
The civilian front line is a rather vast subject to cover. It embraces the fire service, bomb disposal squads-our old friends "delayed action", that the ferries are fond of. It embraces the first aid services, the public utilities, the transport, with the problem of feeding thousands of people and clothing them when they are bombed. All these problems can only be settled by an efficient, well organized, and well trained, organization.
Up to the time of the war in the Pacific, Canada had not, in my opinion, felt it very necessary to do more than ground work in air raid precautions. But I think the entry of Japan, especially in one particular, the Pearl Harbour incident, has taught us the real lesson of how fast this mobile type of warfare can move. Had I been asked in London six months ago, to which part of the Empire I would evacuate a'1 our children for safety, I would have said, without hesitation, that the point furthest removed from the centre of conflict was British Columbia. As you all know, in a few short hours British Columbia came straight into the front line, as close to the fighting as our southeast coast.
Interest has, therefore, been developed more greatly in A.R.P., and I am here to give you an idea of how the .organization works, and how a Warden works, and also to tell you that the blitz is not altogether the grim affair that some people would like to have it. It even has its light side.
I am going to give you an idea of the control room. In that room, buried twenty feet underground, we have a table, and on that table is marked a complete map of the whole area of--in Manchester and--barring the big industrial centre. On that map is marked every fire hydrant, every doctor, police station, fire post, first aid post, public utility--that is the gas and light and water--and from that map we work out our plan of action for the blitz.
With his usual mechanical regularity, Jerry, when he starts out to blitz a place, develops it in the one spot he wishes to go to. That is to say that, in England, if we have the warning at half past six in the evening, during the winter months, we can guarantee practically that we are in for a twelve hour blitz, at least, and that area becomes a focal point of all control rooms around us.
Attached to the control room you have a certain number of fire pumps, a certain number of ambulances, a number of messengers, nurses, doctors, decontamination squads, bomb disposal squads. But, with the intense blitzing a district can go through, these services are sometimes inadequate. That has been provided for, as the control room, which is only a district control, is linked with the larger controls, going back to regional.
It is, therefore, possible for the A.R.P. officers at each table to pass through these controls an idea of what he will need as the raid progresses. Sitting also at the table, each with a 'phone in front of him, are your Fire Officer, Gas Officer, Rescue and Excavation and First Aid Officers.
These men have a direct line to a switchboard which is connected with their headquarters. Also on the wall are other 'phones. We have a 'phone direct to the Fighter Command, to Police Headquarters. In other words, practically every contingency that can happen is already provided against in that control room.
But I can liken that room to a body that is dead. It has no life. It has all the means of life at its disposal, but it lacks nerves. And for the A.R.P. work we must have nerves. The nerves are the ordinary wardens on the street. He is, after all, the most important man in the whole organization. He is the General on the battlefield, in that he is the centre of operations, and it is only by means of his information that we in control can move to his point the various services that are required. For this reason, then, it is obvious that the warden himself must be a well-trained man.
I am going to introduce the warden as the wet nurse to the general public, which is what he has become. He has to be an encyclopedia of information for his own area. Before the war, we were issued with certificates of training, in peacetime, which entitled us to act as Air Raid Wardens. I am going to read the certificate to you, because I want to say a few words about it
"Air Raid Precautions: This is to certify that Arthur Ernest Roberts, of so-and-so, has completed a course of anti-gas training, held under the auspices of the A.R.P. Committee of the--Council, and passed an examination of proficiency, proving sufficient knowledge of anti-gas measures to act as a member of the Air Raid Wardens Service."
As you know, gas has never been used, but, when we trained, we, like yourselves, had a very poor picture of what aerial warfare could develop into and the damage that it could cause. However, we read of the blitz of Warsaw. We saw pictures--not moving pictures, but still heard of Spain, but we still did not appreciate or even realize the magnitude of the work that had to be done. So we went around trying to get people interested in A.R.P. and were fairly unsuccessful.
The forty day blitz that developed in September taught us a thousand things that we had to learn under fire, that we should have learned in peacetime. I think I can say that quite a number of people who are casualties and dead now would not have been, had we had even part of the standard of efficiency that we have now.
The Warden, then, must know his area thoroughly; he must know every house, every individual family; he must know how many live in that house, their sex, how many children.
But he has to know other things as well. He has to know, for instance, whether Mr. Smith is on night work, as he may well be for a month. If that is the case, will Mrs. Smith shelter in her own shelter, or go down the street to Mrs. Brown? For this reason we have often sent our rescue and demolition squads to dig up debris, with men endangering their lives all the time, only to find that a few words from the householder to the warden would have obviated this work and would have allowed us to place it where it was really needed. It is a Warden's duty to obtain this information, but it is the householder's duty to keep him up to date. The householders may well ask him: "where do I go when I am bombed?" He has to know where his rest centres are and exactly how much these rest centres will do for the people. He must be prepared to carry out all sorts of little jobs.
The great public of England are still as skeptical as ever, and still as scared of ridicule as we always have been. One of my wardens reported that a delayed action bomb had dropped at a junction of a street, in a garden, and, following out his normal duties, he started to evacuate the area. There was a house very close to the bomb and he went down into the shelter. He happened to know the chap and told him that Jerry had dropped a bomb in the garden in Number 12. This man, who had been up before on false alarms listening to this and that, said: "Are you sure there is a bomb there?" The warden has to he capable of convincing these people. He has got to be a man of tact, of understanding. He may have to hold the baby while the lady of the house dresses, in her basement, to get out of the area. On occasion he has even had to pack a suitcase for her.
The point there is that this type of person endangers everybody around, for that bomb is ticking, ready to go off. How long it will take, I don't know. I have known a bomb to explode after ten days. It was a bomb that we didn't bother to take up. It was dropped in a field, and it lasted ten days, and then went up with a terrific crash at ten o'clock in the morning. Everybody had forgotten about it.
We cannot afford any lack of education on the part of our public. Everybody here in this room, everybody that 1 am talking to, has a responsibility not only to himself, but also to his neighbours. He has all this work to learn. When delayed action bombs drop, as I say, he has to evacuate to a safe area. The exact area cannot be defined in the black of night, so he evacuates up to a two hundred yard radius. Then the bomb disposal squads go out, the experts, the Royal Engineers, and the biggest heroes of this war, and they take over dive down to form an estimate of the size, and, if necessary, we evacuate even further. These boys in the Royal Engineers, I am pleased to have the opportunity of saying, have a complete disregard for danger. There is also the humorous side of their work, which is illustrated by one particular story in London. This delayed action bomb, in its passage through the earth, had cut into a sewer, with the result that a great flood followed. They capped the sewer and pumped the hole out. The following morning, a Royal Engineer laddie was lowered down the hole to defuse the bomb. I would like you to appreciate the fact that he was sitting on half a ton of high explosives and had no knowledge when it was going off, when, much to everyone's horror, his voice came up: "Get me out of here." Up came the lifting tackle, according to routine, and the squad dispersed. Nothing happened, so the Officer, keeping his men away, approached the hole very gingerly. Everything seemed in order, so he called the squad back and asked what was the trouble. The Engineer said: "There's a damned rat down there." A half ton of high explosives that could take him into eternity did not bother him at all, but he definitely wasn't going down the hole while the rat was there. Somebody had to go down and despatch the rat and he was perfectly happy to go clown about his work with the bomb. It is the unconsciously acted happenings that they rather lightly laugh at over home.
As regards the first aid, one cannot say sufficient about these girls and men, who go out with their ambulances, and wait while the debris is removed, and then care for the injured. It is not a question of a bomb dropping on a house and these little squads going out and dealing with it. I want you to remember that, all the time they are working, bombs are still dropping, shrapnel is coming down from the barrage. One can never know in which area these high-powered aircraft are, for they move with such speed that the barrage on the sky, lit up against the sky, moves from point to point with astonishing rapidity. One moment a shower of shrapnel will come down, then you will come out and, thinking it is perfectly clear, you will race away to do whatever job you are doing, and again you are peppered. The next morning while you are working, there is the scream of another type of bomb, and down you go again. You see, one has to work through the night. One cannot work as you have been working in your practice blackouts, with streets, and houses, and transports, all there and working.
With regard to that, I should like to stress the importance of the blackout. A light brings bombs. We have proved this conclusively in many areas. One person's carelessness can cause quite a number of casualties. One skylight unscreened brought very severe bombing in a small part of the residential quarters of a town, which probably would have escaped. Actually, everything had been blacked out, but the skylight screen had been taken away by bomb blast.
It is necessary for the warden to be able to move into that area all the services for the incidents that he is reporting. Without his training, he is useless. We have had wardens who have "panicked"--not necessarily "panicked" in the sense of panic, but, in the actual moment of the incident, they have rather lost their heads. They have asked for the wrong services, and we have sent along fire pumps instead of ambulances. Incidents like that could have been avoided by training.
I feel very deeply that, although the vast majority of people here think Toronto is safe, I am going to be totally opposed to the idea and to say "probably safe". In Eng land, we have lost a lot of our famous buildings. A lesson was gained in bitter experience--very bitter. Over here, you have the lesson provided for you and placed at your disposal, which should prevent a repetition of it in Canada.
To go back to our general wet nurse, he is, I think, in about the most dangerous job that we have over there. He must be out during the entire raid. If he doesn't know where to go or what to do, your life and your property are in danger.
I feel that that would be the position here, should the Japanese try a suicide raid. I hear it will probably be in the nature of an advertising stunt. But remember, from the planes will drop real bombs in the nature of advertisements. And if you have failed to take up A.R.P. work, or, at least, to have gained a knowledge of the duties of the householder, what he is required to do, then you are, without doubt, helping Jerry to produce a condition that he has failed utterly to produce in England. The reaction of the general public to the raids over there is one of growing determination to prevent repetitions of each blitz, as it occurs.
To give you some idea of this: in the great fire blitz of 1940, apart from half the City of London blazing, there were two thousand individual fires in Greater London. I want you to visualize the vast amount of material, the large numbers of men, required to bring all these fires under control. Remember that each fire produced its own casualties, a large number of people were required for first aid, a large number of people slept on the wreckage and required beds, a large number of people were required for demolition and excavation. Two thousand fires and the fire of the City of London! Those fires were tinder control, including the vast blaze, by 3.00 a.m., and were put under control whilst Jerry still droned over the top in waves, dropping his bombs.
How many planes you get in a raid is a problem still. I have never yet known how many planes are in a raid, but we estimated in one raid that the planes came over the City every four and one-half minutes. Each plane can carry two thousand incendiary bombs. Each bomb is capable of starting a fire.
We were caught in the fire blitz. We had paid a lot of attention to A.R.P. regarding high explosives, but had not yet been tested by fire, with the result, as everybody knows, the great fire of London. But now, in later raids--that of the 15th of May, to take a particular one of last year. I was in Manchester when Jerry came over on his heaviest raid since the December blitz. He dropped thousands of incendiary bombs. He started only three fires and those fires were under control, or out, before the raid had finished. This shows how the people have become conscious of the necessity of preparing themselves, and, again, this can be done only in one way. It is, again, the job of the warden, who must patiently go around to form street groups and get one man to act in putting on the roster, the roll of honour, every man and woman, and every boy and girl over the age of sixteen, in that street, to act as fire watchers.
Then, through your letter box, in the evening, comes a small slip of paper, informing you that Mr. A. E. Roberts of Number 11, Mr. Brown of Number 10, Mr. Smith of Number 6, and so on, will form the group for that night's watch.
We have to do this in addition to our A.R.P. duties. I have been in the control one night, and fire watching in the street the next night. Apart from these duties in the blitz, each warden has to go to work, so, you see, his job is no sinecure. But he still finds time to laugh.
There is one story of a lady, who rushed clown to the cemetery close to her home, at five o'clock in the morning, when day was breaking. The policeman found her peering through the railing. She asked if there was any damage, and he said: "No, they all look peaceful and safe in there." She said: "I am not so sure of that. My old man is in there and, I am thinking of moving him to a safer place." You see the reaction there. The woman thought that the grave of her (lead had been desecrated, and, when she found it hadn't been, she reacted against it in the normal way in which they do in London,--they make a joke of it.
People have very often decried the British humour, and have said that we are losing the war because of that sense of humour. I think that is "tommyrot." I think that it is due to that sense of humour that we have been able to take what we have taken at home. (Applause.) Our small boys are always in the news-the Cockney street news vendor. They are out in the raids, and, before the raid is finished, they are tip in the printing offices to get their papers. They paint their small blackboards and put them on the corners and one gets very amusing headlines. They make these up by glancing at the papers. They open the paper, look at it, and then make up the kiddies have candy?" The kiddies looked and thought of the candies they used to have. It was a depressing picture, but the shop proprietor must have gone outside and had a look at the window, and decided that it looked pretty cold. So he got some black crepe, and draped huge bows over each glass jar, and put a card in the centre, "In Sweet Remembrance." Now, whenever they go past the shop, they get this impression, that things aren't so bad, because, before they can think of the empty candy jars, they see the card, and so they get their morning smile.
Thousands of illustrations could be given, but I am afraid I haven't time to give them. You can take it from me, that that sense of humour is going to take England right to the end of this war, and beyond it, it the upbuilding once again. (Applause.)
I have written out a message that I am going to give to you, and I would like everybody to know that I speak from the heart when I say that, in my opinion, these points apply to each and every one of you.
A.R.P. is the business of providing protection for everyone, when, and if, the bombs begin to fall. It is not the other fellow's business. It is a job for everyone, men and women, boys and girls. The trained members of the Civilian Defence Service will be there to help, but maximum protection can be secured only when every Tom, Jack, Margaret, and Harry, stands ready, and knows how, to help himself or herself.
Canada is very lucky that she has been given the chance to get ready. How long that chance will last, no one really knows. But whether the risk of air raids be great or small, it is a gamble we cannot afford to lose on. Preparedness is a small price to pay when our lives, our families, our homes, are at stake.
Every home and building has been furnished with an Instruction Card which tells you most of the things you ought to do in an air raid. Sensible people, no doubt, have studied it carefully and have made their preparations. It's better to be sure than sorry.
The Toronto Civilian Defence Committee is now arranging for public meetings for the purpose of further informing the general public what they may be up against. Films depicting actual raids in Britain will be shown, and experts will be there to show you how to "beat the Blitz." Watch for the announcements of these meetings and make a point of being there. The citizen who is liable to become panicky during a raid because he or she doesn't know what to do, is a poor neighbour. Though unintentionally, he or she is helping the raiders.
Thousands of men and women and young people in Toronto and District have already devoted their leisure, their ability, their time, and, in a good many cases, their money, to train themselves for your protection. They are people, like yourselves, from all walks of life. They do not get a nickel of remuneration. Their spirit is the spirit of London and the spirit of Coventry. They want only to help their neighbours and to make their contribution to the war effort on the Toronto front.
All of us have not the opportunity of getting into the Civilian Defence Services as active members, but we can fit ourselves to co-operate with these Services. Keep in touch with your wardens; consult them; follow their advice. Co-operation and co-ordination of all efforts add up to maximum protection and safety.
But, if you can afford the time to join one of the Civilian Defence Services, why be a slacker? The Fire Services need active, healthy men as auxiliaries, and there can't be too many of them. Think this over: one bomber can carry 2,000 incendiary bombs; allowing for all contingencies, experts figure about 83 of these would start fires in an area of which only 15 per cent was built over; if the bomber were flying at 200 miles an hour, there would be a fire every 60 or 70 yards; and that is only one bomber.
There is also an urgent need for messenger boys, 16 years old and over. These boys have a real job to do-no less than maintaining communications between those who need help and those who can give it, when ordinary means of communication fail.
Have them tell you about a Refuge Room. When ant if the air raids come, there should be one room in every house to which the family can move with comparative safety, whatever may be happening around you. It may be your basement. At little expense, it can easily be converted into a fairly comfortable shelter, where you can sit the raid out with a minimum of discomfort. And those who have been through the Blitz are now fairly well agreed that such a shelter provides the maximum of safety.
However, an air raid is no picnic. It is a desperate effort of the enemy to cripple you, because you are important in the war effort. That brings you right into the front line. You have a responsibility to yourself, to your love1 ones, to Canada, and to the Allied Nations. You start to discharge that responsibility when you learn how to handle yourself in an air raid.
If and when an air raid comes, there will be no advance publicity. You will be up against the stark reality of fire and destruction dropping from the skies. If you are prepared, you will not be apt to lose your head in the crisis. You will be ready and able to help yourself and to he)) your neighbours. You will be taking your proper place with those other Canadians, here and overseas, who are saying, "This is my job", and saying it with deeds.
Sufficient progress has been made with Civilian Defence Work in and around Toronto so that it may be expected that future test warnings will be of a surprise character, with no other notification than that of the sirens sounding the warning for action. The good citizen will be ready. He will know what to do. He will not start running around in circles, or jamming the telephone wires, or pestering people who know their jobs and are doing them.
He will be standing on his own two feet, shoulder to shoulder with other good citizens, helping to stand off the Blitz.
As a good Irishman might say: "The worst never happens; but, when it does and you are ready, it's not so bad." So, I call on all citizens who are listening to me, to ensure that they are prepared to do their jobs, if air raids come. If they never come, so much the better; we shall all be better citizens for having striven to help one another in the face of an emergency.
England has lost a number of her famous buildings--buildings which will never be replaced. She has placed at your disposal the experience gained in a bitter lesson, to help you prevent a repetition of such happenings here.
Your own brothers and fathers are fighting overseas in an effort to halt the enemy at that point. It is your responsibility here not only to keep them supplied with the materials they need, but also to guard their homes and families, to guard your factories, to keep the wheels turning and the material line growing.
You can learn your lesson in one of two ways: in peace and comfort or beneath a rain of bombs.
I have heard, on several occasions, over your radio, the' inspiring call: "Come on, Canada, buy Victory Bonds." I am going to add another call, a call to every citizen with a stake in this country, a call to the civilian front line of Canada, now so close to the war: "Come on, Canada, be in Time." (Applause.)
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Many people in this audience, and many people who have been listening over the air, are riving all they can to Air Raid Precautions. But, Mr. Roberts, you make me, for one, feel a little humble and a little ashamed that, taking our communities as a whole, we are so lacking in vision and so lacking in imagination, that we are slow to give an adequate response to the leadership of our Province, our City, our fire and our police officials. We are thrilled by the stories of bravery that come from England, but, Mr. Roberts, you have driven home today the fact that bravery itself, however admirable, isn't enough. We feel that bravery, wherever it is needed, will be forthcoming wherever English speaking peoples live. But you have made us realize that it is discipline and organization, as well as bravery, that have enabled Britain to face this physical destruction without morale disruption.
We offer you, Mr. Roberts, our gratitude for bringing us this invaluable gift of your own practical experience, and we thank you for urging us to do something now, during this, perhaps very short, period of borrowed time-borrowed tithe which has been thrown to us with a brave gesture by those people who have been, and who are still, facing the actual blitz.
Mr. Roberts, I convey to you the thanks of this audience and the audience on the air for your most interesting, most instructive, and most stimulating address. (Applause.)