Home World War Two Stories from the War South Yorkshire Looks to Its Defences – Reports from the Districts

South Yorkshire Looks to Its Defences – Reports from the Districts

September 1939

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 09 September 1939

South Yorkshire Looks to Its Defences
Skating Rink as “Hospital”
Rapid Improvisation at Mexborough
Raid Scare Found Volunteers Ready

They deserve your gratitude these men and women of National Service.

There are in Mexborough, as, indeed, throughout the whole of the country, countless workers who keep constant vigil: many of them have had only a matter of a few hours sleep. Generally speaking, an eight hour shift system is in operation, but men and women on work of this kind are not bound by “rules.”

On a tour of Mexborough’s preparations on Wednesday, I met one worker who had forgotten it was her birthday—until I reminded her it was Leger Day!

Market Hall as First Aid Post.

At all executive points of Mexborough’s National Service scheme, this tremendous work of preparation and organisation goes on. Temporarily, the Market Hall has been used as a centre for first aid workers. Shifts are from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m to 6 a.m. Numbers of workers are always on duty, and in the large hall, on market stalls equipment has been laid at intervals, ready for use in any emergency. Light suits, boots, helmets, service masks, water bottles, stretchers, splints. The stretchers are of ‘ a very light, serviceable type.

In the meantime the work of equipping the West Road skating rink as a large scale first aid post was going on. This will be equipped with all the necessary medical and surgical requisites and doctors v ill be in attendance for operations etc. required. As far as possible there will be a trained nurse together with members of the Nursing Division of the St. John Ambulance brigade, some of whom are also fully trained. This post is intended to serve the west end of the town. Preparations and surveys are being made to establish posts in other parts of the district. The move from the market hall to West Road was made on Wednesday evening. Air raid shelters have been provided at various points in the town. As at other posts, the fire station is constantly manned by the fire brigade and auxiliaries In case of alarm the remainder would report for duty. When the alarm sounded in the early hours of Monday morning, the trailer equipment etc. began on patrols, but happily they were not needed.

At The Schools

Children have reported at the schools this week for the checking of gas masks and for making arrangements in connection with the provision of meals and milk. Police and wardens helped to get the information round the district as, of course the schools are normally closed on account of Race Week.

In reception areas. Hooton Pagnell, Barnburgh, Hickleton and Clayton, schools are to re-open on Monday. Milk and dinners will be provided in neutral areas, but the schools in these areas will not re-open until further notice, that is to say, in Dearne, Mexborough and Conisborough areas.

It would appear likely that the decision to re-open will be affected by the provision of some trench shelter for children. We are also asked to state that the Mexborough Evening Schools will not re-open until further notice.

Numbers of evacuees in the various areas are given as approximately 10 at Adwick-on- Dearne, 38 at Barnburgh (120 were expected). 17 at Hickleton. 42 at Hooton Pagnell and 60 at Clayton.

Some ninety Special Constables have been on duty since Sunday, working on four hour shifts, under the immediate supervision of Mr. M. W. Metcalf, Section Commander at Mexborough. Mr. E. Andrews, the sub-Divisional Commander, has charge of the Mexborough, Conisborough and Denaby Sections.

Shelters to Be Provided

Reply to Dearne District Demand

Personnel Still Below Strength

Civil defence preparations in the Dearne Urban District are proceeding as rapidly as co-ordination with the various local panels will allow.

Some adverse comment has been passed in “semi-official” quarters this week regarding the lack of public air raid shelters.

In a statement to the “Times” yesterday, Mr. F. Hawksworth, Clerk to the Dearne U.D.C.. said that eight shelters are in course of preparation in various parts of the district. Some of them are nearly completed. All will be ready for emergency occupation in the near future. The steel Anderson shelters are being provided by the Government. The Council requisitioned a number some time ago, but it is not known when they will arrive.

The basement of the Dearne Council offices is being used as another auxiliary fire station and Pond Farm. Goldthorpe is now being adapted for emergency work.

First Aid Training.

The Thurnscoe Baths Hall has been structurally altered to conform to first aid post requirements and the back of the building converted for use as a decontamination and cleansing station.

As this most important building will serve the whole or the district it has been decided to appoint a full time staff.


Wath Defence Precautions

Lighter Side of A.R.P. Vigils

Hitler’s Portrait as Darts Target!

During last week, as Europe drew nearer and nearer to the edge of war, structural alterations were being rapidly made to the stout stone cellars of the Wath Town Hall, and by the time war, was declared the Report Centre staff were safely housed in underground offices which are said to be impregnable to all but a direct hit.

Steps form the entrance to the three chambers, and there are two exits to the building and one emergency exit — a tunnel leading out into the Town Hall grounds. All ceilings and walls have been heavily timbered and the whole gives the impression of a well-appointed dug-out. Telephones are, of course., Installed, and there are two sources of electric lighting. Women members of the staff have quickly introduced home comforts, and the Centre makes a snug and safe retreat (though it is not available to the public as a shelter).

One of the three Chambers—the outer one which gives on to the grounds—is allocated to the Messenger squad. The boys engaged on this vital work are giving their services and work in eight- hour shifts. During the lulls they amuse themselves playing darts with a portrait of Hitler as a target. Many bulls have been registered.

The Centre has four officers-in-charge and nine women. Full-time workers are now doing eight-hour shifts, but in an emergency they will be required to work until danger has completely passed. There are twenty part-time assistants and seven messengers.

On Monday morning in the raid scare all sections of Wath A.R.P. services came smoothly into action. The officers-in-charge were assembled by a flying squad

More Trench’s.

Here are further points about Wath A.R.P.:

The County County Council are to make permanent the trenches dug last September.

It is intended that the trench system should be extended. Residents should note that shelters are for persons caught inthe streets, and not for those already in their homes.

Westville Club has been taken over by the County Council at short notice and converted into a first aid post.

Two wardens’ posts have been made, one in the basement of Norwood’s shop and another at the back of Beech House, Melton High Street.

Four new buildings are to be erected in various quarters of the district to be used as wardens’ posts.  An ambulance is to be in attendance night and day at Dunford House. A centre for decontamination squads, rescue, first aid, and sewer and water repair parties has been made at the Council depot. The swimming baths are being temporarily adapted as a cleansing station until other arrangements are made. In addition to these public arrangements a large number of residents have taken steps to ensure their family’s safety by constructing shelters in their gardens.

Viewed generally, Wath is now fully prepared and all Wath volunteers can be proud of the way in which they bore last Monday’s test.

Women Rally Round.

Mrs. Macaskill, Commandant of Women’s A.R.P. Services for Rother Valley, told our representative yesterday that all the Wath sections under her jurisdiction, except that of women ambulance drivers, are now completely manned by full time workers.

She makes a further appeal for women and girls to volunteer to be full-time drivers; a scheme of training is being prepared. The ambulance depot is controlled by Mrs. Steer, and the first aiders are supervised by Nurse Waddington (Cross Street).

Alterations are rapidly being home made to the Westville Club, where there are to be two first aid posts, and stores -have already been provided there.

Mrs. Macaskill appeals for gifts of old linen and flannel, which will be made into bandages. etc.. by the staff now doing duty at the Club. Those who have equipped the Centre with wireless sets and pictures to add to the comfort of the volunteers are warmly thanked. We understand that in the event of the shortage of full-time women drivers continuing arrangements will be made for men to take over the duties. All volunteers still without their first aid certificates are reminded that a class will begin in the Mechanics’ Institute on Sunday at 10 a.m. with Dr. Adam Johnston as lecturer.


Prompt Swinton Response

To Monday’s Raid Alarm

Lighting Restriction Reminders

Swinton A.R.P. volunteers responded promptly and efficiently to the first test made upon them when the air raid , warning sounded at 3-26 a.m. an Monday.

The permanent Report Centre staff, who are well accommodated in the Library basement, received the warning and two buzzers were immediately sounded. Within a few minutes 155 wardens and 82 Special Constables presented themselves for duty and began to ‘patrol their beats—advising fearful residents who left their beds, and ordering the extinction of lights. After they dispersed a second alarm came, and once more there was a full turn-out.

Officials expressed themselves satisfied with the performance of the local volunteers and give an assurance that the A.R.P. organisations are now at a maximum pitch of proficiency.

Night and day a staff is kept at work at the Report Centre, and full-time wardens and first aid workers are at their posts. The rescue, demolition, decontamination, and fire brigade sections are constantly ready for emergency: on Monday they turned out in five minutes and were ready to proceed to their duty points.


Wombwell Steady

Calm Reaction to Onset of War

First Raid Scare

Wombwell’s reaction to the first shock of war was consistent with the best bulldog tradition. The steadiness of the townspeople during the vital twenty-four hours between noon on Saturday and on Monday, brought words of high commendation from the Rector, Canon J. St. Leger Blakeney.

“I have been greatly Impressed.” he told a “Times” reporter, “by the cool composure of the people. It makes you feel proud to belong to the town.”

Canon Blakeney said he had absolutely no sign of fear or panic. On all aides there was grim determination to see the thing through and to crush domination for all time.

At the Parish Church Canon Blakeney read out slowly the fateful words of the 10 a.m, time-limit broadcast, and later the congregation joined in singing the National Anthem. The service was shortened so that members of the congregation who wished could listen to the Prime Minister’s broadcast. Many remained for Holy Communion.

Wardens’ Meeting.

For the purpose of tightening up Wombwell’s A.R.P. organisation a special meeting of wardens was held at King’s Road Schools on Sunday morning. Later the wardens distributed gas masks to a few people who for various reasons had not received them previously. Most of these were invalids, or were sick or away from home at the time of the general distribution. The first day of the war found the members of the Special Constabulary ready, fully equipped, and adequately protected. As it happened there was not long to wait for a practical test of the efficiency of our civil defence measures. Even sound sleepers had a subconscious idea that anything might happen during the night, and at the warning signals the majority rubbed their eyes and made a good-tempered exit into cover. Stories illustrating the good humour which fortifies the British character in time of crisis are being passed round in Wombwell. One relates to a family of seven living in Station Road well within hearing of the sirens. At 5-30 the Lord of this little Manor turned over in bed and remarked to his wife as he had “not slept a wink all night.” he thought he would have a quarter off. His sympathetic wife replied that no man could work if he hadn’t slept and he had better lie in a bit. It was not until later in the morning that this family of seven even heard that there had been an air raid scare!


A number of Wombwell people left for holidays at the seaside last weekend.

Copeland Road Comforts.

Not until this week have tenants from the congested areas fully appreciated the “modern comforts” of residence in the new Copeland Road area. At New Scarborough and Broomhill they had neither ‘EL” nor “H. and C.” on the sink. In Copeland Road they have all those—plus “A.R.T.’s”

The possibility that the air raid trenches behind Copeland Road might some day come in useful had not hitherto occurred to many. When the sirens sounded on Monday morning the majority of the tenants thought it might be as well to go and investigate. A pathetic story of a foster-mother’s anguish comes from a village not two miles from Wombwell. Having no children of her own, the woman had adopted an evacuee whose first night away from home was made more eventful by an exciting morning rush to an air raid shelter. Many people had patted the boy affectionately on the head and remarked what a bonny little chap he was. When the “All clear” was sounded the child was missing. Suspecting kidnappers, the woman rushed about in great distress crying for the little one. Nearly two hours elapsed before it was discovered that the child had been taken to another home.

One of the most disappointed men in Wombwell was a pensioner who, because of his age and infirmity had been allowed to sleep on. His annoyance was so great that he declined to eat his breakfast “I’d have given owt to see a bit o’t fate,” he muttered.

The order to take your gas mask whenever you leave home is being literally observed by most people. Even there were many who remarked, ‘Whoever thought it would come to that” when courting couples with gas masks could be seen in the lanes around Wombwell on Monday night. Children are the most sensible in this matter. Many adults appear to think that to carry a gas mask container in the street is beneath their dignity.

Strict About Masks.

One colliery company have taken a strict line as regards masks. On each man’s container has been stamped his lamp number. No one coming without gas mask is allowed to take out a lamp. Had Hitler realised the effect of the air raid warning in Wombwell there might have been no raid. The threat has brought about a remarkable acceleration in the number of volunteers for civil defence work. Between Saturday light and Tuesday morning no fewer than 76 new recruits had offered their services to Co-ordinating Officer, Mr. H. Ward.

The seventy-six comprised eleven for first aid posts, fourteen for first aid parties, ten ambulance drivers, one driver with car, eleven for rescue parties, seven for the report centre, seven messages and fifteen miscellaneous

Dangerous Lights.

It will take a little time to achieve a complete blackout. An air raid warden tells me that many people with completely darkened windows are in the habit of sitting complacently in doorways with the full blaze of gaslight signing. Most people cooperate very willingly and are anxious to have advice. Others, he says, need to he made an example of.

Old-fashioned cellars of the pre-war area coming into their own again and many residents of the new houses wish they had them. One householder in Wombwell whose cellar happens to be in the rock, has strengthened the roof with sleepers to obviate the risk of falling masonry, installed deck chairs, carpets, pictures, reading matter, a portable wireless set, a card table and electric light worked from an old car battery.


Forgotten Birthday.

A Wombwell family will remember the date of the outbreak of the Greater War because it happened to be little Audrey’s birthday! In the excitement the event was entirely overlooked, so Audrey suggested the party should be held next Sunday. Father has compromised by telling her she can have a bumper birthday party when the war is over.

Two wardens were giving the “take cover” warning in a Wombwell side street when a woman rushed to a door in her nightdress shouting, “What’s all this noise about? How do you expect a man to go to work when all this is happening.”

The first air raid alarm of the war found many people rushing in search of their gas masks. In nine cases out of ten it was mother who first heard the alarm. Is it that they have more sensitive ears than men, or was it a case of intuition?

The temporary ban on outdoor sports meetings has caused the proprietors to be faced with the problem as to what to do with the dogs. There is a suggestion that for the time being they be evacuated and farmed out on dog fans. A meeting of the directors of the Station Road track is to be called to discuss the situation.

Organiser’s Praise

“I would like to take this opportunity of expressing to you and all A.R.P. volunteers my deep appreciation of your fine first war showing of last night. From private reports I learn that your turn out was excellent. To all A.R.P. workers in Wombwell I send my sincere thanks.”

These were the terms in which Captain H. A. Peter Symons, MC., organiser in the Staincross area, expressed for the alacrity with which A.R.P. workers manned their posts in the early hours of Monday. The letter was addressed to Mr. H. Ward, Coordinating Officer and Local Organiser. In conversation with a reporter, Mr. Ward amplified the story.

“Jumping out of bed,” said Mr. Wad. “I thought I should be first at the report centre. When I got there I had been beaten by fourteen or fifteen others. The sirens were sounded at 3-26 a.m. We could easily have turned out squads of men and dealt with any casualties by four o’clock. They could not have been smarter had they known it was going to happen.” “One of my first jobs was to send a messenger to the decontamination and rescue depot to tell them to have the heavy clothing ready for the men to slip, on. Two minutes later the boy game back to say that the men were already dressed and awaiting instructions. The ambulance parties and first aid services were all ready. It was a first-class full dress rehearsal and showed exactly what we could do—altogether a magnificent performance.”

Rich Sand Vein.

Already hundreds of tons of sand have been disposed of about Wombwell. The A.R.P. authorities have struck a rich vein at the Broomhill pumping station of the Dearne Valley Water Board where residue from the tanks has been dumped. Throughout the week workmen and volunteers have been loading this into lorries.

Heavy protective walls of sand have been constructed round eight first aid posts, six fire stations and other places where A.R.P. personnel are employed. Additional labour has been recruited I through the Employment Exchange.

Boy Scouts have rallied to the call. For some days Patrol Leaders M. Crawshaw, E. England and J. Fawcett have been acting as cycle messengers for the police, who speak highly of their services. While waiting for orders the I Scouts are bivouacked at St. Michael’s Club.

Miss D. Elliott, captain of Wombwell Rangers, has placed the services of the organisation at thy disposal of the A.R.P. officers. Most of the Rangers have been employed as messengers and have carried out many other duties.

The basement at the Station Road W.M.C., Wombwell, has been adapted as an A.R.P. depot. The building has been made both bomb and splinter proof.

Owing to the war emergency the formal re-opening of Wombwell’s new Technical Institute and additions to the Modern School has been cancelled. The opening was to have been performed by Aid. W. B. Cartwright, Chairman of the West Riding County Council, to-morrow (Saturday).