Second World War

What to do after an Air Raid

Congratulations, you have just survived your first air raid!  But as you emerge from the dust and rubble you realize that your world has changed forever.  Few people know how to survive an air raid and even fewer know what to do in the precious minutes once the bombing subsides.  The decisions that you make will be the difference between life and death.

In my last post I shared some advice from my 1943 copy of the NZ Civil Defence Warden’s Handbook.  Today I’m going to share some more original wartime tips, this time on how to cope with the aftermath of an aerial bombardment.  Specifically, I’m going to cover some of the dangers that you might face and the immediate precautions you should take.

Here are some of the dangers you should watch out for after an air raid:

Unexploded Bombs (Known as UXB’s) – Enemy bombs or our own anti-aircraft shells may fall without exploding.  All these are removed or destroyed by the Bomb Disposal Unit of the Army, members of which wear on the right cuff a badge with a flaming bomb on a blue background.  Red flags are displayed on this Unit’s vehicles.  Personnel and the vehicles must be given unhindered passage.

The signs of an unexploded bomb are –

(a)  A hole in the ground instead of the usual crater.

(b)  No blackness, smell, smoke, or damage.

(c)   A dull thud without violent explosion.

If the bomb has exploded there will be –

(a)   A crater

(b)   Broken windows

(c)    Splinter marks on buildings

(d)   Blackened earth around the crater

(e)    Smoke by day and a flash by night

Before reporting a UXB, be very careful to identify it correctly.  Do not call out the Bomb Disposal Unit needlessly.

Crashed Aircraft – Report and treat these in the same manner as unexploded bombs.

Camouflets. – A camouflet is an underground hole.  It is made when a bomb explodes well below the surface and does not leave a wide open crater.  The hole is filled with carbon monoxide gas, which does not disperse.  The surface of a camouflet may stand for weeks and even bear a man’s weight, or it may give way at the first touch.  Wardens should rope them off or otherwise prevent access and report them.  They must warn, but they need not evacuate, nearby householders.

Diagram showing a camouflet
NZ Civil Defence Wardens’ Handbook 1943
Lemuel Lyes Collection

You can tell a camouflet by these signs –

(a)  The soil around the entrance of the hole is raised and the sides are blackened.

(b)  Cracks may radiate around the hole.

(c)   Sometimes loose earth may cover up the entrance of the hole.

(d)  Damage to nearby walls or buildings, &c., with no signs of bomb splinters or fragments

(e)   Those in the neighbourhood may have heard a dull report and felt an earth tremor.  Do not confuse this with the less violent thud of an unexploded bomb.

 Electricity – Damage may occur to –

Electric power wires

Telephone wires

Neon electric signs

Treat all loose wires or cables as DANGEROUS.  Do not touch with bare hands or with any metal.  You must not use crowbars, &c.  If it is absolutely necessary to act before the arrival of the Electricity Squad, use a long, dry, wooden pole to separate wires which may be tangled.

Overhead electricity cables and wires commonly carry current at a high voltage, sufficient to cause death instantaneously on contact with the human body.

Fire – A forceful throw of a bucket of water can frequently put out a fire and save a building.  Accurate and effective aim is impossible with one hand holding the handle and the other holding the bottom, and much water will be wasted.  Close the handle down to the rim and grasp both top and bottom of the bucket.  Only half fill the bucket.  You cannot control a full one or throw it any distance.  It is better to tip a little to waste than waste the lot.  Two large buckets, used alternatively, are ideal.  Watch as you swing back as to get the maximum swing without losing water.  Follow through the throw, always pointing the mouth of the bucket at the blaze.  With practise you will be able to judge the distance and the weight of water you can handle, to aim accurately, and to get the maximum force from your throw.  As it is quicker to fill your bucket from a full bath, leave the tap running while you fight the fire.

Panic – The risk of panic has been given far too much publicity.  Mass hysteria and panic do not easily occur in English-speaking communities.  The behaviour of people in Great Britain has confirmed this.  The Warden should not say to the people in his charge, “Keep cool,” “Do not panic”.  That at once suggests the happening of something terrible against which they may not have the courage to stand.  By his own quiet self-control and efficient behaviour the Warden will strengthen the mental calm and courage of the civilians.

So in summary – after an air raid you should keep an eye out for unexploded bombs, holes in the ground, crashed aircraft, loose electric wires and fires.  Most importantly, don’t panic and stay English at all times.  Also in case you were wondering, this is how you can carry an unconscious person down a ladder.

How to carry an unconsciousness person down a ladder
NZ Civil Defence Wardens’ Handbook 1943
Lemuel Lyes Collection

I hope you’ve found these life-saving tips useful.  Perhaps you could practice some of these at home.  Throwing a bucket of water on a fire sounds easy, but why don’t you give it a try.  Perhaps you have a life-size doll that you could practice carrying down a ladder.  if you do give it a go, please upload your results to YouTube so that others can benefit from your experience.

On a serious note, unexploded ordnance from Second World War air raids is still found during construction projects in many major European cities.  Seventy years on and sadly they still sometimes claim lives.

In my next and final post in this 1943 Wardens Handbook series I’ll share some tips on what to do in the event of a full-scale enemy invasion.  Stay English and have a great weekend.

© Lemuel Lyes


Note:  All quotes are from the 1943 Wardens’ Handbook but have been selected from different sections.  For a comprehensive guide to air raid safety I highly advise that you read the entire Handbook.  History Geek cannot be held legally responsible for any injuries or harm to property that results from the advice on this page.

3 replies »

  1. Good post! I recently read a short story about an air raid… ‘Operation Gomorrah’ by Marione Ingram. I had no idea how awful air raids were until I read that.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’ll have to check that short story out. It seems hard to even begin to comprehend what is must be like in an air raid.

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