Air Raid Precautions in Scotland

From Scotland On Air
Jump to: navigation, search

Air Raid Precautions in Scotland was a series of talks which ran on the Scottish Programme from 1 August 1938 to 9 December 1938 giving details of precautions and preparations being made in the event of war in various parts of Scotland. Air raid precautions gained particular prominence in the late 1930s, partly attributed to the devastating results of the air attacks on civilians during the Spanish Civil War.


Air Raid Precautions had been on the minds of the British Government since 1924, when a subcommittee was set up to consider 'passive air defence' in the wake of the aerial bomb attacks experienced during the First World War, particularly in the last year or so of the conflict. The most devastating raids inflicted 121 casualties for each ton of bombs dropped and it was this figure that was used as a basis for predictions. The 1924 ARP Committee produced figures estimating that in London there would be 9,000 casualties in the first two days and then a continuing rate of 17,500 casualties a week. These estimates were thought conservative and, during the buildup to the Second World War, regularly revised upwards, particularly in the light of the 1937 German bombing of Guernica, Spain.

The threat increased when, on 15 March 1935, Hitler announced to his cabinet that Germany would openly defy the military limitations set by the Treaty of Versailles and re-arm. The next day the press was told the Führer had decided Germany was going to reintroduce military conscription and build a new Army consisting of 36 divisions, totaling 550,000 men. The existence of the German Air Force, the 'Luftwaffe', was also revealed and with 2,500 planes it was already a major force. These moves represented a flagrant violation of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany in 1919 after its defeat in the First World War. Breaking the Treaty was an affront to Germany's former First World War enemies, France and Great Britain, but Hitler rightly gambled that the two countries did not have the stomach to respond militarily, the former suffering from serious political in-fighting and the latter in the grips of an economic depression.

However, the Home Office responded on 1 April 1935 by seting-up an Air Raid Precautions department. In September, the British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, published a circular entitled Air Raid Precautions (ARP) inviting local authorities to make plans to protect their people in event of a war. Some towns responded by arranging the building of public air raid shelters. These shelters were built of brick with roofs of reinforced concrete. However, some local authorities ignored the circular.

Hitler's next big move came on 7 March 1936 when the German Army crossed the bridges over the Rhine and entered into the industrial heartland of Germany known as the Rhineland. This demilitarized area included all territory west of the Rhine River extending to the French border as well as a portion east of the river including the cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bonn. At 10 am that morning, Hitler's Foreign Minister, Constantin von Neurath, summoned the ambassadors of France, Britain, and Italy, and handed them a lengthy memorandum stating that the German government had "restored the full and unrestricted sovereignty of the Reich in the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland." This was another gross violation of the Treaty of Versailles, yet again Britain and France failed to respond.

The first official ARP broadcast on the BBC went out in January 1937. At the time the ARP was considered something of a joke, but attitudes changed markedly after cinema newsreels showed the impact of the aerial bombardment of the Basque town of Guernica by German and Italian air forces on 26 April during the Spanish Civil War. In April 1937 the government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens' Service.

With the worsening international situation the ARP Act came into being on 1 January 1938, compelling local authorities to set up their ARP services. Recruitment had started a year earlier and by the middle of 1938 about 200,000 volunteers were involved, with another half a million enrolling during the Munich Crisis of September 1938.

Programmes in series

The series followed an initial talk broadcast on 1 July 1938 on the National programme by the Secretary of State for Scotland.[1]

Details of each programme are listed below. The original list can be found here on the BBC's Genome project.

1 — 'H. J. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn MP, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland' Scottish Programme, Monday 1 August 1938, 21:30 "On July 1 Lieut.-Col. Colville, Secretary of State for Scotland, broadcast a talk on A.R.P. in Scotland in the National Programme. This talk by the Under-Secretary of State will have a dual purpose. It will be a sequel to the previous talk and it will also introduce an important new series to be heard during August and September. The series is not to be instructional, but is designed rather to give information about what is being done about A.R.P. in various important Scottish centres. Four speakers will tell of the state of preparation in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and other talks will be given by representatives of one of the smaller burghs and one of the rural counties."[2]

2 — 'Edinburgh' Scottish Programme, Tuesday 16 August 1938, 20:30 Will Y. Darling[3]

3 — 'Glasgow' Scottish Programme, Monday 29 August 1938, 21:30 "P. J. Dollan, ex-treasurer to the city of Glasgow, is one of the best-known public men in the West of Scotland. He has helped in many of the city's good causes, his most recent interest being the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston. He will have many interesting things to say about the work undertaken by Glasgow to develop A.R.P." [4]

4 — 'Aberdeen' Scottish Programme, Monday 12 September 1938, 21:30 "Tonight's talk in this series, which is designed to give Scottish listeners some idea of the state of preparation against attack from the air in various cities, towns, and country districts of Scotland, will he delivered by Colonel James Dawson who was appointed A.R.P. officer for Aberdeen last February. He is better known perhaps as Director of Education of the City of Aberdeen, a post he has held since the end of the war."[5]

5 — 'Dundee' Scottish Programme, Tuesday 27 September 1938, 20:30 Douglas M. Christie. [6]

6 — 'Stirlingshire and Clackmannan' Scottish Programme, Monday 10 October 1938, 18:40 Captain D. MacL. Macmillan. [7]

6 — 'The Women's Part' Scottish Programme, Friday 9 December 1938, 21:45 Lady Ruth Balfour. [8]


  1. 'A.R.P.', Radio Times, 1 July 1938. (BBC Genome)
  2. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 1 August 1938. (BBC Genome)
  3. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 16 August 1938. (BBC Genome)
  4. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 29 August 1938. (BBC Genome)
  5. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 12 September 1938. (BBC Genome)
  6. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 27 September 1938. (BBC Genome)
  7. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 10 October 1938. (BBC Genome)
  8. 'Air Raid Precautions in Scotland', Radio Times, 9 December 1938. (BBC Genome)