Difficult times lie ahead

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Air Raid Precaution Handbooks, 1937/1938. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. LHC/442.

In 1937, the Air Raid Precautions Act was passed by the government, and all local authorities were required to make plans for air raid precautions (ARP) in their area. Fears that Germany would conduct an intense aerial campaign, not only of incendiaries, but also poison gas, were in the minds of the government and the British people. Therefore, it was vital, that precautions were in place and both injuries to civilians and damages to property were minimized in the event of an air attack. 

Alongside a network of emergency service workers and ARP offices, local authorities issued a series of Air Raid Precaution Handbooks, meant to give advice and instruction to civilians if there was an air attack. Handbooks outlined the duties of air raid wardens, how to protect oneself from the effects of gas, and administering first aid. Their pages also contained hints for housewives and advice on how to look after animals. 


Evacuee possession list, Parish of Carrington, Bucklow Rural District Council. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. CAR/4.

The evacuation of children and women with infants officially began on 1 September 1939, two days before Britain declared war. In the first three days, 1.5 million people were evacuated as part of the government scheme, although many others moved themselves to safer areas. 


Instructions for arrival of evacuees, Sale Borough Council, 1944. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. SAL/10/2/6. 

Areas were categorised as ‘evacuation’, ‘neutral’, or ‘reception’, based on the level of perceived danger from air raids. Altrincham received evacuees, and even continued to do so after the town was bombed. In 1944, Sale received its first long-distance evacuees of the war: women and children sent from London to escape the threat of the new flying bomb — known as a ‘V-1’, a ‘doodlebug’, or a ‘p-plane’. One evacuated mother reported I was wakened up by one aeroplane which went over, and it took me a few moments to realise that I was in Sale and that I had nothing to be afraid of.’  

Children were billeted with foster families and attended local schools. In some cases, efforts were made to keep schools together. For instance, the pupils of Gorse Park School, in Stretford, were evacuated to Bowdon and Hale, together with three of their teachers. 

'I remember very clearly boarding the train to Altrincham with our cases and gas masks in boxes, and it felt as if we were going a million miles away. On arrival at Altrincham we were transported to Bowdon Assembly Rooms where the ladies of the WVS sorted us out and put us in billets with families.' 

'I was very lucky with a friend of mine and we were billeted in South Downs Road, which was a good half an hour’s walk to Bowdon Church School, where we had lessons for half a day and went walks for the other half. Everyone was most kind and we had a wonderful time, as it was a beautiful autumn.' 

- Account of Hilda Land who attended Gorse Hill School in Stretford.


Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens marching along Springfield Road, Sale, 1944. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL2960. 

Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens 

ARP Wardens were the first link in the chain of Britain’s Civil Defence system. By August 1939, there were more than 1.5 million men and women in the ARP, drawn from all sections of the population. ARP Wardens were local to the area to which they were assigned, and their duties included advising people on air raid precautions and patrolling the streets to ensure blackout regulations were being adhered to. Following an emergency, such as a bomb attack, these wardens were often first on the scene, and would be responsible for administering first aid or evacuating civilians away from unexploded bombs. 

Initially, ARP posts were set up in the warden’s homes, shops, or offices, but it wasn’t long until the posts were purpose-built and were connected to higher command centres, either by telephone or messenger. In Stretford, the town’s control centre was located in the Town Hall on Talbot Road.  



Inspection of ARP Wardens by the Mayor of Stretford, 1940. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0866.


Altrincham Fire Brigade demonstration. c.1940s. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL2598.


Demonstration of gas mask by Altrincham Fire Brigade, 1940. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL2964.

Air Raid Shelters

There were two types of air raid shelter, public and private. The most widely used private shelter was the ‘Anderson Shelter’, a rounded structure made from corrugated iron sheets. Following the introduction of the steel ‘Morrison shelter’ in 1941, people were able to stay in their own homes during an emergency. 

Those who did not have access to a private shelter, sought refuge in public shelters during an air raid. Public shelters were found in places such as underground stations, cellar basements, tunnels and trenches; they were also located under railway arches, in subways, caves, schools, factories and shopping centres. Purpose-built brick shelters were also constructed on pavements, waste ground and parks and could accommodate up to 50 people. Resident Bob Potts recalls the large public shelter constructed at the end of The Grove in Flixton: 

the shelter was full of Grove residents and we sat on a bench near the entrance which was secured by a large steel door. I remember that we had in the shelter, bunks, storm lamps, paraffin heaters, blankets and beverages. We were there all night (without sleep) and everyone got acquainted; the word ‘neighbour’ took on its true meaning. These Flixtoners opened their hearts to each other and shared their fears”.  

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Houses on Davyhulme Road, Stretford, were bombed by German planes on 23 December 1940. The residents of number 112, Christine Cowan, her brothers Ian and Hugh, and their parents, were visiting their grandfather in another part of Stretford. He asked them to stay over with him because he had a premonition that something was going to happen that night. They returned to find that their house had suffered a direct hit and been totally demolished. The family were evacuated to Mow Cop in Stoke on Trent until 1947, when the houses were rebuilt. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL7903.


From August 1940 to May 1941, the German Luftwaffe inflicted heavy and frequent bombing attacks on British cities, ports and industrial areas. The campaign became known as the ‘Blitz,’ a term first used by the British press, and the shortening of the German ‘blitzkrieg’ (‘lightening war’).  

At first, raids took place during daylight hours, but, in October 1940, the Luftwaffe switched its methods to night attacks. Manchester, an important inland port and industrial city, as well as the nearby industrial estates of Trafford Park and Broadheath, were prime targets for the Luftwaffe. During the autumn of 1940, the Manchester area endured multiple bombing raids, with its most devastating attack taking place from 22 to 23 December. Taking place over the course of two consecutive evenings, the Manchester Blitz caused both huge devastation and significant loss of life. 

The industrial areas of Trafford Park and Broadheath were badly bombed during the Blitz, causing extensive damage to factories and warehouses. Hundreds of bombs fell wide of their mark and hit the surrounding residential areas of AltrinchamStretford and Old Trafford.  


Bomb damage to Bath Street, Altrincham, August 1940. Trafford Local Studies, cat. ref. TL2940.


Bomb damage to Oakfield Road, Altrincham, December 1940. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL0101.

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Bomb damage to the Children's Library on King Street, Stretford, March 1941. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL8408.


Laura Clouting, ‘The Evacuated Children of the Second World War’, 2018 < https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-evacuated-children-of-the-second-world-war> [accessed 26 March 2020] 

Niko Gärtner, Operation Pied Piper, (Information Age Publishing, 2012) 

Manchester Evening News, 7 March 1940 

Manchester Evening News, 2 October 1940 

Manchester Evening News, 11 July 1944 

George Cogswell The Sale “Blitz” 1940-1941 

George Cogswell The Altrincham “Blitz” 1940-1941 

WW2 Peoples War: Air Raid Precautions 

Bob Potts Reminisces of a Flixton Boyhood  (published by Neil Richardson 1986) 

Amanda Mason https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-to-do-during-an-air-raid 

Trafford Lifetimes 


Difficult times lie ahead