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Wills, ARP title banner

I have said it before and you'll read it again. Cigarette cards were educational items and were intended to be so. Although I might suggest Ogdens, How to Swim [1935] might have been over reaching just a little :-).

However Wills, Air Raid Precautions [1938] is, for me, probably the set which sums up the mood of the time and the fact that cards were to be taken very seriously indeed. It was issued as a set of 'sticky-backs' and was a very colourful set of 50 cards.

The subject matter was far from cheering though. A lot of the cards dealt with gas-masks. Gas was considered a very major threat to the civilian population. Card 27 describes the civilian respirator. Assuring the public it was capable of filtering all known gases was a priority for this card and it notes, 'This respirator will be issued free to the public.'

Card 28 goes on to explain how to fit and adjust the mask which was absolutely vital to the success of wearing it. Card 29 show the RIGHT way of removing the gas-mask. If it was removed incorrectly there was a chance that the plastic visor would crack. The card explains that if this was to occur the mask would be useless.

The bomb is located by her armchair in this card.

The set also shows how gas would be removed from the streets. Card 41 shows a 4 man decontamination unit in training. Wearing masks and gum boots along with full protective gear and hood two of the men are applying a bleach paste as the others are washing down the streets and houses.

The previous card had shown how gas could be located. The man is illustrated poking a stick into the ground. The back helpfully explains that there is special paint at the end of the stick which turns a different colour when coming into contact with mustard gas. This might be a fact or it might be nonsense. A good deal of the information given out about gas was nonsense designed to warn people but not terrify them. Cards saying, 'In the event of gas attacks you will die' might not have been so reassuring as a card showing a chap with a stick with wet paint on the end.

Details from Card

Air Raid Precautions Badge
The Air Raid Precuations Badge is made of silver and consists of the Royal Crown with the letters 'ARP' underneath. All members of the following ARP Services are eligible for the badge, providing they are serving on a voluntary basis in peacetime, have served for at least one month and are efficient members of the organization to which they belong;
First Aid and Medical Services;
Rescue and Demolition Services;
Decontamination Services;
Air Raid Wardens;
Gas Detection officers, when organised.
Women volunteers are presented with a brooch carrying the badge.

Cards 1 to 4 gave details of how to 'gas-proof' your home. Windows had to be shut tight, chimneys stopped up and doors sealed with stout paper along with keyholes being bunged up and a wet carpet hung over the whole thing which would reduce the influx of gas if the door was opened. Upon reflection very much like the Protect and Survive leaflet which was produced later for the event of nuclear war.

'In the event of nuclear war, you will die' would probably have been a better approach for that document. By now we were all fairly aware hiding under a door was not going to keep your skin from being burnt clear off your skeleton before the shockwave blasted your bleached bones into their respective atoms.

Luckily for us the dreaded gas attack never came. However the bombardment did. Many cards were devoted to the subject of fire fighting in all its forms. Card 20 illustrates a chain of buckets which was used to supply a hand-pump with water (as illustrated card 18).

There were a good many other card showing ever more sophisticated fire-fighting equipment. This culminated in card 25, Emergency heavy pump unit.' The card explains, 'This unit...designed by the Home Office, is capable of delivering over 1000 gallons of water a minute.'

TOP SECRET & DEADLY SERIOUS
The Germans might not have dropped chemical weapons on our soil but you can guarantee we had plenty of them, there were even plans to use them on a first strike basis. A plan Churchill was privately in favour of, despite the Geneva convention. Swinderby, was a secret RAF base which stock-piled mustard gas. Now you cannot find the gas but it is almost certainly still there somewhere. In fact 16000 tons of mustard gas was made and secreted about UK bomber bases. The obvious thing to do after the war was bury it. So that is what we did, usually on undocumented sites. 50 years on, it is still out there somewhere, in containers which were less than satisfactory then, let alone now. If we do not find it, it is going to find us. In some areas housing estates have been built on sites which did contain mustard gas supplies, guess what, they don't know that, perhaps they should be told. The sins of the Father will be visited on the child.

Perhaps the most worrying part of the set were card 13 to 17 which explained how to deal with incendiary bombs. Card 16 is the crux of this cameo.

Having poured sand over the bomb (card 15 helpfully explaining that this has done nothing to disarm the bomb but will reduce the heat and glare of the magnesium device) it is entitled, 'Removal of incendiary bomb with scoop and hoe.'

The card shows a brave woman (most of the cards illustrated women, presumably it was felt the men were fighting in another country) trying to push a fizzing and glaring bomb into the 'hoe' using two seven foot poles. The bomb is located by her armchair in this card.

Card 36 (safely away from card describing do-it-yourself bomb disposal) is the first aid card. This explains there will be plenty of first aiders rushing about in the unfortunate event of personal injury.

The ideal was to stop the dropping of bombs in the first place but for whatever reason Wills left any thought of avoiding the onslaught till towards the end of the set. Card 44 shows pilots scrambling into their interceptor aircraft (biplanes, Gloucester Gauntlets) Card 45 shows the airman aloft, 'keeping their eyes 'skinned'' It also takes great pains to explain the men can communicate via radio telephone.

Wills, ARP: A night out in the Blitz

Card 46 shows the original 'ring of steel' the Balloon Barrage for the defence of London. The card explains that the steel cables securing the balloons to the ground create a 'death trap' for incoming aircraft

Although fifty years later we can afford the odd smile at the innocence of these cards there really is nothing to find humorous about them. They were issued to civilians who were facing some very testing times and the publishers did a first rate job of informing and not terrifying although they perhaps were not the most cheering of cards you could find in your cigarettes.

Ten out of ten for Wills. A set that everyone should have owned then and one that belongs in any collection today.