As part of Digital History Month, we are showcasing objects from our collection based on a different theme each week. This week the focus is on World War 2 with the chosen object being an Air Raid Precautions (A.R.P) whistle. This object came into the museum’s collections in 2000 and is not currently on display but is held and cared for in our museum store.
Air Raid Precautions (A.R.P)
The ARP was set up in 1937 to protect civilians from the danger of air raids. Every local council was responsible for organising their own A.R.P wardens and part of this role was to provide a Raid Warden’s service that was responsible for reporting on bombing incidents. They carried out a wide variety of tasks such as making sure the blackout was observed and sounding air raid sirens. They also guided people safely to air raid shelters and checked bomb damaged buildings.
The A.R.P Whistle
ARP whistles were standard issue to air raid wardens from June 1939. Later in the war they were also issued to other civil defence services.
They are identical to the standard police whistle of the period ‘The Metropolitan’. When blown they made a 2-note piercing sound that could be heard up to a mile away.
An essential part of the Warden’s kit. They were used to issue a warning when threat of an air raid was present. The Public Information Leaflet No 1 ‘Somethings you should know if war should come’, 1939 advises the public that alongside sirens and hooters,
‘The warning may also be given by the police or Air Raid Warden’s blowing short blasts on whistles. When you hear this warning take cover at once’.
Later in 1941 more specific advice had emerged, now a short blow of the whistle was used to denote the fall of incendiary devices, whereas long whistle blows meant that an air raid was imminent.
The manufacture of the A.R.P Whistle
This silver tubular whistle was made in brass then was chrome plated. The noise was created when blown with the sound coming from two vents at the top of the whistle close to the mouthpiece.
These whistles are marked with the maker J. HUDSON & CO/ BARR ST. HOCKLEY/BIRMINGHAM. From the 1880’s Hudsons were the largest producer of whistles distributing them throughout the British Empire to the: Military, Police force, railways and sporting clubs.
The whistles cost 7 shillings and six pence (7/6d) per 12 dozen. Due to numbers required and costs the Home Office and Treasury planned for these whistles to be shared and kept at Warden’s posts. This was quickly changed with each warden being issued their own whistle for hygiene reasons. Significantly his change let wardens sound an alarm straight away. Later whistles were issued to fire guards and fire watchers.
Hudsons made on average 10,000 whistles per week. In June 1939 The Home Office and Treasury purchased 221,000, this was then increased by 240,000 when the whistle was issued to all wardens.
On the 26th October 1940 the Hudson factory in Birmingham suffered extensive damage from a German air raid. However, the company continued and is in existence today known as ACME whistles.
By Michele Green
A.R.P Warden’s Whistle (WESTM : 2000.629)