Many thanks to Philip Grant for this fascinating guest blog. My late older brother, David, had a lifelong passion for motorbikes that probably started with the 'Wembley Lions.
As well as the A.R.P. wardens, first aid and rescue teams were also organised. After the bombing raids started in earnest, in August 1940, nearly all civilians had to undertake "fire watching" duties (around 7,500 of the c. 9,000 bombs which fell in the Wembley area between 1940 and 1945 were incendiaries), so around 25,000 Wembley people in total were engaged in some form of Civil Defence work during the war. The Borough lost 149 civilians killed in air raids, including several A.R.P. wardens, with over 400 more seriously injured.
You were probably living in Wembley during the Second World War, more than seventy years ago, or have talked to someone who was, if you can answer this question. But even if neither applies to you, you may still be interested to know why I am asking.
I deal with email local history enquiries on behalf of Wembley History Society, and they sometimes set some fascinating puzzles. One arrived recently from a lady in the United States. She was looking around a Goodwill store (charity shop), and saw a very attractive coat of arms, hand-painted on a wooden plaque. She bought it, took it home, and then began to wonder what it was, and the story behind it.
The name “Wembley” was almost certainly a place, and she found out that the letters “ARP” stood for Air Raid Precautions, in Britain during the Second World War. By searching online, she discovered that there was someone she could contact who might know more about the history of Wembley at that time, so she sent me a photo of her plaque.
|A.R.P. Post 12 Plaque, from Cheryl Hutton|
I have no doubt that this home-made coat of arms came from “our” Wembley, as the lion in the top right quarter is copied from the badge of the “Wembley Lions” motorcycle speedway team. They were based at Wembley Stadium, and were hugely popular during the 1930’s, when they were national champions several times.
The blue and yellow quarter below it shows an air raid warden’s helmet, gas mask and rattle, so there can be little doubt that the plaque was first made for, and probably displayed at, ARP Post 12, in Sector 8 / 9 of the Borough of Wembley. But where was this, and why did the wardens call their base ‘the Beggars Roost”? Is the chicken (or “rooster”) a clue, and who is the beggar above it on the plaque? I don’t know, and would certainly welcome any information that readers, or anyone they can forward this article to who might be able to help, could provide.
Eighty years ago the Borough of Wembley was a separate local government area, with a population of just over 100,000 people. Even before the war, the local Council was making A.R.P plans, and starting to build public air raid shelters, in response to the threat from Germany. After war broke out, a full-scale air raid wardens service was mobilised, which at its height had 2,500 wardens, 95% of them unpaid volunteers.
I know, from an elderly neighbour (the son of a warden), that the A.R.P. post for our 1930's-built estate was in the requisitioned garage of a local bungalow. His father was one of the first on the scene when a German "parachute mine" hit a row of shops in Kingsbury Road one night in September 1940, killing two mothers, a baby boy and a seven year old girl, in the flats above. This is an official "war damage" photo of the scene, taken the following day, which shows the sort of event that the wardens had to deal with (thankfully, not too often!).
|Bombed shops and flats in Kingsbury Road, 1940|
The “Beggars Roost” plaque, which somehow found its way to the U.S.A. after the war, is a reminder that the bombing of civilians, horrible as it is, is not just something that happens in far-away places like Syria or Yemen. It happened in Wembley as well, and the volunteer men and women of A.R.P. Post 12, and others like it, did their best to protect their neighbours from such atrocities. I hope that, perhaps with your help, I can find out more about them.