We only had three tin hats, so we had to supply white paper serviettes that they put on their heads first.
The Civil Defence Ambulance Service started out as the ARP ambulance service, but it soon turned into the Civil Defence. I joined in 1939. We wore navy coloured uniforms. Very Smart. We had to get people trained quickly. First by the dozen, and by the time we’d finished we’d probably got five or six-hundred. We’d got youngsters with bikes as messenger boys, and a lot of elderly or disabled men, but the vast majority were women, because most of the young fit men were off fighting the war. We had everything from girls from school who couldn’t drive and came in as attendants, to uppercrust ladies – wives of solicitors, accountants and a vet’s wife. They all came along because they were all friends together at their coffee mornings and bridge clubs, and what have you.
We had a job training some of them. I can tell you. A lot of the women who came along could drive, but didn’t know the streets in the area. The regular ambulance men knew it like the back of their hand. They knew the quickest route to anywhere, from where they were parked at the time. We used to give these new drivers a training run that took them all over. We’d time them out and we’d time them back. To start with we only had three tin hats – and they had to wear tin hats when they were out training. But we had a problem. They objected to wearing tin hats that other people had worn. So we had to supply them with white paper serviettes that they put on their heads first. It was a scream to see them but they took it seriously. They were scheduled to do their training trip in about an hour. Sometimes they were over half an hour late back.
“You’re late. Did you get lost?”
“Oh no, no. We thought it would be nice to call in and let Mother see us in this get-up with tin hats – and we had a cup of tea”.
At first they wore a working overall, navy blue with ARP embroidered on the pocket. It was a bit like a warehouse coat, with a belt. They wore their own clothes underneath. Then they got jackets and skirts, but it soon became obvious that skirts were no good for climbing over piles of rubble and such, so they got heavy duty slacks in blue serge.