With the Blitz inflicting widespread damage across Britain, civilian volunteers and workers were in high demand. Thousands of Britons from all walks of life volunteered for civil defence work in September 1939. The demand for more workers was urgent as males between the ages of 18 and 41 (September 1939), women between the ages of 19 and 30 (December 1941), and then men between the ages of 51 (1942) were all drafted into military service.
Over 1.5 million Britons (200,000 in London) were enrolled as volunteer Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens. 95,000 (23,000 in London) were recruited into the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). Fire-watching was made compulsory in Britain from January 1941 and - until early 1945 - dereliction of duty was punishable by fines or imprisonment.
Many more Britons offered their services as nurses, members of the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) and Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), operators of mobile cranes and cars, orderlies in hospitals and ambulances, bearers of stretchers, members of Heavy and Light Rescue crews, utility workers, members of decontamination teams, drivers of public transportation, and police officers. By December 1943, there were about two million civilian employees working for the ARP, NFS (National Fire Service), ambulance, and police departments nationwide. By June 1944, 16.5 million British men and women were working in vital civilian war labour.
Following their initial training, these citizens were in charge of maintaining normal life in Britain (as much as this was possible). After their regular workday, they reported bomb incidents, kept an eye out for and put out minor and major fires, treated the injured, enforced blackout laws, disseminated information, ran rest centres and mobile canteens, and helped rescue trapped bomb victims from the wreckage of city buildings and transport the dead to morgue vans.
While surviving off of monotonous food rations (strict rationing was implemented throughout Britain on January 8, 1940), they also helped to clear debris (three million tonnes needed to be cleared in London alone by 1945), reported damage, maintained order in public air raid shelters and in London's Underground stations, censused local buildings, guided residents to safety, roped off streets, and controlled access, and rehoused people.
Even though the damage was visible to those in the area, official censorship and press self-censorship made sure that the specifics of each bomb attack were obscured from the wider public. According to government studies of civilian opinion in London and other cities, the general attitude of the British populace toward the nightly air attacks was one of general fatalism, which indicated that survival was largely out of one's control. The public-spiritedness of civilian volunteers and conscripts was put to the absolute test as the Blitz unravelled this mentality.
Civil defence personnel and city dwellers in London and other cities encountered horrifying sights and sounds every night - particularly during the Blitz of 1940-1941 - but also until the end of the war in 1945. The stomach-turning, spine-tingling sound of air raid sirens. hostile aircraft engines could be distinguished by their menacing drone. High-explosive bombs dropping and detonating with an audible whistle. The white-green flash that followed incendiaries lighting up as they crashed onto rooftops.
The thundering anti-aircraft weapons and blinding searchlight finger beams. the audible roar of crumbling structures. acrid, dusty, choking, and smoke. Streets that had been destroyed and were covered in heavy debris, masonry debris, flying glass, and shrapnel. The emergency vehicles' sirens as they passed and the threat of unexploded bombs. Ripped-open utilities and busted overhead tram and trolleybus wires, ruptured gas and water mains, severed telephone cables, and busted sewers.
The intense heat of out-of-control large fires. Water hoses from the fire department caused flooding. Bodies and body parts were discovered buried beneath shattered wood, metal, and masonry in wrecked homes and shelters. First-aid-needed individuals who were confused and hurt, as well as the covert actions of looters.