WWII documents reveal importance of air raid wardens

BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) — Following a long day in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s electrical shop and a quick dinner, Dwight Carson would don a white helmet and head back out for a patrol around the block, his daughter recalled.

Carson had been deputized as what was known as an air raid warden in the Westpark neighborhood (now Bay Vista) during World War II. He was a part of a vast network that served as the eyes and ears of the city’s civilian defense force — and more. He ensured his cul-de-sac was pitch black in case of aerial attack. But he could also render first aid and fight fires when necessary. He even had the power to make arrests of suspected saboteurs.

“They were more than air raid wardens,” his daughter, Marva Carson Connelly, said.

Recently, a Manette couple uncovered a trove of air raid warden history in a crawl space under their home. They found stacks of wartime leaflets, paperwork and other documentation necessary to administer the air raid warden’s critical role.

“it’s just fascinating stuff,” said Glenn Stockton, who with his wife, Lori, plan to find a home for the artifacts at local history museums.

The Stocktons don’t live in your traditional home. Their Ironsides Avenue residence was born in 1942 as a fire hall. They live on a top floor developed after the fire station closed.

But buried deep under the station’s former engine bays was a trip to the past: a time when the city feared a Pearl Harbor-style attack was imminent; a time when air raid wardens were the city’s block-by-block guardians.

“Without hysteria or dramatics, grim-faced leaders of all phases of community life put aside their regular business today to give their full attention toward perfection of defense organizations and invited citizens to do their bit by enlisting in the nation’s cause,” a Dec. 8, 1941, article in the Bremerton Daily News Searchlight read.

Overnight following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the city was fortified. Barrage balloons encircled the city, held by long cables that could entangle enemy planes. Thick smoke screens would imperil their view. Even nets were erected at Rich Passage so ferries could come and go but enemy submarines could not.

City residents got used to air raid sirens, and the wardens ensured everyone heeded their calls.

“It would jar you loose at first,” Carson Connelly said of the sirens. “But after a year or so, you got used to it.”

As Bremerton, a quaint town of 15,000, ballooned to more than 80,000 during the war, air wardens helped keep the peace. But they were trained for the worst, the documents found reveal.

“Already our enemy may be devising newer and deadlier bombs!” a brochure entitled “FACTS about fighting fire bombs,” reads. “Remember that fire (not the bomb) is the chief danger and a jet of water is still the best weapon.”

The Stocktons even found identification tags that could be tied to victims after the aerial attack that never came. The tags included boxes marked “Catholic,” ’'Protestant” and “Jewish” — perhaps to alert the correct clergy to administer last rites or other religious services.

The documents, which include testing materials and certificates for successful air raid warden candidates, also reveal the way the belligerents of the second world war increasingly attacked civilian targets. The air raid wardens were prepped for the prospect of a toxic gas attack, for instance.

“The development of air forces and fast-moving armored units makes it possible to strike at military objectives far from the battlefield front,” one instruction paper notes. "... Especially areas of great importance such as supply, railway and repair centers.”

“People were obviously tremendously prepared for whatever came,” Stockton said.

Air raid wardens posted signs in their windows declaring themselves to the neighborhoods they served. It was a post that required an outgoing, unreserved individual. Marilyn Roberts recalled her grandfather, Shippy Brinton Lent, watched an area around Sixth Street near where Noah’s Ark Restaurant is now.

“He was just always civic-minded,” Roberts said of Lent, the city’s retired fire chief, Marine veteran and the first of many in a line of Lents in Bremerton. “He liked to keep busy and liked being around people.”

Air raid wardens were even vested with powers of arrest “even though they have no police authority,” according to the documents. And those documents helped instill a sense of duty — a dignity — into the position.

“An air raid warden is not a Doctor, or a Policeman, or a Fireman, but he may be called on to perform the duties of any of these,” a training paper says. “He has a position of leadership and trust that demands his best.”


Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/