Wartime air raid precautions

World War 1 air raid precautions – from the Cathedral Architect’s correspondence files

I had always associated air raid precautions with WW2, but in 1916 the Cathedral Architect, FW Waller, was concerned about the protection of the east window and the tomb of Edward II. He wrote hopefully to the Office of Works in Westminster asking if the government was responsible for protecting the tomb from air raids as it was after all a royal monument. He was offered help with obtaining sandbags but no money.

Waller then asked for advice on how the sandbags should be arranged and on 9 May sent to Frank Baines at HM Office of Works a sketch based on suggestions he had received.

The immediate response was that this would be inadequate and to do the job properly a half inch thick steel plate should be inserted inside the timber framework. Unfortunately the sketch which accompanied Mr Baines’ letter is no longer with it.

1500 sandbags were ordered on 22 May and were duly despatched by passenger train from the Ordnance Office at Woolwich Arsenal. At the Chapter Meeting on 13 June Waller reported that the timber cradling to support the sandbags was in place around the tomb. A further 500 sandbags were ordered and delivered in July – and that is the last reference in the file to the protection of the Edward II tomb. The correspondence file for 1917 has not yet been found so for the moment the question of how exactly the sandbags were arranged remains unresolved.

The file also fails to reveal what measures were taken to protect the east window. Quotations were received for taking templates of the windows and covering them with wire mesh; the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings suggested covering them with three-quarter inch rough boarding; the possibility of removing the glass was discussed and thought very expensive. The problems are recorded, the decisions appear elsewhere – one of the joys of archives! But there are also the slightly unexpected strays, like the letter from the Acting Chief Constable, Maynard Colchester-Wemyss, on 7 February 1916 asking permission for a policeman to climb the tower every evening to look out for flashing lights – presumably in case someone was trying to signal to the enemy.

Jill Barlow, Cathedral Archive Volunteer

Documents: Waller Correspondence file 1916 and Plan 6/60

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