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Civil Defence in the First World War

'Safety first but a great deal besides'
26th January 2022 - 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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‘Safety first, but a great deal besides’: Civilian bombardment and the development of early ‘civil defence’ during the First World War 

Speaker: Dr Michael Reeve
Lecturer in History, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln
 

This lecture explores the civilian experience of war in First World War Britain through early ‘civil defence’ efforts to counteract the threat of aerial and naval bombardment. 

Though ‘civil defence’ is most often associated with the Second World War and Air Raid Precautions (ARP), it has roots in the improvised actions of local and central government during the First World War. This lecture explores the development of those early ‘civil defence’ efforts, through the use of urban case studies from the north of England.  

Although pre-war defence planning by central government and military authorities had been primarily concerned with the building of coastal gun batteries and strengthening the Royal Navy, the war itself saw thousands of civilians on the ‘home front’ affected by war violence. Though they were many miles away from the conventional battlefield, from late 1914 British civilians began to be killed and injured on their own soil by hostile naval battleships and aircraft. Some of the worst affected areas were urban and coastal places in the north, including Hartlepool and Scarborough.  

This lecture explores the history of an often-overlooked aspect of wartime experience: that of civilians ‘at home’. Its primary focus is on the ways that ordinary people and authorities sought to deal with the threat of bombardment from sea and air, including early attempts to develop air raid sirens and bomb shelters. It traces the history of largely improvised and dynamic responses from central government, local authorities, the police and civilians, using these to highlight shifting relations between national, local, and individual. 

 

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Our online lectures are free to attend. Please register your interest and we will send you a link to the online presentation in due course. 

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