Can you help identify York’s forgotten Civil Defence heroes?

Do you have a relative who helped protect York from the Luftwaffe during WW2? Can you help recognise someone in long-forgotten photographs? If so, we’d love to hear from you! 

As the Raids Over York project has highlighted in its coverage of the first six – soon to be seventh (this coming Saturday) – bombing raids on York during WW2, the role of the Civil Defence force was hugely important. It was also incredibly dangerous; nearly 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed in Britain during the war, including in York. 

In total, 2,554 ordinary people risked their lives as Air Raid Wardens, medical orderlies, and firewatchers in York as part of the civil defence of their city; finishing their daytime jobs and duties, then donning their Civil Defence service helmets or grabbing their medical kits and heading out on Civil Defence duty, often until the early hours and regardless of how bad the weather was. 

Civil Defence Photograph #1 – taken on Library Lawn with the multangular tower and City Walls to the rear. The names of the people are unknown.
IMAGE: Explore York Libraries and Archives / City of York Council

The names of many of York’s Civil Defence forces are sadly now lost to us (although as families we may know of stories of individual relatives who volunteered.) Fortunately, Explore York’s Archive Team have located a small number of group photographs of Civil Defence volunteers. 

You can really get a feel for the individual characters in the photographs. (Please save the images and open to zoom in on the individual sitters!) You can see that many have their day or work clothes on underneath their uniforms – different ties, blouses etc; some have smart shoes on, others army-style boots.

Civil Defence Photograph #2 – A.R.P. wardens from Layerthorpe/Hallfield Road.
Back row left to right: first four unidentified, W Walkington, W Wain, Joe Calam, Mrs O Calam, [?], W Brett,[?] ,[?];
Seated: F G Hemenway (in white helmet), Joyce Calam (far right).
All others unidentified.
IMAGE: Explore York Libraries and Archives / City of York Council

A few of the photos detail the names of the people in them, which is great as it allows us to put a face to a name – some of whom are mentioned in the official A.R.P. reports of the raids.

But two of the photos – both photos in this post – give only a few or no names. It’s a bit of a long shot, but as we know how popular genealogy is these days, and how good people’s historical and internet research skills are – let alone the sheer quality of local history knowledge out there! – we would really like to hear from you if you know or can recognise any of the people in the photos? 

  • Do you know any of the volunteers in the photos?
  • Are any of them a family descendant?
  • Are you the young lad sitting in front of one of the groups?
  • Do you recognise where the photos were taken?

If so, please contact the Raids Over York team using the reply section below, emailing RaidsOverYork@outlook.com, or via our social media channels. 

12 thoughts on “Can you help identify York’s forgotten Civil Defence heroes?

  1. Bottom photo, back row , tall bloke far right I am fairly sure is my Grandad Alf Woodley, compared your photo to some old family photos of him and I think it’s him. I was also told he was an Air Warden in WW2

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    1. That’s great Steve – what a good spot! Would you happen to know what his address would likely have been during the war? – only we’re looking to launch an interactive digital map shortly which includes the details of air raid wardens in city and where they lived (and, now, we can add Alf’s face from the photo too!) If it helps, please email raidsoveryork@outlook.com

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    2. Bottom photo top row from the left 7th wife uncle Joe Calam next to him his wife Olive
      Middle 7th one in my wife mum Joyce Calam ( think she was 21 )

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      1. That’s great Paul. Would you happen to know Joe and Olive’s address (or street/area of the city) that they’d likely have lived during the war? Only, we’re looking to launch an interactive digital map shortly which includes the details of air raid wardens in city and where they lived. If it helps, please email me [Duncan Marks] at raidsoveryork@outlook.com

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  2. Picture 1#.
    Im sure the gentleman in the front row, directly behind the boy is
    John Leslie Hood ARP, of Acomb, my grandfather.
    He was frequently recalling anecdotes of his experiences.

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    1. Wow, that’s fantastic news, Ian! We’re so pleased that after all these years, the connection between the people who served in York’s civil defense and York’s citizens of today is still evident.

      Would you happen to know what John’s address would likely have been during the war? – only we’re looking to launch an interactive digital map shortly which includes the details of air raid wardens in city and where they lived. Would it be OK also to contact you to find out more about his wartime anecdotes? If it helps, please email raidsoveryork@outlook.com

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  3. Yes! The lady seated 3rd from left (next to Fred Hemenway) is JOAN WRIGHT my mother’s cousin and a member of the Wright family which owned the Pram Shop on Market St. (where Milletts now is).She died 30 years ago but I am in touch with her daughter.

    Ian ANDERSON 423277

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    1. This is really helpful, Ian! It’s so pleasing to be able to incrementally identify the ‘unnamed’ in the photos. Would you happen to know what Joan’s address would likely have been during the war – or the street / area she lived? – only we’re looking to launch an interactive digital map shortly which includes the details of air raid wardens in city and where they lived. If it helps, please email raidsoveryork@outlook.com Best, Duncan

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  4. My great grandad, Robert Henry (known as Harry) Woods was ARP Warden for Bilton St and Redeness St and he did fire watching. His granddaughter Joan remembers that she tried his helmet on. It was so heavy that it split her bottom lip when it slipped. He lived at 12 Bilton St, Layerthorpe. He died in 1942, cause unrelated to the war. His brother William who lived off Poppleton Rd was also a warden. It is possible that he is on the list for fire watching duties at Front St, Acomb, on 30.2.1941. The list says ‘Wood’. He lived about a mile from Front St. The Acomb fire watchers started at the Guard Room set up at the Wesleyan Chapel. A shift lasted from 10pm until 7am.

    Other family members who were ARP wardens: Guy Hardcastle from 82 Fourth Ave, Tang Hall. I think he is mentioned in the reports in the Archives as it says Senior Post Warden Hardcastle asked the Police to go to 5 unexploded bombs at Layerthorpe Station. He had been a Private, then Sergeant with the Royal Army Medical Corp during World War I (service number 547).

    Edward Laycock from 35 Nicholas St, Lawrence St, James Cooper from 18 Cycle St, Hull Rd, Fred Gosley from 43 Fourth Ave, Tang Hall, Joseph Richard Shouksmith from 51 Farrar St, Lawrence St.

    Family members who were wardens for NE Railway Frank Ernest Fox from 25 Ouseburn Ave, Boroughbridge Road and Alfred Horace Horner from 1 Backhouse St, The Groves.

    RVS: Florence May Dawson (nee Shouksmith) from 73 Grantham Drive, Poppleton Road (my great uncle’s mother).

    First Aid party: Cyril Tuke from the Folk Hall, New Earswick.

    ATS: Lavinia May Shortle (nee Holt) in local West Riding Company.

    British Red Cross: Hannah Spicer (nee Butterick) from Swinton Grange near Malton.

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    1. Wow – what an incredible rich and detailed list of ARP/ military associations, Sue! Has family history research revealed many of these details, or is it from a wider research of WW2 and York? You mention a ‘list for fire watching duties at Front St, Acomb, on 30.2.1941’ – we’ve seen one or two of these, but none for Acomb. Do you have a copy of this – and if so, could you send us a photo of it? If it helps, please email me [Duncan Marks] at raidsoveryork@outlook.com. Also, and a bit of a long shot, but do you happen to have nay wartime photos of any of the people mentioned in your reply, Sue? Only we’re looking to launch an interactive digital map shortly which includes the details of air raid wardens in York and where they lived, and are keen to add a ‘face’ to the names.

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