Coming danger

In the late 1930s, war with Germany became increasingly likely. Liverpool was such an important port that its people knew that they would be targeted. They prepared to defend against bombs and gas and to evacuate their children.

"We were over the water and a policeman came up to us on a bike, and he said 'Where do you think you're going?'. I said 'We're going to Wales, we're going cycling'. He said, 'Well I think you'd better get home. War's been declared'. That was half past eleven, Sunday morning."
Eileen Stoddart

Preparing for gas

Telephonists wearing gas masks

©Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

Many feared that in the coming war poison gas would be used against civilians. Britain, like Germany and France, used gas as a weapon during the First World War. The Italians used it against Ethiopians in 1936. There were two main types of poison gas: phosgene attacked the lungs and mustard gas attacked the skin.

In 1938 the government issued everyone with a gas mask and told people how to make their homes gas tight by taping up the windows. Special masks for young children and babies were issued in 1939. Everyone had to carry their mask at all times. People's fear of gas was exaggerated. However, by giving everyone protection, the government made it less likely that the Germans would use it.

"I hoped it would never happen. Everybody carried gas masks in little cardboard boxes."
Eileen Marks

Attack from the air: preparing for the bombers

People realised that in the coming war aircraft would bomb towns and cities. Some had heard of the town of Guernica in Spain which the Germans had bombed and destroyed in 1937. In 1938, the government began a programme of 'Air Raid Precautions'. It recruited wardens and trained them to put out fires started by incendiary fire bombs.

In 1939, the local authorities began to build air raid shelters. They gave out Anderson shelters which people assembled themselves in their gardens, if they had them. They also built brick and concrete street shelters and dug larger underground shelters. Air Raid Wardens enforced the 'black out' so that German bomber crews could not easily find their targets. People were forbidden to allow any light to escape from their homes.

"These Air Raid Wardens, they'd be 'Put that light out, put that light out."
Pearl Cartwright


With war came laws which restricted people's rights. In October 1939, the government completed a National Register of all citizens and issued everyone with an identity card. Many people were suspicious of Germans and Austrians living in Britain. They believed that they could be spies or planning to carry out sabotage. Some of the newspapers campaigned to 'Intern the Lot'.

The government rounded up those under most suspicion. In May 1940, it brought in tighter restrictions in coastal areas including Liverpool. It created many temporary camps, and took over a new council estate at Huyton which it fenced off. Later it moved the internees to the Isle of Man.

"We were shipped to an unfinished housing development in Huyton, where the younger internees slept in tents. For a week our daily ration consisted of a salt herring and one slice of white bread."
Josef Eisinger, Austrian Jewish Refugee


Evacuee school childrenThe government began planning in 1938 to move children out of the areas which were likely to be bombed. The local authorities were responsible for carrying out the evacuation and arranging for safe areas to accept them.

Between 1-6 September 1939, Liverpool Corporation moved 85,000 children, teachers and parents out of the city. It sent them to rural areas in Lancashire, Wales, Shrewsbury and Shropshire. When no bombs fell, parents brought their children back and, by January 1940 nearly 40% had returned.

After heavy bombing in December 1940, Liverpool Corporation began a second programme of evacuation. They evacuated 1,399 children from Liverpool on 20-23 December and continued throughout the spring of 1941. Even more parents sent their children away after the May 1941 blitz.

"They picked us out one by one, who they'd take. There were 150 school children in the room and there were only four left and I was one of them."
Dorothy Laycock, evacuee