In the Belfast Telegraph and Northern Whig, letters appeared supporting Professor Theodore Thomson Flynn call for more volunteers to join the Air Raid Precaution (ARP) warden.[1] ‘Senior Warden’ in the Belfast Telegraph ARP warden should be exempt from fire watching as they had many other things to do and that the ‘slackers who are not giving any help with civil defence should be made to do whatever fire watching is necessary’.

In April 1937, the Westminster government decided to create an Air Raid Wardens’ Service and during the next year recruited around 200,000 volunteers. These volunteers were know as Air Raid Precaution Wardens. Their purpose was to patrol the streets during blackout and to ensure that no light was visible. James Doherty, who was an ARP warden around Carlisle Circus in north Belfast, said they were called up ‘to act as doctor, fireman, rescuer and counsellor’.[2] They reported the extent of bomb damage and assess the local need for help from the emergency and rescue services. During the Second World War, there were 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain, most of who were part time volunteers who had full time day jobs.

In Belfast, ARP wardens were perceived in many different ways. Patrick Shea, living in Elmwood Avenue, south Belfast, had a Mr Smith staying with him. Smith’s family was in Dublin and Shea believed that Smith’s family’s;

‘loss was certainly not our gain. To all Mr Smith a bore would be an understatement. Even the most tolerant…found him unendurable. But to his credit, he had volunteered for service as part time air raid warden and now he was going out to do his duty. As we heard the front door close behind him, there was a general murmur of sympathy not, I regret to say, untinged with regret’.[3]

Moya Woodside, Belfast Housewife and reporter for the Mass Observation study[4], reported her local warden was ‘cordially loathed in the district for his officiousness.’[5]

However, many others saw a great deal of positive in the ARP scheme and it attracted many recruits from across Belfast. Catholic Brian Moore joined the scheme as a teenager and served at the Mater Hospital, where Flynn was based. He joined up and wrote a novel, The Emperor of Ice Cream, based on his experiences. His character, Gavin, enlists as a way of gaining ‘independence’ from his father’s ‘do’s and don’t’.[6] He joined despite coming from a Republican background where his aunt told him the ARP scheme was ‘filled with the scum of the Orange Lodges’ and that he looked like a ‘Black and Tan’ in his ‘British’ uniform.[7]

James Doherty, mentioned above, was also from a Catholic background like Moore. He joined up in 1940 because ‘civil defence seemed important, so I volunteered along with my friends’.[8]

Theodore Flynn was Chief Casualty Officer for the city and based at the Mater Hospital. He was father of the then famous film star Errol Flynn.[9] Errol Flynn’s latest film, The Sea Hawk, was showing in Belfast during the Blitz.[10]


[1] Northern Whig, 4 April 1941, p.4; Belfast Telegraph, 4 April 1941, p.2

[2] James Doherty, Post 381, The memoirs of a Belfast air raid warden (Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1989), p.88.

[3] Cited in Stephen Douds, The Belfast Blitz, The People’s Story (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2011), p.126.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass-Observation Accessed 29.3.22.

[5] Cited in Stephen Douds, The Belfast Blitz, The People’s Story (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2011), p.13.

[6] Brian Moore, Emperor of Ice Cream (London: Turnpike Books 2021 [originally pub 1965]), p.11.

[7] Brian Moore, Emperor of Ice Cream (London: Turnpike Books 2021 [originally pub 1965]), p.15.

[8] James Doherty, Post 381, The memoirs of a Belfast air raid warden (Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1989), p.2.

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Thomson_Flynn Accessed 29.3.22.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sea_Hawk_(1940_film) Accessed 29.3.22.