Tag Archives: air raid wardens

Painting of letter boxes during World War II

During World War II, the frequency of normal repainting of letter boxes, telephone kiosks, fire alarm posts etc was suspended. Each Head Postmaster was to decide what painting was necessary though they were expected to spend no more than a quarter of the normal, pre-war, amount on this.

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

Pillar box in Birkenhead painted with three white lines, 1938

A degree of over-enthusiasm was exhibited in Oxton, Birkenhead in 1938 when the local A.R.P. employed workmen to paint certain obstacles with white lines. The men painted a number of pillar boxes with three bands of white paint. It was reported that the “rapidly promoted sergeants of the sidewalk soon lost their military status” and the boxes were quickly restored to their normal peacetime colour scheme.

More official steps were soon taken to assist in the movement of vehicular traffic during ‘black-out’ conditions.  Local Authorities, acting on instructions from the Ministry of Home Security, applied bands of white paint or ‘other suitable distinguishing marks’ to trees, lamp posts, poles etc. bordering roads. The normal practice was for street objects to be painted with 6” white bands at 6” intervals to a height of 3’ from the ground. The decision on which objects required painting lay with the Local Authority and the Post Office gave authority for pillar boxes, police and fire alarm posts, telephone poles and telephone kiosks to also be painted with white paint if requested. However Local Authorities were advised that the Post Office preference was for just the plinths of pillar boxes to be painted white. If additional white paint was required, authority was given for the projecting rim of the cap to also be painted. Telephone kiosks types K2, K4 and K6 had bases painted white up to the bottom level of the glass panes. Kiosks K1 and K3 already featured stippled light paint and did not require further work. If local authorities pressed strongly for more extensive painting then this was permitted.

At first, Local Authorities were expected to pay for the white paint being applied, but from November 1944, instructions were issued that the Post Office would meet the cost of any white bands applied to Post Office property.

During the war the Post Office agreed with the Home Office that Local Authorities could, where they desired, paint the caps of pillar boxes with yellowish green, gas detector paint. It was thought that this would enable Air Raid Wardens to detect the presence of gas in the event of enemy raids. The Home Office issued instructions that this was not to be carried out until Local Authorities received notification ‘to complete Air Raid Precaution plans’. Regional Head Postmasters were informed by the Authority which boxes had been so painted. In response to tentative enquiry, in late 1944 the Post Office specifically stated that they were not considering the question of camouflage painting of letter boxes.

BPMA  POST 78/311
BPMA POST 78/312
BPMA POST 78/313

BPMA POST 78/314
, Post Office A.R.P. Manual VIII 13, 1940
Post Office Magazine November, 1938

Britain Alone

Royal Mail has issued stamps commemorating many aspects of World War 2 in the past (you can see many of them in our online exhibition World War 2 in Stamps), but these have tended to focus on military personnel and military achievements. In a new set of stamps released today, entitled Britain Alone, Royal Mail pays tribute to those who stayed at home and kept the country running.

The Britain Alone stamps

The Britain Alone stamps

Civil defence organisations, and the work and sacrifices of ordinary civilians, were vital to Britain’s survival during the 2nd World War. To ensure an increase in food production, millions of women were called on to replace conscripted men on farms as part of the Women’s Land Army, members of which were commonly known as Land Girls.

In the cities and towns, groups of local volunteers, often First World War veterans, joined the Home Guard, who were ready to fight in the event of an enemy invasion. Also important were the Air Raid Wardens, who were responsible for enforcing a blackout during enemy bombing raids.

The Britain Alone issue sees all of these civilian organisations represented on British stamps for the first time, along with the many women who took on factory work during the war, and the Fire Service, who were particularly vital during the Battle of Britain.

Also commemorated, are wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a man who is no stranger to British stamps, seen inspecting the Home Guard; the Royal Princesses, the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret (making her first appearance on a British stamp?), pictured making a morale boosting broadcast to the children of the Commonwealth; and some of the three million evacuees, many of them children, who were relocated to the countryside to be away from the bombs.

To accompany the British Alone issue is a miniature sheet commemorating the mass evacuation of Dunkirk, the nine day operation which saw more than 300,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgium troops, trapped on the beaches of western France by the advancing German army. A combination of destroyers, large ships and around 700 smaller ships, including fishing vessels, merchant ships, pleasure craft and lifeboats, ferried the troops to safety in Britain. This remarkable mobilisation is still remembered with pride, and was most recently evoked as a possible solution to the volcanic ash cloud crisis, which saw thousands of British tourists trapped in Europe.

Dunkirk miniature sheet, 2010

Dunkirk miniature sheet, 2010

Two pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ have been produced to accompany Britain Alone, both of which feature famous propaganda slogans of the period. One of them, Keep Calm and Carry On, has recently become popular, appearing on merchandise and inspiring a recent advertising campaign for the Police.

Britain Alone first day of issue postmarks

Britain Alone first day of issue postmarks

A variety of Britain Alone products are available from Royal Mail.


Royal Mail have have released a video about the new Britain Alone stamps: