The following letter appeared in the Evening News, 13 March 1935, 6:
On the brick wall at the side of our street door can still be seen faintly two large letters, "P. P.," which stood for Poplar Patrol. Every Friday night it was my job to collect 3d. from each house-hold that belonged to the "P.P." This paid for rent, fire and refreshments for our small front room, where three men, each in his turn, used to sit up every night.
In the event of a raid, as soon as they got the first warning they used to run and knock on every door where there was "P.P."
– From Mrs. G. Stillwell, 9, Finnymore-road, Dagenham, Essex
Air-raid alerts in the First World War were highly variable in both form and usefulness: depending on the time and the place, they might include Boy Scout buglers, police cyclists wearing signs saying 'TAKE COVER', or maroons which sounded something like bombs going off. Government authorities dithered over whether it was even advisable to give warnings, since they could lead to unnecessary anxiety and (perhaps more importantly) lost sleep. So it was possible for civilians to not know there was an air-raid alert on at all, particularly if they were already asleep. I assume this was the reason for the Poplar Patrol: any family concerned about caught in their beds when the Zeppelins or Gothas came could subscribe their 3d. a week and be assured of a loud knock on the door, whatever the government was or wasn't doing that week.
I think Samuel Smiles would have approved of this form of community self-help. On the other hand, it might be hard luck for those who didn't (or couldn't) pay up, if a bomb fell in their street. I wonder if voluntary civil defence schemes like this created local schisms between the ins and the outs, as the more inclusive (but still mostly voluntary) air-raid precautions of the 1930s and 1940s did to a degree.
A minor question: why 'Poplar'? Poplar and Dagenham are both in east London, but aren't particularly close to each other. In fact, Dagenham wasn't considered part of London until 1926. My guess is that it is a reference to the shocking tragedy of the Upper North Street School in Poplar, which was hit by a Gotha's bomb on 13 June 1917. Eighteen children were killed, including sixteen 5- and 6-year olds. For a long time, the Poplar infants school symbolised the horrors of the new warfare, just as Guernica did after 1937.
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