Signs of the times

ARP tram at Blackpool

An illuminated tram-car which is touring Blackpool as a recruiting agent for the A.R.P. services.1

Every autumn in Blackpool, the promenade is festooned with miles of multicoloured lights -- the 'Blackpool Illuminations'. Part of this display involves similarly-decorated trams -- the 'Blackpool illuminated trams'. (Or so I read, I've obviously never been.) This particular example featured in the 1938 illuminations, and was fitted out as a travelling advertisement for recruitment into air raid precaution jobs, such as wardens and first aid. It looks like it's the same tram as the third one pictured here, which was built in 1937, and later rebuilt and called "Progress". Evidently it could be modified to reflect a particular theme. In the picture above, it's got some slogan written on the top windows -- something about ARP -- and a model aeroplane fore and (looks like) aft -- a fighter? My favourite is in the front window: 'A.R.P. DISPELS FEAR'.

I wonder who the intended audience was? ARP was largely a devolved responsibility; local authorities planned and implemented their own schemes. Since, I assume, the tramway was also paid for and operated by the town, it's probably just aimed at local citizens. But of course Blackpool was also a major holiday destination (the sunny Spanish coast at this time being far more likely to receive visits from Italian bombers than British airliners!) The illuminations, then, were also an opportunity to influence visitors from a much wider area than Blackpool, particularly from the north-east. So I wonder if the Home Office played a role in encouraging such recruiting methods?

It's probably only a coincidence, but the day when this photo was published, 27 September 1938, was practically at the peak of the Sudeten crisis. 29 September was the day when the Munich conference was announced in the papers; only on 1 October was it clear that it had succeeded in averting war (and that was the deadline Hitler had announced for resolution of the Sudeten problem). On 27 and 28 September, war seemed imminent. So as the brand-new ARP tram trundled along the promenade, its lights could have been extinguished at any time ...


  1. Manchester Guardian, 27 September 1938, p. 7. 

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4 thoughts on “Signs of the times

  1. That's a fantastic picture. I'm working on the blackout in the UK and Germany, so I've seen plenty of references to ARP recruitment displays held around the UK prior to the war. Nothing quite as eye-catching as this though.

    In answer to your question, I presume the displays were targeted at any able man or woman who could commit the time. Prior to the crisis, ARP recruitment seems to have been fairly sluggish - at least in the cities I've been looking at. As cities planned, the manpower requirements of ARP kept rising at a greater rate than recruitment could hope to keep up with. So as eye-catching as the tram might have been, the threat of war was a far greater recruiting tool. As for who paid for the tram, my guess is that the Home Office will have defrayed the cost, as they did for other displays of this scale.

    Great blog by the way!

  2. So now I've gone to wikipedia and checked out the trams ... and I want to go to Blackpool! Tram Nirvana! And no, I'm no tram anorak, but look at those balloon trams ... and ...

    Must be some sort of sense of loss having moved away from Melbourne.

  3. Post author

    November:

    Thanks for that, it fits with what I've picked up here and there -- every few months, Hoare seemed to go on the wireless to plead for another half-million volunteers!

    Don:

    As a Melburnian I find it's always odd to hear about trams in other cities, as I'm used to thinking of them as uniquely ours! But of course, they're not, there are quite a few places around the world that still have them (or have built new ones). I think we have the largest tram network, but Blackpool has a more interesting variety of trams. (I'm no tram anorak either, but I did stumble across this museum and think, oooh, that looks like fun ...)

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