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The Air Raid Warden System through two wars

Registration Sheet February 1990
Revised June 1996


This collection of rosters, maps, manuals, official correspondence, arm bands and other memorabilia portrays the air raid warden, central figure in a vital network that touched all Stamford residents, but whose history is yet to be written.

It springs from the deep personal involvement of its donor, Walter W. Frese, who was Zone Warden, Deputy Chief Air Raid Warden and a member of the auxiliary police in World War II, and Chief Air Raid Warden and Deputy Director of Civil Defense during the Korean War. Mr. Frese donated these materials on Dec. 30, 1987.

Civil Defense is an ancient concept, organized and reorganized over the millennia as weaponry and hazards have evolved. Advance preparation is the common thread. As examples we marvel at the great walls and moats of ancient cities, and honor Paul Revere's ride and the Minutemen who responded.

Among the early defenses of Stamford, Connecticut, we read of a town drum and salaried drummer kept in the village of Bedford in 1692, apparently for sounding an alarm if Indians should attack. For the next two centuries civil defense was synonymous with military defense, guarding against slow moving armies and navies with limited-range weapons, and sneak raids by small bands of men.

World War I demanded a new set of rules. Though the enemy seemed far away, one could never tell. And the waves of new immigrants made sabotage a serious threat. Well before the United States entered the war, Stamford's National Guard was patrolling the railroad bridges. The Stamford Fire Department's 1917 Annual Report said: "This year has been notable for the number of large fires in manufacturing buildings. Several, in which the greatest losses were incurred, were of unknown origin . . . , whether this happened by accident or design or carelessness has not been ascertained; but the circumstances are suspicious considering the times."

In Washington, Congress empowered a new Council of National Defense on August 29, 1916, urging states and cities to do likewise. Connecticut waited until April 26, 1917, 20 days after the Declaration of War. Its Defense Council was to be:

"… temporary, uniform, flexible, positioned midway between purely public and exclusively private organizations. It must be organized with State identification. It must provide for work by volunteers" … not just for cost but also with "a desire to link vast numbers of people to the war effort."

By mid-1918 a network of town War Bureaus was in place. With little need for active civil defense, the home effort soon focussed on the war's main effect: the depletion of resources, particularly food. Stamford soon had programs in farming, gardening, seed stock, small grains, farm machinery, etc. We had a Canning Corps, a Junior Food Army, even a "Slacker Hen" program. (In this, the poorest 40% of the layers were sent to the butcher with only 9% drop in egg output.)

The advent of World War II in Europe in 1939 brought a new threat: Attack by air! This was serious, everybody knew. But the bombs were smallish and quite far away, in somebody else's war. There seemed to be no need to rush into civil defense, even though European cities were being devastated by air attack and the rapid conversion of Stamford's industries to war work made us very vulnerable.

In May, 1940 a group of Stamford men were called to the Armory by Major A. N. Phillips to discuss home defense and to organize a 3-battalion regiment to include neighboring towns. [A year later, only the Stamford Battalion was in place. It had 700 volunteers, mostly World War I veterans.] The Advocate reported on August 17, 1940 that Stamford's factories were strengthening security against "fifth column spies and saboteurs." On October 10, conscription started and 9 days later the Stamford Advocate ran a picture of the new Draft Board. The Red Cross, Fire Departments and Auxiliary Police launched defense plans. War was coming our way.

There was talk of "civil defense," particularly air raid defense. The U.S. had started testing a civilian air raid warning system as early as 1937, but it was still virtually non-existent when Hitler moved. The Air Defense Command was established early in 1940, and later that year the Army set up a grid of air spotter posts, with Stamford sketchily organized by January 1941.

It was the Air Raid Warden Service that involved the greatest number of people. Everybody, in fact. The first move came on the 4th of June, 1941, as the Stamford Defense Council announced the opening of 30 sites for enrolling volunteers. The State Defense Council issued its first CD manual in mid 1941, and training of the cadre for the warden system started. Groundwork for the air raid defense system was laid out by Chief Air Raid Warden Jordan W. Lambert in a meeting September 23 1941. The next day Stamford was named one of the state's 15 air raid centers. A manual by Mr. Lambert was issued for basic training.

The duties of the air raid wardens were outlined: 1) direct people to shelters; 2) cooperate with police in directing traffic; 3) control lights in blackouts and dimouts; 4) report bombs; 5) go to spot of disaster; 6) size up damage and danger; 7) report conditions to Report Center; 8) take temporary command to avert panic; 9) render first aid; 10) control fires; 11) account for families and assist children and the elderly.

Pearl Harbor was bombed December 7, 1941. Suddenly there was no more time.

The Army ordered all Air Observation Posts to go on 24-hour duty, and rushed to complete an early warning system based on Britain's proven radar.

Stamford's Chief Air Raid Warden quickly issued General Bulletin No. 1, ordering all Post Wardens to recruit and train a full complement of block wardens, messengers, etc. Posts were set up and fully equipped, usually settling in garages, basements and barns (of which there were still plenty). All neighborhoods were surveyed, shelter areas selected, problem areas identified.

Stamford's first blackout and air raid drill was held at 9.00 PM Tuesday, February 24, 1942. At least 17 more blackout drills were held during the next 21 months of peak activity, though no enemy planes ever came. At all times the city was under permanent dimout regulations. The training of wardens remained a major function. By March 1, 1943 the Stamford Defense Council's Protective Division reported 1100 Wardens had completed basic training. Schools were being held every month. On April 30, 1943, the Stamford Defense Council was renamed "Stamford War Council."

By late in 1943 German air power had collapsed and no longer seemed a threat. Local plants were being granted exemptions from blackouts. In October, civilian plane spotters were taken off 24-hr. duty. Dimout regulations were repealed on October 29, and 2800 street lamps were unshielded. The CD Control Center Was still active 24 hours a day. Practice blackout drills would not be frequent.

In January 1944, 613 air raid wardens were eligible for Service Ribbons, having more than 500 hours of duty. Six had given over 3,000 hours of service!

In April 1944 the Advocate reported honest questioning by the public as to need for rigid regulations. Blackouts were becoming difficult to control. Volunteers were quitting. The Connecticut War Council called for reduction of unnecessary expenses and interruptive activities while still maintaining a sturdy poise. "The War is not yet over." In fact, the war in Europe did not end until May 8, 1945. Within two months the protective division of the War Council was disbanded.

Five years later, on June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States found itself at war again as part of a United Nations force.

It was the first major war in the Nuclear Age. Conventional civil defense was felt to be outmoded in the face of the devastating new weapons. But the need to save lives was still urgent, and it was believed that a properly trained organization guiding an informed public could cut casualties by as much as 50%.

A new Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) was immediately formed. Plans for protection against air attack were activated, with actual operations at state and municipal levels as before. New manuals were prepared. Training schools were re-established. Stamford was divided into five zones, with volunteer wardens staffing a new network of posts and control centers. Air raid headquarters were in the home of Walter W. Frese on Dogwood Lane for some months; after consolidation of Town and City they were moved to the vacated Town Police Station on Haig Avenue.

In January, 1961, Mr. Frese distributed a call for 6000 volunteers for the warden service. The city was surveyed. Special maps and a census outlined special problems, available resources and facilities. The best possible shelters were catalogued, and homeowners were encouraged to build their own. Air raid alert cards were posted in shops, factories and homes. Booklets were distributed to citizens with the theme "You can Survive!"

Wardens were no longer "jacks of all trades" . Many trained as specialists in evacuation, communication, fire control, rescue and first aid. The basic CD Rescue Service course was given in two-hour classes, one evening a week for 8 weeks, and attempted to cover all problems arising from a severe bomb attack.

The training and preparations culminated in a full scale Air Raid Defense problem held Sunday, October 19, 1952, embracing Greenwich and Stamford. The terrifying scenario placed an atomic bomb explosion 2500 ft. over Pacific Street in the South End, with other high explosives over Greenwich, all coinciding with an atomic attack on New York City. The minute-by-minute script is startlingly real as the Control Center gradually pieces together the awesome destruction, fire, injuries, catastrophic failures in communication and transportation, and desperate human reactions that could, but would not, completely paralyze the city.

On July 27, 1953, the Korean War ended with the signing of a truce. Civil defense could not end there. In 1959 the State issued an operational survival plan for Stamford. Newsletters covered CD activities for many years. In 1968 the name changed to "Stamford Civil Defense and Emergency Service" , still on Haig Avenue.

Once again civil defense has receded into the halls of the bureaus where, except for one burst of activity during the cold war, it has remained. Not dead…not even dormant. Just out of sight.

Robert D. Towne
Library Committee
Revised June 1, 1996


Belltown Fire Department. 50 Years of Service to Our Community. The War Years. Stamford, CT: Belltown Fire Dept. April 10, 1928.

Cahn, William. The Story of Pitney Bowes. Pgs. 146-165, 184, 203. Stamford, CT.: Harper & Bros. 1951.

Connecticut State Council of Defense. Report, Dec. 1918. Hartford, CT: State of Connecticut. 1919.

Connecticut State Office of Civil Defense. Rescue Training Course.

Basic rescue training manual. Hartford, CT: State of Connecticut. 1952.

Cummings, Homer S. Address on World War I. Delivered at Connecticut State Council of Defense meeting. Hartford, CT: June 6, 1917

Encyclopedia Britannica. Civil Defense. Pgs. 321-824. 1965 Ed.

Feinstein, Estelle and Pendery, Joyce S. Stamford: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc. 1984.

Stamford Advocate. Tercentenary Edition: Town of Stamford, Connecticut. Pgs. 166-171, 172. Stamford, CT: June 7, 1941.

Stamford Advocate. Numerous articles during war years made reference to Civil Defense activities. Stamford, CT: 1940-1945, 1950-1953.

Updegraff, Marie. The Story of The Stamford Hospital. Pgs. 55-58. Stamford, CT: The Stamford Hospital. 1971.

War Records Committee of New Canaan and New Canaan Historical Society. New Canaan's Records of World War II, Vol. III, The Home Front. pgs. 107-160. New Canaan, CT: 1951. Stamford Fire Department. Annual Report, Nov. 30, 1917. Pg. 21

List of Records

Box 1
Book 1 Std. 3-ring binder, 8-1/2 x ll" pgs. Black fabric covers.
Letters from State War Council. Bulletins, directives and correspondence among officials. December, 1941 - April, 1944. Approx. 129 items.
Book 2 Std. 3-ring binder, 8-1/2 x ll" pgs. Black fiberboard.
A. Telephone numbers of staff and affiliates. 1 pg. 1941.
B. Basic Training Manual for Air Wardens. By Stamford Civil Defense Forces. 14 pgs. 1951.
Book 3 Std. 3-ring binder, 8-1/2 x ll" pgs. Black.
Police Manual. Textbook for training auxiliary police during Korean War. 99 typewritten pages. 1951.
Book 4 Std. 3-ring binder, 8-1/2 x ll" pgs. Black.
A. Directory of Services & Organizations related to civil defense.
Names, functions, addresses, phone numbers, locations, capacities, as pertinent. 1942-1943.
B. Directory of Wardens. Complete list of wardens, with addresses, phone numbers. Organized by sector (zone) and post.


Box 2
Folder 1 CD Identification items, awards. Armbands, warden ID cards, messenger ID cards, vehicle windshield cards, decals, certificates, etc., from the Korean War period. 11 items + 15 dupl.
Folder 2 Warden Service. Call for volunteers, bulletins, application forms, other forms used in warden service 1951-1953. 7 items + 6 dupl.
Folder 3 Warden Sector Maps, Emergency Hospitals. Map of posts, Sector 12.
Map of Stamford delineating Sector 5.
Communications flow diagram 9/52.
Table of organization, Sector 12, 3/53.
List of schools as emergency hospitals, ca. 1952.
Folder 4 Rescue Training Course. The basic training manual. 72 pgs. 1952.
Folder 5 Survival Under Atomic Attack. U.S. government *NSRB Doc 130. 32 pgs. 3 copies.
Folder 6 The Warden's Handbook. No. H-7-1. Publ. by Federal Civil Defense Administration. 3 copies of Dec. 1961 printing. Also 3 copies reprinted by State of Connecticut.
Folder 7 Air Raid Defense Problem of Oct. 19, 1952.
Bulletin #9 (2 copies) Oct. 8, 1952: brief details of major Stamford-Greenwich training problem. Bulletin #10, Oct. 8, 1952, announcing meeting.
Preliminary Report #1, Oct. 10, 1952: script and scenario for the atomic bomb blast over the west/south elbow of Pacific Street. 4 pgs.
Folder 8 Information Pertinent to Air Raid Warning Action.
Oct. 1, 1952, from Stamford Auxiliary Police Battalion giving statistics on Stamford's medical facilities. 6 pgs. 8-1/2 x 11".

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