On this Day 30th September 1938

The Whistles of Bedlam

We’re assured that Chief Constable Jenkins is on top of things. He’s taken on the role of ARP officer – so, protecting us from any air raids that might come our way. After all, even this far west, you can’t be too careful. Don’t want to be caught napping. Look how Scarborough was caught out, back in 1914.

To start with, there’s the survey. Special constables, boy scouts and the like coming round to every address, asking questions about how many people sleep on the premises. ‘Impertinent questions’ you might say, especially coming from boy scouts - but you can’t be too careful. It’s just to find out how many respirators will be needed for each property. When the respirators finally arrive, that is.

Plaque on the site of the old Penzance Gasworks, photographed during the building of Mount's Bay Lodge in 2017 (Linda Camidge)But today, it’s the whistles. There are three – one at the gasworks, one at the Steam Laundry, and a third over at Penlee Quarry. And they’ve testing them out this afternoon. Ten short blasts as a warning; a single note continued for two minutes sounds the all clear. And the idea was, to see whether we could hear the whistle clearly – if not, they’ll install a siren. That’ll be loud and clear, all right.

Waiting for the Whistle? 1930s steam laundry staff (courtesy of Morrab Library Photographic Archive)Well, one or two folk have had something to say about the test. “No difference from what we have to endure every day” said one chap I know who lives between the laundry and the gasworks, and works nights. And anyway, if there was a raid on the way, how would we know it wasn’t just the lunch whistle blowing? “Bedlam” he says, and starts on about motorcycles. It’s hard to follow his train of thought sometimes. He says he’s going to write to the Cornishman. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, just a reminder – for surely everyone will want to do their bit – “training is now in full swing at the A.R.P. headquarters at the Science Schools. Morrab-road”, with four classes already organised. We’ll all be proud that Penzance has the highest number of ARP volunteers in the whole of Cornwall – 360 trained, despite the shortage of instructors, and another 120 going through the process - but let’s not rest on our laurels.

War is imminent, so they say. This afternoon, yes, just a test. Tomorrow, perhaps, for real. And not even 20 years since the last fight came to its weary close.

Cornishman Thursday 29th September 1938 page 5

Letter from ‘Night Worker’ to the Cornishman Thursday 6th October 1938 page 9

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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