ARP [Air Raid Precautions]

J.B.S. Haldane

Victor Gollancz: London, 1938.

PDF facsimile.

This book is intended for the ordinary citizen, the sort of man and woman who is going to be killed if Britain is raided again from the air. I believe that you, readers, can enormously reduce your own risk of being killed and the risk of your children being killed if you demand the necessary protective measures. I have seen the results of air raids during the present year, and I feel that I should be guilty of innocent blood if I did not make every effort in my power to save the people of Britain from the fate which is now befalling the peoples of Spain and China.

So much has been written on the subject of air-raid protection that many people will think that there is no need for another book. I do not agree. Most of the books and pamphlets on the subject seem to me to be of the nature of propaganda rather than truth. The Government and its supporters try to persuade us that we have only to follow the official instructions to be safe. I believe that this is untrue. But a great many opponents of the Government state that such things as gas-masks and gas-proof rooms are completely useless, that London could be wiped out in a single air raid, and so on. I believe that this is equally false. Even though I am convinced that the Government measures, as a whole, are inadequate, I shall give them credit for what they have done to protect us.

I shall not please those readers who take the view that the present Government can be trusted to do all that is necessary; nor yet those who think that it can do nothing right. For I believe that the matter is too important to allow my political views to interfere in any way with a strict adherence to truth. I have seen children killed in air raids, and I think that a frightful responsibility rests on those who expose British children to such a death in order to score a point for or against Mr. Chamberlain. So those who have bought this book merely as a source of political propaganda and not with a view to saving their lives and the lives of their fellow-citizens need read no further.

As I am attacking the views of experts, both on the side of the Government and against it, I must be excused if I state my own qualifications. From 1905 to 1922 I was associated with the work of my late father, J. S. Haldane, C.H., F.R.S. This research was concerned with the ventilation of mines, factories, schools and ships, and with the effects of various gases on the men who breathed them. For this work J. S. Haldane was made President of the Institution of Mining Engineers, and received numerous other British and foreign honours. In 1915 J. S. Haldane was sent over to France to devise measures of protection for the British army against German gas attacks. I was at that time a captain in a British infantry battalion and was brought out of the trenches to St. Omer, where I assisted my father in the design of some of the first gas masks.

Apart from this, I have published at least a dozen scientific papers describing research on the physiology of breathing. I have a certain acquaintance with explosives, having commanded a bombing school for a year in 1915-1916, and as I was wounded in 1917 by an aerial bomb, I can claim a first-hand acquaintance with these weapons. In 1924 I was appointed a member of a Cabinet Committee on aerial defence, and served on it for some years, under the first Labour Government and the Conservative Government which succeeded it. This is as a matter of fact a slight handicap, as the Official Secrets Act forbids me to mention certain topics discussed by this committee. But it permits me to speak with a certain degree of authority. In the years 1936 to 1938 I spent nearly three months in Republican Spain, and was present during a number of air raids. As a result of this experience I largely modified my former views as to the relative danger from incendiary and explosive bombs, and as to the possibilities of defence from them. Before my last visit to Spain, which was made in order to study air raid precautions there, I was asked by an official of the Foreign Office whether I would put the information gained at the disposal of the British Government. I said that I would be very glad to do so; but although I returned in January 1938 the Government has not asked me any questions on the matter. As I believe that the lessons of the Spanish war are quite literally matters of life and death to the British public, I have no option but to write this book. I have however been appointed a member of a committee of the Labour Party on Air Raid Protection, and hope also to be able to do something of value through Parliamentary channels. But I am absolutely convinced that nothing short of a great national movement on non-party lines will force the Government to protect the people from the real and terrible danger which awaits them.

I shall do my very best to make this book intelligible to every reader. But one real difficulty must be faced. Many of the questions which are asked concerning Air Raid Precautions are unanswerable in the form in which they are put If I am asked “Does any gas mask give complete protection against phosgene” the only literally true answer is “No.” One could not live in a room full of pure phosgene in any of them. And one would be killed if a hundred-pound phosgene bomb burst in the room, even when wearing the very best mask. But one would be safe in a phosgene concentration of one part per thousand, of which a single breath would probably kill an unprotected man. Hence in practice such a mask is a very nearly complete protection.

It is the same with shelters. There are bombing 'planes which can carry four tons, and if one of these concentrated all its effort on carrying a single four-ton bomb, and aimed exactly right, it would no doubt destroy a shelter which was safe against bombs weighing one ton. Nevertheless I shall call a shelter bomb-proof if it will stand up to a one-ton bomb. It follows that the answer to almost every question must involve numbers. I have tried to banish the most technical parts of my argument into Appendices. But I hope that even these are readable. Nevertheless the main argument can be followed without them.

A further difficulty has just arisen. In the debate which took place in the House of Commons on June 1st, 1938 Sir Samuel Hoare made a number of statements completely reversing the policy laid down in the official documents, particularly as regards evacuation and the medical services. I have tried to revise the book accordingly, but I may well have missed some points in his speech. It is quite probable that in the time which elapses between the writing and printing of this book there will be further changes in official policy. I have also added footnotes regarding official answers given on June 15th, 1938, to questions relating to several points of detail which I had raised at meetings of the Labour Party’s A.R.P. committee. Readers will be able to judge for themselves whether the questions have been answered or evaded. I cannot close this preface without two remarks. I hate having to write this book. Air raids are not only wrong. They are loathsome and disgusting. If you had ever seen a child smashed by a bomb into something like a mixture of dirty rags and cat’s meat you would realize this fact as intensely as I do. And I sympathize with the attitude of those who feel that the whole business is so horrible that they will have nothing to do with it.

But I do not share this attitude. Few or none of those who hold it would refuse to rescue an injured child during an air raid. I hope to convince them that if they take a purely negative attitude at present they will be endangering the lives of others should a war come. Above all I hope, in spite of the terrible international situation, that this book will prove unnecessary, and that the people of Britain will never see what I have seen in Spain.