Memory Lane: Spotlight on war

memory lane september 20''ARP sign in the 1938 Blackpool Illuminations
memory lane september 20''ARP sign in the 1938 Blackpool Illuminations
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THIS autumn, many eyes are on the carefully-choreographed Theatre D’Amour, the latest all-singing, all-dancing Lights tableau by design guru Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

But, as The Gazette reported, a tableau made up of just three giant letters – A, R and P – above the words Enrol Now was arousing most attention in the 1938 Illuminations, which turned out to be the last display until 1949.

Within days of the switch-on by Blackpool Mayoress Coun Mabel Quayle, her husband the Mayor, Ald John Robert Quayle, found it necessary to speak out about the ARP tableau, criticised because it was so close to the Cenotaph near North Pier.

As older readers will know, ARP stood for Air Raid Precautions, and the mayor responded effectively by telling The Gazette exactly 73 years ago today: “Whatever we can do to protect our people we ought to do. I look upon that sign, ARP, as a monument to the living – those whose lives we want to save.”

The previous day, Ald Quayle had given a rallying call to more than 1,000 Pleasure Beach employees which resulted in a major recruitment to Blackpool’s ARP efforts.

The mayor told them: “I have a feeling, it doesn’t matter whether it is today or tomorrow, you are going to have war sooner or later. You might as well prepare.”

He added: “If you were in Germany at the present moment you would not have a meeting of this kind, calling upon you and appealing to you to something to try to play a little part in helping the country. You would be compelled to do it. But we are in a free country and, thank God, it is free, and that is all the more reason we want to protect it and keep it as a free country.” Mr R L Critchley, of the town clerk’s department, appealed through The Gazette for readers to join up. He said: “I appeal to the people to volunteer in their hundreds. In England and in Blackpool, this crisis has come upon us with our ARP services not prepared. Altogether we need about 4,170 volunteers, and it might be we shall need many more.”

Outlining the roles, Mr Critchley continued: “We need 1,500 air raid wardens. We have 230, of whom 150 are trained. In this last month we have decided to embark on a tremendous enrolment campaign. We want 1,000 auxiliary firemen and 300 special constables. We also need 300 ambulance drivers and attendants, qualified in first aid, and we want 300 women in the town to volunteer to be trained.”

As for the Illuminations, the following year although the lights were ready for staging, they were prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War.

There was a full-scale preview on August 31, complete with a giant searchlight sweeping wide from the Tower top.

But the next night the blackout had been enforced, and the only colour to be seen was inside hotels and boarding houses where landladies had coloured their light bulbs with Dolly Blue. Even after the war had finished there were restrictions on the use of fuel and decorative lighting and, as such, the Illuminations remained prohibited.

The austere climate of post-war Britain meant the Lights did not come on again until 1949 when actress Anna Neagle threw the lever, and even then there was a cliff-hanger as the council waited for government permission to burn the required amount of electricity.