When the Luftwaffe approached the British coast during the Second World War local Air Raid Wardens arranged for the sounding of sirens. People were now expected to immediately take cover before the raid actually started. Another siren was played to announce that it was safe to leave the air raid shelters.
People doing important war work were instructed to ignore the first siren that told them that enemy aircraft were approaching. Instead they could only go to their shelters when the second siren was sounded that indicated that the Luftwaffe were immediately overhead.
(1) British government circular 'Air Raid Warnings' (1939)
When air raids are threatened, warning will be given in towns by sirens, or hooters which will be sounded in some places by short blasts and in others by a warbling note, changing every few seconds. The warnings may be given by the police or air-raid wardens blowing short blasts on whistles.
When you hear the warning take cover at once. Remember that most of the injuries in an air raid are caused not by direct hits by bombs but by flying fragments of debris or by bits of shells. Stay under cover until you hear the sirens sounding continuously for two minutes on the same note which is the signal "Raiders Passed".
(2) Muriel Simkin worked in a munitions factory in Dagenham during the Second World War. She was interviewed about her experiences for the book, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987).
We had to wait until the second alarm before we were allowed to go to the shelter. The first bell was a warning they were coming. The second was when they were overhead. They did not want any time wasted. The planes might have gone straight past and the factory would have stopped for nothing.
Sometimes the Germans would drop their bombs before the second bell went. On one occasion a bomb hit the factory before we were given permission to go to the shelter. The paint department went up. I saw several people flying through the air and I just ran home. I was suffering from shock. I was suspended for six weeks without pay.
They would have been saved if they had been allowed to go after the first alarm. It was a terrible job but we had no option. We all had to do war work. We were risking our lives in the same way as the soldiers were.
(3) The East Grinstead Observer (11th December, 1943)
East Sussex County Council reported that approval had been given to the erection of an air raid siren close to East Grinstead Post Office. The suggested site was far removed from traffic, which was apt to deaden the sound.
We blinked when the lights suddenly went up in the middle of the feature film and a message was flashed on the screen announcing that an air-raid warning had just sounded. All those wishing to take advantage of the shelters across the road could now do so as quickly as possible, through the exits provided. The film would continue for those people wishing to stay behind. They were reminded that they did so at their own risk.
I pulled back the red plush seat and began putting on my coat. I knew that in the event of an air-raid, John would have to make his way to the docks as quickly as possible. I watched the hunched figures slowly filing out through the exits. The beam of light directed onto the screen from the powerful projector now caught and held great waves of cigarette smoke and dust. When they had turned on the cinema lights, it seemed not just to have severed the film sequence, but shattered a fantasy, an intrusion that made me feel irritable and angry. Through the endless yards of celluloid, reality had intruded - reminding us that outside, a war was still going on, and we must not forget it. Not even in the cinema could we dream, perchance to sleep.
Once outside again, we shivered in the cold night air. The beams from dozens of searchlights criss-crossed, searching the skies. In the distance, we heard the low throb of enemy aircraft. Holding hands, we ran as fast as our legs could carry us through the darkened street until we came to Clyde Street. John grabbed his bike from the shed, and I had time only to call, "Take care!"