At the beginning of World War Two the defence of the country from air raids was given to volunteer units known as ARP Wardens [standing for Air Raid Precaution]. Almost every town and village in the country had an ARP unit, and Somercotes and Leabrooks were no exception. The following is an article taken from the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald published on 28th April 1939, over four months prior to the outbreak of war, when a recruitment demonstration was held in Alfreton to raise volunteers both for the town and its outlying villages. Somercotes and Pye Bridge in particular required an ARP unit due to the ironworks and the collieries, which would be all engaged in war activities from September 1939:
“NATIONAL SERVICE CAMPAIGN AT ALFRETON - A National Service recruitment demonstration, which was a combined Territorial and A.R.P. effort, took place in Alfreton and district on Sunday. Its object was to bring home to the people the necessity for complete national defence and. if possible, to bring up the Alfreton section to full strength. At the present time about 100 are required from the Alfreton, Somercotes, Riddings, Pinxton, South Normanton and Blackwell areas. The demonstration aroused a good deal of interest, and leaflets were distributed explaining exactly what is required and the conditions of service. Those taking part included a party of the 360th Company 40th (Sherwood Foresters) A.A. Bn. R.E. (T.A.), with searchlight equipment and vehicles, various local A R.P. sections, rescue and decontamination parties, with anti-gas apparatus and members of the local St. John Ambulance Brigade. The searchlight equipment, with the latest type of sound-detector, were fully detailed and were manned by members of the Alfreton Drill Hall staff. They mustered in Alfreton Market Place, where the Battalion Band, under Band master L. Shephard of Chesterfield, played selections and later preceded the main demonstration party, and played music until the latter’s arrival at the various halting places. The route from Alfreton was via Somercotes, Pinxton, South Normanton, and Blackwell, returning to Alfreton where a film, “The Gap,” showing the necessity for national defence, was shown to a packed audience at the Empire Theatre. Eight members of the local unit carried out the staff arrangements at the theatre. Ald. H. R. Cleaver, Chief Air Warden for Alfreton, gave an address upon the necessity of defence and the importance of local recruitment, and he was well received. Following the film, there was a display by anti-aircraft searchlight equipment and A.R.P. anti-decontamination equipment with a beam exposure. Sgt. Pettifer had charge of the operations in the Drill Hall. Officers taking part in the day’s demonstration included Lt.-Col H. H. Jackson OBE, M.C., T.D., the CO. of the Battalion: Major R. W Laird, commanding the 360th Company; the Adjutant of the Battalion, P. Broome, Capt. R.E. 40th (Sherwoods), Lieut. J. M. W. Roberts, Sec-Lieut. F. Kenning. Sec.-Lieut. C. F R. Cleaver, and Sec.-Lieut. B O Wright.”
PHOTO: Some of the Somercotes & Leabrooks ARP Wardens. The photograph was taken on Somercotes Market Place.
The ARP continued to function throughout the war until after VE Day on 8 May 1945 and the surrender of all German forces, when, after a short period the organisation was stood down. To celebrate this momentous event a farewell party was held for the Somercotes and Leabrooks Wardens, which was reported fully in the Ripley & Heanor News on 29 June 1945:
“A.R.P. WARDENS' FAREWELL PARTY AT SOMERCOTES - Somercotes and Leabrooks Wardens joined by representatives of Lower Somercotes and Pye Bridge, wound up their A.R.P. activities in magnificent style with a grand farewell party on Wednesday evening last, at the Church Hall, under the capable chairmanship of the Somercotes District Head Warden, Mr. E. Best, and attended by some 180 persons comprising [of the] Wardens and their wives and a few invited guests, amongst whom were Mr. P. Evans (Head Warden for Alfreton Area) and Mr. J. W. White (A.R.P. Organiser, Area "M."). The proceedings opened with the whole assembly standing with bowed heads in silence as a tribute to the members of the A.R.P. Services throughout the country who had sacrificed their lives in the course of their civil defence duties. A very satisfying and palatable supper was then partaken of, preceded by grace (in song) led by Mr. W. Townsend. Following the repast, in the course of a masterly and most impressive speech, Mr. Best thanked the Wardens for the unfailing and tireless support they had given, not only to him, but to the community at large during the six trying years through which they had passed. Although they had been fortunate in having nothing more serious than a few fire bombs to deal with, he had always felt very confident that whatever might arise, the local Wardens would acquit themselves well. Their team-work was always good, and right to the very end they were still trying to increase their knowledge and efficiency. In the very dark days of 1940-41 before the rota system had been organised many Wardens put in very long spells of duty without uniform, and with precious little consideration from the Authorities, in addition to doing their ordinary daily work, and he felt it was only right that he should place on record his deep appreciation of their inspiring effort and public spirit. He also paid a warm tribute to the contribution of the Wardens' wives, who he said, had shown themselves to be equally public-spirited by denying themselves the comforting presence of their husbands (who were out on patrol in the black-out helping to re-assure the general public) while enemy aircraft were overhead or in the vicinity, to say nothing of the fact that most wives liked to know just where their husbands were and what they were doing. He hoped that the friendships made during the comradeship of the dark days of air attacks would last for a very long time, and that the exemplary goodwill which had been shown in Somercotes and district in the varied war activities would still be a feature of local life for many years to come. He also expressed his thanks to Mr. Evans, Mr. Sharpe (who could not be present at the party because he was away on holiday), and Mr. White from all of whom he had received unfailing cheerful support, and to the members of the Committee which had so efficiently organised this "winding-up" party - Messrs. R. Smith (chairman), Roy Elliott (hon. secretary). J. Cater treasurer and Leabrooks representatives, F. Rogers (Lower Somercotes). W. Townsend. E. Goodall, W. Poyser, L. Waters and D. James. Mr. Percy Evans expressed his sincere appreciation of the way in which the civil defence duties had been carried out locally. He, himself, had been called upon to take over the duties of Head Warden for Alfreton District at a rather peculiar time, following the death of his worthy predecessor, Mr. H. R. Cleaver, to whose work he must in passing pay a glowing tribute, because just at that time he had moved from the district and gone to live at Quarndon but he was fortunate in having a very capable "second-in-command" Mr J. Sharpe. of Swanwick, who was "always on the job," while he always knew that in Mr. White they were blessed with an exceptionally capable Area Organiser (this has been more recently recognised by the County Authorities in the extended area placed in his charge) and in Mr. Best he had a most efficient and absolutely reliable lieutenant who could always be trusted to get things going in the right direction. Though he had had occasion to call on Mr. Best for an additional training effort at a time when his (Mr. Best's) health was far from good and at a time when (to use his own words) "he was finding it almost impossible to do the work already undertaken," yet that additional burden was not only shouldered but carried out in a manner no one could have improved upon, hence it gave him very great pleasure indeed to be present at that splendid gathering and to record his most grateful thanks to Mr. Best and the other Wardens. Later in the evening Mr. J. W. White (who had been detained by a prior engagement) also paid his tribute in glowing words to the work of the Wardens' Service which had in his opinion contributed in no small measure to the victory achieved over the European Axis Powers. Undoubtedly it was due to their untiring efforts that the civilian population were re-assured and supported during the most critical period: by their example public morale was gradually built up into the splendid "Will for Victory" that it became. He had been proud to be associated with the Alfreton Area in these critical days, and wished every member of the local civil defence organisations "God speed and success in all their future undertakings." All the speeches were acclaimed with spontaneous approval and applause as also were the performances of the guest artistes which followed, all local talent, but of a standard that it would be difficult to improve upon within a radius of many miles. These comprised: Mr. S. Taylor's Quartet Party (Messrs. S Taylor. Wilfred Clarke. Hector Beet and Tom Smith); Mr. Wilfred Pearce (concertina); Miss Lorna Fletcher (mezzo-soprano); Mr. John Townsend (xylophone); Mr. Ralph Smith caused much merriment as compere, and gave a most enjoyable interlude, touching upon his activities as a Warden since "the day war broke out." After the conclusion of the concert which lasted to approximately11pm there followed dancing until approximately midnight to the strains of Mr. S. Field's amplified radiogram, which made a fitting end to a memorable evening.”