'Serve to Save': Gender, Citizenship and Civil Defence in Britain 1937-1941

Lucy Noakes

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In the 1930s the British government developed a system of air raid precautions as a measure against the aerial warfare which was increasingly becoming a feature of contemporary conflict. The air raid precautions system devised by the British government entailed, amongst other measures, the creation of a range of organizations such as the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Warden’s Service which depended upon the voluntary enrolment of British civilians for their success. This article traces the history of these organizations between 1937 and 1941, examining the discourse of citizenship which was drawn upon in their creation, recruitment campaigns and structure. Drawing on a range of primary sources, including government papers, parliamentary debates, press coverage and Mass Observation surveys, the article argues that the discourse of citizenship which was apparent in air raid precautions was complicated by issues of gender. The article concludes that the articulation of air raid precautions as an example of active citizenship had the potential to compromise the continuity of gendered identities in wartime and that the attempts visible within civil defence planning, representation and organization to preserve these identities should be understood as representing the threat that air raids, and defence against them, posed to the relationship between masculinity and femininity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)734-753
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012


  • Britain
  • citizenship
  • civil defence
  • gender


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