What were air raids like?

A boy scout sounds the alarm on a bugle. A young boy scout sounds the all-clear on his bugle

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The Government wanted to prevent air raids if possible, but until they could be stopped, people needed to know when an attack was coming and what they should do to stay safe.

A policeman stands wearing a sign reading "TAKE COVER" During air raids, policemen shouted warnings as they walked round the streets wearing a sign saying "Take Cover!"

In September 1915, the London Air Defence Area was established to defend London.

A ring of barrage balloons 50 miles long was put in place round London. Anchored to the ground with steel cables, these huge gas-filled balloons floated above the city making it impossible for German aircraft to fly close enough to drop bombs.


Streetlights were dimmed so enemy pilots would struggle to see their targets.

From high places, observers watched for signs of an attack and prepared to raise the alarm. Searchlights helped gunners spot the airships or planes, and shoot them when they were close.

Whistles blew to raise the alarm and policemen shouted warnings as they cycled round the streets wearing a sign saying "take cover".

After the first Gotha attacks on London, people realised that more warning was needed. The decision was taken to fire three sound rockets, one after the other.

On the lookout

Lots of observers were needed and Boy Scouts were recruited to help. All along the coastline and on hilltops, they watched the horizon carefully, raising the alarm if airships or bombers were seen heading towards Britain.

A boy scout dunning with a message.

Police, coastguards, observer stations and the military would pass the message on by telephone, and soon, the whistles and rockets would be heard on the streets.

Eyes on the skies

Poster showing outlines of planes and zeppelins

People watching the skies used posters like these to tell the difference between German and British planes and zeppelins.

In London, thousands of people gathered on Underground platforms while others took cover under bridges, railway arches, cellars or even under the stairs in their homes. In the country, people sheltered in sea caves, forests and open fields, far from the cities, harbours and factories targeted by the bombers.

When an attack was over, bugles would be blown to tell everyone it was safe to return to the streets.

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes and classroom ideas looking at air raids during World War One.

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