Civil Defence Corps

The Civil Defence Corps (CDC) was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain in 1949 to mobilise and take local control of the affected area in the aftermath of a major national emergency, principally envisaged as being a Cold War nuclear attack. By March 1956, the Civil Defence Corps had 330,000 personnel.[1] It was stood down in Great Britain in 1968, although two Civil Defence Corps still operate within the British Isles, namely the Isle of Man Civil Defence Corps and the unrelated Civil Defence Ireland in the Republic of Ireland. Many other countries maintain a national Civil Defence Corps, usually having a wide brief for assisting in large scale civil emergencies such as flood, earthquake, invasion, or civil disorder.


Although under the authority of the Home Office, with a centralised administrative establishment, the corps was administered locally by Corps Authorities. In general every county was a Corps Authority, as were most county boroughs in England and Wales and large burghs in Scotland. The CDC was never established in Northern Ireland. Each Corps Authority established its own Division of the corps.

Each division was divided into several sections:

  • Headquarters Section, responsible for staffing control centres and divided into three sub-sections.
    • Intelligence and Operations Sub-Section, responsible for recording and analysing information and preparing instructions.
    • Signal Sub-Section, responsible for installing, operating and maintaining communications systems.
    • Scientific and Reconnaissance Sub-Section, responsible for advising controllers on scientific and technical aspects of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, and providing reconnaissance parties (especially to monitor nuclear fallout).
  • Warden Section, responsible for local reconnaissance and reporting, and leadership, organisation, guidance and control of the public.
  • Rescue Section, responsible for rescue operations, demolition and debris clearance.
  • Ambulance and First Aid Section, built around peacetime local ambulance services. This section did not exist in Scotland, where the Scottish Ambulance Service was expected to perform ambulance functions and specialist casualty wardens of the Warden Section to perform first aid functions.
    • Ambulance Sub-Section, responsible for the operation of ambulances to transport casualties to Forward Medical Aid Units (FMAU).[2]
    • First Aid Sub-Section, responsible for basic first aid at the scene and the removal of casualties by stretcher to ambulances.
  • Welfare Section, responsible for the welfare of those rendered homeless and/or deprived of normal facilities, including evacuation, accommodation, feeding, sanitation, clothing, nursing, information etc.

In London the City of London and London boroughs were Corps Authorities, but their divisions only had Headquarters, Warden and Welfare Sections. The London County Council organised the Rescue and Ambulance and First Aid Sections centrally and also shared responsibility for the Welfare Sections.

From 1949 to 1968, the Civil Defence Corps Training School was at Taymouth Castle in Scotland. The Castle was also one of the sites for PYTHON, the plan for continuity of government in the event of nuclear war.[3]

Uniforms and insigniaEdit

Members of the corps were issued with dark blue battledress and berets. A system of horizontal bars and point-down chevrons was used to indicate rank.

Rank Insignia Intelligence & Operations Sub-Section Signal Sub-Section Scientific & Recce Sub-Section Warden Section Rescue Section Welfare Section Ambulance Sub-Section First Aid Sub-Section
Two wide bars with one narrow bar between Division Chief Officer Chief Warden Chief Rescue Officer Chief Welfare Section Officer Chief Ambulance Officer
Two wide bars Senior Staff Officer Senior Signal Officer Senior Scientific Intelligence Officer Deputy Chief Warden Deputy Chief Rescue Officer Deputy Chief Welfare Section Officer Deputy Chief Ambulance Officer
  Column Rescue Officer Column Ambulance Officer
  Assistant Chief Warden Deputy Column Rescue Officer Deputy Column Ambulance Officer
  Staff Officer (Operations)
Staff Officer (Intelligence)
Sector Staff Officer
Signal Officer Scientific Intelligence Officer
Reconnaissance Officer
Sector Warden Company Rescue Officer Assistant Chief Welfare Section Officer Company Ambulance Officer Company First Aid Officer
  Deputy Sector Warden Deputy Company Rescue Officer Senior Welfare Section Officer Deputy Company Ambulance Officer Deputy Company First Aid Officer
  Post Warden Platoon Rescue Officer Platoon Ambulance Officer Platoon First Aid Officer
One narrow bar Signalmaster Deputy Post Warden Deputy Platoon Rescue Officer Welfare Section Officer Deputy Platoon Ambulance Officer Deputy Platoon First Aid Officer
  Operations Clerk
Intelligence Clerk
Signal Clerk
Field Cable Party Leader
Reconnaissance Party Leader Senior Warden Rescue Party Leader Welfare Section Detachment Leader Ambulance Detachment Leader First Aid Party Leader
  Deputy Rescue Party Leader Deputy Ambulance Detachment Leader Deputy First Aid Party Leader


The Civil Defence Corps initially inherited vehicles and equipment that had been stored from the end of the Second World War. However, it was realised that a nuclear attack demanded a different kind of response from the war time experience, potentially wiping out any local emergency response and communications in the affected area, so from 1954 there was a new approach to training and equipment to reflect this.[1] This included a new rescue ManPack, and the purchase of new vehicles.

The headquarters sections were equipped with mobile control centres, despatch riders, and Land Rovers equipped for reconnaissance (e.g. to measure radiation levels, damage, and road accessibility). These were fitted with radio to communicate back to base, and could carry a second radio for forward communication to personnel on foot. To repair or establish communication, there were also field cable party Land Rovers towing trailers for cable laying.

A reconnaissance detachment comprised four Land Rovers, each with a crew of four (driver, leader/navigator, radiac operator, wireless operator), which would be sent in on three parallel paths towards an area affected by a nuclear strike (with one vehicle spare). The radio operator would be in touch with area control at a base station, which could be a mobile station based in a Ford Thames signal office vehicle, or could be in a local town hall. The wireless equipment was Pye or BCC and operated at 155 or 168MHz.[4] These mid-1950s radios (like the military equivalent) were 12 volt, using the vehicle supply or batteries. A second 5-channel radio operating at 96Mhz was fitted between the driver and navigator and could be used to communicate with personnel on foot. These vehicles were fitted with hard tops with side windows. The Radiac operator would gather radiation level measurements that would be analysed together with wind patterns by the intelligence section.

The field cable party Land Rovers were soft-tops towing Brockhouse trailers with both cable and poles, so that cables could be carried over roads. Establishment of communications was one of the first priorities. Other vehicles included rescue trucks, equipped with a wide range of rescue equipment and trained staff with Rescue Manpacks, and welfare vehicles, as well as ambulances.

Industrial Civil Defence ServiceEdit

The Industrial Civil Defence Service was a similar organisation to the Civil Defence Corps, but separate from it. Every industrial or commercial undertaking which employed two hundred or more people could form a civil defence unit to protect its own property and staff. These units were organised in a similar way to the Civil Defence Corps, with Headquarters, Warden, Rescue, First Aid and Fire Guard Sections. The Fire Guard Section manned fire points and smaller fire appliances. Each unit had its own control post, and groups of units could form a group control post. Group control posts and control posts in larger factories had the status of warden posts in their own right, whereas smaller units answered to their local Civil Defence Corps warden post.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "A Brief History of Civil Defence", Tim Essex-Lopresto, Civil Defence Association, ISBN 0-9550153-0-8, 2005
  2. ^ A mobile unit provided by the local National Health Service hospital and each staffed by four doctors, four nurses and thirty-six nursing auxiliaries, as well as administrative staff.
  3. ^ "If nuclear war had broken out between Russia and the west, HMS Osprey on Portland would have been a remote hideaway for the government". Dorset Echo. 28 January 2017.
  4. ^ Personal account of K. Hampson, Bolton Civil Defence Corps


  • Home Office/Scottish Home Department, Civil Defence Pocket Book No.3: General Information, HMSO: London, 1960

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit