The experience of British civilians under day and night bombing raids during ‘The Blitz’ of 1940-41 had shown the Australian public the importance of having an organised Air Raid Precautions (ARP) system. The first ARP first-aid post organised by civil volunteers in Brisbane was at the recreation hall of the old St. John’s Wood homestead in suburb of St. John’s Wood (Ashgrove). A small number of governmental ARP stations or post were already established throughout Brisbane. The St. John’s Wood ARP post was established on 17 May 1941. It was officially opened by the Chairman of Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade (QATB) Mr. W. Richardson.
With the war so far away in Europe, Greece and the Middle East, ARP defences for Brisbane had received minimal interest prior to May 1941. On 3 May 1941, The Courier Mail had reported, “ recent war developments give added emphasis to the foresight of St. John’s Wood in establishing its own A.R.P. first-aid station.” These developments were most likely the ‘London ‘Blitz’ (began 7 September 1940) followed by ‘The Blitz’ on other British cities that began in mid-November 1940 and ended 16 May 1941, plus the destruction of Yugoslavia’s capital Belgrade by the Luftwaffe (‘Operation Punishment’) on 6-8 April 1941 that saw 17,000 killed. Increasing fear of Japan entering the war meant that many people expected that Australia would suffer similar bombing raids.
To inaugurate Brisbane’s first ARP first-aid post, a parade of interested, local organisations was held on the Saturday afternoon of 17 May at the St. John’s Wood police station. Air raid wardens from Ashgrove, Kelvin Grove, Ithaca, Bardon and Red Hill, the Returned Soldiers’ League Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC), the Metropolitan Ambulance and Fire Brigades, the Ashgrove and Ithaca Junior Red Cross and the 1st Company, (Anglican) British Boys Brigade marched in the parade. The parade commenced at 3 PM and was led by the band of the Boy’s Brigade and drum and fife bands from Ashgrove, Ithaca Creek and Oakleigh State Schools. This march was to advertise the role of the ARP and to attract new volunteers. The march commenced at the police station and proceeded along Jubilee Terrace and concluded at the recreation hall of the old St. John’s Wood homestead in Laird Street.
There were other, scattered ARP first-aid posts in existence prior to May 1941, which the state government, utilising its own police, fire and ambulance personnel, had established and equipped. The Queensland Government issued ARP wardens their equipment. It comprised an ARP identification pin, a rubber gas mask with a canvas carry bag, a wooden air raid warning rattle or clacker and a white British Army-pattern tin helmet with the letter ‘W’ painted on the front. The nearest government-run ARP post to St. John’s Wood was located at the Ashgrove Public Hall.
The St. John’s Wood ARP post was a new concept as community-based volunteers who provided both expertise and some of the required equipment ran it. Mr. W.R. Johnstone, a resident of Piddington Street, established this new ARP post. He paid to equip the first-aid centre and Mr. E.A. Hawkins of Clayfield arranged premises in a room of the St. John’s Wood Hall. Local registered nurse G. Wright offered to staff the centre, while her husband R.J. Weight offered his car as a temporary ambulance. Other local residents also volunteered their own cars and trucks and Mr. C.W. Bellingham lectured on first-aid.
The ARP first-aid post initially used for training purposes the small, hardcover textbook First Aid to the Injured produced by the St. John Ambulance Association in 1940. In its thirteenth edition, Watson, Ferguson & Company reprinted this British textbook in Brisbane. It had its printing works in Stanley Street, South Brisbane. The book was replaced in December 1942 by First Aid in Civil Defence – Civil Defence Handbook Number 3 issued by the Commonwealth’s Minister for Home Security. This handbook contained two pages of supplementary notes that were for the specific use of Queensland’s Civil Defence Organisation.