On 11 August 1939 the Home Office mounted a trial of the blackout in London. It attracted thousands of sightseers, who treated the event as if it was an entertainment rather than a preparation for war. Alex Glendenning reported the trial for the Nineteenth-Century Review from his vantage point at Piccadilly Circus:
What I had hoped for was a sudden inky plunge as the clock hand touched the half hour (12.30 a.m.) but the authorities were not concerned for dramatic effect and the darkness came gradually. Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue were already doused and here and there a lamp went off in Piccadilly until only the big triple-headed lamps in the Circus itself remained alight. Just before they went out I was moved off the island by a policeman and when the final plunge came the crowd went Ooooh! I was standing among the bonnets of taxicabs and missed the drama.
On September 1st, 1939 the Blackout was introduced throughout the country, but it was not enemy bombs but the blackout that caused the first casualties.
Road casualties more than doubled and by the New Year more than 20% of the population had come to grief in one way or another in the blackout. People fell into ditches, tripped over kerbs or stumbled into the path of an oncoming car. Supplies of torches became scarce and stocks of batteries to power them ran out.
Blackout procedures were modified. Council workers were out in force, painting white bands round all posts, boxes and other obstacles along important streets, and picking out kerbs and crossways with white markings. All traffic lights were now fitted with blackout shields, which allowed only a small cross of light to be seen instead of the usual full circle.
Copyright © 2002 Peter N. Risbey.