The Community at War

Preparation, Protection and Education

The National Emergency Services (NES) was established at the beginning of World War II in 1939 to ‘help protect, educate and provide aid on the home front.’ NSW Ambulance and St John’s Ambulance were engaged to provide first-aid training such as that undertaken by Nancy Irene Wallbank (1910–1981) of Dudley a suburb of Newcastle, NSW. The city of Greater Newcastle was considered a ‘tender spot’ during the war with its port, coal supply, steel production, shipbuilding and munitions manufacturing. 

Once she had completed her first-aid training Nancy successfully completed training as an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) warden in May 1942. As a warden Nancy was considered an ‘agent of the Defence Department’ and would have been allocated 50 houses in a designated locality with duties including handing out gas masks and guiding people to shelters along with administering initial first aid.

Each warden was issued with a NES Kit which they were required to carry with them at all times along with their respirator mask. Other members of the NES included first-aid personnel, stretcher-bearers and bomb-disposal squads all of whom were required to attend practice sessions, training films, and air-raid tests. The latter involved the whole community with school children acting the part of victims trapped in an air-raid shelter, a gas attack was acted out where masks had to be applied quickly and accurately and an emergency hospital established ready for action.

Nancy’s completion of her ARP training was extremely timely as on 8 June 1942 Newcastle was shelled by a Japanese submarine. An incident that brought the conflict to the home front and tested the community’s preparedness for war.