Most of the time when we look at the work of charities in wartime on this blog, the story is one of heroic and hardworking volunteers providing an essential service under trying circumstances. Tonight’s story is rather different and shows the infighting and administrative chaos that could arise from well-meaning people having differing priorities and aims without strong leadership to move them in the same direction.
Britain had a large number of charities supporting animals, many dating back to the late Victorian era. Some of these are still with us today such as the RSPCA and the PDSA, others such as ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ are now forgotten to history. At the start of the Second World War it was recognised that there was a real danger to domestic and farm animals in wartime and something had to be done to provide help to owners. The Nation Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed to provide an umbrella organisation to coordinate the activities of these different charities. Tonight we have a leaflet from their formation, the front cover of which gives a list of the main charities involved:The organisation saw two main aims for itself during wartime, which it set out in this leaflet. Firstly it was to provide shelters and veterinary care to animals caught up in air raids. Secondly it sought to create a central register of pets to allow lost animals after a raid to be identified and returned to their owners (Click on the image for a larger version):In order to achieve this aim the committee needed funds and the back page of the leaflet gave readers instructions on how this could be achieved:Unfortunately, despite its lofty ambitions the charity never achieved its potential. Firstly there was a lot of competition between its constituent charities. Most relied on wealthy benefactors for the funding to sustain themselves, whilst others preferred small scale fundraising such as jumble sales. With ever greater pressures in wartime each charity and its board was competing with the other organisations in NARPAC for the same diminishing pot of money. This lead to infighting and accusations of charities encroaching into the fundraising spheres of one another and consequent bad feeling.
Added to this was that many people did not have the time to devote to the organisation, as ARP duties, fire watching, work and volunteer organisations such as the WVS used up much of people’s time. In 1939 NARPAC had 47,000 Animal Guards, by October 1940 this had fallen to 16,000- the official record admitted that the drop was due to ‘boredom and local quarrels’. At a higher level there was deep rivalry between the RSPCA and the PDSA and ODFL- the RSPCA seeing the latter as extremists due to their views on fox-hunting. Into this toxic mix was added the problem that there were not enough funds to cover the costs of the animal registration fees and that most owners were more concerned with the day to day problems of finding food for pets with wartime rationing.
It is unsurprising then that NARPAC never lived up to its potential and is today a footnote to the story of wartime civil defence, with small pieces of ephemera such as this leaflet one of the few reminders of the role it might have played.