15 APRIL 1938, Page 9



UNCTUALLY at noon each Thursday an unearthly


howling rends the air of Paris for some 3o seconds, rising gradually to a deafening crescendo and then dying away through a protesting whine into silence. To the unaccustomed visitor it may sound like a madhouse; the Parisian knows that it is indeed a tribute to the larger lunacy—a routine test of the 20Q electric sirens installed in the capital to give warning of an impending air-raid.

This outward and audible sign of preoccupation with the possibilities of la guerre totale inevitably conjures up a question in the minds - of those who hear it : " How well equipped is France in general, and the capital in particular, to face the menace from the skies ? " Almost daily Press photographs of what happens to buildings and humanity when the latest German and Italian 500-lb. bombs have done General Franco's work in Spain add disagreeable point to the question. It can be answered easily enough on general lines so far as air-raid precautions are concerned ; naturally the purely military aspect of the problem—detection, inter- ception and fighting off the aerial invader—is another matter since military secrets are involved. But it is fair to say that while much has been done in the way of A.R.P. (or Defense Passive, as it is called here with such grim accuracy) the country as a whole, and above all the capital, would pay heavy toll in avoidable casualties if the blow fell now.

What has been done ? A vast deal of work on paper, a fair amount of practical preparation. Apart from the audible evidence of the sirens, a visible witness is a neat little placard in the entrance hall of every block of flats giving a mass of useful information. From it, for example, one learns where the nearest shelter is to be found ; the position of the nearest police alarm, fire alarm and police station ; what to do in the way of routine preparation ; what to do if an alarm is given (a) if one is at home or near it (b) if one is at any dis- tance from home. It is worth noting that in many cases the nearest shelter is the cellar of the building itself. There are, in fact, over 27,000 cellars which have been officially examined and passed as satisfactory, and these are capable of harbouring some 1,720,000 persons. Another 7,200 cellars in the suburbs can accommodate 600,coi people, but since this is admitted to be inadequate plans are being made for the construction of a trench system large enough to hold 1,400,0oo persons.

Apart from these semi-private shelters, a system of enor- mous public refuges, gas as well as bomb-proof and excellently equipped, is in preparation. Two, with a capacity of 8,000, have already been built, another is under construction beneath the Halles Centrales, or general food market, and eventually a number of suitable metro (underground railway) stations are to be adapted. Similarly the hospitals are being equipped with underground wards averagirig 15o beds and it is com- puted that 5,000 injured, or gas cases, can be coped with in an emergency. The menace of the incendiary bomb, too, has not been forgotten. In fact there are now reserves of equipment sufficient to enable the Paris firemen—whose strength would, of course, be increased by mobilisation— to deal with i,000 simultaneous outbreaks.

Until quite recently the question of providing gas-masks appears to have been treated with dangerous light-heartedness by those responsible for la defense passive. A few masks could be seen in chemists' windows here and there, but their high price was no guarantee of efficiency. In fact any enter- prising artisan was at liberty to profit by the fears of the few who could afford to indulge them, by the simple process of producing something which looked like a gas-mask and stank with sufficient impressiveness. Now the problem has been taken seriously in hand, though it will be some time before the equipment is ready. The State has decided to take over the manufacture of masks and, of course, their distribution. Nominally the masks will be issued free, but no doubt the tax-payer will be presented with a separate bill.

All of the foregoing measures relate to protection against the blow rather than its avoidance. But for any civilian exposed to air-raids discretion is so obviously the better part of valour that the French authorities have very wisely made a deep study of the practical possibilities of evacuating a large part of the population. And having come to the conclusion that roughly one-half of the Paris population would be safer and better off out of the city, they have drawn up plans for the evacuation of some 2 r million people. These plans, worked out in great detail, provide for the use of some 2,000 trains and 12,000 motor-vehicles capable of being assembled at short notice, while those to be evacuated are to be placed on a register and will in due course receive a printed card giving full instructions. A facsimile of the new instruction card recently published in the Press gives the following details : destination, means of transport, point and time of departure, and various recommendations such as kind of luggage and amount of foodstuffs to be taken by each person. Another form of evasion, namely, the camouflaging of outer districts along the Seine to resemble the capital itself, is also being studied. This was, in fact, done during the last War, when a curve in the river at St. Germain was dis- guised to look hie a similar curve in Paris by an identical arrangement of lights. No doubt the residents of the dis- trict thus chosen to receive the honour of impersonating the capital would be suitably grateful. Carried far enough this camouflage arrangement might produce the paradoxical situation in which the inhabitants of the imitation Paris would seek safety in the real one.

To sum up, it must be admitted that although the possi- bility of war is ever present in the minds of Frenchmen, and although they realise that henceforth civilians seem doomed at least to share, if not to monopolise, the dangers of air-. bombing, there seems little evidence of any general desire to make the necessary individual preparations. Private gas-proof rooms, fire-fighting material, stores of food and water—are any of these things likely to be found in one house- hold out of ten thousand ? It is more than doubtful. For- tunately for all concerned, universal military service and a numerous army of fonctionnaires may largely compensate for this apparent indifference, both by reason of the organising advantages and the spirit of discipline they imply. Mean- while, the sirens continue their weekly noonday reminder of man's inhumanity to man.