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Damage by Barrage Balloons and the War Damage Commission

During the war damage due to a range of aviation-based incidents was a problem.

Barrage balloons were the cause of several different types of damage. Breakaway balloons often dragged long lengths of steel cable along roads, hedges, and streets. Consequently,

the cable would scrape along and break, tiles, guttering, rainwater pipes, gates, vehicles and sometimes people and animals. Every now and again a balloon would explode and

burst into flames.

Enemy aircraft and allied aircraft could both inflict damage to property and could cause issues with barrage balloons such as punctures, fires and cable breakages.

It was decided to allow those who suffered from what was “war damage” compensation. The bureaucracy that followed this decision was almost unbelievable with arguments about

who should pay for such damage. While all around Britain struggled with an ongoing situation of total war. Damage incidents and subsequent decisions by various parties were often

confusing and took hours of correspondence to resolve. The term "war damage" was not always clearly defined. The Air Ministry issued an order in which they created several classes

by dividing damage into:

Damage to property and the person into;

The assessment and payment of each type of claim for compensation had to be dealt with differently and created a level of bureaucracy that was tedious.

The Government had passed a War Damage Act in 1941 and Section 80 defined war damage. [See ]

In 1939 the Government had passed The Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act. [ ]

This made special provision about certain personal injuries sustained during the war, and these war injuries were defined in Section 8.

The Air Ministry stated that damage arising from the use of aircraft (including balloons) for any but training purposes must generally be treated as war damage.

Damage resulting from the salving of aircraft, whether R.A.F. or enemy, must be treated as ordinary damage. (This apparently did not cover the salving of a balloon)

    Damage caused by sightseers was not covered!

   Claims for ordinary damage were dealt with the particular Air Force Commands who caused the damage or if not possible by the Air Ministry.  This would relate to things like a road traffic    

   accident caused by a lorry from, say, Fighter Command.

Part 1 of the War Damage Act of 1941 explained that the Government had created a War Damage Commission who were responsible for dealing with claims to buildings

and other immovable property. Certain other Government Departments (not named) were responsible for war damage to property and plant the maintenance of which

was essential to the war effort.


The Commission was chaired by Malcolm Trustram Eve, then by Sir Thomas Williams Phillips (1949–1959).


It was headquartered at Devonshire House, Mayfair Place, Piccadilly, London, and operated out of sixteen Regional Offices:


It was not responsible for the repairs themselves, which were carried out by local authorities or private building contractors.


Barrage balloons as a defence mechanism to prevent or hinder an actual or anticipated enemy attack were “measures taken under proper authority”

as stated in Section 80 of the War Damage Act, 1941.


A damage officer under general supervision of Headquarters No.43 Group was required to visit the site of damage and assess the damage.

A form D.O.N. was created in quadruplicate, one copy was kept by the damage officer and the remainder sent to Headquarters No.43 Group.

Headquarters No.43 Group would process the forms.

·       damage to buildings or other immovable property required a form to be sent to the regional officer of the War Damage Commission.

·       Damage to goods required a form to be sent to the district valuer of the Inland Revenue.

·       Damage caused by an R.A.F aircraft crashing or making a forced landing a copy had to be sent to the command accountant of the station where the aircraft was held on charge.

·       If the damage was due to a crash or forced landing of an enemy aircraft or an aircraft controlled by the Ministry of Aircraft Production a copy had to be sent to Command Accountant, 

m  maintenance Command. A copy to be retained by Headquarters No.43 Group.

Claims Submission was governed by a strict process.

Ordinary damage not caused by salvaging of aircraft required payment of claims by the Command Accountant of the station where the aircraft was on charge.

Ordinary damage caused by the salvaging of aircraft required payment of claims by the Command Accountant, Maintenance Command.

All settlements for ordinary damage from aircraft damage (including salvage) were notified by the Command Accountant to the regional office of the War Damage Commission

when buildings and other immovable property were involved and / or to the Inland Revenue where goods were involved.

All payments were made “ex-gratia without admission of liability”

The Air Ministry was not responsible for dealing with compensation payments in cases of injury to the person.

R.A. F. personnel were expected to refer claimants to the Ministry of Pensions. Those receiving hospital treatment or treatment at home were referred to the Department of Health.


War injury to the person was split into three sections

·       War injury from aircraft

·       War injury from balloons or cables

·       Ordinary injury from falling over balloon equipment (really!!)

      Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette in January 1941 ran an article:



    While the National Federation of Property Owners congratulate the Government upon having at last introduced a scheme of compensation for war damage it is felt that the

     contribution of 2s in the £ per annum on the annual value is too high in view of the fact lhat spread over five years it amounts to 10s in the £ and only covers a risk period two years.

“  The Government tell us the war is being waged for freedom,” said the General Secretary, Mr T. Simpson Pedler, to a reporter to-day, but this Bill places property under the control

of the Treasury entirely and businesses under the Board of Trade, subject to Treasury direction.” “Even the members of the War Damage Commision are to be appointed by the   

 T  Treasury and are to work under their direction. Thus that freedom for which we are fighting for the small nations of the world is to be denied property owners and business men

in our own country if the Bill becomes law in its present form. DECISIONS FINAL “And what has become of the right of appeal so precious to the Englishman Most of the decisions of 

t   the Commission are final under the Bill. It is felt that all mortgages and not simply those who have lent money on properties an annual value not exceeding £lOO should be contributors         

pr proportionately to their interest under the Bill, that ah owner of a number of houses each of which has suffered damage not amounting to £5 should be entitled to claim for the

     aggregate damage, and that an owner whose income has been reduced by these contributions should be entitled to an allowance for tax purposes. seems inevitable that an   

er owner who has suffered damage which is repairable can have cost of works payment covering repairs, while an owner who has suffered the total loss of his property should

    only receive the pre-war value which will hot be anything like sufficient to cover rebuilding.



In January 1941 the Treasury was struggling with a claim from an insurance company that related to a doctor who had damaged his car on telephone wires that had been brought down by a

barrage balloon.

It turned out that the doctor had claimed on his insurance and they in turn lodged a claim with the Treasury and Inland Revenue.

The Treasury officer, A. J. D. Winnifrith wrote to the Inland Revenue officer, Mr Copleston, and stated that if there had not been an insurance claim the Treasury would

probably have paid up as it was war damage. The insurance company could not have considered it to be war damage. In this case the Treasury advised the Inland Revenue

not to admit the claim in this case otherwise this might have triggered a flood of claims from insurance companies. He went on to explain that he had reached this decision

because of the undesirability of admitting claims by third parties. He advised Copleston when replying to the insurance company to simply state that “you are unable to admit

the claim”. It can only be surmised that the Treasury managed to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to insurance companies by adopting this tactic.

In May 1941, K. A. Wood of the Air Ministry, replied to Mr F. C. Bunn, O.B.E., of the War Damage Commission of Piccadilly, about a claim by the station-master at Diss who was

claiming £4 for damage to telegraph, telephone, and block signalling wires by a breakaway balloon on 9th October 1940. Bunn did not quite know what to do about it. R.A.F Chigwell had issued a

certificate stating the damage was due to or affected by enemy action.

Early in the war the Treasury required all damage caused by barrage balloon equipment to be classified as war damage. In late December 1940 it was thought that public opinion

might cause Parliament not to accept this requirement. The Air Ministry then attempted to implement a new definition.

“War damage is damage caused by or in repelling, enemy action (real or imagined) or that arises in the course of flights or movements which are due to or affected by special alarm

or specific warning of anticipated attack.”

This was amplified by an explanation that:

“If a balloon is hoisted too fast as a result of a definite warning and breaks loose any damage done is war damage; but if the balloon breaks loose as a result of stress of weather

 or mechanical defect, after having being hoisted as part of the ordinary routine, the damage resulting is ordinary.”

In practice the Air Ministry found this an unsatisfactory definition since most of the damage that has occurred since war began was due to balloons breaking away during gales

and is really war damage since in peace time balloons were always hauled down when the wind approached gale force. It has been conscientiously applied by the R.A.F.

The Treasury instructed the R.A.F  to apply a definition substantially the same as that in Section 80 of the War Damage Act on 24th December 1940. The Ministry found it

impossible to change course before 1st February 1941 and all balloon damage that took place on or before 31st January 1941 was classified as war or ordinary damage

based on the old definition. On that basis the claim by the station master at Diss was war damage.

The Air Ministry, had Sir John Shaw set out a comprehensive attempt at classifying balloon incidents:


1.   Direct Enemy Action

War Damage as in Section 80, Para (a)

2.   Wear and Tear of cable or equipment

Element of negligence or not forming a special cause of breakaways

3.   Negligent or hasty action by the balloon handlers when lowering or raising a balloon.

Element of negligence or not forming a special cause of breakaways

4.   Foreseen Gale Force

Element of negligence or not forming a special cause of breakaways

5.   Unforeseen Gale Force

Not forming a special cause of breakaways as in Section 80, Para (c)

6.   Sabotage

Criminal act or criminal negligence by balloon handlers


This was not easily understood. Up to May 1941 there had been some 3000 claims for damage by balloons.

Sir John Shaw for the Air Ministry suggested that as a matter of policy if not law, all incidents of damage by barrage balloons and their equipment should be considered by the Commission as war


An interesting case occurred on 23rd November 1940 when 90883 Flight Lieutenant Richard Arthur Godfrey Colley was involved in dealing with a breakaway balloon the cable

of which had become entangled around a chimney stack belonging to a factory of John Barnsley and Son, Sheffield. Three Sheffield steeplejacks; Harry Brindley age 40, of

Grafton Street: Charles Haywood, age 57, Kearsley Road; and Jack White, age 24, Western Road had been employed by the Air ministry to assist with the removal of the cable.

Flight Lieutenant Colley decided to haul in the cable and the chimney collapsed killing the three steeplejacks. The inquest declared the men had died of accidental death and t

he coroner, Mr. J. Kenyon Parker, suggested that the chimney may have collapsed partly as a result of being weakened by strong winds and partly by the pulling of the winch

cable. He declared there was no negligence on the part of anybody.

Irrespective of his decision a court case ensued, and Flight Lieutenant Colley was sued for negligence by the next of kin of the steeplejacks.

The case was heard at West Riding Assizes on December 16th 1941 and a settlement for £2,155 including costs was made and was approved by Mr. Justice Lewis.

 It was stressed that, despite the offers of settlement, liability was still denied. Mr. C. Paley Scott K.C., for all the plaintiffs, said he had been able to accept the offers because

those who insured the steeplejacks against workmen's compensation had been good enough to make contribution which made the damages up to an acceptable figure and directed

that all the damages be paid Sheffield County Court. Mr. Paley Scott said the steeplejacks were being employed by the Alt Ministry. If the case had been tried there would have

been difficult questions of whether or not the pull which was made on the steel cable was really the effective cause the collapse. It was not a case in which liability was absolutely

certain. Mr. G. Russell Vick, K.C., for defendant, said that Flight Lieutenant Colley, who was an experienced officer, decided, the exercise of his discretion—the wind having veered

into certain quarter—that in the interests of the public, it was a proper time to haul about three feet on the cable. Unfortunately, he was not aware of the condition the chimney.

Those responsible for his defence took the view that the three steeplejacks were assisting the R.A.F. the time, and that it was proper to make the offers. Nobody regretted more

than Flight Lieutenant Colley that in the execution of his duty such an unfortunate accident occurred. The plaintiffs, and their damages, were as follows:

·       Mrs. Lily Brindley. Grafton Street. Sheffield, widow of Mr. Harry Brindley, —£500, plus £3O for her 14-year-old son and £1OO under the Workmen’s Compensation Act:

·       Mrs. Jane Haywood. Kearsley Road. Sheffield, widow of Mr. Charles Ken Haywood, —£500, plus £1OO Workmen's Compensation:

·       Mrs. Thora White, Burns Road, Sheffield, widow of Mr. Jack White —£600, plus £l5O for her baby son (aged one year at the time of the accident) and £175 workmen's compensation.


On 28th February 1942 the case was reviewed by Sir John Shaw as although Barnsley and Son had not claimed for the Chimney, James Dixon and Sons were claiming £95 for

damage done to their premises when the chimney fell. Sir John declared it was war damage.


The Daily Mirror - in July 1941 ran an advice article:


"Take advantage of the raid  lull and get your house  repaired at once" is the advice of the building societies. Contrary to general belief, blitz victims need not wait till the end of the

war for their houses be repaired. Estimates for repairs obtained the VOW form are now so much below present prices in th e building trade that new forms have been issued.

The manager of one of the big building societies told a “Daily Mirror” reporter: The best course is to get new estimate from a reputable builder and present it at once to the

War Damage Commision. who will probably sanction the work being done right away. Inquiries reaching the War Damage Commission reveal misunderstanding regarding the

exact meaning of the second question on the form asking for the estimated approximate cost on present-day prices of reinstating damaged property in the form in which it

was immediately before the damage.” This does not mean an exact estimate as by a surveyor or architect, but merely sufficient to enable the Commission to form preliminary

opinion of the extent the damage.


Events continued to confuse the Commissioners and the Admiralty when a Kite Balloon on a naval ship broke away and damaged a cable on the pier. The Admiralty accepted liability

for damage done by their craft in harbours and wanted a legal opinion on whether this balloon was part of the craft or was it a separate entity when free as a breakaway barrage balloon?

The decision was it was war damage and not the responsibility of the Admiralty. However, the legal authority pointed out that if the ship was flying a balloon and the cable remained

attached to the ship and caused damage then it was not war damage and was the responsibility of the Admiralty. The Commission clarified the situation of Admiralty ships flying balloons

and new guidance was issued for damage claims after 27th August 1942. Balloons that broke free from Admiralty ships and caused damage were to be classed as war damage and the

Admiralty were instructed to send all such claims to the War Damage Commission. Claims for damage that occurred by a barrage balloon when still attached to the deck of a ship were the

 responsibility of the Admiralty and would be settled by them but would pass the details to the Commission to prevent duplication of claims.

In January 1943 the Commission was dealing with a claim from Salisbury Education Committee regarding damage to the roof of Highbury Avenue Council School, Wiltshire. The damage

occurred while the balloon was being hauled down. It was declared war damage.

Another case involved the explosion of a barrage balloon at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday 31st January 1942 at Bewick Road Site, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. It damaged 120 dwellings

by causing damage to slates, glass and in a few cases plaster. The balloon was on the balloon bed as a gale was blowing and it was thought that the balloon as being buffeted very

badly by the wind causing the fabric to stretch and at some point, it burst. The hydrogen leaked and again it was thought that a spark must have been caused by friction with

some metal components. A Court of Enquiry was held to determine the cause. In the meantime it was agreed by the Borough Council Surveyor that the Local Authority was to repair

all the damage until such time as it was ruled war damage or ordinary damage.

Separate accounts were to be kept by the Surveyor until a decision was made on the class of damage incurred.

 The Commission pointed out that if the Court of Enquiry found there was negligence by the balloon crew it was still war damage unless the negligence was deemed to be criminal.

Balloons on ships caused further issues when damage was caused by S. S. Sylvia Beale and S. S. William Cash on 6th July 1942 and 23rd November 1942.

The River Weare Commissioners informed the War Damage Commissioners that the Admiralty were at odds with their decision and were asking the War Damage Commissioners

to clarify the situation.

At the end of the day most of these valid claims were paid by the public purse but through a range of bureaucratic hoops and hurdles, causing delays and complaints.

The War Damage Commission was a classic Civil Service exercise and despite many attempts to simplify the compensation different interpretations of the Act were commonplace

and much confusion took place. It could have been made much easier for claimants and those responsible for resolving claims but it seems the system of civil service bureaucracy was

something that nobody could simplify.

 The Commission was constantly looking out for fraudulent attempts to claim money when it was not due but the conviction rate was not high.

 The Shields Daily News in November 1944 ran an article:


The jury at Chester AssizeS yesterday returned not guilty verdicts on all counts against Ralph Joseph Fay, 37, jobbing builder, of Bebington Road Birkenhead, and Ronald Frederick Hubbard, 23,

 estate agent's manager, of Cyprus Terrace Wallasey, who had pleaded not guilty to conspiring to defraud the War Damage Commission by submitting untrue statements of accounts.

They had also pleaded not guilty to three charges of obtaining cheques for others from the War Damage Commission by false pretences, and not guilty to three charges of attempting to

obtain money for other, from the War Damage Commission by false pretences. Hubbard was discharged. Fay and Hubbard both denied the prosecution's allegations that charges were

made for materials which were not used and that labour charges were grossly exaggerated.

Issues ran on for years after the War. The Dundee Evening Telegraph ran an article in April 1949;

Architect Cleared Of Fraud

 William Beech (59), architect and surveyor, of Kingfisher Lodge, Stockbridge, Hampshire, was at Hampshire Assizes to-day acquitted on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the War Damage 

 Commission. He was fined £250 on a charge of recklessly giving false information, contrary to the War Damage Act, 1943.

The prosecution offered no evidence against Beech; Ernest Evans (59), war damage assessor, of Lee-on-Solent; and Horatio Claude Gilbert (60). builder, of Manor Farm Road, Bitterne,

Southampton, on charge of fraud in connection with a war claim for a nursery at Southampton They were found not guilty.

Edward Dilley, (43), nurseryman, of North-East Road, Sholing, Southampton, was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment, and Horatio Claude Gilbert to two years for conspiracy

to defraud the War Damage Commission and for obtaining a cheque for £ll83 from the commission by false pretences. Gilbert was also convicted on a charge of recklessly

giving false information. Ernest Evans was fined £lOO for giving false information.

The Coventry Evening Telegraph ran an article in November 1949

Poor "Refused War Damage Money " -Filled up Wrong Forms

 In a House of Commons Standing Committee to-day, Mr. R. Morley, Labour M.P. for Southampton, said that people had been refused compensation for war damage because they did

not fill in the right forms at the right time. Most of the people still affected were " poor or the poorest people with no business training and unaccustomed to filling in forms."

Mr. Morley is the sponsor of  the War Damage (Amendment) Bill. which seeks to amend the War Damage Act. 1943, in order to confer on the Treasury certain powers exercised by the

War Damage Commission. There was no appeal from the decision of the War Damage Commission and neither could M.P's put questions in Parliament to any Ministers on such occasions. "

There is a feeling of injustice among a number of citizens in this country over the way their cases have been dealt with", he said.

Mr D. W. T Bruce (Lab  Portsmouth N.) instanced a blind Portsmouth woman whose case had every element of compassion and declared the "War damage Commission have in fact refused

to use their discretion in many cases of a compassionate nature". Permission was wanted for unjust cases to be reviewed. Mr F. W. Skinnard (Lab Harrow E) said upto a year ago the

War Damage Commission was prepared to investigate  what they thought were prima facie cases after consideration of a surveyor's report but lately "there  had been a kind of automatic rejection

 slip attitude".

In April 1943 it was stated in The Spectator that the War Damage Commission had paid out £1OO million for the 1,200,000 buildings destroyed or damaged by enemy action. The majority of their

work was to deal with damage from crashed aircraft and bomb damage, the damage from balloons was small in comparison. It should be remembered that all of this took place during a period of

extreme shortage of wood, ironmongery, fixings, glass and cement

 Most construction materials were only available on licence and if a house was destroyed then there was not material available to rebuild it. Entire streets would be bombed out , creating what I

knew as bomb sites, and in many of these cases the decision was made to re-house the occupants in emergency housing using pre-fabricated buildings, (the famous and once ubiquitous prefab) 

and a certificate was given to the former house owner to allow them to have a bricks and mortar house rebuilt when materials and conditions allowed. In 1964 Hansard reports that 4 million claims

about property covering 3.5 million properties had been dealt with. Bear in mind this is almost 20 years after the war ended! Between 1941-46 some £1300 million was paid out and the Revenue

collected £200 million as war damage contributions from property owners.


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