Sharing Stories
Air Raid Shelters

John

Anderson shelters were distributed to all during the war.


Noel

No shelters were distributed in St. Albans; people just went to the communal shelters.


Mabel

I was born in Yorkshire and moved to St. Albans when I was 6 and the war started when I was 10. When I was at Beaumont the siren went when I was with my friend and we were on our way to school so we went into the community shelter in Fleetville and there was another school down there and we were all singing. When we got to school the teacher asked why we were late so we said we had been in the shelter but nobody else had bothered. So that was when I nearly got into trouble at school.


Jeff

Mr. Anderson introduced air raid shelters and they were available to all. My family turned down the offer of a shelter and my three older brothers built a shelter instead. They dug a great big hole and my father worked on the railway and he got old sleepers which my brothers used for covers and they build steps to get down. About 6 people could get in comfortably.


John

Anderson shelters were allocated free at the beginning of the war. Later in the war came the Morrison shelter which was a sheet of steel spread over uprights at the corners - 4 steel legs - with a mesh at the bottom. The shelter was like a table - you could eat on it or dive under it. My mother said it was ideal for cutting out clothes on because it was so flat. Most people used to put a load of soil on the top of an Anderson shelter.


Noel

We didn't have a shelter we used to dive under the table or go under the stairs.


Jeff

My mother used to get annoyed with me because I didn't want to go under the stairs when bombs dropped I preferred to stay in bed.


Jan

We were living in a Close of 11 houses and a builder in the Close built an air raid shelter for us all. My father had been a regular soldier and he became an ARP Warden because he wouldn't go in the Home Guard . We were once all in the shelter and there was a loud thump down the air vent. We were all terrified and climbed out of the shelter. We all stood outside in the pouring rain waiting for the Bomb Disposal people but it turned out to be a clod of earth that had just fallen down the vent.


Pat

I lived out in the middle of nowhere and we didn't have shelters. We could see Southampton on fire when it was being bombed and the sky was bright red. One day a bomb fell in a pond in our village and a cow was killed. One house had a bomb that went straight through the roof but it didn't explode it was just nosed through the roof.


Jean

We didn't have a shelter. We were living in Reading and we all slept downstairs. When we lived in Norfolk we were schooled at home. I went to secondary school in Reading and later I went to boarding school. We used to hear the planes going over on the way to Coventry night after night.


Dilys

(Dilys is translating a letter written in French by a friend of hers who was living in London during the war)

At the first sound of the siren we quickly ran to the air raid shelter not forgetting our coats, hats and gloves and our gasmasks. The cement tunnels were covered in soil and contained in the centre long banks of seats 3 classes in each air raid shelter. We sat down cross-legged, our feet against the wall. Our lessons began without books or pencils. We were always situated in the middle when the air raid siren started, between two other classes, and while the lot on one side recited their Latin verbs and the other sang in French, we tried to listen to poetry that we had to learn by heart. We never missed our homework - one had to do it even when, like me, one had passed the night under an Anderson air raid shelter in the garden. When the noise had become too much to sleep my mother knitted and made me do my exercises.

During the 3 years the air raid attacks grew fewer, but in 1944 the flying bombs arrived, falling even during the times when we were doing our exams for the higher school. For the most part pupils were in the air raid shelters but we stayed in the building on the ground floor. Outside the school supervisor looked at the sky and estimated the danger because if the bomb motor stopped that's when the bomb dropped. We didn't hear anything but we waited. Then there was a time when the supervisor blew his whistle and we were all flat on the floor, silence, then the explosion happened and there were little nervous laughs. There were spatters of ink everywhere, and we got up and began to write again in our exercise books, the exams finished at the exact hour. Two months later at the beginning of the next term the new pupils arrived and they saw the air raid shelter from the exterior only they never saw the interior because there were no more air raids after that time and our daily life was already a part of history.