All over the country people were adjusting to the new reality of being under attack. They knew that hundreds of people were being killed every week, even if the exact figures were not published. So air raid precautions, which had begun for many as a bit of fun, were suddenly taken very seriously. Anyone living in an urban area could expect regular air raid warnings and would be spending many nights resorting to the air raid shelter.
Only those in central London had access to the Underground – where thousands sheltered deep underground, most people around the country had to use their own personal shelter located in the garden. Patricia McGowan was 17 years old living with her family in Birmingham:
We became accustomed to spending many long hours in the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. This was a wooden construction with a corrugated iron cover, most of the structure being deep in the ground with about a fifth above the ground. It had a wooden door, which we bolted by means of a wooden bar fixed into two grooves either side of it. Inside there were two long benches at either side and in between these we had room for a small table on which we stood a small oil lamp. The benches were wide enough to sit upon and also had some space underneath for various provisions.
The entire area of the shelter smelled dank and very earthy and at first it was unpleasant but gradually our nostrils became used to the odour and we even associated this smell with safety, as this was the place where we could have some hope of escaping death or injury. Of course, a direct hit was a disaster we did not care to contemplate.
We lived quite near to a park where anti aircraft guns were mounted. The noise from these guns was so deafening that at first, being new to the situation of air raids, we thought they were bombs being dropped and often heard neighbours screaming. We realised after a while that the sound of these guns was really music to our ears as they were our protection to some extent.
Referring to some of my old diaries I note that the air raids usually started about 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening and continued until the early hours of the morning. As soon as the siren sounded, Daddy would prepare to leave the house taking with him some cushions and the little lamp, plus a few odds and ends.
Mother would then make a flask of tea or coffee and sometimes soup, some sandwiches and a biscuit tin full of cookies. Without fail, she always had, under her arm, the attaché case in which our life insurance policies were housed and also documents such as Birth Certificates and Death Certificates, old photographs and personal letters, in fact anything that qualified as being important and precious.
Once settled inside the shelter, Daddy would make a ceremony of almost ramming the wooden plank across the doorway and driving it securely home. Depending upon the intensity of the raid and where it was concentrated, either we sat quietly drinking from our flask and waiting and listening, or, if the raid was aimed at our particular area, we would be fearful and cringing on our little hard wooden seats and praying for dear life.
Read the whole of this story on BBC People’s War.
The prospect of spending nights in the Anderson Shelter as winter approached was a strong incentive to devise something better.
On 20th September Alfred E. Moss, father of Stirling Moss, submitted his patent design for an indoor air raid shelter. Like many people he is fed up with running down to the garden every time the siren sounded.
A modified design is soon approved by the British authorities and is called the Morrison shelter after the Minister responsible for Home Security. It becomes a popular alternative to the Anderson shelter, which is designed to be half buried in the ground. The full story can be read at Stirling Moss.