To seek shelter or not

Anderson shelter after bomb explosion nearby

The authorities sought to publicise instances where people had survived in Anderson shelters even though close to bomb explosions. Anderson shelters consisted of thin skinned corrugated iron and were only effective if half buried in the ground and covered in a mound of earth, making them inherently cold and damp.

As the air raids continued around Britain more and more people were affected, with the greatest concentration being in the London area. Earlier in the summer, before the Luftwaffe had started to really target civilian areas, there had been the ‘Siren controversy‘. There was much debate about whether it was necessary for the sirens to sound so frequently at the possible threat of aircraft, and whether people should automatically seek shelter when they did.

Now people faced the the much more dangerous dilemma of whether they should spend the night in shelters with the consequent discomforts and loss of sleep or seek to brave it out in the house. The Ministry of Information was pushing stories about how people who had stayed in their Anderson shelters had survived very close bomb explosions which had destroyed the houses around them. The Morrison shelters, designed to allow people to stay in their homes would not become available until 1941.

In a letter to her mother on 4th October 1940 Moira Ingram, who was just starting to experience the bombing in Manchester, describes the problem of being brave or being safe:

You have certainly been having it hot with Uncle Adolf. So have we!

Last night we had a peaceful night with no warnings, but the night before I got the scare of my life. I was in bed when the sirens went, and feeling tired, I decided to stay put. However, about five minutes later there was a terrific banging and crashing and whizzing, about 10 bombs dropping. Well, the bed shook and the ornaments jumped, but I, being unusually brave stayed put, thinking he had finished.

About three minutes afterwards, however, he sent another stick of bombs down, and one of them was a screaming bomb. These fell very close, in fact I closed my eyes and waited for the house to fall, but nothing happened. Mr Powell ran upstairs and shouted to me to get up and go downstairs.

There was no need for him to tell me, I was half dressed by that time, although my knees were knocking and my legs wouldn’t hold me up. When I arrived downstairs I found that beds had been made up down there and we retired in comparative safety, the Air Raid Shelter being three inches deep in water. (We could have gone in but it means that we have to carry crowds of cushions and things in to make it comfortable, and we can’t leave them in with it being so wet). Then, about ten minutes, after he dropped nine – one after the other, but this time further away, and later still, in fact most of the night he was dropping them, but not near enough for us to get windy.

Eventually we went to sleep and were awakened the following morning at 7.15 by the sirens again. Evidently he had come to view the damage.

The whole of Moira Ingram’s letter can be read at BBC People’s War.

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