Air raid shelters
Mrs Doreen Mander
Anderson shelters were dug deep into the ground. You went in down steps, and there were two bunks either side. The corrugated iron walls were always wet with condensation, and the bottom of the shelter was always wet. If the sirens went off while you were eating, you took your meal down there. The lady who lived next door to us had a concrete shelter built in her garden.
Eunice Essex (née Nicolle)
Each day we would help our father get water from the bottom of the Anderson Shelter – as many as 50 buckets. They did eventually come round and cement the floor but we often sat on slat boards, our feet just about a foot above the water. No wonder we have arthritis today!!
One week they cemented the shelters in Circular Road, which backs on to Dolphin Lane, and we had 15 in our shelter for 13 hours. We sang, played games and slept. Father had made bunk beds and mother had a stool or chair. He made a good entrance with a heavy wooded door and a barrier of sandbags to stand any blast. Once he saved our mum’s life going to the shelter. He pushed her back into the kitchen as he heard a ‘swooshing’ sound and next morning we found a big piece of shrapnel under the hedge. We used to go with a tin collecting it after a raid. I do not know what happened to my tin; I guess mum threw it away when we were evacuated.
My husband never had a shelter in his garden so they used to make a bed under the stairs and stay there. It had a door on it but must have been very claustrophobic. (From The War Years, used with permission)
These were introduced later in the war. Anderson shelters were unpopular, and many people hid under the stairs or in their basements. Morrison shelters were a strong steel cage with thick wire mesh sides, that could be put up indoors. Ethel Hone, who worked at the laundry on Warwick Road, had a Morrison’s shelter at home, so these were not confined to central districts where there were no gardens. If a bomb dropped on a house, people could be trapped in the shelter. and burn to death if a fire started.
Tom Morris, of Westley Road, interviewed in 1977
We had a shelter, which was built out of steel girders, and a steel top, and a spring mattress underneath, till we got fed up with it, and my wife got claustrophobia and she said: "If we are going to be killed, we'll be killed in our own bed". So we went upstairs, and defied them.
Images and information about the Morrison shelter, from www.1900s.org.uk.
These were brick built for the most part, and there were quite a few around Acocks Green, including on Shirley Road near Oakhurst Road, in front of where Lidl is now on Olton Boulevard East, at the junction of Botteville Road and Victoria Road, at the Gospel Lane end of Fox Hollies Park, at Douglas Road, and at Dudley Park Road. There was a scandal about the quality of construction. See Frank Lockwood's diary.
Bernard Rainbow, who still lives in the house he grew up in on Olton Boulevard East, recalls the shelter constructed near his home:
They dug a big hole at the junction of Botteville Road and Old Victoria Road to build the shelter. There were steps down into it. Inside there were lines of two - tier bunks along the walls. It was damp and a bit smelly but it had electric lighting. When the war was over the roof was smashed in and covered over. It is still there under the ground. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Some shelters also survive in the grounds of Stone Hall; they were largely underground, with a domed entrance at the top, like the one above. Alexander Hook recalls the Stone Hall shelters.
The worst of the bombing occurred between 1940 and 1942 and many times during this period Barry and I were lifted from our beds and taken to the Anderson Shelter in our back garden. Sometimes we joined a neighbour, Mrs Cook and her family in their shelter and sometimes we slept downstairs in our own front room, where for a short time we had a Morrison table-shelter. Our favourite shelter was a cupboard, which was built in an alcove in the back living room. The cupboard had two doors, above which were two deep drawers side by side. With one door open I could look out from my place on the bottom shelf. Barry’s usual place was on the shelf above me. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Shelters were also built on school premises. Below is a diagram of the proposed shelters at Dolphin Lane school: some of the structures survive, and have been put to other uses.
I recall the long brick-built shelters in the school playgrounds where we were encouraged to sing songs like “Ten Green Bottles” as loud as possible so we could not hear the throb of the enemy aircraft. Other songs we sang were “Cockles and Mussels” or “Molly Malone”. During one raid I started to cry and my teacher asked another member of staff “Has her father been killed?” I heard the reply, “Oh! no. She’s much too sensitive.” I didn’t know what was meant! (From The War Years, used with permission)
Doreen Hodges (nee Pendle)
Dolphin Lane Schools hadn’t got its shelters during my last few months there. But there were some shelters at Hartfield Crescent Schools. I can remember going across from the school into the playing fields where we went down into a shelter. It was awkward to descend down the straight ladder and it seemed to take a long time. However when we did get down eventually the teacher that came down with us started a whispering game, which was to help us pass the time away whilst down there. It started like this ‘Three little sausages sizzling in the frying pan’. By the time it had gone all the way round it ended up as a giggle. (From The War Years, used with permission)
Unlike Dolphin Lane, neighbouring Lakey Lane School had ample open ground within its boundaries so it was provided with the half buried type concrete shelters.
Brian Henderson, a pupil at that school during the war years, recalls using the part buried shelters:
If the air-raid sirens sounded a warning while we were at school we were led by our teachers to the school shelter, which were in the front grounds. There were about eight of these, which were half buried in the ground. They were made of concrete and covered with soil and grass except for the entrances and the emergency exits. Inside each shelter were long wooden benches, which we sat on while our teachers lit paraffin storm lanterns, and then led us in singing songs such as ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall’. hen the ‘All Clear’ sounded we walked back to our classrooms just as we had walked to the shelters – in twos, holding hands, with our gas masks boxes hanging from a string that went over our shoulders.
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