Gimme shelter

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Local historian and legend Jack Haddock still has the remains in his garden of the air raid shelter he used in the war. Click on the image to read the story at the Birmingham Mail.

Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler has dropped me a line with some interesting stuff about wartime precautions in the area during the Second World War, in particular air raid shelters.

This dovetails in nicely with recent stuff about evacuees, and the effects of war upon the local area.

This clipping really gives a feel for the fear and daily threat people were living under, and I’m curious to know where local shelters were, at schools, businesses and private homes. I imagine there were a few communal ones around – so where were they located?

I’ve heard recollections of pupils from Watling Street and Walsall Wood schools being led to cover during alerts, but it’s unclear where the hideouts they used were.

Since we’re interested in the bombs and other effects of war, it seems reasonable to also discuss the precautions.

Any readers taken to task for bike lighting, for instance, or striking a match in the blackout? How severely do you recall this being policed?

As usual, I welcome comment and discussion. Please add your comment here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Cheers, as ever, to Peter for the spot. He’s doing some great stuff behind the scenes at the moment and this blog wouldn’t be a fraction of what it is without his, and all the other contributors tireless efforts.

Peter wrote:

Hi Bob,

A few more observances from the Lichfield Mercury of 1940…

SAFETY IN AIR RAIDS

This is what happened in regard twenty-four Anderson shelters reported by ARP experts investigating bomb effects. In one case a bomb 75 feet from the shelter—no covering—large splinter hole in back sheet. Fortunately no one inside. Another 90 feet from bomb, poorly covered—perforated badly and distorted.

In another, six people were seriously injured by splinters which went through both ends, there was no earth covering at the back where the splinters entered. 

A double shelter 19 feet from bomb, penetrated four thlcknesses of steel. Six people inside were O.K. But scared stiff!

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PICTURE

Bomb fell 19 feet from reasonabty covered shelter, no damage and four occupants safe.

Two well-covered shelters 50 feet from bomb—two people in each did not even feel any shook! Shelter 18 feet from bomb, screened at the back by a wall, and a brick traverse in front. Shelter occupants unharmed.

Five children in a well-covered shelter were so near the bomb crater that the shelter was burled In earth. The children were got out unhurt.

Sir Alexander Rouse, Chief Surgeon to the Home Office, who gives those instances, adds: ‘These facts require no commentary. Those of you who have not covered their shelters properly or protected the entrance, do you not think you are incredibly stupid? Go to it and get the Job done!’

Surface brick and concrete are shelters that also came out well in the test of actual bombing shelters only 10 or 20 feet from houses which have been hit and another only 25 feet from the crater have been undamaged.

In a raid on two towns, of 33 casualties, 30 were in the open and 13 in buildings. 17 injuries were due to flying glass and 6 to bomb splinters.

In one town about 100 incendiary bombs were dropped on houses and streets, but the 14 fires started were extinguished by the inhabitants with stirrup pumps and other means. 

shelter

Air raid shelters took many forms, but what were those of our area like? Image from Sussex History Online.

HAVE YOU EMPTIED YOUR LOFT?

Lofts and attics in dwelling houses in urban areas must at once be cleared of all movable articles as a precaution against fires caused by incendiary bombs. An Order to this effect has been made by the Minister of Home Security. A dwelling house under this Order means a building either constructed or adapted for use wholly or mainly for human habitation, and includes hospitals, flats, hotels, and other residential buildings. A loft includes any space between a ceiling and a roof. The Order will not apply to lofts or attics where there is a fixed staircase, or where they are used or furnished for living in. Local authorities are empowered by the Order to enter and inspect premises to see that the Order is complied with. But even where the clearing of attics is not made compulsory, householders are strongly urged to clear their roof spaces. Apart from minimising the danger of fires, the junk thus removed will contain many articles, especially paper and metal articles, which are urgently required. These should not be destroyed, but should be made available for collection by the local authority under the National Salvage Scheme of the Ministry of Supply.

 

 

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12 Responses to Gimme shelter

  1. Barry Carpenter says:

    We were told that we had had a shelter at the bottom of our garden in Leighswood Ave, Aldridge. It was not used because it used to flood. Now under a concrete slab with a shed on it.

  2. Caz says:

    Hi Bob,My Dad wrote about there being a large underground air raid shelter on land where the Peake Road housing estate is now. That one was for the school children and there was another one at Streets Corner.He wrote that he remembers taking blankets and going with his mom and dad to sleep in the Air raid shelter underneath Streets Corner, but added that after a while people got fed up of doing that and started using the Goverment issued ‘Anderson’ shelters that were buried in their gardens or as his own family did…slept under the stairs. It must have been an awful time for people.

  3. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    communal air raid shelters in Walsall Wood .At Streets Corner, where the new Co-op shops car park is now; in Brook Lane , where it joins Brook Close; in Coronation Raod, junction with Stewart Road;
    in Friezland Lane, near Chester Road where there is now a block of garages; in Chester Road, junction with Paterson Place..all these were above ground shelters. Set in to the ground were..one at the rear of the Post Office in the High Street, one in the school ground, by the Woodwork classroom, and in Mr CharlesHamer’s allotment. I am sure there will have been others. One lady has also mentioned a large shelter near Freizland Lane and Brownhills Road junction, and one incident when one of her classmates raised the alarm..for all the pupils to rush to this shelter…and causing comment from passers by…possibly the shelter mentioned by Caz. Up Shire Oak HIll in Lichfield Road at least one private shelter was cut into the embankment in the front gardens.I wonder if readers know of others… at schools, churches, pubs, farms, near shops, for example
    kind regards
    David

  4. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    The fact that these instances detailed in the cutting are given by Sir Alexandra Rouse , Chief Surgeon to the Home Office, seems to indicate a national, rather than a local review.
    From my own memories, Walsall Wood was a comparatively safe area during the war, hence the influx of evacuees from the East End of London. and Liverpool. True, we did get the occasional bomb, perhaps jettisoned or misdirected, but no target bombing as far as I know.Tthese incidents were so rare that each happening would warrant a few columns in the local newspaper. I don’t think that any Anderson shelter in Walsall Wood ever came in such a close proximity to a German bomb as to be subject to the criticism or praise as outlined by Sir Alexandra.
    Many Anderson shelters flooded, after a time, when built below ground level. Water would be conducted down the steps leading to the shelter and a high water table in the area was always a problem. As well as the public shelters being available, a few pubs and off-licences made their cellars available to the public, during an air raid. We used ‘Dicky Knight’s’, an off-licence on the corner of Brookland Road/Vigo Road, attached to the shop, which I believe is still there. The surface shelters came a little later in the war, they were built of engineering bricks with half inch wire embedded in the joints, with a reinforced concrete top of about eight inches.
    These were worrying times for parents. Air raids during day time were pretty rare in Walsall Wood. Germany was battling for air supremacy over the Channel and bombing south coast airfields, rather than inland areas, but the night raids were a different thing entirely.
    At the height of the war, there were several night air-raids most weeks. Safer area or not, it was the fear of bombing that was always uppermost in people’s minds, and to be woken up in the middle of the night by the wailing siren and hearing the irregular throb of German aircraft above the village, carrying their death-dealing bombs, whether meant for Coventry or Birmingham, was always submerged in the thought that one or more could come crashing down on the village. The thunder of distant A.A guns and the glare of the searchlights added much to the drama. Most parents strove to hide their own panic and worry from the kids, but panic is infectious and most kids, including myself, felt a sickness in the stomach and increased heartbeat at the sound of the siren.
    It was the height of discomfort to be roused from one’s comfortable bed at 2 a.m. on a winter night, hustled into a few clothes and taken off to a cold beer cellar to spend the rest of the night, sitting on an upturned beer crate or any other bric a brac available in the keenly contested space, fighting sleep, and longing to hear the sustained siren note that signalled the ‘All Clear’. Some nights we didn’t go to the shelter. At that time, most houses had a large stout, table, which was the dominant feature in every kitchen, meals were always taken there, games were played and the table was used for a variety of uses, such as rollng out pastry. It also had an additional use during the war, temporary air-raid shelter, being looked upon with its stout table-top, as a emergency place of refuge, during an air-raid. I lay under that table, many nights, accompanied by my brothers and sisters. Another place of refuge, mentioned by Caz, was the ‘Glory Hole’, that refuge beneath the stairs, often located between the two rooms in many older houses, and reckoned to be the strongest part of the house in the event of disaster. On the other hand, many mature married couples, with no kids, never left their beds, air raid or not, and boasted that their sleep had never been disturbed, even by the sirens.
    Blackout precautions were stringently preserved. To anyone nowadays who has never experienced anything but the day/night radiance that surrounds us, it would be difficult to explain the total darkness that surrounded us on a cloudy, moonless night. You ‘couldn’t see your hand in front of you’ was no fallacy, but fact. Blackout injuries were quite common, falling over dustbins and other items in the backyard was an accepted hazard, especially when visiting other people. There was a board game entitled, “Going home in the Blackout” based largely on negotiating hazards by the shake of a dice, which was quite popular at the time. Air raid wardens were very vigilant and the slightest chink of light, emanating from the side of a blackout curtain would warrant a knock on the door and a hurried visit by the householder to correct the offending curtain.
    After the war, there was a thriving trade in the corrugated steel which was the chief component of an Anderson shelter, five bob for a complete shelter was the price quoted by most rag and bone men, this equated with a similar price for an old cast-iron mangle, which was smashed up in front of your eyes by a man wielding a large sledgehammer.

    • Pedro says:

      Yes, this is obviously not specifically directed at the Lichfield Rural area, and yet the Mercury saw fit to run it.

      There is an article in the Mercury for August 1940 describing “The Midlands’ Biggest Raid” and another carrying the news that the Germans prounounced that they had “plastered” Birmingham. Only a spit away

  5. Pedro says:

    35 Black-out Offenders (July 1940)

    Brownhills, Chasetown, Chase Terrace, Boney Hay, and Hammerwich

    The prevalence of black-out offences in the Lichfield rural area is causing great concern to the police authorities, and the seriousness of the matter was amply emphasised at the Brownhills Petty Sessions on Wednesday when 35 offenders were dealt with.

    “People must realise we are at war” said the Chairman Mr T Richards.

  6. David Oakley says:

    I am grateful to Pedro for his newspaper figures as it seems to bear out my observation that blackout precautions were strictly observed. The tiny monthly total of 35 offenders over such a large area of thousands of inhabitants, is extremely small and bears witness to the zealousness of the air raid wardens in prosecuting offenders, of which, lamentably there is always one or two. Just know it was damned dark where I was.

    • I have the article here, and will run it lair in the week. It’s actually quite enlightening.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist.
      Bob

      • Pedro says:

        I can empathize. It is very difficult to realise the concept of total darkness unless you have experienced it. I have not been down a coal mine, but worked for many years some way below the “surface”. The odd occasion when that the emergency generator took its time to provide emergency lighting was the reason I never forgot my bicycle clips!

  7. Pedro says:

    Meanwhile over in Brummagem.

    I wish I had quizzed my parents more about the bombing of 1940, who were about 100 yards from Knock, after reading this amazing account…

    Diary of a Birmingham Schoolboy

    http://www.brianwilliams.org.uk/diary/1940.html

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