FOWC with Fandango: Shelter

Aerial view of Norah Street around the 1950's

I was born in 1946, the year after the end of World War II. I grew up in the East End of London which was heavily bombed during the war, being near to the London docklands. The photo shows the street where I spent the first 20 years of my life, an aerial view. The photo is not mine, but it was passed onto me by a colleague.

You can see the tightly knit houses and the roof with the “x” on it was our house. There was another row of the same houses at the back and the front, but they had been demolished when the photo was taken in the early 1960’s. When the bombs begin to fall you had to have a safe place for shelter. During the war My mum, my grandfather, grandmother and her sister as well as a nephew, were staying in our house. The men were serving in the army. The London population had to be protected.

One day the men arrived and dug up the little back garden we had. My grandfather was annoyed, his tulips were in a pile of dirt, they would no longer be growing that year or for 5 years afterwards. My mum told me he was annoyed and told the workers “they were cowards digging their holes to run to”, but she added that he was the first one down in the shelter when the air raid warnings were sounding. They built huts in the gardens for the people to take refuge and my mum, grandad, the grandmother and her sister with the nephew slept every night in the back yard in their little steel huts they now had in the garden. When the warnings sounded everyone looked for shelter. Some families spent the night in the underground stations of the railway. Mum said she tried it once, but it was not for her. It was closed, everyone sleeping on mattresses on the platforms and if you happened to have a touch of claustrophobia it was not ideal.

She preferred sleeping with the family in the shelter in the back garden. One evening she was at the cinema watching a film. In those days no-one had a TV. It was a good film and the sirens began to wail warning of a bombing raid. Mum knew that the warnings were timely, and she so wanted to see the end of the film. Unfortunately the bombs arrived sooner than expected and she had to run through the streets hearing bombs being dropped all around her. She managed to get to the house but not to the garden, so she spent a few hours under the table in the kitchen until the so-called “all clear” sirens sounded.

That is war and when someone talks of a shelter the first thing I think of are the air raid shelters in our few square meters of garden that we had.

FOWC with Fandango: Shelter

21 thoughts on “FOWC with Fandango: Shelter

  1. Wow. My Swiss friend’s mom was a little girl in Trieste during the war. Her stories are similar — but her mom wouldn’t leave their apartment. She made Laura take her little brother and go to the shelters, basements of churches and tunnels under the streets. Have you seen the film, “A Canterbury Tale” a Powell/Pressburger film? It is so good but also it showed me exactly the damage done by the bombs as have photos of Milan, the Last Supper, one of two walls of that church left standing after the bombing because it was encased in a scaffolding and buried in sandbags. 😦

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    • I havn’t seen the film, but I have seen photos of the area where I grew up after the bombing. There was a lot of tragedy. Our local underground station had not yet been opened for trains but the public could go down there for shelter. There was once a panic, the lady at the bottom fell and there was a mass collapse of the people. 173 people died on that day.

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  2. In 1946, I was 15 years and just starting high school. I spent the wars years in a relatively safe area. We didn’t have much as everything went to fight. I remember rationing and air raid dwells at school a d blackouts.

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    • I remember rationing and the books mum had everytime she bought stuff, especially the diary products and cheese. We had a lot of black cloth at home from the blackouts at the windows.

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      • Here in the USA, we had easy as the fighting was in Europe and Britain. My husband lived in the Seattle area and he talks fake buildings near the water. It was thought if the Japanese had attack the West Coast they would have been able take the area. We got our news from the movies and the neighborhood gather around the one radio to listen. I still hear Franklin Roosevelt say “THE DAY WILL LIVED IN INFINITY” as spoke to the nation after the attach on Pearl Harbor

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    • I grew up in post war London and was surrounded by the memories from the war. I don’t even think about bomb shelters any more. The next shelters will be a way of living because the air will be so polluted there will be no sense in returning to the surface.

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    • I grew up in post war London and reminders were everywhere. Bombed buildings and playgrounds which were actually the destroyed areas where nature was taking over. It seems strange today when I think of how it looked 60 years ago when I was a kid.

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  3. Mum and her family lived in Liverpool and Rugby during that time and she sometimes talked about going to the shelter. She didn’t like it much, Too claustrophobic I think. I also recall her talking about the blackout. She was 19 so she and other young people would still go to dances and the pictures when they could. She said that they would always check that they had their gas masks and their hatpins. The hatpins were for repelling soldiers and sailors who tried to get fresh.

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      • I suppose if you were at the pictures or a dance and the siren went off you just went to the nearest one. I don’t think mum ever used the mask either but they were supposed to carry them when they were out and about.

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  4. Wow, what a fascinating account. I can’t imagine living through that as a young girl. As a young girl, I learned about the effects of World War II from my teachers for several years. I had a series of projects related to various events in history, but one stood out in my mind was the Kristallnacht.

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