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.