Words by John Veasey
Although memory does fade with age there is one particular event that stays vividly in my mind of when I was nine.
It was 1940, the Second World War had not long been declared and during the period before Anderson air raid shelters were distributed. My father, calling on his First World War experiences, had dug a trench in our garden and covered the top with corrugated iron sheets and soil to act as a temporary shelter.
Although there had been practice air raid warnings during the daytime, we had never experienced one at night and were therefore totally unprepared when the first real one came and we didn’t know what to expect.
Picture the scene, my father, my mother holding my baby sister in her arms, my 15 year old brother, my 18 year old sister and me, all scrabbling around in total blackout trying to find warm clothing to wear to go to our shelter, and at the same time trying to find, our gas masks and my baby sister’s Gas Bag.
This latter item was a monstrous thing which covered the whole of the baby’s body except for the legs and needed to be pumped while the baby was inside. It was a major operation to fit, I watched my mum and dad struggle with it in practice runs, I dread to think what it would have been like had they ever had to use it under real attack conditions, just imagine trying to get a frightened, struggling baby into, what looked like, a large canvas bag with a window and trying to fit your own gas mask and making sure that you pumped the bag at regular intervals. Thank heavens it was never needed.
Needless to say it was absolute mayhem, each of us grabbing what clothes we could and mum trying to pacify a crying child, I finished up wearing my father’s boots, his overcoat and my trousers on back to front. Our problems didn’t stop there because when we got into the shelter we were ankle deep in water which had drained in since it had been dug and dad had not yet made any ‘Duck’ boards’.
I’m not sure how long we were in there but it seemed like hours before the ‘All Clear’ siren was sounded and we were able to go back to the house and get ourselves sorted out.
We were never caught out like that again, we were always prepared.
Later on we were getting air raid warnings almost every night because the warning was given every time enemy aircraft entered your zone not just when you were being bombed and you never knew when it was to be your turn, our turn came on the 17th May 1941 when my home was destroyed, but that is another story.
By this time we had an Anderson shelter and my ever resourceful dad built Bunk beds in there so that instead of going to bed in the house at bedtime we would go straight to the shelter and sleep there for the night, not quite like sleeping in your warm cosy bed but better than getting up in the middle of the night, getting dressed and running down the garden path to take shelter.
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