This is an Anderson shelter, named after Sir John Anderson the Lord Privy Seal who was the cabinet minister charged with air raid precautions. Another example of war preparations made long before war was declared. They were constructed of six corrugated iron sections, large enough for a family of six. Up to 1.5 million Anderson shelters were given out between February 1939 and the start of the war, and a further 2.1 million during the war.
Anderson and Morrison shelters
The idea was to dig a hole about a yard deep, big enough to part bury the shelter, then cover the whole thing with 18 inches of soil and turf. Some people decorated theirs with flowers and vegetables. These shelters were very strong and durable. An indication of how durable they were is shown in the photo; this shelter is still happily acting as a garden shed in Marsh, Huddersfield.
Like many thousands of others, this one was obviously dug up, laid on the surface and a brick front constructed. They were free to anybody earning less than £250 a year, and to anyone else they were £7. A salary of £250 per annum was much more than industrial workers were earning, so for the majority of people in the North, they were free.
Morrison shelters were officially called the ‘indoor table shelter’. Named after the home secretary Herbert Morrison, at that time responsible for air raid precautions, it was introduced in 1941 for households that didn’t have a garden. They were constructed of a heavy steel frame with thick mesh fastened to the outside, very much like a cage. They had several advantages over the Anderson shelter – they were inside so it was warm and dry, and they could double as a kitchen table – but they were not as effective as the Anderson.
Neither would have withstood a direct hit.
The four-minute warning
I remember during the Cold War of the 1960s, being advised that if we heard the four-minute warning which we assumed would be the harbinger of doom followed by a flash on the horizon, we were to crawl under our kitchen table and surround ourselves with cushions and mattresses. The Morrison shelter would have been ideal – a much more effective defence against Russian atomic bombs.
I took a first aid course in the 1960s. It was carried out in the waterworks club on Manchester Road. The building was partly built into the hillside and served as a civil defence headquarters and nuclear bunker for dignitaries after the sounding of the four-minute warning. That imposing four-minute warning box was in the main hall where our lectures took place. It was hung on the wall; it was black and the size of a large speaker unit.
After the lecture we frequented the bar for a wee bevvy. It would be rude not to. Eventually, we noticed that the doors to the whole place were normal timber doors. We enquired with the steward as to why this was so, he said that the blast doors were too heavy for everyday use, so they were removed and placed in the storeroom. He went on to explain that at the appropriate time he was to remove all the timber doors and re-fit the blast-proof thick metal doors in four minutes. He was a big lad and looked very capable, but one can ask too much of a chap.
Young Annie of Turnbridge, Huddersfield, was expecting her first child near Christmas 1941. When the time was near, she became very ill and there were concerns for her and the unborn child’s wellbeing. Her husband Gordon was given compassionate leave to be by her bedside but thankfully, everything turned out fine and the child was born on Christmas Day. Gordon was so happy and relieved that he gave his wife Annie a crucifix taken from the body of a German soldier. And they say romance is dead.
When Hazel Wheeler was 15, her parents were asked by the YMCA if they could house a French soldier who had been wounded during the evacuation of Dunkirk the year before. Hazel’s parents agreed immediately, and this is how Hazel described the preparations and eventual meeting, after first building up the anticipation with her friend Jean:
“Neither Jean nor I had ever been out with a boy. At Green Head High School, we were in detention if we so much as walked past the boys’ college in New North Road instead of walking the other way. As for talking to one – good heavens! Miss Hill would probably have expelled us on the spot.
“With the influx of soldiers in the town, it was thought prudent to talk to parents at Spring Grove School about sex instruction and the problems of war for the girls of 15 or thereabouts who pestered a soldier obeying an urge she did not understand.”
It is within this atmosphere of innocence and ignorance that Hazel and her friend Jean were unknowingly putting more effort into their French homework while occasionally allowing their conversation to drift.
“What would he be like? Where would he sleep? What if he sleepwalked? What if he couldn’t understand what we said, or worse, what if we failed to understand him?”
Under that cloak of excitement, Hazel, her parents, and Hazel’s friend Jean arrived at Huddersfield railway station to meet their French soldier.
“Jean had put a bit of lipstick on, ‘Can you still smell my Evening In Paris?’, she asked. The train puffed to a shuddering halt, we moved hesitantly towards what, at first sight, looked remarkably like General De Gaulle. Tall peaked hat, officer’s uniform, highly polished calf length boots, belt, cane, gloves in hand. As he leaped lightly from the train a huge navy cape billowed behind the incredible figure.
“The cape was lined with scarlet; a big hood was flung back. He carried a natty little black attaché case in one hand, the kid gloves in the other. Coal black eyes scanned our small group, then a smile on the tanned classical features showing white, white teeth. He walked jauntily towards us, hand outstretched. ‘Monsieur Taylor? Madam-et ma Cherie…?’ Had we strayed in a dream into ‘The Desert Song?’ We felt completely flustered.”
I bet you were, you muck tubs.
In some ways, I find it satisfying and rewarding to know that I experienced some of these times of innocence and naivety. The war changed lots of things, and I’m not sure we will ever get this innocence back, or whether we even want it back.