"A working party equipped with oxy-acetylene cutting gear arrived to dismantle the iron gates and railings. Most co-operated reluctantly but one lady remonstrated so vehemently that her railings remained conspicuously intact throughout the War." Ken Whitrow, 1988.
Cities across the UK prepared for war using a variety of methods and techniques. Some methods, were temporary and easily removed, whilst others made a more-lasting impact on the landscape. Bristol's preparations took on a new urgency during the spring of 1939.
A nationwide black-out at night was introduced in 1939 and precautions were taken in Bristol, as elsewhere, to stop light escaping that might aid enemy aircraft.
Elizabeth Mead and Peter Lawrence were children in Bristol in the 1940s and experienced the black-out first-hand. Elizabeth recalled 'We had blackout curtains that filled the whole window because no light was allowed to show. We were once told to put the light out and they [Air Raid Wardens] threw stones at the window.' Peter also remembered the preparations they had to make both for the blackout and the air raids, 'We had to whitewash the kerbstone ... so we wouldn't trip over it. We had to paint our number on the house and keep a bucket of sand or water for putting out incendiary bombs'.
Streetlights were turned off or dimmed and windows and doors shielded with heavy curtains or boards. White stripes were painted on roads, kerbstones and lamp-posts to help prevent accidents. Walking by the dockside after dark became particularly dangerous and warning signs had to be put up after 28 people accidentally fell into the river between September 1939 and January 1940.
Public Shelters Edit
Cities across the UK prepared for attack using a variety of precautions and techniques. Some methods, such as sandbags and barrage balloons, were temporary, while others, such as bomb shelters, made a more-lasting impact on the landscape.
The local council arranged for a number of public shelters to be created around the city, such as railway tunnels, cellars, caves and crypts as well as brick-built shelters for schools. This meant that people would have a place to hide if they were away from home. Shelters were often cold and damp and, sadly, did not always protect the inhabitants. They were often smelly and sometimes locked so people couldn't get inside. Officially domestic shelters were preferred to public shelters but despite this during the winter of 1940-41 thousands of people continued to use tunnels, caves, crypts and basements.
Local people have vivid memories of their experiences. Esme remembers "They used all the church crypts in the city for shelters. The ones in the suburbs smelled awful as some people used them as toilets."
Disused railway tunnels were a popular choice of shelter, with some attracting up to 3000 people each night. Tony recalled "..we got tickets for the shelter at the Clifton Rocks railway but for the bottom only. Some people in Clifton were a bit snobby and they got tickets for the top but we weren't allowed to go up there."
As air-raids started taking place during the day, many schools held lessons inside a shelter. Mark who was a child at the time said "I thought it was great fun in the shelter....They had a particular smell - damp and musty. Whenever I catch a whiff of it I'm straight back there." Elizabeth also recalled "...we continued with lessons as best we could. If there was a lot of noise outside we would have a singing lesson."
Private Shelters Edit
After the Munich crisis in 1938, Britain began to prepare for war. The preparations in Bristol took many forms and for some families included the construction of domestic air-raid shelters. If there was room, many families had shelters constructed for their own use or to share with neighbours. These might be in the form of an Anderson or a Morrison shelter, or by converting a cellar or chimney surround.
Anderson Shelters were designed on behalf of the Home Office. Once approved they were issued free to householders who earned less than £250 a year whilst those on higher incomes were charged £7 but they could only be installed in large gardens. The shelters were supplied in kit form and consisted of panels of galvanised corrugated steel that once bolted together were set into the ground up to a depth of 1.2m. The whole structure was then covered over with a layer of earth 0.4m deep. Betty recalled,
"We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. When the war started we religiously went to it, then we used to make beds in the recesses by the fireplace, then we'd stay in bed and say we'll get up when the bombs start, then we'll get up when we hear the first close one."
Indoor shelters were also needed since there were many households with no cellars that could be used instead. Self-assembly Morrison Shelters were designed to meet the need and distributed free to households with an income of less than £350 a year. They consisted of a steel plate 'table' top with a cage-like construction below. Peter S. remembered,
"We had a Morrison shelter in the living room. It was against the wall but my mother discovered there were spiders in there and as she couldn't move the shelter because of the weight we abandoned it."
Both types of shelter proved effective during raids although Anderson shelters were particularly cold, wet and uncomfortable during the winter.