SHELTER LIFE IN WARTIME HULL

 

Once we got the Anderson shelter  and it had been covered with coarse concrete, my father ( a joiner ) made steps to get in and out and then , using a 6 or 8 ft section of fencing ( railings ) and sandbags filled with earth ( not sand ) constructed a blast wall to protect the entrance. I helped with this.  We   were later then some people in getting our shelter as my father insisted it be placed not the regulation few feet from the house but at the bottom of the garden. This meant that had we ever needed to use the loosely bricked escape section at the back, we should have pushed the bricks straight onto the glasshouse.

Next day my father made seating / bunks across the back was a slatted wooden structure; on the longer sides were bunks for my father and mother made of very tightly stretched sail cloth on a wooden frame. One of them doubled as seating but my buck was above the other on the other side of the shelter; I had the luxury of woven webbing which was even better then the sail cloth.

My father died in January 1941, after the “phoney war “had ended. There had been some smallish incidents and long hours in the shelter, but at that stage we didn’t make a general practice of sleeping there.

Rumours were rife, spread more easily because people walked so much and had nodding acquaintances would stop and speak during shopping trips, for example this is how we learned that a local ironmonger had a special delivery of small paraffin stoves and remember going to an unfamiliar shop with my mother (I was 11 or 12) and managing to buy the last one.  The shop keeper had us lugging it home, for it was a solid iron thing and we also had to carry some paraffin for it. It provided some heat, but its chief purpose was to boil a kettle for a cup of tea.

Toilet arrangements in the shelter were basic- merely a bucket. After my father died the raids became more frequent and intense and as my mother was quite fearful we soon got into the habit of sleeping in the shelter on a regular basis.  On winter nights it meant that I came home from school, had tea and then straight into the shelter until morning, and remembering the severity of some those war time winters, I wonder we lived to tell the tale.

Our lights was by candles and I often did my homework in the shelter by their light two quite enough  as their smell became quite obnoxious in the close space, mostly we used one candle only, but we did manage to buy a little Kelly lamp which burned paraffin. This lamp had a heavy curved base so that should it be knocked over it would right itself. The oil container was lass then the size of a tiny tin of Beans ( as we get them nowadays )  and its little shade only an inch or two across , so it didn’t give much light. It was safe to leave on all night, however, instead of a candle.

The shelters greatest drawback was condensation, by morning the corrugated metal was running wet and so when ever the weather was suitable the door was left open during the day.

We had a heap of “shelter stuff “, the bedding that we took in each night and brought out to be aired each morning.

 

 I was very fortunate in that a friend who was a Christian scientist had received comforts from America through their organisation and from one consignment gave me a khaki sleeping bag which was quilted with kapok inside, up on my top buck in the sleeping bag with an old eiderdown on top (and wearing quite a lot of clothing on the coldest night) I slept very well indeed, even through part of some of the air raids. During the winter we always kept a shovel handy in case we had to make a path back at the house through the snow.  There were nights when my mother,” thinking of her comfortable feather bad upstairs would say “I don’t thing he will come tonight “, but still we went into the shelter. Thinking about it I imagine that a town in blackout but covered with deep snow, would reveal itself more easily from over head, then when there was no snow. Certainly there were winter raids.

By summer the honeysuckle planted by my father partly to cover the shelter bloomed profusely and it scent and the birdsong of a summer morning form one of my best   memories of the war.

I took my matric at the age of 14 in 1942 and remember, the night before the English Language Exam, sketching out an essay. As I opened the exam paper the next day one of the essay titles was “a summer morning “. I couldn’t wait to finish the rest of the paper and start writing my prepared essay. Eng. Lang. was my highest mark in that exam.

We continued sleeping in the shelter until the latter part of the war, we never went out at night, as it was we had no wireless and money was in short supply.

After the first major blitz of May 1942, neighbours came to see if we were ok and one of them said “ bring Mary out to see the fires “  and we walk to the end of our row of houses and looked towards the town.

The sky was red you could hear and smell the fires even though we were over 2 miles from the city centre, (pilots in the R.A.F.  returning from raids , said they could see Hull burning as they crossed the Danish coast , we lived in east Hull and the aspect was sufficiently open then to see the top of the big grain silo on one of the docks from a bedroom window , so we were not all that far from the Luftwaffe’s main targets.

The next night, having made then selves a flare path the Luftwaffe came with high explosives. It was glorious May weather and before we settled for the night we watched hundreds of people trekking out into the countryside carrying bundles, some walking, some on bikes, some in lorries, provided by the chief air raid warden Mr R. G. Tarran, just as later we saw lines of refugees across Europe in the cinema newsreels. Hulls refugees did’ it go far, perhaps two or three miles further out from were we lived. For the weather was warm, slept in fields and ditches, many two came back next day to a heap of rubble where there homes had been.

Our house did not sustain any major damage, but in the first raid of the war ( as I recall it ) some small H E. bombs partly demobbed  two semi detached houses further down the lane, it was an evening raid my father was still alive , so it must have been 1940 , we came back into the house to find that two budgies had been blown out of the cage and was sitting in the heath rug in front of a nice warm fire, we lost some windows but at that time there was no great pressure in the war.

Damage repair gangs and so we had them replaced fairly quickly.

In bigger raids we lost windows again and ceilings were badly cracked , repairs were far slower by then and I seem to remember that the two top windows of the front room bay were boarded up for a very long time. Replacement glass in the living room was not clear, but had a slight frosting; I don’t think the ceilings were replaced until the end of the war.

Altogether we were very fortunate , about the end of 1943 the beginning of “1944 “ a cousin of mine came to ask if he could lodge with us as he been bombed out of his West Hull digs.

He was a policeman on the eastern docks and so staying with us would be convenient for him my mother agreed and he stayed with us for a year or more, but slept in bed in the house as he very rarely coming to the shelter, he had seen plenty of action on the docks on night duty, and his unafraid presence on our house together with an lasting of number of Alerts. Relaxed my mother quite a bit also during the better weather of 1944, we returned to sleeping in our beds, there really was good weather and so my cousin was up very early some morning to go on a 6-2pm shift. My mother asked him to wake her about 5-30am as she was going to wash the blankets etc.

That day early on, Herbert called my mother didn’t get up immediately, but soon roused when he called again, “GET UP they are dropping flares “  I got dressed and went downstairs and made for the back door and the shelter.

My cousin holds us back, for there was an ominous sound outside and we stayed in the gas cupboard under the stairs, (which had been our shelter before we had the Anderson – what a daft place?  ).

Until he called again we were in the shelter before the explosion, but that was one of the very few times that the doodlebugs reached Hull and it travelled to the western outskirts before it went off.

Ohsue was a rule at school that if the sirens went between 10pm – 6am then we should go to school an hour later then usual.

After a series of very disturbed nights we woke up in the morning not sure if there had been an alert or not. I went to school for 10am to find my class in the middle of an art lesson; I got soundly ribbed for my mistake, but only a laugh from the teacher. Sometimes along my way to school the remains of small incendiaries that had been smothered with a sandbag, often an Ack- Ack Anti aircraft shells, some of the jogged pieces were as much as 5 to 6 inches long, we took some shrapnel to school or other collecting   pants, probably it was recycled.

The local air raid siren was on the roof of my school, physics lab, it sounded for two mins and the whole school would be in the shelter before it stopped, no mean feet at the shelters were quite a distance away and there were stairs to negotiate as well. We had long breach shelters equipped with crudely made wooded seats, the shelters sometime acted as wind tunnels as they had that many daylight alerts and hardly any actual raids during school hours. We sang popular songs and I was thus able to learn them, as without a wireless, very few visits to the pictures I had no other source.

A stick of small H.E.s fell across me at the playing fields during the night raid; all pupils were instructed to bring a paper bag to the next games lesson. We walked across the field in line like policeman looking for clues and collected every loose bump of the day we could find.

We then took them to the craters and once they were filled, the sixth form boys manned the big roller and within days the field was level again.

Late in the war the Germans dropped anti personnel bombs which looked like common objects, a Fountain pen was seen outside the school gates and I heard that someone was standing guard over it until the bomb disposal squad arrived. a few pupils stood round waiting for what would happen when a girl darted forward and picked up the pen saying “ that’s my pen I lost it  this morning “ . It was too this may be an apocryphal story in the pest but there were many such, they broke the dreadful drabness and monotony which is what I chiefly remember of the war.

We had to make our own entertainment, we read, we sang songs, we played guessing and board games.

People with more money had more freedom both to go out and also to buy what goods and food that were available, to me in a way the war was seven long years.

 
 
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