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Custom-built public air raid shelters
in 1940s war-time Britain

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This group of pages, which is about purpose-built Second World War public air-raid shelters, owes much to individuals a few years older than me who remembered experiencing them. As I was born three months before the war, my own recollections are limited to Anderson shelters and Morrison shelters, both for families, and school shelters.

What astounds me now is the manpower and resources that must have gone into building so many public shelters.

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Sites for public air raid shelters

Many thousands of public air-raid shelters were built for use on a communal basis. They were sited on waste land, in parks and in the middle of wide public roads. They were not bomb-proof and many people were killed in direct hits. However they did offer protection from bomb blast - and more people died from bomb blast than direct hits.

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Identification of public air raid shelters

Shelter here sign: enamel placard denoting a WW2 public air raid shelter: white S on a black background

A 'shelter here' sign - an enamel placard denoting a public air raid shelter, photographed in Swansea Bay 1940s Museum.

Public shelters were all marked with a large black sign some 4 feet by 2 feet painted matt black with a large white S so that they could show up in the blackout.

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Types of public air raid shelter

One type of shelter was the above ground type built of ordinary house bricks. These were long rectangular structures with a concrete roof, and inside were rows of wooden bunk beds, some four beds in height. All had flat metal strips that acted as springs. I cannot remember any form of heating in the winter apart from the body heat we all generated.

The second type of shelter that I remember was the underground type which was usually built in open country and parks. The ones we used in Jubilee Park, Edmonton were very large concrete tubes that had been placed in vast trenches cut into the ground and then covered over, leaving just a slight bump in on the surface. We entered by going down some steps and through a thick metal door. There were bunk beds and ventilation was by tubes like periscopes sticking above the surface.

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Unintended uses for public air raid shelters

Public shelters were necessarily always open to the public whether there was an air raid or not, and they were out of wind and rain. I am told that this made them ideal venue for courting couples.

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Public air raid shelters after the war ended

Within a couple of years of the war ending the brick shelters were knocked down, often by German prisoners of war. The ones underground were filled in and covered over.

Peter Johnson

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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