Morrison shelter for protection in WW2 air raids
A Morrison shelter was the reinforced, cage-like WW2 bomb shelters of choice for small families wanting to shelter inside their own homes. This page considers their appearance, installation, use as beds and tables and the ensuing claustrophobia and excessive heat.
At the start of the WW2 war the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison was responsible for air raid precautions. One of his team brought forward a design for a bomb shelter for use inside buildings, which became known as the Morrison bomb shelter. As the following pictures show, it looked somewhat like a table. Only the single size seem to have survived in museums, but there were double sized ones.
About half a million Morrison shelters were produced. They arrived as kits with erection instructions for the householder.
The alternative shelter with space for six or more people was known as the Anderson shelter and was the most widely used for larger families, but they had to have gardens large enough to house it. For other shelters capable of protecting larger numbers of people see the above menu. See also blitz recollections and my own family's story of their house destroyed in the blitz.
Advantages and disadvantages of Morrison bomb shelters
Morrison shelters had the appealing advantage that they were for indoors in the warm and dry, and they were the quickest to get to when the air raid warning sounded. However, they took up a lot of space in a room and made the room look untidy, even though they usually doubled as tables in daytime. Air raids mainly took place at night under the cover of darkness.
So people with large families tended to choose an outside Anderson shelter for air raid protection, rather than having to have more than one Morrison shelter indoors.
Morrison shelters were relatively quick to get to when there was an air raid, and they were also warmer than Anderson shelters because they were indoors. Many a time I slept in one.
The location of a Morrison shelter
These shelters were always downstairs, because the lower floor was stronger than the upper ones. If the house collapsed, the shelter wouldn't fall with it and would be better able to stand the shock.
My parents had a double Morrison shelter in our sitting room, i.e. the front downstairs room of our house. Only much later did I learn that it was called a Morrison shelter, as my mother just called it 'the shelter'.
Appearance of a Morrison shelter
As I was born in 1939, I was too small to see over the top of our Morrison shelter, and to me it was like a four poster bed with no legs, resting on the floor in a cage. I didn't notice anything else about its construction at the time, but it is well-described below in the section on installation.
The tops of the shelters were used as tables, but by the time I was big enough to see over the top of one, the war was over and our downstairs front room had returned to normal.
Our Morrison shelter gave us a great surface for playing ping pong on.
Inside a Morrison shelter
Our shelter had to sleep me, my mother and my grandmother. My father of course was in the forces, so wasn't there. It was a tight fit, even though it was officially a double version.
The shelter contained a large mattress of sorts, sheets, blankets and pillows - all used for sleeping during the night-time air-raids.
During the latter years of the war, I was still up in the early evenings, and with my young ears, I often heard the wail of a distant siren before my mother did. I always told her because it was fun to go into the shelter. It must have been awful for her, though, tired out at the end of a long day, having to organise her mother and me, and of course losing sleep in the process.
Claustrophobia and excessive heat
It was cramped and claustrophobic in the shelter with the four of us lying close together with barely room to turn over. It made body heat a problem too. However families who had the outdoor Anderson shelters were cold and damp. At least we were indoors and dry, even if we were over heated!
Installation of a Morrison shelter
My father set up our Morrison shelter in our dining room. He first erected the steel girder framework and then bolted down a huge sheet of discoloured steel as the 'lid'. The frame was surrounded by wire mesh, held in place with sprung hooks on each corner.
The dash to the shelter when the siren announced an air raid
Then she would try to get her own mother who was living with us. That took time and effort. My mother would be screaming at her to come on and she would announce ponderously, "All right, all right, I'm coming". She was old, widowed and fed up with life, and I realise now that she probably didn't care very much whether a bomb hit us or not.