Shops, public buildings and some monumentssuddenly became hidden behind hordes of man made sandbags. This was oneof the first precautions that was undertaken in protecting buildings fromthe perils of a bomb blast. Many shopkeepers placed sandbags across theirstreet frontages, and also took steps to strengthen their basements, sothat in the event of an air raid customers would feel secure. It paid dividendsto the shopkeeper too, because shoppers gave preference to shops that hadthe necessary precautions, and many thought it a wonderful gesture on behalfof the shopkeeper. If there was an air raid, then customers would feelfar more secure in a shop that had precautions than being caught out ina shop that had none at all.
In some of the larger stores, especiallythose in such places as Piccadilly, Regent Street, Oxford Street and HighHolborn they converted underground store rooms into large air raid shelters,and even employed their own air raid wardens and security personnel. Storessuch as Selfridges and C & A's which normally had long glass frontwindow displays were completely boarded up with timber panels and sandbags.
Sand and soil was brought in from variousplaces in and around London, and one of the most popular excavation siteswas on Hampstead Heath, where large channels were dug by cranes and mechanicalexcavators. Other places that were a source of supply were the many sportsgrounds and parks and once sand and soil were excavated it was taken bylorry to various points around the city and men, women and even childrenvolunteered to undertake the filling.
But the sandbags would only give protection to the lower floors,the upper floors, because of their height, could only havetheir windows boarded up and taped to avoid any splinters of glass fromentering the wards should a blast penetrate the windows. any splintersof glass from entering the wards should a blast penetrate the windows.
THE ANDERSON SHELTER
With such a vast population, London hadto have some form of shelter for its inhabitants. The building of communalshelters in various parts of the city was an action decided against becauseshould such a shelter receive a direct hit, then a greater number of peoplewould be killed than if there were a form of shelter that could be usedfor individual use. A number of communal brick and steel mesh shelterswere constructed, and these were placed in various streets throughout thecity as seen in the photo in the title. They were long, generally had entrances/exitsat both ends, were about thirty to forty feet long and could accommodateup to a hundred people, although uncomfortably. Most of them were damp,cold and miserable, they had no windows and even the outside daylight wasdiffused because a security wall separated the entrance from the shelter.
It was the Home Secretary Sir John Andersonwho devised a plan that a simple shelter could be constructed with theuse of six curved corrugated steel panels with five flat corrugated panelsand that they could be assembled easily by the home handyman and that theycould be installed in the backyard of any home. First, a shallow squarehole had to be dug in the ground of the backyard, this usually measuredabout ten feet by four feet. Then you erected the six sides bolting themtogether, the curved ends formed the roof of the shelter. Then the rearsection was put into place followed by the front in similar fashion exceptthat provision was made for an entrance. Many families placed a raisedflooring system inside so that any water or seepage that got in would bebelow the floor. Usually two beds were placed on either side, these maybe single or bunk beds depending on the number of children the family had,if any. A small table was generally placed between the beds and small cupboardsand bookcases or bookshelves were close to the entryway. There was no hardand fast way in which the interior had to be designed, this was generallyup to each individual. But you had to take into consideration that beingas you was possibly going to spend just about every night down in the shelter,you had to somehow stock up with non-perishable foodstuffs, a canisterof water, and if you had children there was always a supply of boxed games,books and other things to help pass the time.
It was recommended by the authorities thatfamilies do not construct toilets in the shelters because of health reasons,but there were not too many shelters that did not have a bucket or a potat the end of the bed for emergencies. The entrance was normally just apiece of sackcloth, although some handymen managed to make opening doorsto their wartime abode.
Some exteriors of these shelters alsocame in for a variety of designs. Many covered the top of the shelter withearth and made small gardens above the shelter where they grew a few vegetables,some were satisfied with just flower beds, while others just painted them.
By September 1939, nearly one and a halfmillion Anderson shelters had been distributed without cost to familieswhose income was less than £250 per year, and they could be erectedby either the home owner or the local council. When first erected, theybecame the pride of many families. High mounds of earth covered the shelterand all over the top was a brilliant display of colourful flowers, whilethe inside of the shelter was used to do some of the usual gardening choressuch as repotting and nursing new seedlings. When the bombing started andfamilies had to use the shelters for the purpose for which they were designed,they took an instant dislike to having to spend all night confined in asmall place with very little air circulation, often damp and waterloggedunderfoot. Quite often mum and dad took the wise precaution of sandbaggingone of the rooms in the house and took the chance on being bombed ratherthan catch pneumonia, and the Anderson shelter was left to the daughterand her boyfriend for a little privacy.
ran on there was this centre rail that was a live rail that suppliedelectricity to the trains. If anybody fell onto this rail they would beelectrocuted, should they also place part of their body on one of the otherrails which would earth them.
The government also thought about the possibilityof a station receiving a direct hit. London was full of gas and water mains,and should any of these be ruptured, then there would be the possibilityof a catastrophe hundreds of feet below the surface where thousands maybe either gassed or drowned.
But what the government was afraid of,happened during a dreadful raid on the city. Balham station in the southof London was almost to capacity when the station received a direct hit.Another bomb fell on a row of shops above the station and as it explodedthe shops fell into the area were the stations underground booking officewas. The water mains were ruptured as well as the sewer mains, and gallonsof water and raw sewerage poured into the station gushing down escalatorstairways, down tunneled walkways until finally pouring out onto the stationplatforms where thousand were camped for the night. In all there were 600casualties that night, the worst underground disaster so far. In anotherdirect hit, Bank underground station in the city proper was another sceneof utter devastation, over 100 people died that night.
But still the people thronged to the Underground,to many it became an institution. They would leave home at mid afternoonknowing that full well that "Jerry" would be back again that night. Theycame with rolls of blankets, pillows and cartons of sandwiches and drinkthat would see them through the night. They would queue outside the stationuntil they were let in and it was almost like the January sales as theypushed and shoved their way down towards the platforms to find a few squarefeet of space that they would declare as their own for the next twelvehours.
But it was not always the underground stationsthat became the night time hub of sheltering people. Near many of the marshallingyards near to London, and especially in the east end, there were smalltunnels and long underground bridges that, although they were being usedby rail traffic during the day, at night they became home to thousandswho wanted security over their heads.
Whichever way you lookat it, the underground was to most people a way of life, a ritual, andsomething that they became accustomed to during the nights of continuousbombing of London. Later, and during the night when some of the trainshad stopped, many bands came down into the stations and turned undergroundstations into music halls with music, songs and entertainment. What a wayto enjoy the war. While other just listened to the radio.
The Battle of Britain - 1940website © Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007