Of course everyone round us had Anderson shelters. Dad installed ours. Four feet underground and two feet above, then covered with soil. Mam grew vegetables on it. Cabbage and lettuce and beetroot and all sorts. Digging for victory, she called it. Dad called it our camouflage system.
At first we didn’t need it, but then the air raids started and we were often down there. Mam would wake me and Johnny up, all in a bit of a panic with the siren going in the background, rushing us into our dressing gowns – or coats in winter. The siren seemed to induce panic, wailing away like a banshee. Or it did in our house. We were half asleep and usually a bit dopey. I remember Mam once shouting at Johnny to bend his arms so she could get his dressing gown on, then giving up, picking him up and carting us downstairs and out to the shelter. Then she found she’d been trying to put the dressing gown on back to front or upside down or something.
Dad had the most difficult job – trying to persuade Gran to come to the shelter. She always wanted to stay inside under the table.
“I’m not going outside,” she’d say. “Soon as I poke me head out, them jerries’ll drop a bomb on me. If I’m under the table they won’t see me.”
If she’d ever stayed, I think Dad would have stayed with her. But he always managed to persuade her by pretending she’d be left by herself. I liked to watch her coming to the shelter, if I got the chance, as she ran in a funny way, with her legs all over the place. It was the only time she ever ran. And she used to shout, “Get me if you can, Adolf.” Made me and Johnny laugh, but Mam wasn’t amused. She was worried what the neighbours would think.
It was a real tight squeeze with five of us, but quite cosy with blankets and all sorts. Dad had solved the damp problems that a lot had. Some had inches of water on the floor.
We were a long way from the industrial area, and it was rare that a bomb dropped anywhere near. So it was ironic that the one time our street got a bomb it very nearly did for Gran. They said it was probably a damaged plane heading for home and jettisoning its bombs. The siren had gone off very late. Dad said he heard the aircraft before it sounded. And then it had taken ages to get Gran out from under the table. So they were still on their way to the shelter when one bomb landed in the road a little way off. It was too far to be a real danger, but a piece of shrapnel at its last gasp hit Gran’s handbag and scratched it quite badly. For the rest of her life she kept the bag and the shrapnel, ready to tell anyone who would listen the tale of “The day Hitler tried to kill me”.
By John Emms