War in Britain, 1939

Mavis Arnold

September 3rd 1939, Sunday

Today we were in the kitchen, my mother and sister and myself, preparing Sunday lunch; my father was in the garden. The radio was playing when suddenly the chimes of Big Ben rang through the room. My mother stopped, held up her hand for silence, and we heard a voice announce that the Prime Minister was going to speak. Mother ran to the back door, tore it open, and shouted to father, to "come quick, we are at War." Father came rushing in,(without removing his boots), grasped us all three in his arms. By this time mother was crying, and without knowing why, my sister and I were also crying, Father was assuring us that we would be all right.

We then heard the voice of Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, announce, in a very sombre voice, that as from now Great Britain was at war with Germany. It was 11am.

Mother and father clung together, with my sister and I in the middle of the hug.

I am sure that we, my sister and I did not understand what all the fuss was about. I remember thinking that it must be bad to make mother and father cry. I had just had my eighth birthday, and my sister was six.

The Anderson Shelter

Today a gang of men came along our street to build our bomb shelter. They have dug a square hole about six feet square and two feet deep in our garden, this they will be lined with about six inches of concrete. Lying nearby are some sheets of corrugated iron, curved, for the roof over this pit. The men have carefully piled the earth from the hole, because it is going to be used to cover the iron for extra protection. They are working very hard, because we do not know when Hitler will bomb us. I am looking forward to seeing this shelter when it is finished.

Mother is still crying, I do not know why, it looks like fun to me! I already have some books and pencils ready to take with me, my sister has her dolls. It takes Father a few days to complete our shelter, but today he is putting up the door. The roof is on, covered with earth, father says that grass will grow there, we can hide, I think. The inside is concreted, and four bunk beds are in, one for each of us. My sister and I can sleep on the top two, and I have already put some books there to read. There is a ledge all around on top of the concrete, Mother has put in some candles in jam jars, and some matches. There is also a tin with biscuits inside.

On the floor is a bucket with a small tin, this is to ladle out the water which continually fills up the small hole which father has left to act as a drain. Tonight we are going to have a practice! At the bottom of the stairs we place a bag with a flask of tea, and a torch, ready to leave the house. It is dark and we are in bed, wide awake and waiting for mother to call us. When she does we are up in a flash and downstairs, grabbing for our coats, hats and boots as we have been told to do. We go into the garden, shining the torch very carefully, as no lights are allowed to show the Germans where our shelter is. We pull open the door and climb down the three steps inside. We light the candle after the door is shut and climb into the bunks.

This was to be the first of many times we went into that shelter.

Each time after that it was for real. Father joined the Air Raid Wardens, as his eyesight was too poor to join the forces, and each time there was a raid he had to patrol the streets to assist wherever he may be needed. Sometimes we were allowed to watch the shell fire and bombs over Manchester, which we could see from our garden. It was a very exciting fire works display in the sky. Knowing Father was out in the streets, while shells were falling was frightening, but apart from a few near misses, especially walkingdown into incendiary craters because he could not see well, he survived.