Reminiscences of the War

Home Guard and Army Cadet Force

The Author in 2007Because he was in a reserved occupation my father was not called up (and I was not evacuated), but very early in the war he joined the Home Guard (Dad's Army). I have photos of him outside the Drill Hall in Ewell, but manoeuvres were carried out on the Brickfield (where Cunliffe Road, Wolsey Close, Alsom Avenue and the shops on the south-west side of the Vale Road roundabout were developed after the war). He also did fire watch duties on the roof of the Odeon cinema in Worcester Park. One night, whilst on the cinema roof he heard church bells, which were to be a signal that the long expected invasion had begun. I imagine that he and his colleague went immediately into Jones's 'don't panic' mode and it was some time before they realised that the bells were on the sound track of the film showing in the auditorium below. Panic over!

At the same time as he was in the Home Guard, my father became an officer in charge of an Army Cadet Force unit which met in Stoneleigh West Central School. He had a good relationship with young people and a few of the cadets thought highly enough of him to stay in touch until he died in 1979.

Shelters and Air Raids

Having already written about shelters at school, mention should be made of the public air raid shelter in the west side of Station Approach which was the headquarters of the Wardens of Post 6 (Click here for WW2 maps). I will now turn to safety precautions taken at home. When my father first joined the Home Guard my mother and I slept and sheltered under an upturned settee which, in reality, I don't think would have provided very much in the way of protection. We then progressed to sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs which, as a child, I quite enjoyed. However, it soon became evident that we could expect more frequent and dangerous air raids, so a brick built semi-underground shelter was erected in our garden and the cost was shared by my father and at least 4 neighbours. During the blitz we slept down there every night, with adults using deckchairs and children sleeping in wooden bunks built round the wall.

WW2 Bomb DamageA great camaraderie built up during those noisy and frightening nights. One late afternoon in September 1940 (I think), we children and our mothers went into the shelter as soon as the air raid warning sounded, which was just as well, because a house immediately opposite suffered a direct hit by a bomb released by a German pilot on his way out of London. In comparison with later bombs it was not very big, but the blast was strong enough to blow our heavy oak front door off its hinges and when we emerged from the shelter, the door was half way up the hall. This was all a terrible shock for our fathers when they returned from their various day jobs in London. One lady was hurt, not seriously, but the damage to property was extensive. As a result 3 houses had to be demolished and these were rebuilt in 1947 to their original designs.

Inevitably, water starting seeping into the brick shelter and it soon became unusable, so we transferred to a Morrison table shelter erected in the bay of the lounge. My parents and I, plus the dog slept in there together for many months and to me it afforded a feeling of complete safety. This served us very well indeed until the end of the war.

V1 (Doddlebug)Stoneleigh had its fair share of bombs, land mines, doodlebugs and rockets, and blacked out windows were for ever being blown out and having to be replaced immediately, because if there was so much as a chink of light showing the following night, an air raid warden would knock on the door to admonish the occupants.

14 March 2006

Patricia has also recorded a few Stoneleigh reminiscences which may be read here.

Morrison shelter

"By the way, did we remember to feed the canary?"

Morrison shelters, officially termed Table (Morrison) Indoor Shelters, were designed by John Baker and named after Herbert Morrison , the Minister of Home Security at the time. It was the result of the realisation that due to the lack of house cellars it was necessary to develop an effective type of indoor shelter. The shelters came in assembly kits, to be bolted together inside the home. They were approximately 6 ft 6 in (2 m) long, 4 ft (1.2 m) wide and 2 ft 6 in (0.75 m) high, had a solid 1/8 in (3 mm) steel plate "table" top, welded wire mesh sides, and a metal lath "mattress"- type floor. Altogether it had 359 parts and had 3 tools supplied with the pack.

One of the first structures to be designed using Baker's theory of plastic structural analysis, it was designed to absorb the impact of debris falling on the top of the shelter. The sides could be removed to permit it being used as a table. 500,000 Morrisons had been distributed by the end of 1941, with a further 100,000 being added in 1943 to prepare the population for the expected German V-1 flying bomb (doodlebug) attacks.

In one examination of 44 severely damaged houses where three people had been killed, 13 seriously injured, and 16 slightly injured out of a total of 136 people who had occupied Morrison shelters, it was found that the fatalities had occurred in a house which had suffered a direct hit. Some of the severely injured were in shelters sited incorrectly within the houses.

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