Anderson Shelters

Anderson Shelters

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In 1939 Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary and the Minister of Home Security, commissioned the engineer, William Patterson, to design a small and cheap shelter that could be erected in people's gardens. (1) Within a few months nearly one and a half million of these Anderson Shelters were distributed to people living in areas expected to be bombed by the Luftwaffe. Anderson shelters were given free to poor people. Men who earned more than £5 a week could buy one for £7. The main problem was that under a quarter of the public had no gardens. Made from six curved sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end, and measuring 6ft 6in by 4ft 6in (1.95m by 1.35m) the shelter could accommodate six people. These shelters were half buried in the ground with earth heaped on top. The entrance was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall. (2)

People who did not like going into their Anderson shelters. "We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. You were supposed to go into your Anderson shelter every night. I used to take my knitting. I used to knit all night. I was too frightened to go to sleep. You got into the habit of not sleeping. I've never slept properly since. It was just a bunk bed. I did not bother to get undressed. It was cold and damp in the shelter. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army. You would go nights and nights and nothing happened." (3)

Some people adapted their Anderson shelters to give them extra protection: "I think that a dugout is fairly safe if the people inside are a foot or two below the general surface of the ground. A bomb would have to fall right on it to make sure of killing the occupants. But so many of the Andersons I have seen in London are practically on the surface with the soil piled round them and very little on top: not enough to stop a bullet. Our Anderson is in a bank of clay and the top of it is several feet below the high ground at the back. (4)

Barbara Castle claimed that the Anderson Shelters did not provide enough protection: "What we also lacked was an adequate shelter policy, and I had been agitating together with our left-wing group on the Council for the deep shelters which Professor J. B. S. Haldane had been advocating. Haldane, a communist sympathizer and eminent scientist, had studied at first hand the effects of air raids on the civilian population during the Spanish Civil War and had reached conclusions on the best way to protect them, which he had embodied in a book ARP published in 1938.... In 1939 Sir John Anderson, dismissing deep shelters as impractical, insisted that blast and splinter-proof protection was all that was needed and promised a vast extension of the steel shelters which took his name. These consisted of enlarged holes in the ground covered by a vault of thin steel. They had, of course, no lighting, no heating and no lavatories. People had to survive a winter night's bombardment in them as best they could." (5)

A census held in November 1940 discovered that the majority of people in London did not use specially created shelters. The survey revealed that of those interviewed, 27 per cent used Anderson shelters, 9 per cent slept in public shelters whereas 4 per cent used underground railway stations (4 per cent). The rest of those interviewed were either on duty at night or slept in their own homes. Kingsley Martin, like many people, never used his Anderson shelter, and preferred sleeping in his own bed. (6)

Herbert Morrison was appointed Home Secretary in October 1940. His first action was to appoint Ellen Wilkinson, as the person responsible for air raid shelters. Morrison wrote about the problem in his autobiography: "There was also much argument about the advantages and defects of indoor versus outdoor shelters. The outdoor Anderson shelter was very good and provided almost complete safety except from a direct hit. However, the fact that it would have to be sunk into the ground meant that in many urban areas it could not be put up because of the lack of any garden and in other districts the shelter was liable to flood during the winter months. The wide desire for an indoor shelter which provided some degree of comfort and also assisted people to get a night's rest in warmth and dryness did not take into account the fact that there was some fire risk involved. I decided that the risk was worth taking." (7)

The Morrison Shelter was introduced in March 1941. This, like the Anderson, was a family shelter, free for most people, but it could be erected indoors. It was made of very heavy steel and could be put in the living room and used as a table. It had sides of wire mesh that could be lifted up for people to crawl underneath and get inside. Morrison shelters were fairly large and provided sleeping space for two or three people. Over half a million of these shelters were distributed by November 1941. (8)

First of all we had an Anderson shelter in the garden. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army.

You would go nights and nights and nothing happened. On one occasion when my husband was on leave, I think it was a weekend, we decided we would spend the night in bed instead of in the shelter. I heard the noise and woke up and I could see the sky. They had dropped a basket of incendiary bombs and we had got the lot. Luckily not one went off. Next morning the bombs were standing up in the garden as if they had grown in the night.

Rosie, my mum's sister, had to go to hospital to have a baby. Her mother-in-law looked after her three-year-old son. There was a bombing raid and Rosie's son and mother-in-law rushed to Bethnal Green underground station. Going down the stairs somebody fell. People panicked and Rosie's son was trampled to death.

If you were out and a bombing raid took place you would make for the nearest shelter. The tube stations were considered to be very safe. I did not like using them myself. The stench was unbearable. The smell was so bad I don’t know how people did not die from suffocation. So many bodies and no fresh air coming in. People would go to the tube stations long before it got dark because they wanted to make sure that they reserved their space. There were a lot of arguments amongst people over that.

We did not have an Anderson shelter so we used to hide under the stairs. You felt the next bang would be your lot and it was very frightening. My grandmother was a very religious person and when she was with us during the bombing raids she would gabble away saying her prayers. Strangely enough, when I was with her, I always felt safe.

When air raids are threatened, warning will be given in towns by sirens, or hooters which will be sounded in some places by short blasts and in others by a warbling note, changing every few seconds. The warnings may be given by the police or air-raid wardens blowing short blasts on whistles.

When you hear the warning take cover at once. Remember that most of the injuries in an air raid are caused not by direct hits by bombs but by flying fragments of debris or by bits of shells. Stay under cover until you hear the sirens sounding continuously for two minutes on the same note which is the signal "Raiders Passed".

We had always slept in our beds during the earlier raids and later we were never bothered by the lethal danger of V-2s. If one dropped near you, you would never know and so it wasn't worth bothering about, but buzz-bombs, with a lateral blast, were a confounded nuisance because it was your own fault if you, or your friends near you, were cut to bits by flying splinters of glass. If you were sensible, you led the way to a shelter. Night after night we would both go to bed, and then be woken by a familiar noise in the sky. I preferred the nights I spent fire-watching. The bomb would cut out and I would turn over in bed and mutter, when I heard the bang, 'Oh, that's Mrs Smith and not us', but after two or three times I would realize my folly, get up and find Dorothy, also in two minds, sitting on her bed near a window. We would dress and go down to a shelter, which we shared with Olga Katzin, and wait for the morning.

In the day I would work in the kneehole under my desk to avoid the danger of shattered glass from the windows. I remember that children in one of the great hospitals had their faces so penetrated by glass splinters that the doctors questioned whether their lives would be worth saving. Glass, unlike metal, will not respond to magnets and there was no alternative but to cut away their faces.

What we also lacked was an adequate shelter policy, and I had been agitating together with our left-wing group on the Council for the deep shelters which Professor J. Haldane, a communist sympathizer and eminent scientist, had studied at first hand the effects of air raids on the civilian population during the Spanish Civil War and had reached conclusions on the best way to protect them, which he had embodied in a book ARP published in 1938. In it he argued that high explosive, not gas, would be the main threat. He pointed out that modern high explosives often had a delayed-action fuse and might penetrate several floors of a building before bursting and that therefore basements could be the worst place to shelter in. He stressed the deep psychological need of humans caught in bombardment to go underground and urged the building of a network of deep tunnels under London to meet this need and give real protection.

The government did not want to know. People had to survive a winter night's bombardment in them as best they could. In fact, when the Blitz came, the people of London created their own deep shelters: the London Underground. Night after night, just before the sirens sounded, thousands trooped down in orderly fashion into the nearest Underground station, taking their bedding with them, flasks of hot tea, snacks, radios, packs of cards and magazines. People soon got their regular places and set up little troglodyte communities where they could relax. I joined them one night to see what it was like. It was not a way of life I wanted for myself but I could see what an important safety-valve it was. Without it, London life could not have carried on in the way it did.

There was also much argument about the advantages and defects of indoor versus outdoor shelters. However, the fact that it would have to be sunk into the ground meant that in many urban areas it could not be put up because of the lack of any garden and in other districts the shelter was liable to flood during the winter months.

The wide desire for an indoor shelter which provided some degree of comfort and also assisted people to get a night's rest in warmth and dryness did not take into account the fact that there was some fire risk involved. I decided that the risk was worth taking. Experience proved me justified. Next the experts began to argue about the best design.

The experts - engineers and scientists - would have argued for weeks. However, I told them that I intended to lock them up in a room until they agreed, promising to arrange to send food into them. I reported to Churchill that I had taken this attitude and he was delighted, saying that he would back me to the limit. The experts had their designs agreed upon and completed within twenty-four hours. So was born what became known as the Morrison table shelter.

(1) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 556

(2) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) pages 179-180

(3) Muriel Simkin, Voices from the Past: The Blitz (1987) page 6

(4) Herbert Bush, Mass Observation Archive (5th October, 1942)

(5) Barbara Castle, Fighting All The Way (1993) pages 89-90

(6) Kingsley Martin, Editor (1968) page 305

(7) Herbert Morrison, An Autobiography (1960) page 186

(8) Angus Calder, The People's War: Britain 1939-45 (1969) page 187

Air Raid Shelters: A short history of British air-raid shelters WW1 and WW2

Alongside St Paul’s Cathedral, Winston Churchill, evacuees, and gas masks, civilian air-raid shelters are amongst the most familiar images of the Second World War in Britain. In the art and literature of the Home Front, the air-raid shelter and its inhabitants – frightened, dazed, defiant – feature prominently. Bill Brandt’s photographs of Londoners crowded on the platforms of underground stations are echoed in Henry Moore’s sketches and the novels of Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, and others.

The Anderson shelter and the crowded underground-station platform are icons of British Civil Defence. But those images of shelters and shelterers represent a thread connecting civilians caught up in conflicts across time and space from First World War London to Civil War Barcelona, Second World War Tokyo and Hamburg, and on to Hanoi, Beirut, Baghdad, and Gaza.

The First World War

The first bombs fell from an aircraft in 1911, when the Italian military bombarded Ottoman troops in Libya with hand grenades during the Italian-Turkish war of 1911-1912. Four years’ later, the Zeppelins of the German Army and Navy were targeting British cities with bombs weighing up to half a ton.

At the outbreak of the First World War, virtually all combatant nations possessed military aircraft. By the armistice four years later, a distinctive category of bomber aircraft had emerged, including the Russian Ilya Murometz, the Italian Caproni, the French Breguet 14, the German Gotha and Giant, and the British Handley-Page. By the end of the war, bombs had fallen on Antwerp, London, Felixstowe, Ludwigshafen, Constantinople, and many other European cities.

The British public’s very reasonable response to the growing number and severity of air raids from 1915 onwards was to take shelter. The scientist J B S Haldane reported that in London as many as 300,000 went into underground stations, while another 500,000 slept in cellars and basements. Railway viaducts such as the Tilbury Arches in Stepney were also popular refuges, although the protection offered is doubtful. In Ramsgate, caves and tunnels in the chalk cliffs were employed as shelters for several thousand people. All such shelters would be reused in the Second World War.

The oldest surviving air-raid shelter in Britain is a little grey garage behind a house in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. After Zeppelin attacks killed a number of residents and soldiers in April 1916, Joseph Forrester, a chemist and local councillor, constructed a reinforced concrete air-raid shelter with walls half a metre thick. The structure is 4m wide and 5m deep, and consists of a single room with two entrance lobbies. At some point, it was turned into a garage, and as such it survives as a strikingly modern-looking remnant of the first strategic bombing campaign in history.

Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War

It was in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 that the spectre of bombing in Europe grew from a fear into a real threat. The bombing of Guernica and other towns by the German air force raised the possibility of total urban destruction. Italian raids on Barcelona saw a modern, cosmopolitan European city come under attack for the first time since 1918. It was also in Barcelona that the first purpose-built deep bomb-proof shelters were constructed for use by the civilian population.

Following the Fascist military coup and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, Barcelona become one of the main strongholds of the Republican Government. When the army garrison attempted to impose military rule, it was defeated in combat by the local anarchist militias. From late 1937, Barcelona functioned as the Republican capital.

The city was bombed heavily during the war, beginning with bombardment from the sea by an Italian cruiser in February 1937. A total of 194 bombing attacks were made on Barcelona, the majority by the Italian air force from its base in Majorca. Around 1,500 buildings were destroyed and 2,500 people killed.

In response, in 1936, the Government of Barcelona formed the Anti-Aircraft Passive Defence Department to coordinate the provision of air-raid protection. Shelter building began immediately, with the aim of cutting 25 tunnel shelters into the bedrock. Following the first bombings, a booklet was produced with instructions for building your own shelter, and various community groups and residents’ associations began to dig shelters around the city. In addition to the 30 shelters eventually built by the city authorities, more than 1,300 shelters of assorted sizes and shapes were built by the general population.

These shelters were cut into the soft sandstone bedrock beneath city squares, empty lots, or under streets. Most were built as networks of tunnels with arched roofs lined with elaborate brickwork, in the local Catalan style. The shelters were fitted with benches, and most had toilets, a dispensary, and electric lighting run off the mains or rechargeable batteries.

Use of the shelters was not universally popular. Some found them unpleasant or claustrophobic, and there were widespread doubts as to their effectiveness. Through 1938, the numbers using the shelters fell.

Because of the wide range of building methods, many of the shelters were not fully bomb-proof, and the introduction of new aircraft and larger bombs by the Italian and German air forces increased the danger.

The bombing continued until Barcelona fell to the Fascists in January 1939. Following the occupation, many air-raid shelters were enlarged and reinforced, as Fascist leader Franco feared that the Second World War might spread into Spain. In the event, this did not happen, and the air-raid shelters of Barcelona were sealed up and forgotten or turned to other uses.

The lessons of Spain

The civil defence of Barcelona was watched keenly across Europe. The scientist J B S Haldane visited Barcelona a number of times during the Civil War and observed the construction of shelters in the city. His book ARP, published by the Left Book Club in 1938, attempted to bring the lessons of Barcelona to the attention of the British public and politicians. Haldane describes a visit to a shelter under construction in Barcelona:

There were four entrances which led down by ramps with a few steps to the tunnels. The ramps twisted repeatedly, until a depth of about 55 feet below the ground was reached. Here began a labyrinth of passages about 7 feet high by 4 feet broad. They were cut in the very tough soil of the district, and had no lining, and I think no supports such as pit props. They were, however, being lined with tiles with a cement backing so at to give a semicircular arch and vertical walls.

Haldane noted the low cost of the shelters and the use of volunteer labour in their construction. He also described other shelters in the city, including an experimental model using two concrete roofs separated by an air space to absorb blast.

A number of British civil engineers travelled to Spain to study the effects of bombing on cities. Francis Skinner worked with Haldane on the brick-lined tunnels described above, while Cyril Helsby visited Barcelona on a trip sponsored by the Labour Party. His study of bomb damage on residential buildings in Barcelona includes a number of detailed plans of surface shelters and shallow, semi-sunken shelters.

Like Haldane, Helsby returned to Britain with a great admiration for the level of protection provided by the Barcelona shelters, especially compared to the meagre British provision at the time. Helsby’s research was presented to the Institution of Structural Engineers, and was debated by a number of prominent scientists and politicians, many of whom were persuaded of the need to become ‘Barcelona-minded’.

Helsby’s work influenced the Labour Party, but, like Haldane’s work and also reports by distinguished engineers such as Ove Arup, it was rejected by the official Hailey Report on air-raid protection. By the outbreak of the Second World War, many of the hard-earned lessons of Barcelona were being acted on in Britain – but not all.

The Second World War

The most common and well-known British air-raid shelter of the Second World War is the Anderson shelter. By the start of 1939, more than a million of these part-sunken shelters, named after the politician responsible for ARP, had been installed in private gardens. Built of curved sheets of steel, they held four to six people each, and were given free to low-income families. By the time the Blitz began in earnest, more than 2.25 million families had Anderson shelters in their gardens.

The Andersons, however, were cold, damp, and frequently flooded. Many people preferred the communal shelters that began to be built in parks, on pavements, and at other open public spaces. The result was a great variety of forms, capacities, locations, and levels of protection. Broadly, four main types can be identified: surface, semi-sunken, sunken, and deep.

Surface shelters

Surface shelters were often simply long brick-and-concrete structures built on pavements or beside buildings. They had one or two entrances, and offered shelter from collapsing buildings and shrapnel. Some could hold several hundred people in varying levels of comfort. They were not particularly blast-proof, however, as many models were badly constructed, often using sub-standard mortar, and were liable to collapse. Other surface shelters were constructed from prefabricated reinforced-concrete units, and a few more bunker-like ones were cast in situ using shuttering.

The Civil Defence Act 1939 declared that: ‘To lessen the number of casualties from a direct hit, the unit size of shelters should preferably be limited to parties of not more than 50 persons’. From then on, this became the common size for surface and semi-sunken air-raid shelters in schools, businesses, and public areas. Most were formed from pre-cast concrete panels or segments, and could be built to a number of sizes and specifications.

Semi-sunken shelters

Semi-sunken shelters such as the Anderson used shallow initial excavation combined with earth banking to increase the strength and blast-resistance of the structure. One of the most common semi-sunken shelters used preformed segments with a curved roof, which could be more easily buried.

As with surface shelters, semi-sunken shelters tended to have their entrances at an angle or behind a wall to protect the occupants from blast, while lowering the risk of being trapped behind a blocked doorway. However, as Helsby had noted in Barcelona, ‘Before they had actual experience of air raid, the people of Barcelona imagined that open trenches or lightly covered shelters would be proof against bombing. They have learnt better now.’ Once again, the hard-earned lessons of Barcelona were squandered by British policy-makers.

Sunken shelters

Sunken shelters often started out as basements or trenches. Basements and cellars were reinforced with planks and girders at various angles so that they could withstand the collapse of the building above. Trenches were dug on open pieces of land and reinforced with sandbags, sheet metal, and wooden props. These were intended both as shelters from bombing or strafing and subsequently to prevent gliders from landing. Later on, many of these trenches were built up with steel, concrete panels, or cast concrete, to create more stable and better protected shelters that could survive bombs exploding underground close by, as well as providing more comfortable accommodation.

Deep shelters

None of the shelters described above was capable of surviving a direct hit. Rather, they were designed to protect against the statistically far higher possibility of a near miss, with its risk of flying bomb fragments and collapsing debris. In the pre-war period, however, there was a widespread campaign for the construction of deep underground shelters that could survive direct hits from heavy bombs.

Following media reports of shelters in Barcelona, many people regarded the government’s air-raid precautions as woefully, even criminally, inadequate, particularly in regard to large, densely-populated urban areas. The Communist Party conducted a spirited campaign in favour of deep shelters for the working class districts around industrial centres likely to be targeted by the bombers.

Finsbury Borough Council commissioned the civil engineer Ove Arup to study the effects of bombing on soil and buried structures, and to design a range of giant bomb-proof shelters. Arup’s designs are bizarre and beautiful, resembling complex molecules, giant spirals, honeycombs, and enormous subterranean multi-storey car-parks. The smallest held 50 people, but the largest was designed to hold 12,300 in bomb-proof safety below many metres of earth and reinforced concrete.

In the event, few of the giant deep shelters were constructed, and none for civilian purposes. Instead, the public began to use the underground stations in London as unofficial shelters. Unlike Andersons and communal shelters, the tube was dry, warm, and apparently bomb-proof. While the authorities initially banned the use of the tube in fear of transport disruption, they soon relented in the face of massive public demand. Not all tube stations were sufficiently deep, however, and bombings at Balham and Bank killed several hundred people.

Remembering everyday life in the shelters

Today, many of the wartime generation can remember their experiences of different types of shelter: the damp and cramped Anderson, the bleak and unhygienic public shelters, and the novelty of school shelters where shrapnel, gossip, and exam answers could be surreptitiously exchanged. Many also recall the attempts by parents and teachers to make shelters into a more familiar, domestic space, with amenities, decorations, and stoves for brewing tea.

The history of air raid shelters in pre-war and wartime Britain is a gripping story of engineering genius and political short-sightedness, and also a story about the men, women, and children who inhabited and endured them.

This article appeared in issue 2 of the magazine, as part of a special feature on the Blitz. Subscribe to Military History Matters and you’ll get cutting-edge analysis and the latest research from world-renowned historians delivered to your door every month – click here for more information.

How Britain’s abandoned Anderson shelters are being brought back to life

They survived doodlebugs and the Luftwaffe’s air raids. Now, 80 years on, Britain’s remaining air raid shelters host kids’ parties, flowers and foxes. Why are so many people still so fascinated by them?

Last modified on Tue 21 Aug 2018 12.40 BST

M artin Stanley’s Anderson shelter rests at the foot of his back garden. Partially submerged and covered with thick tufts of grass and flowers as well as other foliage, it stands as a monument to a time when life in this terrace house in Oval, south London, was very different.

Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, the lord privy seal in charge of air raid precautions in 1938, and were made from corrugated steel or iron panels that formed a semi-circular shape. They were designed to be dug into people’s gardens to protect families from air raids. More than 2m shelters were issued to families during the second world war. All these years later, some houses still have them in their gardens, while many more could still be submerged, awaiting discovery.

“It’s very difficult to get rid of it,” says Stanley, surveying the mound in his garden. “When we moved in 30 years ago, I think we assumed that we’d get rid of it and then we thought: it’s just too much effort really.” Stanley has found use for it over the years, for storage – and jokes that it has been used for discipline. “We threaten the kid with it: ‘If you misbehave you can sleep in the air raid shelter’.” Stanley also opens his house to school parties and has had TV companies visit over the years. “We’re very fond of it now. It’s quite a feature,” he says.

Martin Stanley’s Anderson shelter. Photograph: Xingkun Yang/The Guardian

Just down the road from Stanley, Robert McConnell, 87, also has an Anderson shelter in his garden. McConnell bought his Grade II listed house in 1968 from the daughters of the notable British craftsman and sculptor Nathaniel Hitch. His shelter is also partially buried and covered with thickets. McConnell says the shelter is exactly as it was when constructed, save for the ends, which he replaced due to rust. He uses it to store his gardening tools. “I did offer younger members of the family to sleep in there, but it’s very damp.” The shelter in McConnell’s garden survived the war, despite a bomb falling on the house. “The area opposite the houses was completely devastated at the very end of the war,” he says. “The Germans had put up these awful rockets and the whole of that area every house was destroyed – 17 people were killed.” McConnell keeps the shelter, he says, because he believes in preserving history.

This is precisely what motivated Liz Johnson, a museum professional who works with the National Trust, to keep her Anderson shelter in Leicester. “I talked to some of my friends and colleagues and they said: ‘You can’t get rid of it it’s a piece of history,’” Johnson says. An air museum in Lincolnshire had acquired an Anderson shelter so children could experience what it was like during an air raid. “They asked me if I could tell them about mine and I ended up helping people find out what a shelter looked like.”

Johnson bought her house in 2007 from a woman who had been living there since 1927. As well as the Anderson shelter, she discovered old cigarette cards and ARP relics in the attic (ARP or Air Raid Precautions was an organisation set up in 1937 to protect civilians from air raids). Many would consider Anderson shelters, with their corrugated iron panels and bland colours to be an eyesore, but not Johnson’s. “This shelter is quite attractive,” she says. “It has got wild flowers growing on it. A pair of foxes used to sleep on top of it in the mornings.”

The bunks in Robert McConnell’s shelter. Photograph: Xingkun Yang/The Guardian

Restoring air raid shelters has also become a niche hobby with people repurposing them as sheds or outdoor studies. Stanley started a website that features some of the gardens around the country that still have Anderson shelters. The site also offers advice on how to build your own shelter, according to official wartime step-by-step instructions.

Amos Burke, a coach driver from the West Midlands, used parts from a shelter he found in a farmer’s field close to his home to reconstruct his Anderson shelter. Burke is a member of the civilian re-enactment group Spirit of the Homefront and takes his shelter around the country to display at events. “It takes about two hours to set it up,” Burke says. “We have a good laugh, we talk to people and we get the kids to go in.” Once reassembled, the shelter is decorated with sandbags and red, white, and blue bunting. The interior appears just like it might have done 80 years ago, with pots, pans and blankets from that era as well as an old radio that only plays 1940s tunes. Out of all the things to celebrate, why Anderson shelters? “At the time, no one was doing it,” Burke says.

There is no way to replicate what it was like to have used an Anderson shelter during the war. Often the robust corrugated iron was the only protection people had from the Luftwaffe’s incendiaries and rockets, which were laying waste to their communities.

Joan Longley, 82, who lived in Charlton during the war, was only four when the blitz started. She is almost brought to tears when reading an extract from her memoir that recalls the first night she visited her shelter: “‘Nearly there,’ Edie said, as the dark shadow of the air raid shelter appeared like a huge black monster in front of us. I wanted to cry when I saw it, but I dared not because I knew I must be a big-brave four-year-old. I bit my bottom lip to keep back the tears as Billy helped me jump down into the shelter.”

Liz Johnson in Leicestershire with her Anderson shelter. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Her father was killed by a German bomb while he was on Home Guard duty at Charlton station. She was evacuated when the blitz started, but her mother brought her back home after a near-fatal bout of diphtheria. Back in London, the bombing raged on, and Longley recalls using the shelter a lot. “It was pitch black. No lights or candles or torches – they were all banned during the war. Sometimes we slept with our clothes on because of one raid after another. Sometimes we slept in the Anderson shelter all night because it wasn’t worth getting out.” There was nothing comfortable about Longley’s shelter, either: “Ours wasn’t a very posh one. Some people made them comfortable. But there were nine of us. It was cramped, cold, dark and there were lots of creepy crawlies.” Longley’s mum did her best to make things more bearable for her and her siblings: “She would get a tin of broken biscuits from Woolworths to eat. And she would take a few bottles of milk.”

David Hesketh, 82, was also an infant when the war began and says he was oblivious to much of the terror going on around him. He grew up in Walton in Liverpool, beneath the German flight path to the Albert docks. While two of his siblings were evacuated to Shrewsbury, he and his older sister, Muriel, remained in the city. “We had an Anderson shelter in our back garden. Muriel told me that when we slept out there together, I just slept like a log throughout the whole thing throughout all the raids. She stayed awake all the time, scared stiff by the noise.” Muriel was also jealous of his Mickey Mouse gas mask, as hers was plain. After the war, Hesketh said that the shelter was kept for a short while and may have been used to store garden tools or even as a shelter for the hens his parents kept.

Margaret Elliott, 92, who lived in Canning Town, east London, says she saw the whole thing as an adventure at the time. She was 13 when the war started and her father installed their shelter quite early on – she recalls playing in it prior to the air raids. “I remember my father grew tomatoes on top of it. And we had one or two false alarms and we’d go down – it was very cold and damp. My father made little steps inside for us to get down and a little seat for us to sit on.” Elliott says she could have slept in her shelter, but her mum was so nervous that she wouldn’t allow it.

Londoners in a sandbag-protected Anderson shelter during the second world war. Photograph: Getty

Elliott eventually moved out of the city as the bombing intensified. “One day, the raids were so bad that we were down in the shelter for most of the day. I remember by this time my mother was quite hysterical and my father decided to take us to her sisters in Hertfordshire. So, we got on the top deck of a bus and drove all the way up to London through where the docks were, where there were flames to either side of us.” Elliott wasn’t fazed by the bombing, as she still visited London to see friends: “I used to go to dances, we still went up there regardless of the doodlebugs (V-1 flying bomb) and all the rest of it,” Elliott says. “We just carried on. I still have that attitude now, I just carry on.”

The survival of Anderson shelters is not only due to their sturdy structure. Millions of families took refuge in them during the war and told their stories to succeeding generations, preserving them in our cultural imagination, too. “I think the Anderson shelter is an icon because so many people had them,” Johnson says. “They figure in many wartime novels and films. I think they do appeal to our den-building fascination.” The shelters are also one of the few relics of the period that can still be utilised. They are an effective and fun way of educating young children about the realities of the home front, and many people are still putting them to good use in their gardens. Johnson says she intends to keep her shelter for as long as she owns her house and has plans to develop the inside as a sleep-out space for her children.

“When we landscaped the garden, we even had a powerline put down to the end of the garden, right by the shelter.”

Facts about Anderson Shelters

1. Origin of Anderson Shelters
Sir John Anderson was put in charge of Air Raid Precautions (ARP) by Chamberlain in November 1938. He directly appointed an engineer called William Patterson to build a small, cheap shelter that could be pitched on people’s gardens. Before World War II started, close to one and a half million shelters had been distributed to people living in regions that bombing was projected the Luftwaffe. These shelters were known as Anderson shelters.

2. Construction of an Anderson Shelter
An Anderson shelter was built from six bent sheets fastened together at the uppermost part with hardened plates on both ends measuring 1.95m by 1.35m. The shelter could only provide accommodation for six people. Furthermore, the shelters were semi- buried with soil piled on top while their entrance was secured by a hardened steel barrier.

3. Distribution of Anderson Shelters
The Anderson Shelters were distributed for free to poor people. However, men who made more than 5 pounds a week could purchase a shelter for 7 pounds. September 1939 marked the start of the outbreak of World War II which saw a large number of families owning over 2 million shelters in their gardens. By the time of the onslaught, the number had projected to two and a quarter million.

4. Sources of Cover
As the war continued to escalate, the Luftwaffe changed from day time to nightfall bombing. Therefore, the government directed people to take cover in their Anderson shelters. During the night, sirens symbolized that the Germans were approaching and therefore the government ensured that most people had a chance to take cover before the retaliations started.

5. Challenges of Anderson Shelters
During the night, the Anderson shelters became damp and dark, as such, people were hesitant to use them. The shelters that were situated in low lying regions had a tendency of flooding and sleeping became difficult as the shelters did not put out the sound of the bombings. Additionally, people living in industrial regions lacked gardens where they could put up their shelters.

6. Effectiveness of Anderson shelters
The planned bombing against the United Kingdom by the Germans between the year 1939 and 1945, murdered about 50,000 people while the attacks by the United Kingdom against the Germans executed ten times as many. The United Kingdom executed about 500,000 Germans which clearly reveals how the Anderson shelter was effective.

7. Cold inside the Anderson shelter
Since the war took place at night, people tried to move back to their houses since they were warmer. Therefore, the government crafted strategies to make the Anderson shelters warmer and comfy. One of the strategies that the government undertook was the introduction of Morrison shelters.

8. The Morrison Shelters’ Alternative
The Morrison shelters were built and named after the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison. They were made of heavy steel and they could be put up in living rooms and used as tables. A wire was connected on one side which was used to assist people to sneak under and get in. The shelters were large and could accommodate two or three people.

9. Popularity of the Anderson shelters
A study that was undertaken in November 1940 revealed that 27% of people in London used Anderson shelters, 9% used public shelters while 4% slept in underground railway stations. The study further showed that 60% of the people were either working at night or spending the night in their homes. These statistics showed that the Anderson shelters lost popularity with time.

10. Modern use Anderson Shelters
Because the Anderson shelters were built using corrugation, they were very strong against strong forces and as such they are still in existence today and used to date as gardens.


Mr and Mrs Webb were renovating the garden at the 1930s detached house when the discovery was made.

Mrs Webb said: "I was expecting to have a nice piece of flat lawn there."

Now the IT project manager plans to keep the Anderson shelter as a feature for her son Riley, four, and stepson Daniel, 17, to use either as a play den or a teenage hideaway.

She said: "I'm thinking of putting benches in the shelter, but I don't think I will go as far as getting the electricity restored.

"Iɽ like to keep it and it can just be landscaped into the garden."

Mrs Webb said the shelter was a reminder of the constant threat that families lived under during the Second World War.

I was expecting to have a nice piece of flat lawn there

Kelly Webb

She added: "The way we live now you can't imagine how people used to exist with doodlebugs flying overhead and having to rush into their garden shelters."

In March 1943, Ashford suffered the worst bombing of any town in Kent.

Ian Sharp, the curator of Ashford Museum, said the town centre was a target for German bombs as Howitzer field guns had been positioned at the town's railway works.

He said a road near where the Webb family now live had been heavily bombed and the centre of town was devastated on March 24, 1943, during a massive raid that killed 54 people and injured more than 200.

What are Anderson shelters?

Anderson shelters were designed protect people from bomb blasts during World War II.

The shelters were half buried in the ground with soil covering it over the top to camoflage it.

They were made from iron sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end.

The entrance was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall.

On 25 February 1939, the first Anderson shelter was ereted in Britain in a garden in Islington, London.

Approximately 3.5million Anderson shelters were built either before the war had started or during the conflict.

The shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, the man responsible for preparing Britain to withstand German air raids.


Origins Edit

As Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland the surname Anderson, which means Son of Andrew is commonly found throughout most of the country. [2] The Scottish Gaelic derivation of the name is Gilleaindreas which means servant of Andrew. [2] The Scottish historian, Ian Grimble, states that although arms were granted to an Anderson of that Ilk in the sixteenth century, as the name is so widespread no exact place of origin can be established. [2]

16th and 17th centuries Edit

The historian George Fraser Black lists Andersons as being burgesses of Peebles as well as in the county of Dumfries. [2] In 1585 John Anderson was a commissioner to Parliament for Cupar. [2] Alexander Anderson was a famous mathematician who was born near Aberdeen and later settled in Paris, where he published works on Algebra and Geometry. [2] Alexander's kinsman, David Anderson of Finshaugh, also a scientist, is renowned for removing a rock that was obstructing the entrance to Aberdeen harbour with the application of science and mechanics. [2] His wife Jean Anderson was a noted philanthropist. [4]

19th and 20th centuries Edit

In 1863 William Anderson published his famous biographical history of the people of Scotland, The Scottish Nation, in three volumes. [2] In this book he praised the above-mentioned rock remover, David Anderson, stating that he had been rich enough and generous enough to found and endow a hospital in Aberdeen for the maintenance and education of ten poor orphans, [2] although it was Jean Anderson (and her relatives) who made that gift after he died. [4]

In the 20th century the name is remembered for the famous Anderson shelters, a type of bomb shelter that was designed by John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley, during World War II. [2]

21st century Edit

The Clan Anderson Society was formed in 1973 and is active throughout North America. [2] A clan room and archival display are maintained at Wyseby House in Kirtlebridge, Dumfriesshire. [2] The Clan Anderson Society was Granted Letters Patent Clan Anderson Society Coat of Arms by Lyon Court in 2014 and Dr. Joseph Morrow Lord Lyon King of Arms presented the Letters Patent to the Clan Anderson Society at the Loch Norman Highland Games in North Carolina in April 2014. The Clan Anderson Society Coat of Arms depicts the more inclusive Clan Anderson motto WE STAND SURE .

As the Clan has never been able to proclaim a Chief, there are no cadet branches for this clan. However, the major families have been identified as Anderson of Ardbrake & Westerton (whose crest is used by Andersons as a clansman's crest badge) Anderson of Kinneddar (scion of the Ardbrake line), Anderson of Noth, Anderson of Newbiggin & Kingask, Anderson of Dowhill & Stobcross, Anderson of Linkwood, Anderson of Inchyra & Stonyhill, Seton-Anderson of Mounie and Anderson of Candacraig. [2]

Anderson Shelter &ndash Bomb shelters developed by the government to protect UK citizens

Anderson Shelters were small, inexpensive shelters that could be placed in people's gardens. They were designed to provide protection for those living in areas expected to be bombed by the German air force, the Luftwaffe.

The shelters were named after John Anderson, who was Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security at the start of World War II. He commissioned engineer William Patterson to design them.

Within a few months, nearly one and a half million of the shelters had been distributed. They were provided free to "poor" people, while those who earned more than £5 a week could buy one for £7.

The shelters were made from six curved sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end. They measured 6ft 6ins by 4ft 6ins (1.95m by 1.35m) and could accommodate up to six people. They were half-buried in the ground with earth heaped on top of them.

The entrance was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall.

A survey conducted in November 1940 &ndash by which time Herbert Morrison had replaced John Anderson as Home Secretary &ndash revealed that the majority of people in London did not use the shelters. Many wanted a shelter inside their own home, where they would be warmer and generally more comfortable.

So it was that in March 1941, the Morrison Shelter was introduced &ndash a family shelter that could be erected indoors.

Interesting fact: Because Anderson Shelters were designed for placing in people's gardens, around a quarter of the population was unable to take advantage of them &ndash they didn't have gardens!

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Air Raid Precautions Personnel

Air raid Precautions personnel were responsible for the issuing of gas masks, pre fabricated air raid shelters and the looking after public shelters. They were also responsible for maintaining the blackout. They assisted in fighting incendiaries during air raids and rescue work afterwards.

There were around 1.4 million ARP wardens in Britain during the war, almost all unpaid part-time volunteers who also held day-time jobs.

Watch the video: Experience the Blitz in a WW2 Anderson Shelter in VR!