Wartime fun in air raid shelters

Deric Bradshaw has strong memories of air raid shelters
Deric Bradshaw has strong memories of air raid shelters
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Re the interest in air raid shelters from the last war.

I have an excellent memory of these events as a child.

Street shelters were common and on every air raid warning siren it was a good excuse to smash the small glass square containing a standard national size and shape key. As a consequence nearly everyone had their own key to get in to the shelters to play, etc. We had one right outside our house.

As well as the standard air raid shelters in the garden, known as Andersons after the man who invented them, as an eight-year-old boy I helped fill the sandbags that went round them for three half pence on the promise that I could use it if needed.

Two bunk beds and a smoky stove were the bare essentials recessed down in the ground, the roof covered with sandbags and earth for camouflage. Usually a foot of water in the bottom. I know of one now used as a gardening hut.

Of course, my best experiences were those at Henry Gotch School in Windmill Avenue, Kettering, and Stamford Road School for Boys, now a Northants youth centre mainly for training.

One day during breaktime at school interval break for workmen came in and laid thick railway sleepers slotted in already built in for that purpose.

Took protective railings down, Tarmaced over the sleepers and bingo you wouldn’t know it was there – also the four emergency exits like manhole covers Tarmaced over. They had steel ladders leading to the surface.

I’m pleased to say the air raid shelters are still there but can’t know they’re there unless you know, it is used as a car park for youth teachers, etc. Northamptonshire County Council run it!

Gordon, the caretaker, confirmed they are still there, he worked there from 14 to 65 years and said the underground shelters were kept flood-free more or less by an overflow system that emptied into the street sewers in Alfred Street.

I often cross this playground now as a short cut from Alfred Street to Stamford Road and think of my school days under the headmastership of Ernie Adams.

The air raid shelters were out of bounds and if you were caught Ernie would cane you. There was the challenge – the hunt was on by duty teachers to catch us. They had torches, we didn’t and it was pitch black but we knew every nook and cranny.

There were toilets down there with a canvas screen which we cut down the middle so when they shone their torch in one we would side-step back into the other and vice versa back – it worked every time. If they were really hot on our tails we would shoot up the emergency stairs lifting the manhole covers with the teachers shouting what they would have done to us.

Bursting into the fresh air and sunlight we had out-witted the teachers again as we melted into the busy playground. We also used to jump between sides of entrance with a big drop underneath.

Deric Bradshaw

Lyveden Place