The anderson shelter

One of my absolute favourite songs from the War is Arthur Askey ("Hello, Playmates!") singing 'Get In Your Shelter'

Bomb, bomb, get in your shelter
Bomb, bomb, don't helter skelter
Get yourself right underground
When those nazis fly around

Bomb, bomb, get in the habit
Bomb, bomb, just like a rabbit
Get yourself right underground
When those nazis fly around

Our AA gunners know their onions
They'll protect the town
Our airmen make the Gerries frown
Tat-a-tat-a-tat there's another one down

Bomb, bomb, pants may be pinned up
Bomb, bomb, don't get the wind up
Get yourself right underground
When those nazis fly around

When the sirens wail
Don't you all get worried
Just let calm prevail
Don't get hot and flurried
Just collect your family
And quickly lead the way
Simply shout out, "Bob's your uncle"
And to them just say

Bomb, bomb, get in your shelter
Bomb, bomb, don't helter skelter
Get yourself right underground
When those nazis fly around...


(Aaaaand repeat ad infinitum...)


Witty lyrics, a catchy tune and yes, Bob is indeed your mother's brother.


As far back as November 1938, almost a year before war was declared, the British government had the oddest feeling that Hitler wasn't a trustworthy sort of fellow - in spite of Neville Chamberlain's best efforts at appeasement and his clip-toned reassurances to the British people that he had it all sussed and under control (Peace in our time, and all that).

Hitler was dodgy, and we knew it.

And so it was that a fellow named Sir John Anderson - clearly a sterling sort with a name like that - was tasked with figuring out how to protect Brits in a Blitz, which was surely the way things would go judging by the Fuhrer's charming behaviour during the Spanish Civil War.


Anderson had a bit of a think, followed by a 'Eureka' moment which resulted in the birth of the Anderson Shelter, essentially a family-sized tin hat which could accommodate up to six people, their insurance documents,  a couple of sandwiches, Kitchener the cat (if you could catch him) and still - of course - have enough elbow room for a cup of tea.


Actually, the Anderson shelter was rather a marvellous invention. It was made of corrugated iron, the undulations in the metal would help to dissipate blast waves, and was shaped like an elongated croquet hoop for added stability.  Said shelter was intended to be erected in a dirty great big hole in your garden and covered with earth to give an added layer of protection. Your could even plant your carrots or cauliflowers on top and jolly well dig for victory by day whilst nightly producing your own manure just a couple of feet below your Webbs Wonderful lettuce.


Yes. The British were going underground.


Shelter kits were put together (complete with a spanner) and, if you earned under £250 per annum, they were free, gratis and delivered to your door.  If you happened to be in a higher earning bracket then you had to pay £7, but that was a small price for the 'comfortable' to shell out (no pun intended) to keep jerry's incendiaries from lighting up your life contrary to your desires. Instruction leaflets were printed to go along with the kits which to the modern eye make swedish bookcase assembly instructions look like a piece of cake:

What these images fail to show properly though are the wire lattice bases on each bunk.  If you shared your shelter with a terribly weighty individual you might want to make sure that they had the bottom bunk, otherwise you did rather run the risk of becoming the filling in a bunk bed sandwich and may well wake up with a charming lattice print right across your left cheek.


Whatever.  Time and time again, the old Anderson shelters came good and absolutely did what it said on the tin (as the saying goes, accidental pun, albeit not a terribly good one) and saved those brave little Britons sheltering inside.  Countless folk emerged after a raid, clambering upwards into the light to find themselves surrounded by the shattered remains of their homes.


That the Anderson shelters saved lives is beyond doubt.

That said, aside from the odd (terribly tragic) direct hit, the main danger to people sheltering from a raid in their bogey-holes in the garden  came from the slightly obsessive British pastime of drinking tea at all hours of the day and night (see The British and Their Tea ) .  

There are numerous accounts of Brits being  killed because they emerged from their Anderson shelters during a raid and nipped back into their house to make a cup of tea:

So, rule of thumb? Take a flask of tea into the shelter with you at night or indeed allow yourself to become the aforementioned filling in a bunk-bed sandwich, if you can't get out from under two-ton Tessie O'Shea then you're not going to risk it for a biscuit and come a cropper...

God Bless the Anderson Shelter!

 © 2020 J. Warrington. All Rights reserved.