Wars teach us many lessons; or rather many debatable lessons. But if there is one thing that it is certain to teach us is being prepared for the next war. The air raid shelters or the bomb shelters built post World War II stand witness to this theory. Though the idea was initiated prior to WW2, after a lot of trial and error, the thought was finally executed in January 1939. These very shelters tell us a story of engineering brilliance which came in handy during war times and saved hundreds and thousands of civilians from falling prey to the atrocities of war.
Fact 1: A lot of thought was given to the air raid shelters. The biggest dilemma faced by the authorities was whether to keep the civilians underground to protect them against bombings or keep them aground and protect them against gas attacks!
Fact 2: There were many types of air-raid shelters built to safeguard non-combatants from air attacks. Some of them were kept indoors, namely, Morrison Shelters while some were outdoors as they occupied a lot of space; these were called the Anderson Shelters. In built cellars, basements and underground tube stations were also used as air raid shelters by non combatants during dire situations.
Fact 3: These shelters had all the amenities like electricity, refrigerator, flushing toilets, benches and also facilities for nursing mothers. People also had the liberty to ‘design’ their own personal shelters if they wished to do so.
Fact 4: Even though built in war times, these shelters were nicknamed ‘Chestergate Hotel’ among the locals, given the luxuries these temporary accommodations provided.
Fact 5: As a precautionary measure, every one inside these bunker-like-shelters had to possess a gas mask and carry along with them wherever they go so as to protect them from poisonous chemicals released from the attacks.
Fact 6: The famous wartime diary, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank published in 1952, delves into the lives of those strangers who were confined to live together in the air raid shelters during the German Occupation of Netherlands in the WW2. This novel has sold millions of copies and has been translated into many languages.
Fact 7: Besides personal shelters like the Morrison and Anderson, there were public shelters and also those built in factories for the employees. An air raid siren would go off as a warning for the civilians of the impounding attack and would thus make them run for their ‘temporary homes’.
Fact 8: Even though the horrifying figure of 60 million who died in WW2 stands unmatchable, these very shelters managed to save many lives that would have rather looked for an alternative with a lesser secure means. For instance; more than 170,000 people were stationed in the shelter of London Underground systems alone.
Fact 9: The Stockport Shelters were the largest built tunnels in Britain in 1939. This labyrinth of tunnels could house 6,500 people and was a state of art living facility which was of great use in the dark days of Blitz. Though accommodation was not denied to anybody during alarming situations, these interconnected underground tunnels were so famous that the authorities had to issue season tickets to locals to dampen the demand.
Fact 10: Though these structures were officially implemented only in 1939, people did fetch for their own safety before WW2. The oldest surviving air raid shelter in Britain is a small grey garage built by a local chemist, Joseph Forrester, behind a house in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. This was built in 1916 during the Zeppelin attacks long before the air raid shelters were formalised.