War and History Fiction posted January 18, 2015


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London during the blitz (see Author Notes)

The Morrison

by jpduck


London, May 10th, 1941

The silence, filled with hope, was shattered by a loud crash in the inky darkness. They all three jumped, and Cleo started to cry. What the ‘ell was that? Sally wondered.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

At last, both Cleo and Arthur were asleep in the Morrison. They could just fit, in a line along the far side of the mattress, leaving the near side for Sally. Ever since their shelter had been delivered and the ARP men had assembled it, they had spent every night in it. Before that, when the moaning undulations of the air raid warning sounded, they had to scurry the few hundred yards to Camden Town underground station for shelter.

Hiding from the bombs in the station was not pleasant. When everyone was sitting or lying on the various platforms, the concrete could scarcely be seen. Sally kept a large bag with three blankets and three cushions by the front door of their terrace house, which she would grab as they rushed out. This way, they could try to gather up a small amount of unmattressed sleep before the ‘all clear’ siren would sound. But the stench of sweat and dust and dirt and from the overburdened toilets was overwhelming.

So Sally and the children were delighted when they received their Morrison. Cramped and uncomfortable it may have been, but, compared to Camden Town station, it was the ultimate in luxury. Ever since the start of the blitz last September, only a handful of nights passed without heavy bombing. So it soon became clear to Sally that there was no point in even starting their nights in their ‘normal’ beds, which were now but a warm and distant memory, even if  the air raid warning had not yet sounded.

Sally remembered how Eric, on his last leave three weeks ago, had danced around anxiously while the ARP officers bolted together the various parts of the steel shelter, finally installing the mattress. Sally then stocked it with blankets, pillows, torches, a few books, some cheese biscuits, a jar of Marmite, a spreading knife, a thermos of tea … and her knitting ... Ah! It’s my knitting that gets me through those air-raid nightmares. Some nights the bombs sound fairly far away. Other times they sound as if they must have fallen next door.

On that Saturday in May the air-raid warning sounded earlier in the evening than usual, at about 9:00. It was dark. Little Cleo was already fast asleep in the Morrison. Arthur and Sally bundled in to join her, taking care not to wake her. Sally pulled the mesh door down behind her. They could hear some distant bombs falling.

“Mum!” Arthur said quietly.

“Yes, ducky?”

“This week we’ve ‘ad a lot o’ bombs dropping reely close, ain’t we?”

“Yes, oi s’pose we ‘ave.”

“Oi mean it was only last Tuesday that number 37 was blown to pieces.”

“Yes, poor Mrs Watson. She was stone dead when they ‘vencherly dug ‘er up.”

“Do yer fink … Do yer fink the gerries are aiming at Inverness Street, or somefink?”

“O’corst not! Blimey, it’s all just random, innit?”

Arthur thought about this, trying to imagine what all those blazing houses must look like to the bomb aimers in the sky. We’ll beat ‘em. We got to.

“Mum!”

“Yes, ducky?”

“What would ‘appen to us if this ‘ouse got knocked down like number 37?”

“Cor blimey! Don’t you worry abart that. We’ll be all right in this 'ere shelter. That’s made of thick steel, that is. Yer dad said it would ‘old up a two storey ‘ouse falling on it. Well that’s what this ‘ouse is, innit. And ‘e said that the wire mesh sides would keep art all the bricks and stuff flyin’ abart.”

Arthur could see that his mum was knitting very fast. He wasn’t sure she really believed what Dad had said.

It was at that precise moment that there came the most enormous explosion that any of them had ever heard, followed by loud crashes and bangs and the sound of breaking glass. Cleo woke up, shrieked and Sally switched on her torch and shone it around. The beam of light struggled to pierce a dense cloud of dust that filled the shelter. Through this fog, all they could see, on all sides, was a confusion of broken bricks, pipes and joists. There was a big dent in the ceiling of the Morrison and the wire mesh walls looked battered and bent. But they were all safe, although coughing and wheezing. Finally the sound of the last piece of rubble falling into place reached their ears.

Sally switched off the torch. “We’d better save the batteries; we don’t know ‘ow long we’ll ‘ave to wait.”

There was nothing but inky darkness and total silence for a few minutes – minutes filled with the hope of being rescued by the local ARP officers.

After ten minutes, or so, the silence was shattered by a further clatter of rubble, followed by a faint voice. “Is there anybody down there?”

“Yes! Yes! Please ‘elp us,” Sally shouted .

“’Ow many of yer?”

“Me an’ me two kids,” she yelled.

“You in a Morrison, then?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t worry, luv. We’ll ‘ave yer all out in a jiffy.”

 


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During World War II, between September, 1940 and May, 1941, London and other major cities in the UK were battered by the German blitz. Night after night squadrons of bombers crossed the English Channel and dropped their deadly loads indiscriminately on industrial sites and streets of ordinary houses. Before the war started, an organization known as Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was established to provide whatever protection was possible against air raids to the British public.

Amongst their duties was the provision and erection of air raid shelters for individual households. There were two types of shelter used. The Anderson shelter was for use in gardens. Six curved galvanised corrugated steel panels were bolted together at the top. Three straight sheets on each side, and two end sheets, with a door cut into one, were bolted to this roof. The shelters were 6 ft high, 4 ft 6 in wide, and 6 ft 6 in long and were buried in the ground to a depth of 4 ft. The whole was then covered with soil to a minimum of 15 in (0.4 m) above the roof. They were notorious for being very cold and were prone to flooding. But they saved many lives.

The other type of domestic air raid shelter was the Morrison. This was designed for use indoors on the lowest floor of any house with no more than two stories. They were 6 feet 6 inches long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet 6 inches high and were, essentially a box made of thick (3mm) steel with wire mesh sides. One of the long sides could be swung up to allow access, dropping down again afterwards. They were designed to be occupied during air raids by up to six people. The top could also be used as a table. They were supplied free of charge to lower income families. Others could buy one for a modest sum.

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