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Prelude and "The Day War Broke Out"

by Dunstable Town Centre

Contributed by 
Dunstable Town Centre
People in story: 
A W Morgan
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 April 2005

"D" (Dunstable) Company, The 5th Battalion, The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment of the Territorial Army. The Senior N.C.O. leading on their left is C.S.M Albert Morgan.

This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Dunstable At War Team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Sometime during 1939 we had to go to get gas masks. They were issued and fitted in a large room to the rear of the “Cycles and Wireless” shop in High Street North, opposite Albion Street (now Oxfam). The masks came in a cardboard box to which most people fitted a length of string to carry it. A factory at the end of Matthew Street / Albion Street, I believe it was called “Grice and Young”, had manufactured gliders until the start of the war and at this time produced a neat gas-mask case with solid wooden ends, the sides and base were formed from a piece of thin ply-wood. They had a solid hinged lid and catch to fasten them. They were painted silver and came with a canvas strap. Mine lasted until the end of the war!

At various times during the war, we had to return to the “depot” for our gas masks to be “updated” by the addition of extra filters, which would protect us against “new gases”. The depot would also repair masks that had a cracked “window”, usually caused by small boys throwing their masks into horse-chestnut trees to dislodge conkers.

My father was a member of the “Territorial Army” and was called up for service a few days before the outbreak of war. He was the Company Sergeant Major of the “D (Dunstable) Company”, 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. They had their H.Q. at the Drill Hall in Victoria Street at the top of Clifton Road. On calling up the company, it was necessary to billet some of the troops with local families, as the hall was too small to accommodate all of them. My father was billeted to his own home!

On the 3rd September 1939, the Prime Minister announced the start of the war and shortly afterwards the air raid warning was sounded. My mother told me many times that I had immediately said, “Where’s my gas-mask?” After some minutes, most people in Edward Street where we lived, went to their front doors to look out to see what was happening. A few doors away, opposite the top of Regent Street, part of a house had been converted into an “Air Raid Warden’s Post”. The wardens eventually emerged from behind their sandbagged doorway, dressed in yellow gas-proof suits with hoods, military style gas masks and Wellington boots. They each carried a large rattle that made a loud rasping sound when it was swung round and round, this was the signal for a gas attack.

I cannot remember ever seeing them dressed in these suits again during “ordinary” air raids although they did use them for special demonstrations, which were held on “The Square” in High Street South later on in the war.

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