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15 October 2014
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Wartime Work at Broadcasting House

by threecountiesaction

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Contributed by 
threecountiesaction
People in story: 
Mr G Spencer
Location of story: 
London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5340953
Contributed on: 
26 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War Site for Three Counties Action by Joan Smith on behalf of Mr G Spencer and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Spencer fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I left school in 1937 at a time of very high unemployment so was very fortunate in the autumn of that year in managing to get employment with the BBC at Broadcasting House in London. My pay was 17/6 a week, which is £45 a year. Not a magnificent sum even in those days.

It was after I had been working at the BBC for two years that on September 3rd 1939 Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, announced that Britain had declared war on Germany.
We were living in Hampstead in a house not far from Hampstead Heath. We immediately started organising black out material for the rooms and fixing sticky tape in criss cross fashion over all the windows to prevent flying glass if the windows were shattered in bombing raids. A Morrison shelter was delivered. This was an angle iron construction, the size of a large table with wire mesh sides. This was erected in the kitchen to be used as a shelter during air raids. It was supposed to withstand the weight of a house falling on it. People with smaller houses had an Anderson shelter which was a corrugated ironcconstruction erected in a hole dug in the garden. The top was covered with the soil dug out of the hole.

I continued with my job at the BBC. Returning home after dark was something of a hazard, as blackout restrictions were strictly enforced by the ARP Wardens (Air Raid Precaution Wardens) and on dark nights curbs and lamp posts were difficult to see. Cars had their lights masked sso there was very little light pointing down at the ground, just enough for the driver to see the curb. During the first few months of the war there was a large number of fatal accidents due to people being hit by cars. The supply of petrol however was soon heavily restricted so the number of vehicles on the roads was drastically reduced.
Air Raid Precaution work started at Broadcasting House. Rooms below ground were made available as shelters and the seats in the Concert Hall on the basement were removed. The idea was so that the terraced steps in the hall could be used for sleeping on for those staff who couldn't get home if the bombing raids had started before they left work. Work started on running cables to move the Control Room, which was situated at the top of the building, down into the basement and all the television transmissions stopped from Alexandra Palace, not to be resumed until after the war. Then in the autumn of 1940 the mass bombing raids started on London.

I had usually left for home before the night raids had started, and by the time I got to Warren Streett the platforms were already crowded with people lying on blankets who had staked their place for the night. It had become a regulat practice for many Londoners to use the Underground stations as an air raid shelter every night. One disadvantage of these shelters was that the platforms were well below the level of the sewers and there were therefore no toilets in the stations. There were a number of large containers on the platforms , but when I went home fairly late, having worked late into the evening, these containers would be overflowing. Usually by the time I got to Hampstead Heath station the night bombing raids had started. Hampstead Heath is on a high paart of North West London and as I walked homee I could see the glow of fires burning in London. Sometimes when I worked late the air raids had started before I was due to go home. I would then stay overnight, sleeping in the Concert Hall. Broadcasting House received a direct hit one night but it must have been a small bomb because as far as I remember there was relatively little damage. However one night the BBC Theatre was severely damaged.
At the outbreak of war there had still been a very high level of unemployment, but now with so many men being drafted into the armed forces the situation had reversed. Men over miltray age were now wanted for some form of work of narional importance. My father went into the Metropolitan Policeeee War Reserve and became a Police Constable at Hampstead Police Station. In June 1941 I became 18 years of age and it wasn't long afterwards that I received my conscription papers. I was allocated to the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment for my basic army training. I said my farewells to my parents who were clearly most upset. I think mt faather was particularly concerned as he had served inthe First World War in the trenches of Flanders and, having been wounded, finished the war driving army transport. I went to the Albany Barracks at Newport on the Isle of Wight. My Army career had begun.

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Message 1 - Re: Wartime Work at Broadcasting House

Posted on: 26 August 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Spencer

Whilst I very much enjoyed reading your story, could I respectfully point out that Morrison indoor shelters were not issued until March 1941; they were very effective but unfortunately came too late for the London blitz. Nor were they made of angle iron, that has little strength.

You will find a full description of them here F2429487?thread=859507

Regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

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