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By then, Dad had perfected our air-raid shelter...

by Genevieve

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Margaret James
Location of story: 
Birkenhead, Liverpool
Background to story: 
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Contributed on: 
26 September 2005

From the outbreak of war until the following spring we had a ‘phoney’ war in Britain but then we watched helplessly as one small country after another fell to the Nazis, culminating in the terrible fall of France and it was not until the autumn that the Germans turned their attention to this country and the blitz on Merseyside began in earnest.

Liverpool was the headquarters of the North Atlantic operations and the Mersey was choked with shipping. It used to be said that you could have walked from Birkenhead to Liverpool across the boats! Together with all the other important and hush-hush operations going on in the district, we were a prime target for the bombing. Unfortunately it was not very accurate and there were more and more reports of smashed homes and civilian deaths as time went on.

I worked in a small branch of Martins Bank in the centre of Birkenhead and on December 20th 1940 we were caught out at the office by an early air-raid warning. We expected to work late as it was the bi-annual balancing of accounts and we had already worked flat-out from 8.30 a.m with no opportunity for a meal. I opted to work in the deep safe under the bank where I spent hours adding up endless columns of figures with the noise of the raid raging away outside. At midnight my manager upstairs called out “Margaret, I’m taking you home”. He was a perfect gentleman and insisted on my wearing his warden’s tin hat. Home was only a mile away but it took us an hour to reach it as we had to throw ourselves on the pavement every time a bomb dropped near us. I don’t mind admitting that I was terrified.

By then, Dad had perfected our air-raid shelter which the authorities said was safe from everything except a direct hit. He never used it himself as he was a warden and out in the streets in every raid, but with my mother, sister Nelda and sometimes visiting friends, we trooped out every evening for over a year carrying food, knitting, books, etc, and even an enchanting little puppy which always slept with my sister in her sleeping bag.

The raids continued through that winter, increasing in ferocity. The noise was terrible, and much of it came from our own anti-aircraft guns, which sounded as if giant bicycle chains were being tossed up into the sky. That should have been reassuring but the dreadful whistle and crash of dropping bombs was not.

This story was collected by Lis Edwards and was submitted to the People’s War site by Becky Barugh of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Mrs Margaret James. The story has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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