- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Brenda Maitland
- Location of story:
- Filton, South Gloucestershire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 08 January 2005
I was just ten years old at the start of the Second World War in 1939. I lived in Filton, just outside the city of Bristol, but within the county of Gloucestershire. At first life went on as normal. Then people started making preparations for an onslaught from the air. We were all issued with gas masks which we had to carry with us at all times,
The major event of the first year for those of us at home was the digging of shelters in which we were to take refuge during air-raids. School fields were dug up to provide long tunnel-like shelters designed to take the children of both primary and junior schools, and we had to practise going to sit in them.
At first we didn't have a shelter at home. We were advised by the Government to get under the dining room table in the event of an air-raid warning. When the siren sounded, warning of approaching enemy air=craft, four of us, my parents, my sister and myself, had to get under the table, which was very difficult for my mother, who insisted on dressing first. It was obvious that this arrangement would not work. Our neighbours had put up an Anderson Shelter and offered to share it with us. The Anderson was not much more than a strip of corrugated iron bent over, supported by earth. It was very cold and damp and barely able to hold more than three or four people, standing up. We accepted this offer once or twice, but it was obvious this could not be the solution.
My father decided to spend £250, a lot of money then, on having a brick- built shelter constructed in the garden. A large hole was cut in the lawn. The shelter was to be partly below ground and partly above, with earth which had been dug out of the ground heaped up on the sides. We planned to sleep in the shelter and have wooden bunk beds installed for four.
Unfortunately, while the work was only just beginning and there was just a one foot deep hole in the ground, we suffered a disastrous daylight air-raid, on September 25th, 1940. Although my parents' house was close to open fields and the South Gloucestershire countryside, it was also uncomfortably close to a rapidly expanding aircraft construction factory, which proved to become a prime target for German bombers. On this particular Wednesday in September a squadron of 80 German bombers aimed at this factory, in Filton, at 12 noon, just as the aircraft factory workers were leaving the buildings to walk about in their lunch hour.The sky became black with low flying planes and the noise was deafening. The two men working on the hole in the lawn which was to be our shelter, shouted to my mother and to me to come out of the house, in case it was bombed. The men almost threw us into the hole, which was concreted, and to their credit, spread their arms over the top of us. We all crouched together with our heads down, as bombs rained around us. In a few minutes it was all over. The planes turned and left. Ninety one people had been killed, some in their air-raid shelters.
Work proceeded on the shelter and by November we were sleeping in it nearly every night. It was cold and damp. The spiders on the ceiling frightened me more than the bombs did. Bristol, four miles away, was being attacked nightly from the air and one night we stood in the garden watching the horrible red glow in the sky which was Bristol's main shopping thoroughfare on fire.
Night after night we spent in the shelter, listening to the sound of anti-aircraft guns, the steady throb of German planes going overhead, and the awful piercing whistle of a bomb coming down. One night a bomb screamed towards us, with a deafening whistle. It seemed to take forever before it reached the ground and then, silence. We clutched each other in terror. It had not exploded. Terrified we tiptoed back to the house when the raid was over, and were relieved to hear that a huge crater was in a neighbour's garden. The army bomb disposal men had to deal with that.
By now we had reached Christmas, 1940 , and we viewed with dread the prospect of spending two more winter months in the shelter. People were beginning to move out of Bristol at night, as the German planes always came under cover of darkness. On moonlit nights they followed the silver ribbon of the river Avon right to the heart of Bristol
We began to hear of families in the countryside outside Bristol offering accommodation to people from the city. We made enquiries and found that my mother and I could rent two rooms from an elderly couple in a village the other side of the city where there were no military targets. Life was very simple there. We got our drinking water from a well, and our washing water from a pump. We had a non-flushing earth toilet. However, we felt safe, and in the peace and quiet of the countryside were able to sleep at nights at last. My father and sister stayed at the family home. They were "fire-watchers", having to stay up at night to check that no incendiary bombs had fallen on the roof of our or other people's houses. This was done on a rota with other neighbours.
I stayed in these country lodgings for a year, attending the local Grammar School. We then decided that it was probably safe to return home .The Germans were bombing other British cities, like Birmingham, Coventry and Liverpool. As we lay in bed at night we heard the throb of them "going
over". They came back once more to bomb Bristol, at Easter 1941.
Four more years elapsed before the War was over.
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