What was an air raid?
Big bombs exploded with a loud bang and blew buildings apart. Small bombs called 'incendiaries' started fires. Firefighters worked bravely to put out the flames. Rescue teams pulled people from fallen buildings. Ambulances took the injured to hospital. When the planes had gone, the sirens sounded the 'All Clear'.
Air raids on London began in September 1940. This was the start of the Blitz. Lots of other places were bombed, including industrial cities and ports such as Birmingham, Coventry, Southampton, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Hull and Glasgow. There were air raids on seaside towns, such as Eastbourne, and on cathedral cities such as Canterbury.
In 1944, Britain faced attacks from new weapons. First came the V-1, a robot 'flying bomb'. Then there was the V-2, a rocket which flew so fast no-one could see or hear it coming. London was the main target for V-1 and V-2 attacks.
Where did people shelter?
Many people had their own air raid shelter. Called an Anderson Shelter, it could be built in a small garden. It was made of steel panels. The panels were 'corrugated' (made wavy), which made the shelter strong, especially with soil spread over the top. There was an entrance at one end. Inside was a bench-seat, which could become a bed at night.
Public shelters were made of brick and concrete. No-one liked them much. They were dark, smelly and not as strong as they looked. In London, more than 150,000 people went into Underground stations every night for shelter. They slept on the platforms.
A shelter at home
To put up an Anderson shelter, you had to have a garden. From 1941, people could have an indoor shelter, called a Morrison shelter. It looked like a steel table with wire mesh around the sides. You could play table tennis on top, and crawl inside to play. People slept inside too, though it was a bit squashed and you felt like monkeys in a cage!
The Morrison shelter was very strong. People inside were usually safe even if the ceiling of the room fell down on top of them.
Civil Defence was like a civilian army of volunteers. 'Observers' watched for enemy planes, and sounded the air raid alarm with sirens. Fire-watchers on high buildings looked for fire-bombs. They put out small fires using stirrup pumps and buckets of sand. Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens hurried along the streets, checking the blackout. It was important not to show lights at night, in case enemy planes used the lights as guides to their targets.
ARP wardens organized rescue efforts. It was very dangerous for firefighters, ambulance crews and rescuers, with bombs, fires and buildings collapsing. Sometimes after a raid, unexploded bombs lay around, and had to be made safe.
After an air raid, everyone was tired. Rescuers and helpers were glad of a cup of tea made in mobile canteens by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS).