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Shelter under a school
By Andrew Woodger
Tucked away under a school playground in a backstreet in Ipswich is one of Suffolk's little gems. The Clifford Road Air Raid Shelter Museum recreates life on the home front, but they're desparate for volunteers to help show people around it.
"The first air raid we had was on a Monday morning after war was declared and we sat under my neighbour's table with the canary for two and a half hours until the all clear," said Reg Farrow, who's the main volunteer at Clifford Road.
"We were just petrified and didn't dare move, although nothing happened in the air raid, you just didn't know what to expect."
There can't be many primary schools in the UK that have their own Second World War museum underneath them. The Air Raid Shelter Museum in east Ipswich was opened in 1990 by a team of enthusiastic volunteers.
Heading down to the shelter
It's one of three shelters under the playground, but the other two are sealed-off. Each one is a series of passages which turn corners, so that if a bomb did go off the debris would blast into a wall rather than simply fill one big room.
Steve Wood is the headteacher at Clifford Road: "When I got my headteacher's keys in 2008, I'd heard about the shelter but had never seen it - I was totally amazed!
"It's fantastic for us to have it under our playground. We use it in Key Stage 2 history for the study of Britain in the 1940's.
"We'd like every child in Ipswich to come and visit and we're working hard to do that alongside the humanities advisory team from the County Council.
"We've also been involved in a project with Colbayns Media College in Clacton making a film with pupils past and present - some of whom had used the shelter during the war."
The shelters were built in 1939 and around 200 people could fit in each one. The passageways are only about 10 feet wide, so if people needed to sleep in them overnight, it would have been a case of squeeze in and make do.
The museum features a passageway which is left more or less as it was (with sound effects from an actual bombing raid), with the other passageways being filled with a recreation of a wartime London Underground carriage, food packaging displays, costumes, gas masks and some of the music that you would have heard in that era.
A curator's memories
Reg was ten years old at the outbreak of war in 1939. He lived in the Stoke Bridge area. His air raid shelter was also under the playground of his school which was Luther Road (now Hillside Primary).
There were also communal shelters in the centre of town.
Ipswich was a target for the Luftwaffe because of the docks which contained shipping and minesweepers, the railways (Ipswich being a main junction for trains in all directions) and the factories such as Ransomes which made parts for tanks etc.
Clifford Road kids on the tube
Fifty three people were killed in Ipswich as a result of air raids. In the worst incident a mother and her eight children were killed in Nacton Road, while the father was blown away by the blast, but survived.
Reg's family had a 'Morrison'-style shelter in the front room at home: "I was never at school when there was actually an air raid, but I can remember the raids at night-time when we were at home and the windows are rattling and the doors and that sort of thing.
"Eventually you just took it in your stride hoping your luck was in."
Double history underground
School groups are regularly shown around Clifford Road by Reg: "I think these last few years, they've got more interested in it. They seem to be going more into it at school.
"I showed a group round recently and as soon as I played the air raid siren, they all put the gas masks on automatically and I've never seen that before!"
"Some people say 'why can't you open every week?', but if we did that we'd be living here," said Reg. "We want more volunteers to help us.
"I enjoy it down here. If you talk to people of my age they have actual memories and if you get middle-aged people they'll see things that they remember their parents having.
Display of ration books
"We'll get people saying their dad was on the railway, and I've got a book which lists everyone who worked on the railway."
Reg left Tower Ramparts School when he was 14 years old and worked on the railways from 1943 until he retired in 1991. His career path was office boy>cleaner>fireman> head-shunter.
"The trains that we were running were carrying bombs and petrol and I can remember one wagon catching fire and blowing up Soham Station [in Cambridgeshire]. There was another one at Haughley where a train ran through the stops and the bombs rolled off down the Newton Road.
"The poor driver was so upset because he thought he'd killed a lot of people that it put him in a mental home.
"The bombs were actually unfused, so they were safe, but they couldn't convince him that nothing happened."
For opening hours, contact the museum on 01473 251605 or visit the website using the link on the right.
last updated: 06/07/2009 at 11:16
Have Your Say
Do you have any memories of air raid shelters?
i remember going down too the ariade shellter and doing a film
I lived in Felixstowe duting the war, we had an Anderson shelter, and I have a scar in my knee from hitting the angle end in my hurry to get inside
i can remember shelters being under St Helens school, in st Helens church lane, where we lived,my bed had a steel on top of the bed, cannot forget that still have scare on my head when i fell onto it,my gran had one in her back yard,of Bramford Rd i think the name of the road was something like Rendelshome rd, i think the spelling is wrong Ha! Best regards to all Mick