Children's Experiences during WWII

Account of a World War Two childhood

MS: I do remember the sirens and it was very scary. Just the sound of sirens is scary. If you hear sirens now they, they have, they leave this feeling inside you. I think they were made to do that. Unless it’s just something that stayed in my mind. But I would say that anybody hearing a siren would know that it was for something bad even if you’d never heard one before. But the all-clear sign, that was nice. And if you heard it now, you’d think “Oh, that’s nice!”


Q: So do you remember hearing the siren at night?


MS: Yes.


Q: Going in at night time particularly?


MS: That’s what I always remember, the night time, because the day time we were at school.


Q: So what happened there?


MS: Ah. This, yes, this evokes quite a bit. We all had to troop out. I think we had to put our, yes, of course we had to put our coats on. In twos holding hands because children always had to walk like that in those days. “Crocodiles” they’re called. I imagine it would be boys in one line and girls in the other because that, again, was the usual thing. 


They were specially built shelters which were made of bricks, and they were made of strong cement rafts. I think the floor would be cement. Then brick walls, and then this flat cement roof. That’s what I seem to remember. There were benches inside and they were damp. And really they smelt disgusting which meant that cats and dogs used to go in there...


Anyway we always had to troop in there and sit down and be quiet and then we would sing. And the thing I remember singing was “One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow”. You know the one. I expect we sang about ten green bottles as well. All those songs, and probably we said nursery rhymes. I’m thinking of Infant School at the moment. Junior School probably continued in the same way but it was the Infant School that stayed in my mind. Maybe because that was when we first did it so my memory’s stronger, you know, it’s the trauma or the excitement that stays in your mind. 


But it wasn’t scary because it was what you did. In fact it was exciting. Just think! When you’re five or six and you get away from your lesson for a little while and you walk out of school, not far, and go into this strange place and sing nursery rhymes. Well, it’s quite nice really, I suppose, apart from the foul smell and the dampness. Again, it’s something I can still smell in my imagination.


MM: What did the Anderson Shelter at home smell like?


MS: Alright! Earthy. But then I loved the smell of earth. It was earthy, it wasn’t unpleasant at all.


Glossary:

Anderson Shelter - a metal arch, used as an air-raid shelter in WW2

Evoke - makes you think of something else

Siren - warning alarm

Troop -  (walking) to walk in a group


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See the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.




 
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