Public Shelters

To begin with, the Government envisaged Public Shelters only for persons caught in the streets by air-raids and initially, therefore. Trench Shelters and Surface Shelters had no equipment but consisted merely of the Shelters themselves with room for people to stand upright. The approval of plans was slow and the whole machinery was so cumbersome that, at the outbreak of War, we were reduced to emergency action by the provision of 100 sandbag Surface Shelters to supplement the few Trench Shelters which had actually been completed. Ultimately we had 101 public shelters of various types.

Domestic Shelters

Until 1942, Domestic Shelters comprised only Anderson Shelters and of these some 18,000 had been installed by the outbreak of War owing to the fact that we had canvassed the Town thoroughly and had installed these shelters wherever the householder desired one. In 1942 an Indoor Shelter was produced in the form of the Morrison (or Table) Shelter, and many and long were the complaints of people with an Anderson Shelter who found they were not permitted to exchange it for a Table Shelter. The Government's instructions were, however, specific: no person with a useable Anderson Shelter was allowed to change over to a Morrison Shelter except in those few cases where a Medical Certificate could be obtained which clearly indicated on health grounds the need for an Indoor Shelter in replacement of an outdoor Anderson Shelter.

" Communal " Brick Shelters were also provided in those few cases where an Anderson Shelter could not be provided and made water-proof or where there was no room for a Morrison Shelter.

Bunks, Lighting and Lavatory Accommodation

When it became evident that raids would be of prolonged duration instead of being short and sharp, the Government decided to provide, first, seats and, later, bunks. Locally, once it had become evident that raids would not be brief, thousands of bunks were issued as quickly as they could be made, and the Council set up its own machine-joinery shop to provide the bunks without waiting for Government delivery. In addition, lighting by electricity was approved instead of the use of hurricane lamps. Lavatory accommodation (by chemical closets) was also provided and water supplies either by tap or, more usually, by water container.


Heating of shelters provided another difficulty. For some reason or other, the Government decided that wherever possible small stoves should be used in Public Shelters-whether Trench, Semi-Sunk or Surface - these to be supplied with solid fuel. In Walthamstow we resolved that, if at all possible, we would have electric heating installed, for not only was this cleaner, but we would not be dependent upon cartage for solid fuel.

This involved us in difficulties with London Region but, after prolonged argument, we obtained authority to install electric heaters in all our Shelters above a certain capacity.


During the prolonged blitz period of 1940/41, Shelter feeding was instituted in certain of the Shelters and this was expanded during the next year or two by provision of equipped kitchens at certain of the Trench Shelters. W.V.S. District Organisers, under the District Wardens, assumed responsibility for the manning of these kitchens and arranged for the sale of hot beverages and light refreshments. During the blitz, Shelterers were frequently fed by the attendance of our Mobile Canteens, the Friends Hall of Greenleaf Road also providing teams to assist in this direction.

In addition, the Churches of the Town came to our assistance, and an Advisory Committee consisting of representatives of the various denominations was set up and many Conferences were held by the Town Clerk and the Controller with the representatives of the Churches.

Use of Public Shelters

Although the public shelter accommodation before bunking took place would have absorbed 12,000 people, at no time did the maximum number accommodated ever exceed 7,000, (due, no doubt, to the ample provision in Domestic Shelters), and between the raid periods their use sank to very small proportions. When the Fly Bomb blitz began the figures rose in a few days from 70 to 3,964 but as the Fly Bomb disappeared the numbers sank to 230 on September llth, 1944. With the coming of the Rockets they rose again and for a while remained between 1,600 and 2,100, but by the time the last Rocket fell in London on 27th March, 1945, had sunk again to 964, although it was not until the night of 6th/7th April that even one of our Districts was able again to furnish a "Nil" return.

The total Shelter provision in the Town, after installation of bunks, was as follows:-

Type of Shelter Accommodation for persons
Anderson Shelters 87,488
Morrison Shelters 15,681
Communal Shelters 1,423
Public Shelters 8,676
Firms & Schools (Shelters used as public shelters) 330
Total 113,598

There is little doubt that at least in part our comparatively low casualty roll was due to our extensive provision of shelters.

Problems of Communal Life

Many were the problems provided by Shelterers themselves who for the first time experienced the difficulties of communal life at close quarters, but the appointment of a Shelter Officer at Headquarters ensured some centralised supervision of cleanliness of Shelters and also assisted to settle many of the disputes which arose from time to time between Shelterers. Under his supervision (and that of the appropriate District Warden) the Post Warden was made responsible for the Shelters in his own Area, and the Post Warden was usually assisted by Shelter Marshals selected by the Shelterers themselves.

It was a compliment to Walthamstow that all the Regional Inspectors in turn expressed their admiration respecting the administration, equipment, amenities and cleanliness of our shelters, placing them second to none among those of the 95 Authorities within the London Region.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen