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A Shout From The Attic: Air Raid Warnings – Real and Imaginary

Ronnie Bray tells of improvised air raid procedures during World War Two.

At school, we had air raid practice. For a short warning, we got under our stout wooden desks. For long warnings, we ran to our billets. The nearby houses had specific numbers of children assigned to them and when the appropriate signal came, we ran from the school and into our billets. It wouldn’t work too well nowadays, but then all the womenfolk stayed home to look after the house and be there when the children came home from, school.

Our house was designated as a billet for some boys from St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic School, which was behind the church in New North Road. The boys would pour in through the back door (the front door was only used by Doctor Hanratty, an abrupt Irishman, and people who knew no better) and clamber down the cellar steps. They bunched together at the bottom of the steps intruding as little as possible into the room space, sensing that they were not altogether welcome.

I was not permitted to bring my friends in the house to play. The closest anyone got was Peter West who was sometimes allowed to stand just inside the back door, but that was as far as he ever got. Most of my friends, who were fortunately few, did not visit the house at all. Even now, I find I have to make a great effort of will not to retain visitors at the door before realising that I should invite them inside.

René and I were billeted with a lady who lived up Springwood Avenue. When the school declared an air raid warning practice we had to stream out of school and go to our billet. Women were always home during the day. The housewife who had not her shopping done by half past nine in the morning was thought slovenly. On one such air raid practice our interesting hostess refused to let us into the house either because, as she explained, “It’s not a real warning. If it was a real warning I would let you in,” or else, “I have company so you can’t come in!” So much for Yorkshire hospitality. She was probably from somewhere else. When the school heard about our being kept out on the doorstep, they found us a new billet with an old lady on Water Street who welcomed us into her home. Every Christmas she waylaid us on our way home and gave us a box of Neapolitan chocolates.

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To read earlier sections of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

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