hartlepool history logo

Air Raid Patrol by Margaret Brain

In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project Margaret Brain from the 'Writing Together' group reminisced about her experiences of Air Raids. This is her story, in her own words:

When I was fifteen I left school and became a clerk at a fruit merchants in Whitby Street. This was soon after a bomb had destroyed St James’ church and a school in Musgrave Street. As a result, the windows in our office were partly boarded up which made the office quite dark.

My uncle was a leader in a demolition squad involved in rescuing people who were trapped in the ruins of bombed buildings. One night we had an air raid and the first land mine ever was dropped in Elwick Road damaging a large number of properties and killing about eleven people.

Most houses had an Anderson shelter in the back garden but we had a Morrison shelter. The shelter consisted of a large sheet of cast iron surrounded by cage wire. It was more than double bed size and was always made up for a bed. My mother used the top of the shelter as a table for cutting out clothes patterns.

I remember going to the Forum cinema one night when there was an air raid warning. My friend and I decided to stay and watch the film, but eventually, the sound of bombs being falling drove us out into the street to seek shelter. Outside, the sky was alight with flares being dropped by the enemy aircraft so that they could see their targets. The planes were trying to hit the steelworks and shipyards.

At the age of eighteen many women were conscripted to work in factories or munitions. I wanted to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service but by the time I was of age to enrol, the government of the day decided not to take on any more recruits and so closed entry. However, my boss decided that I should apply for deferment since we were so short staffed.

My immediate boss was an Air Raid Precaution Warden in his village of Greatham. He was also in the Home Guard and did fire watching at night. All this work made him ill and as a result my work load increased. I was then deferred right up to the end of the war. During this time I began work at the report centre which was based underground at the Gray Art Gallery. I did shifts every fourth day after my normal day at the office. During an air raid we had to man the phones and report casualties and damage. We slept in the Art Gallery when it was quiet. We had screened beds and bedding and downstairs we could play table tennis or snooker. The young messenger boys had sleeping quarters downstairs, their job was to take messages on bicycles throughout the town to those caught up in the aftermath of war. We were paid a little money and it helped to supplement our small amount of wages.

At the end of the War, I became a blood donor which was a comparatively new thing at the time. 

Related items :