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Newsletter, January 2011 (Issue 182)

Air Raid Shelter Museum


It was a bright sunny morning, the first Saturday in September, and I was lying in bed listening to the Today programme on Radio Four. One of the main features was the 70th anniversary of the start of the Blitz on London. A thought occurred to me. I hadn't been to the Air Raid Shelter Museum for ages, and as it was the first weekend in the month it would be open that very morning. So I got up, had a quick breakfast, leapt on to my bicycle (got to keep my carbon footprint low) and pedalled over to Clifford Road School.

The museum is situated in underground tunnels that formed part of the school's air raid shelters during the Second World War. Now covered by the black tarmac playground, all you see above ground is the triangular concrete entrance, some flag bunting and a sign saying 'Museum Open'. I descended the steep steps down into the shelter, turned the corner and there was Jacqui Gallington sitting at the reception desk with a big smile on her face. She is the lady, a volunteer, who actually runs the museum and does most of the hard work. Like all the other volunteer helpers she is dressed in period costume; in her case a Paisley housecoat, headscarf and a 1940's style cardigan. The enthusiasm of all the volunteers to recreate the atmosphere of the 1940s really brings the shelter to life, concentrating as it does on the experience of people on the home front during the war.

Jacqui told me that the shelter museum was doing very well. The slow but constant trickle of donations of 1940's bits and pieces from members of the public, quite often after they have visited the museum, has enabled Jacqui to constantly evolve the themed displays of wartime memorabilia. For example, a newly developed feature displays a number of wartime newspapers. Whilst we were chatting there were regular arrivals of paying customers. There is a small entry charge to help with running costs.

Having left Jacqui I had a quick look round and then before I left I couldn't resist taking another 'journey' on the Underground 'train' (made from bits of a genuine 1938 London Underground carriage). "Mind the doors!" calls out Reg, looking very smart in his railway uniform, before he starts the sound and light effects. It's funny how something so simple can fire the imagination of visiting school children. The 'journey' over, I made my farewells, left the 1940s and ascended the stairs back into the sunlight.

LOUIS MUSGROVE

    Front cover of issue 182 Cover, issue 182

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