Morrison Shelter

The use of indoor shelters (along the lines of a sectional steel shelter i.e. the Anderson Shelter) had been considered in 1938 but dismissed as not practical for a number of reasons:

  • The shelter would have to be small enough to fit into the standard ground room of 10 ft by 12 ft but be able to accommodate four people (six in an emergency).
  • It would not provide any additional protection against splinters than already provided by the buildings walls.
  • A collapse of the roof may drive the shelter through the floor or the collapse of one side of the house may distort the shelter.
  • The inhabitants may become trapped by rubble blocking the entrance making rescue difficult.
  • A risk that incendiary bombs may make the shelter an oven for trapped occupants
    • On Dec 1st 1940 Prof Baker was asked to design an indoor shelter. To overcome the problems identified in 1938 the design of the indoor shelter was an open steel framed construction.

      A study of houses shaken down by near misses showed that the upper floor (constructed of timber joists with floor boards nailed securely onto them) almost always fell in one piece either horizontally or in most cases hingeing on one wall that remained standing. The steel framed shelter was designed to absorb the impact of the falling upper floor which would then itself provide further protection against other debris.

      The dimensions of the shelter were fixed on practical grounds – the average double bed was 6 ft 6 inches by 4 ft 6 inches and the height of a dining table 2 ft 6 inches allowing it to be used a part of the furniture as well. The shelter had detachable wire mesh side panels which were immensely strong while allowing the maximum opportunity of people to escape from the shelter and would also prevent suffocation if covered in rubble. The frame was made from 6”x6” by 3/8” angle iron and a 1/8” steel plate top. This made the shelter perfect for use as table when not in use. The bottom of the shelter was laths made of strip steel 1” wide. Being independent of the room floor this would give some protection if the shelter was driven through the floor by the collapsing upper floor.

      The shelter was shown to Churchill on Dec 31st 1940 who was impressed by it and demanded half a million to be delivered in the next three months and this was met. The shelter proved very effective and saved many lives. It was particularly valuable during “tip and run” raids and “fly-bomb” raids when a family only had a few seconds to get under cover.

      Right: The house is demolished but the
      Morrison Shelter is still intact.

      A letter issued by the Borough Surveyor of Aldeburgh advising a household that they would shortly receive their free Indoor Morrison table shelter gave some hints on where to place the shelter:

      “Note carefully that the shelter must only be placed on the ground floor and not over a basement or cellar. It should be placed in a room the walls of which are at least 9” brickwork and if possible in the middle of that room so that you can get out on any side of the shelter.”

      The point about the brick wall was key – experience had shown that brick walls were proof against bomb splinters and the shelter should be positioned that a splinter would have to penetrate at least one wall. There were incidents of people being killed because of incorrect positioning of the shelter e.g. in front of French windows.

      The letter also added a tip for maintenance:

      “As you know, the shelter is made of steel and steel quickly rusts; if therefore, you desire to give it a coat of paint or enamel there would be no objection”.

      Records still survive showing the number of shelters issued to the inhabitants of Aldeburgh.

      Of the 1944 issues, eight were from October onwards, no doubt due to the V1 “fly-bomb” raids.

      People no longer wanting their shelter could return them to the Borough Council for transfer to other households or to be taken into store. Those not eligible for free shelters could purchase them for a sale price of £7 and the Council would buy them back if no longer required (the repurchase price was £5 less 5s collection fee i.e. £4.15s net).

      Of interest are two incidents involving Morrison Shelters in Suffolk given in Lord Baker’s book which are worth detailing. The first incident occurred at Bixley Road, Ipswich during the early morning of June 2nd 1942. Two shelters were involved, one with three occupants in a bungalow (No 125 Bixley Road) and five in the second shelter in a two-storey semi-detached house (No 129 Bixley Road). A 500 kg bomb fell 65 feet from the corner of the bungalow, which was demolished and almost immediately after a second bomb was a direct hit on a corner of the room containing the shelter. The shelter was blown 10 feet into the next room and all three occupants escaped unaided. The same raid also contained oil and incendiary bombs mixed in with high explosives. Heath fires were started near by. The blast from a HE bomb demolished No 129 Bixley Road. All the occupants (a father, mother and three young persons) were in the shelter. The heath fires spread to the debris of the house. The occupants were rescued 2 ½ hours later although badly scolded due to the water played onto the burning building and trickling onto the occupants. The mother later died of shock due to her burns.

      The second incident occurred in Lowestoft on June 5th 1942. A HE bomb landed 20 feet from a bungalow demolishing it and leaving a crater 48 feet diameter and 12 feet deep. A child in the shelter survived and escaped unaided. Unfortunately her parents did not as they were in the habit of only taking shelter on the “alert” – in this incident the bomb fell before the “alert” was given so they were not in the shelter.

      References:

      Enterprise versus Bureaucracy – The Development of Structural Air-Raid Precautions during the 2nd World War, Lord Barker of Windrush, O.B.E., Sc.D.,F.R.S., C.Eng, Pergamon Press 1978

      Aldeburgh Air Raid Shelter papers, SRO

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Free Sale Transfer Repurchase
1942 163 7
1943 107 10 14
1944 13 12 2
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