Whilst researching one item you very often come across the mention of another which intrigues. This was the case with a quote from Mrs. Dunn, nee Shingleston after she was rescued from her bombed house in 1941. She said, “We dived into the Table Shelter. Almost immediately the whole house seemed to crash on top of us. We were choked with dust and in pitch darkness, but we found that we were not hurt.”
The question that this raised was that, if the shelter was some type of table then wouldn’t you get ‘under’ it, rather than get ‘into’ it?
A chat with Herbert Austin who, as a young child lived at the bottom of Borstal Hill, gave the answer. “We called it a table but it was actually a cage about the size of a double bed. Us children would sleep inside it and our parents on top of it. If the siren went off they would join us inside.”
Armed with this knowledge we investigated further. Morrison Table Shelters were named after Herbert Morrison, the Minister of Home Security at the time. They had been developed after it was realised that many families had no cellar that could be used as an air raid shelter and insufficient room for an outdoor shelter. They were given to householders as a do-it-yourself kit of 359 parts and measured 6 ft 6in (2m) long, 4ft (1.2m) wide and 2ft 6in (0.75m) high, had a solid 1/8in steel plate “table” top, welded wire mesh sides, and a metal lath “mattress”- type floor. 500,000 were distributed by the end of 1941. They saved many lifes, being capable of withstanding the weight of debris falling on top of it, but were not able to give much protection in the case of a direct hit. The first time these shelters are accredited with saving lives was here in Whitstable on September 11, 1941.
Our research may have ended there but, by chance, we came across a copy of the assembly instructions amongst a pile of leaflets at an antique fair. The following is from that leaflet.
Page 1 (Front page)
How to put up your
Morrison “Table” Shelter
Issued by the Ministry of Home Security
THE WALLS OF MOST HOUSES give good shelter from blast hand splinters from a bomb falling nearby. The bomb, owever, may also bring down part of the house, and additional protection from the fall of wails, floors and ceilings is therefore very essential. This is what the indoor shelter has been designed to give.
WHERE TO PUT IT UP
Ground floor if you have no basement.
Basement, if you have one.
If your basement is under a part but not the whole of the house, the portion of the ground floor with no basement below is better than the basement itself, because the risk from splinters above ground is small, while rescue from the ground floor is easier than from the basement if you are trapped by fallen debris.
Under no circumstances should the shelter be placed on the first or higher floors or in a ground floor room below which there is a basement.
You may have to put the shelter into the room where you need a table; but if you have a choice, choose the room whose walls give the best protection. Protection is needed especially up to the level of the top of the shelter (2 ft. 6 ins. high), so the room with fewest openings down to floor level (doors and french windows) is the best.
A room facing the garden is better than one facing the street, because the soft earth may allow the bomb to go in deep before exploding, thus reducing the danger from bomb splinters.
What to do to the room
If existing walls don’t give enough protection, strengthen them as explained in the Ministry of Home Security booklet “Your Home as an Air Raid Shelter” (obtainable from H.M. Stationery Office or through any bookseller, price 3d. net).