The Good Germans: Having a Nazi in the Family

The names Hitler, Goering and Heydrich will forever be drenched in blood. Forever mocked. Teased. Spat on. Have songs sung about them regarding various states of testicular development…or underdevelopment.

The actions and inactions carried or not carried out by three of the most reviled men in history have been condemned an infinity of times by survivors, soldiers, historians, ordinary people, politicians, students, teachers, professors, freedom-fighters…and even…their own families.

This is the story of the members of the Families Hitler, Himmler and Goering, who turned their back on the black sheep of their name, who would forever tarnish whatever good reputation they might once have had, or might possibly have had in the future. This is the story of how members from the families of the three most hated men in history worked against their relatives’ revolting actions to try and attone for the sins and misdeeds that would forever be linked to their names.

Just in case you don’t know who these men are (unlikely), here’s a brief rundown:

Adolf Hitler – Chancellor or ‘Fuehrer’ of Germany. Leader of the Nazi Party which ruled Germany from 1933-1945.

Hermann Goering – One of Hitler’s right-hand men. Head of the German ‘Luftwaffe’ (airforce).

Reinhard Heydrich – Senior S.S. general. He chaired the infamous “Wannsee Conference” where high-ranking German officials gathered to discuss the details of the “Final Solution”.

The Good Germans

This is a legitimate article about actual historical events and persons. All the people mentioned in this posting are real and they really did what they did. None of this is made up. Members from the families of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Reinhard Heydrich, really did conspire against them and worked against the Nazi war-machine during the Second World War. Their stories have been drowned by nearly seven decades of blood, but they are remarkable…and true.

So, let us begin.

William Patrick Hitler (1911-1987)

Related to: Adolf Hitler

Familial Connection: Nephew

William Patrick Hitler was born in Liverpool, England, in 1911. His father was Alois Hitler, half-brother to Adolf Hitler. His mother was an Irishwoman named Bridget Dowling.

The Hitler family is hardly conventional. It’s full of failed marriages, deaths, half-siblings and bastards (literally and figuratively).

William Patrick Hitler grew up in England. His father abandoned him at a young age and went back to Germany; William was raised by his mother, and he wouldn’t see his father again for nearly twenty years. When the First World War ended, William went to the new German ‘Weimar Republic’, the new Germany that had sprung up out of the dust and smoke of the end of the Great War. By now, it was 1929. In a few years, William’s uncle Adolf would seize power, in 1933.

William initially tried to take advantage of ‘Uncle Adolf’s new and powerful position as the new leader of Germany, but he became more and more dissatisfied with what he saw. He wanted Uncle Adolf to give him more to do, perhaps feeling that someone as influential as Adolf Hitler would have more influence. William even tried to blackmail his uncle. When this backfired on him, William fled to the United Kingdom in January of 1939. It was during this time that he wrote an article for a popular magazine, entitled “Why I Hate My Uncle”. Shortly afterwards, William and his mother moved to the United States of America.

When the Second World War started a few months later, William and his mother were trapped in the U.S.A. With German U-boats prowling the Atlantic Ocean looking to attack Allied shipping, it was too dangerous to sail back to England. Eventually (and understandably, after quite a bit of fuss), William managed to join the U.S. Navy, where he worked as a hospital corpsman.

After the War, William changed his name from the German ‘Hitler’ to the more English-sounding ‘Stuart-Houston’. He married and had four sons.

He died in the United States in 1987. He was 76 years old.

William P. Hitler had a sibling – A half-brother named Heinz Hitler (born to his father’s second wife, in Germany). Unlike William, Heinz joined the Nazis. He was captured by the Russians and tortured to death in 1942. He was 21 years old.

Albert Goering (1895-1966)

Related to: Hermann Goering (Nazi officer)

Familial Connection: Brother

Unlike his older brother Hermann, Albert Goering was a rather quiet, gentle sort of fellow. He hated the Nazis and the brutal tactics that they employed. He wanted to live the quiet life of a wealthy, German aristocratic gentleman, living somewhere in the countryside. Of course, having someone like Hermann Goering for a brother made these beautiful dreams rather harder to attain than usual.

Albert was so upset by what the Nazis were doing that he began to actively defy them…probably one of the few people who could do so, and get away with it. He helped Jews and political prisoners escape from Germany to countries of safety by getting them out of jail or by getting them essential travel-documents and money. He used to forge his brother’s signature regularly on important papers to help Jews escape.

So as not to be seen doing things that were suspicious, Albert would occasionally “help” the Nazis…in quite possibly the most unhelpful ways possible! He might sometimes be put in charge of Jewish transports. Only, trucks transporting Jews might never reach their work-assignments, prisons or labour-camps. Instead, they’d drive off a side-road, park in some quiet spot, and then Albert would turn a blind eye while all the prisoners hopped off the trucks and ran away into hiding, or tried to escape.

On occasions when Albert was arrested, he always managed to use his brother’s position as a top Nazi to get himself off the hook.

When the war ended, Albert was picked up by the Allies and interrogated extensively. But when all his supporters (mostly Jews) came to his defence, charges of Nazism were finally dropped.

Albert made a modest living as a writer after the war. He died in Germany in 1966. He was 71 years old.

Heinz Heydrich (1905-1944)

Related to: Reinhard Heydrich (S.S. General)

Familial Connection: Brother

Heinz Heydrich was the younger brother of Reinhard Heydrich, a respected general in the German S.S., the paramilitary organisation that was so heavily involved in the carrying out of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”; nothing less than the complete anihilation of the entire Jewish population of Europe.

Heinz Heydrich was a lieutenant in the S.S. Originally, he was very proud of his Nazi association and his older brother’s position within this unique organisation. He was a journalist by trade, and published the party newspaper. He continued his active association with the S.S. until June of 1942.

Early in June, Heinz’s older brother Reinhard died, asassinated by resistence-members in Czechosolvakia. His car was ambushed at a blind corner in a road and he was mortally wounded, dying a few days later in hospital.

It was this event that changed everything. Almost overnight, Heinz received a bundle of Reinhard’s personal papers and files…included in these were detailed plans about the “Final Solution”, in which Reinhard had been heavily involved.

Realising fully for the first time what he’d signed up for when he joined the S.S., Heinz was horrified. He burnt most of the papers in disgust.

Soon after this event, Heinz began to realise that he was in a truly unique position. Being the brother of a prominent S.S. general (albeit, a dead one), and being the editor of the party newspaper meant that he had a lot of influence. He used this to help as many Jews as possible escape from Germany. As a writer and editor of the party newspaper, Heinz had access to a commercial printing-press. He used this to print fake travel-documents which he signed and forged and stamped, and gave to Jewish families, so that they could escape from occupied Europe to countries of safety.

Heinz continued this work for two years, and might have lived out the war and be acquitted at the Nuremberg trials, if not for an event in November of 1944.

An investigation was launched into the goings-on at the S.S.’s newspaper offices. It was a pretty mundane thing – They just wanted to know why there was such a shortage of paper (in 1944 Germany, a lot of things were in short supply). Heinz, terrified that he’d be found out, committed suicide, shooting himself in the head.

He was 39 years old, and left a wife and five children behind.

Want to know more? Or perhaps you don’t believe me that all this is possible?

“Why I Hate My Uncle” – by William Patrick Hitler

“The Good Brother: Albert Goering”



Click-Click-Click…Ding! A Typed History

Fewer machines have made more of an impact on the world than the humble typewriter. For over a hundred years, this little machine was responsible for everything from newspaper-stories, film-scripts, some of the world’s greatest novels and stories, letters to loved ones and friends, and some of the most famous speeches of the past century.

The Birth of the Typewriter

Well…where did the car come from? Where did the lightbulb come from? Where did the electric telegraph come from?

We think the answer is simple and can be traced to the genius of one man. But as is often the case, the typewriter, just like with all the other things mentioned above, it was the contributions and discoveries and inventions made by lots of people that eventually culminated in one great, mutually-beneficial machine.

The idea of having a machine that could be operated by one man, and which could print out anything that the user wanted using movable type (hence the name ‘type-writer’), is an old one, and dates back at least to the 1700s. While people had been trying for hundreds of years to create a workable typing-machine, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that real progress started to be made.

The Hansen Ball

This curious machine is the Hansen Writing Ball, so named for its spherical shape. It was invented in 1865 by a priest, Rasmus Malling-Hansen. Put into production in 1870, this was the world’s first commercially-available typewriter.

The Hansen Ball was typing genesis. It was the first real typewriter. But like anything that’s the ‘first real’ of anything, the Hansen was still very much a prototype of things to come, and came with a number of annoying shortcomings. The most obvious one is that, due to the arrangement of the keys, it’s damn near impossible to read the text of what you’re typing while the paper is in the machine. It was pretty clear that something better had to be invented.

The World’s First Typewriter

Behold the first-ever commercially successful typewriter:

What you are looking at is the Sholes & Glidden typewriter. The world’s first really successful typing machine, developed in 1867. It has the familiar type-bars up the top with the roller, and the keys and the spacebar down the bottom in front of the typist. Laid out in this now-familiar manner, this typewriter became wildly popular because it was easy to use, had everything designed in an easy-to-see layout, and was the first typing machine with the now-standard “QWERTY” keyboard (where does ‘Qwerty’ come from? Take a look at the first six letters at the top left of your keyboard in front of you).

The QWERTY keyboard was designed to stop typewriter typebars jamming together by spacing out the keys and typebars of the most frequently-used letters in the English language.

Sholes and Glidden were the men who invented this machine – Christopher Latham Sholes and his friend, mechanic Carlos Glidden. With assistance from printer Samuel Soules, the three men put together their new machine in a workshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

In time, their prototype was ready and was unveiled in 1873. Try as they might, the men couldn’t mass-produce their typewriters, and so they sold it to
a firearms manufacturer.

This firearms manufacturer was looking to make more things than just guns. They were already making mechanical sewing-machines, and they saw this new ‘typing-machine’ as the next big thing, and snatched it up.

The name of this company?

E. Remington & Sons.

To this day, Remington typewriters are still considered among the best in the world, along with Ollivetti, Royal and Smith-Corona.

The Sholes & Glidden typewriter was renamed the Remginton No. 1. Although it was fairly practical, it still had a few shortcomings – you were still unable to see what you were typing on the paper. And the typebars only had capital letters on them. But it was at least better than the Hansen Writing Ball.

Improving the Typewriter

The Remington No. 1. was successful, but only moderately so. The shortcomings mentioned above slowed its acceptance by society, and the relative complexity of its operation meant that special people (typists!) had to be trained in using this new machine.

By the the 1880s and 90s, typewriters had improved markedly in design. Now, you could see what you were typing as you typed, due to a rearrangement of the typebars and the manner in which they struck the paper. You could type in both upper and lowercase letters and typebars didn’t tangle up and jam as much as they uesd to. By the turn of the century, the modern mechanical typewriter as we know it, was developed.

The Impact of the Typewriter

The impact of the typewriter was amazing. For the first time in history, a person could write faster than what he could with a pen. He didn’t need to keep dipping his dip-pen into an inkwell. His writing remained neat, constant and level throughout the entire word…sentence…line…page…document!

The typewriter made everything faster, neater, easier and more standardised and uniform. The typewriter also saw the entrance of women into the business workforce for the first time. Secretaries hammered away at their machines, typing out copy and speeches, reports, essays and memoranda. The typewriter was changing everything.

Once, writers had to handwrite everything. Now, they could type it up. Some of the greatest stories in the world were typed up on typewriters, and some typewriter-brands became famously associated with various authors.

Typewriter Lingo

Ever since the 1980s, the typewriter has become less and less of a business machine or desktop staple, and more and more a historical curiosity. But to this day, we still use a lot of typewriter jargon in our everyday lives.

Don’t believe me?


You see this on your email textboxes all the time. “C.C.”, stands for “CARBON COPY”. In the days of typewriters, to make a carbon-copy meant to sandwich two pieces of paper around a sheet of carbon-paper. All three pieces of paper were then cranked into the typewriter. When a typebar struck the ribbon, the ink would imprint itself onto the first sheet. The force of the typebar hitting the page would press some of the dye out of the sheet of carbon-paper and imprint the same letter onto the second sheet of paper behind it. This second sheet of paper would be called the ‘carbon-copy’.


The most important key on a keyboard. It opens windows, closes folders, starts new lines, begins movies and does so many things in computer-games.

But have you ever noticed that this oh-so-important key, locted on the right of your keyboard, isn’t always called ‘ENTER’?

On some keyboards, it’s called ‘RETURN’.


The ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’ key is descendant from the typewriter, back when you started a new line and returned the carriage to the extreme right by pulling on the carriage-release & return lever.


Aah, the shift-key. The bane of civilised internet-users.

But why is it called a shift-key?

The Shift Key, the one that transforms your lowercase letters into CAPITALS, is a holdover from typewriter days. It gets its name because pressing this key on the typewriter quite literally ‘shifted’ the keys. It moved the basket (the semicircular collection of typebars) up so that when a key was pressed, the capital of a letter would strike the ribbon and mark the paper, instead of its equivalent lowercase letter.

The hammerheads of all typewriter-bars actually have two letters (or other appropriate symbol on it) instead of one. The regular letters or symbols struck the ribbon and paper when the typewriter was in default mode, but pressing the shift-key shifted the basket so that capital letters (or symbols such as the $-sign or the &-sign), on a particular hammerhead would strike the ribbon and paper instead.

Back then, just as today, the Shift key was operated by the pinky-finger. Today, it’s pretty easy to hold down Shift and just TYPE LIKE THIS.

But try doing that with a mechanical typewriter and you’ll probably sprain something. So to combat this, you had…


The Shift-Lock or Capitals-Lock (“CAPSLOCK”) key was introduced to hold the basket of typebars in the capitals-position while typing out headings or other parts of a document that had to stand out. This function allowed the typist to type out long sections of capitalised text without putting extra strain on the pinky-fingers which would otherwise have to have held the shift-key (and the entire basket of typebars) in-place while this operation was completed.


Typewriters have the famous shortcoming of not allowing the typist to delete or remove previously typed text. And yet…they have a key called ‘Backspace’, a key that, if pressed on a modern computer keyboard, deletes previously-typed letters.

So what’s the point?

The backspace key shifted the carriage back one or more typespaces when it was necessary to type in more text on a particular line (such as when filling out forms and so-forth).

Typewriter Components

Typewriters are complex machines. What are the various elements of a typewriter called?

The bed of keys is obviously the keyboard. The long thing that slides back and forth along the top of the machine is the carriage. The semicircular row of typebars (that fly up when a key is pressed) is called the basket. The two rollers on either side that scroll in the paper are called the platen-knobs. The round drum on the top of the carriage which the paper curls around is called the platen. The tray behind the platen which the paper rests on is the paper-table.

On the left of the carriage are two levers. They are the carriage-release lever, and the carriage-return lever. The release-lever sends the carriage back to the starting position. The carriage-return lever starts a new line. More modern typewriters chucked out the return-lever and the carriage-release lever performed both functions simultaneously.

The two tabs that held the paper against the platen (to stop it wiggling around) were called the paper-fingers. To get the paper-fingers to release their grip on your hard work, you had the paper-release lever. To shift the carriage freely from left to right, you had the secondary carriage-lever, that allowed you to unlock the carriage and move it freely and then lock it back into place and resume typing (handy for creating centered headlines, lists, etc, without constantly pressing the spacebar and wasting valuable inches of ribbon).

When a key was pressed, a typebar would fly up and strike the ribbon and mark the paper. The middle of the typewriter, between the two round ribbon-spools had a small square or rectangular window set into it, which each key would aim for when it hit the paper. This was the type-guide. It did double-duty in ensuring that every key would hit the same spot and create a neat line of text, and it also held the typewriter ribbon in place, to stop it wiggling around and causing the typebars to miss it when they hit the paper.

For the typewriter to print the stuff that you wanted onto the paper, you had the typewriter ribbon, the ribbon that ran around the two ribbon-spools on either side of the typewriter, and which was impregnated with ink. Most ribbon-spools were two-toned. Black, and Red, depending on the colour of ink you wanted to use.

Last, but not least, you had every typewriter’s most famous component.

The warning-bell.

The point of the warning-bell was not to tell you to stop immediately and start a new line. The purpose of the bell was to tell you that you were reaching the end ofthe page. When the bell rang, you were obliged to finish typing your current word, then pull the carriage-release and push it back to the start to begin the new line.

The Evolution of the Typewriter

The typewriter lasted for over a hundred years. Well into the 1980s and 90s. It wasn’t until computers became really practical that typewriters stopped being used. But until then, you had everything from mechanical typewriters, electromechanical, totally electric typewriters…made from steel and then increasingly out of plastic, with all kinds of features that people invented and added to these machines to try and make them as practical and as efficient as possible.

I’m just old enough that when I was a child, I learnt to type, not on a computer, but actually on a typewriter. I used my parents’ old Canon electric typewriter to do my homework and type stories on. I still remember the electronic ‘Beep!’ of the warning buzzer and pressing the ‘Return’ key and watching the carriage slide back to the start-point. I even remember learning to change the typewriter ribbon by myself when the machine ran out of ink, and unravelling old ribbons and holding them up to the light to read all the words I’d typed on them!

Gosh, typewriters are fun to muck around with when you’re 10 years old…

Desktop and Portable Typewriters

The typewriter, just like the computer, came in two varieties. The desktop typewriter, and the portable typewriter. It’s pretty easy to tell which is which, purely based on size.

This is a desktop typewriter:

Made of solid steel, as you can see, this Remington 12 is quite a monster. These typewriters were so huge and heavy that in some cases, carpenters would build special typewriter desks just to support their massive weight, and to cope with the vibrations caused by thousands of keystrokes and hammer-strikes every single day.

It’s probably not surprising then, that typewriter manufacturers created portable typewriters.

This is the Remington Portable #7. As you can see, it’s MUCH smaller and more compact than the much chunkier and heavier desktop model up above. These typewriters were designed for journalists, teachers, office-workers and writers who did a lot of travelling. They were the laptop-computers of their day. And just like laptops, they came with their own carrying-cases.

The Typewriter Today

The typewriter finally ended in the 1990s when practical home-computers began to take over and the typewriter was consigned to history. But that doesn’t mean they’re forgotten. A lot of famous writers today still use them. Until he died a couple of years back, children’s author Brian Jacques (pronounced ‘Jakes’), creator of the fuzzy little Redwall series, would type up all his stories on a mechanical typewriter (because he found computers too complicated to use). Actor Tom Hanks is an avid typewriter collector.

Blind people still use a variation of the typewriter today. Perhaps you’ve seen one of these?

It’s called a Perkins Brailler. It’s a typewriter for the blind, and many blind people still use them today. Made of solid steel, these machines punch out the raised dots known as ‘braille’, which blind people read with their fingertips. The six keys, pressed in various combinations, punch out the six-dot braille code into special, extra-thick braille-paper (ordinary paper doesn’t work on a brailler because the force of the keys punching into the paper would rip it to pieces). The sliding toggle on the top is the carriage. Pressing on it slides it back to the left, or to any other point along the line, allowing a brailler to start typing on any point of the page.

I used to be acquainted with a number of blind students and although I never used one, I saw Perkins Braillers on a regular basis. They’re probably the closest thing to a typewriter still used on a daily basis today.

Last, but not least, let us never forget one of the most indelliable marks that the typewriter has left on modern society. A little piece of music written by composer Leroy Anderson in the middle of the last century, simply called…

‘The Typewriter’:

…A piece of music that can only be played successfully with a vintage mechanical typewriter (they’re the only ones which create enough noise, and which have the distinctive sounds to work with the music).


Raining Hell: Surviving the Blitz

Back in December of 2009, I wrote a two-part article about the British home-front of the Second World War. Although I covered a lot of things, upon reviewing that posting, it’s become apparent to me that I didn’t really write that much about the Blitz, the concentrated aerial bombardment of British cities by the German Luftwaffe from 1940-1941.

This posting will concentrate on the purpose, aims and effects of the Blitz on London during the Second World War.

What was the Blitz?

The Blitz is probably the most famous event of the Second World War. Although it was by no means the first time that civilians were exposed to aerial attacks, it is certainly the most memorable.

The Blitz was the deliberate and concentrated bombing of British cities and towns (although the main target was London), by the German Luftwaffe in the period between the 7th of September, 1940 to the 10th of May, 1941.

The Blitz gets its name from the German word “Blitzkrieg“, ‘Lightning War’. This new, mobile form of warfare brought the war to the enemy, instead of waiting for the enemy to make the first move. The whole point was to strike first and strike fast. Just like lightning does, hence the name.

The Purpose of the Blitz

After the fall of France in mid-1940, the German war machine turned its attention to the British Isles. It was the German intention to invade Britain, but they realised that an invasion would be impossible if they didn’t manage to knock out at least one of the Britain’s two most formidable fighting forces.

Great Britain was defended by the Royal Air Force (the RAF), and the Royal Navy, then the most powerful blue-water navy in the world (and had been for the past 200 years).

The Germans knew that they couldn’t hope to fight and win against the Royal Navy, but they hoped that they would be able to attack and destroy the Royal Air Force. So began the Battle of Britain.

The Battle of Britain was supposed to knock out British air-superiority and allow the Germans to launch their invasion of Britain with unchallenged air-support. Unfortunately for the Germans, the British were made of tougher stuff than they’d supposed, and after several weeks of vicious aerial combat, the Germans were forced to surrender. It was the first battle in the war that the Germans had lost.

Unable to beat the RAF, the Luftwaffe decided instead to try and destroy British cities and towns to demoralise the British people. The Nazis thought that, by doing this, they could force the British to surrender to the might of the Aryans and cease their hopeless and useless attempts to struggle onwards in vain. So began the Blitz.

Preparing for the Blitz

The British Government planned for months for the coming of the Blitz. They never expected the Germans to play nice, so they had plans for every eventuality and scenario, including large-scale aerial bombardment of heavily populated cities.

Amongst these preparations were…

– Evacuation of children, babies, toddlers, expectant mothers, the ill and the elderly from towns along the south coast and major cities, to country towns further north, out of the effective range of German bomber-planes. This mass evacuation, which started on the 1st of September, 1939, was called Operation Pied Piper. It was the first of several evacuations from large British cities throughout the war.

– Issuing everyone, man, woman, child and even babies, with gas-masks. The British fully expected the Germans to bomb them with mustard gas, chlorine gas and other nasty and potentially deadly gases. No such gas-bombings ever took place, but nevertheless, civilians were urged to carry their gas-masks with them everywhere they went, and were reminded to keep them in a place at night where they would be instantly accessible.

– Enforcing a blackout throughout England. Street-lights were turned off. Car-lights were covered. Bicycle-lamps shielded. Thick, heavy blackout curtains were distributed to every single home and business and every night, these curtains had to be put up over a building’s windows so that not a single streak of light could be seen. The blackout was enforced with amazing strictness. You could be fined for showing even the smallest amount of light!…Even the glowing tip of a cigarette!

– Issuing the public with personal air-raid shelters. Anderson Shelters and Morrison Shelters (more about those later).

– Inflating enormous barrage-balloons. Barrage-balloons were huge, gas-filled floating balloons that were shaped like blimps. They floated above the cities and towns of England (and other allied countries) to protect people from low-flying enemy aircraft. If a low-flying German plane appeared, it would have to fly around, or over the barrage balloon, or risk crashing into it and having the balloon’s tethering-cables wrap around its propellers, causing it to stall and crash. Some balloons had explosive charges on them, so that any plane that crashed into them set off the charges and the balloon exploded, taking the plane down with it.

Barrage balloons floating over central London during the War. The building at the bottom of the photograph is Buckingham Palace

Surviving the Blitz

So…what happened during an air-raid?

Fortunately for the British, they were equipped with a new wonder-technology. It was called Radar. Or correctly, R.A.D.A.R, which stands for “RAdio Detection And Ranging”. Although it was in its relative infancy at the start of the war, RADAR allowed the British to monitor enemy airplanes. Where they were, how many there were, how high they were and where they were going. The Germans never figured out what RADAR was until after the war. They never equated the huge radio towers on the south coast of England with aircraft detection.

RADAR allowed the British to keep an eye on enemy planes. And most importantly, it allowed the British to warn large cities of incoming enemy air-raids. RADAR posts would be contacted by radio and telephone and then the warnings went out in the form of air-raid sirens.

There were two types of air-raid sirens in the war. The smaller, hand-cranked ones which could be operated by one man, or larger, electromechanical ones which were powered by electricity. There were a number of warnings that these sirens could give out, but the two most common ones were “Red Danger” or “Red Alert” (continuous high-low tone), and “All Clear”, (continuous high-pitched tone).

Even with radar. Even with sirens. Even moving as fast as you could, the chances of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during a raid could be pretty high. From the moment that the sirens went off, you had between 10-15 minutes to make it to an air-raid shelter before the bombs started to fall.

To give you an idea of just how terrifying a raid was, imagine the following scenario:

You finish work early and go home. During the war, businesses closed shop early so that people could get home in time for air-raid preparations. Perhaps you have to walk, tripping over rubble, broken glass, wood, masonary, blown up cars, around cordoned off streets…in the dark, because there’s no street-lights burning…and the Underground is out of action from power-shortages and bombing.

Imagine getting home to a small, rationed dinner, putting up the blackout curtains and going upstairs to bed in your cold bedroom. It’s cold because like everything else, coal is rationed, so you can’t keep your furnace burning all the time like you used to.

You fall asleep. Exhausted. You’re woken up at one o’clock in the morning by the steady, wailing, high-low tones of the nearest air-raid siren. You’re groggy, dizzy, tired. You can’t see straight in the half-light, and you’re only dressed in your night-clothes…and you have ten minutes to run out of your house with all the things you hold dear…and make it to a bomb-shelter before your house is blown to pieces and you become another statistic. If you live with your family, imagine having to round up the kids…your wife, your husband, your brothers, sisters, your parents, grandparents…and getting them all up and moving and out of the house in the middle of the night when they’re all ten minutes. In fact make that five minutes. Because after ten minutes, you’re dead.

Imagine staying in your shelter during the raid. You can’t sleep because of the sirens, the fires, the explosions, the rattling of the flak-guns and the reports of anti-aircraft cannons going off, mixing with the sound of aircraft engines overhead.

You stay up all night, wondering if the next bomb has your name on it. When the raid is over, you leave the shelter and wonder if your house is still standing. Whether your friends are still alive, whether that one person who didn’t make it into the shelter on time is dead or not, or whether they managed to hide somewhere and survive. Imagine having to clear away rubble and pick through the remains of your destroyed house. Imagine not being allowed to go back home because there was an unexploded bomb in the middle of your street.

Newsreel footage of the Blitz

Imagine having to do this for seven months. That was how long the Blitz lasted.

Imagine having to do this every single night, after night, after night, after night, for two and a half months without pause. That was how long the Blitz concentrated on London alone.

That was the reality of the Blitz.

Air Raid Precautions

Now that you have a mental picture of the panic of an air-raid, you can imagine the sheer terror that gripped people when those sirens went off every single night.

So how did they cope with it?

Well, enter the A.R.P.

A.R.P. stands for “Air Raid Precautions”.

The ARP was responsible for the safety of civilians during air-raids in Britain during the Second World War. They evacuated people from their houses, they did head-counts, they directed people to shelters, they assisted with raid-related emergencies such as fires, rescues, unexploded bombs (or UXBs as they were called) and collapsed buildings.

The men on the ground doing the work for the ARP were the ARP wardens, with their metal Bodie-style helmets and dark blue uniforms.

Apart from the above-mentioned duties, ARP wardens also enforced the blackout. “Put that light out!” was a common thing to say if a light was visible from the street. Wardens also issued gas-masks, personal air-raid shelters, patrolling the streets at night, and handling bomb-damage. ARP wardens and fire-watchers would carry buckets of sand with them during an air-raid to put out incendiary bombs that had exploded and set things on fire. Incendiary bombs were firebombs filled with nasty liquids that would fizzle, burn and explode if you tried to put the bomb out with water, so sand was thrown on them instead to prevent the fire from spreading. ARP wardens also gave raid-victims first-aid and would help the police and firemen recover dead bodies from destroyed buildings and shelters. Apart from their helmets, ARP wardens were also given handbells and specially-manufactured Metropolitan police-whistles with “A.R.P” stamped onto them, to use as alarm and attention-attracting devices during a raid.

An ARP helmet, bell and metropolitan-style ‘ARP’ police whistle

Amazingly, the ARP existed long before the War ever started. It was formed back in 1924!


Well, during the First World War, London was bombed by German zepplins and bomber-planes. During these early raids, there was no prescribed way of handling the situation, since it was completely new in the history of warfare. Determined to be prepared if it happened again, the ARP was established to assist people during an air-raid if London was ever bombed again in the future.

The ARP wardens had among the most dangerous jobs in England during the War. Imagine having to run from your house in a raid to find a shelter in the pitch black when the sirens went off. Imagine having to roam around the streets directing human traffic, having to order people around, having to calm hysterical women, screaming children and panicking men while sirens scream and bombs explode around you, knowing that at any second, a bomb could go off, a building could collapse or catch fire, and you’d be dead. Imagine having to try and herd dozens, hundreds, of panicking people into an air-raid shelter in the height of the chaos, with only your hands and your police-whistle to direct people and get attention – Don’t bother shouting out orders – nobody would hear you over the sound of the explosions and sirens.

Such was the reality of being an air-raid warden.

Air-Raid Shelters

So what exactly were you supposed to do when the air-raid sirens went off?

Well, in the five or ten precious minutes of warning that RADAR and sirens were able to give you, you had to snatch all your worldly belongings, gather the people of your household, get your gas-mask (you HAD to take it. No exceptions. Even the Queen Mum carried hers with her everywhere she went) and run for the nearest shelter.

What kinds of shelters were available to people during the War?

In Britain, air-raid shelters varied significantly. They might be railroad bridges, church crypts, the cellars and basements of big buildings, or most famously – Underground Tube stations. Seventy nine of them were converted into air-raid shelters and underground workshops during the War.

But what if you couldn’t make it to a public air-raid shelter or gathering-point in time? What did you do then? Perhaps the nearest shelter was four blocks away.

Can you run four blocks in two minutes?

If you couldn’t, then you had to rely on the government-issued air-raid shelters. They came in two styles. The Anderson Shelter and the Morrison Shelter.

Anderson Shelter

Designed in 1938, a year before the war even started, this crude air-raid shelter was named for Sir John Anderson, the chap in charge of air-raid precuations.

The Anderson Shelter was a cheap, D.I.Y. shelter. It came delivered to your house (or you could go out and buy one) in fourteen prefabricated parts: Six roof-panels, six side panels, and two end-panels (one with a door, to create an entrance).

When properly assembled, the Anderson shelter was designed to hold six people. The shelters were six feet high, four and a half feet wide, and six and a half feet long. And it wasn’t just a matter of bolting them together in the garden as a children’s cubbyhouse. You had to dig a hole in the back yard! Six and a half feet long, four and a half feet wide (for the length and breadth of the shelter), and four feet deep! You assembled the shelter in the hole, with additional space for the door, and then you covered the entire thing with earth to provide shock-protection.

Despite how flimsy the whole construction sounded…these things did save lives.

But what if you didn’t have a garden, and you lived miles from the nearest public shelter?

Then you used the…

Morrison Shelter

The Morrison Shelter was named for Herbert Morrison, then Minister of Home Security. The Morrison shelter was a heavy, steel table with wire sides between the legs and base. It was designed to hold two to three people and protect them in the event of a raid. Because of their design, Morrison shelters often doubled as coffee-tables or dining-tables in people’s living-rooms during the War. In a pinch, you could open the side of the shelter, crawl in and slam it shut behind you.

The Purpose of the Shelters

Duuuh. To protect you against bombs!


Anderson Shelters and Morrison Shelters were not, and never were, designed to protect you against bombs.

Be serious. Is a metal table or a few sheets of corrugated steel, going to protect you against a bomb weighing thounds of pounds?

Of course not.

Well then what was the point of having them?

The point of these shelters was not to protect you from bombs. They were never designed to take a direct hit. Instead, they were designed to protect you from shrapnel.

When a bomb drops and explodes, it sends out heaps of shrapnel. The metal shell-casing, bricks, glass, wood, mortar, chunks of concrete and all other kinds of flying debris. Every single one of these things is a potentially lethal missile. If they hit the sides of the Anderson Shelter, you would be safe. This was why the shelters were dug into the ground and covered with soil. To protect against shrapnel.

Morrison shelters protected you from above. They were designed to withstand the force of the house collapsing on top of you if it was bombed. The table-shelter would give you a ‘safe-zone’ in which to hide, protected from the rubble, until ARP wardens and fire-watchers could extinguish the flames and get you out alive.

Public Shelters

If you didn’t have a garden or space for a Morrison Shelter in your apartment, then in an air-raid, you could use a public air-raid shelter. The most famous public air-raid shelters were the seventy nine Tube stations that were converted into bomb-shelters and underground workshops during the War. Some stations which were no-longer used might be converted into storage-areas or workshops. But other stations which still received regular traffic were used as air-raid shelters.

Ducking down in the Tube was hardly pleasant. How would you like to spend the night in a cold, draughty, piss-soaked subway station with dozens of other people, with blankets and cold food and no toilets and rats and water and the wailing of the sirens, the blasting of anti-aircraft cannons and the explosions of bombs up above you all night?

The British Government initially dissuaded people from using the Tube as an air-raid shelter. They were scared that, once everyone went underground, they’d never want to come out again.

When these fears were proved groundless, the government picked out the nearly eighty stations across London that could be used to house people in air-raids. They were fitted with extra toilets, lights, running water, bunk-beds and even special trains that came by with hot food! At night, Tube workers would cut the power so that Londoners could sleep on the railway tracks without getting electrocuted by the current that ran along the third rail which powered the subway trains.

Of course…you had to be able to wake up on time in the morning, otherwise you might get run over by the morning rush-hour!

People kept their spirits up down in the Tube with songs and games. Many people would actually arrive early! They’d show up in the station after work with their wives and husbands and kids, tea and sandwiches, blankets, coats and pillows, and pick out the best spots in the station to bunk down for the night.

Other public air-raid gathering points included basements, cellars, church-crypts and bridges. While none of these provided complete safety from aerial attack (almost nothing could protect you from a direct hit), they were made available for those people who had nowhere else to run.

Despite the provision of private shelters and the setting-up of public ones, a significant number of Londoners actually chose to sleep in their own homes during the air-raids. Since sleeping in the shelters didn’t guarantee safety, some Londoners decided that if they were going to die anyway, they’d prefer to die in their own homes.

The Baedeker Blitz

The main body of the Blitz on the United Kingdom was over by mid-1941. However, that didn’t mean that the danger had completely passed, and throughout the war, the Germans continued to conduct air-raids on British cities and towns. The next most famous set of raids were collectively called the Baedeker Blitz.

These air-raids were named after the famous Baedeker (pronounced ‘Bay-Decker’) guidebooks. The Baedeker Co. (ironically, a German company!), was famous for printing in-depth guidebooks of famous countries and cities for the travelling public, covering everything from England to France, Italy to China. They were the Lonely Planet of their day.

These raids, which took place between April-June of 1942, targeted the famous tourist and cultural centers of the British Isles, such places as would be mentioned in the famous Baedeker Guidebooks (hence the name).

Cities targeted included York, Bath, Norwich, Exeter and Canterbury. The famous Canterbury Cathedral was one of the targets during the Baedeker Blitz. Fortunately for the British, the bomber missed the Cathedral (although not by much). Unfortunately for the British, the bomb struck the cathedral’s archives building, destroying it in a direct hit.

V1s and V2s

By the last year or so of the war, the Germans were in deep trouble. The Allies were closing in from the East and West. From France, British, Canadian, French, Polish and American forces were charging towards Berlin. In the East, the Russians were steamrolling the Germans back, taking bloody revenge for their fallen comrades, whom the Germans had previously captured…and killed…in their hundreds of thousands.

But that didn’t stop the Germans from trying to strike at England. In 1944 and 1945, they developed and launched first the V1, and then the V2 rockets. These crude weapons were the predecessors to today’s guided missiles.

Launched starting shortly after D-Day, the V1s were nicknamed ‘Doodlebugs’ because of the buzzing noise they made when they flew overhead. Although probably a powerful psychological weapon, in reality they were not as effective as the Germans had hoped. Doodlebugs were slow and cumbersome. British anti-aircraft cannons could take them out with relative ease. And even when the Germans launched doodlebugs en-masse, only one in four ever made it past the anti-aircraft guns.

The V-1 ‘Doodlebug’

The V2s, much faster and more accurate, were so advanced for the day that they were beyond the capabilities of anti-aircraft gunners to shoot down. Deciding that it was impossible to destroy the rockets once they were in the air, and unable to destroy the launching areas (hidden and well-protected), the British instead relied on disinformation and espionage to defeat the Germans and their fearsome new Weapon of Mass Destruction.

For the duration of the war, the British had been training a large number of spies. Some spies were British. Other spies were Germans who spied for Germany, but who were captured by the British and turned into double-agents, spying for both countries, but only supplying useful information to the British. Some German spies actually hated the Nazis. They would sign up for spy-duties, get sent to England, and the moment they could, they would hand themselves into British authorities, divulge their mission-details and any handy bits of information, and then switch sides and spy for the British.

This complex network of spies and misinformation was called the Double Cross System. And the British used their extensive network of agents and spies to screw up the Germans and their V1s and V2s.

Because of the crudeness of these early missiles, the Germans had to rely on their agents in England to tell them how successful the weapons were. Egged on the British, the German double-agents would send back misleading reports.

If a missile missed London (or another prominent target), information sent back to Berlin was that the missile was on target and that nothing should be changed.

If a missile hit its target, then a message sent back to Berlin would say that the missile had been ranged too long (or short) and that corrections would have to be made. These ‘corrections’ would in fact result in the previously-accurate missiles going off-target and striking smaller communities or exploding harmlessly in the countryside.

Using these tactics, the British were able to redirect the majority of German V-2 rockets into less-populated (or completely unpopulated) parts of the country, where a bomb-explosion was less likely to kill someone.

By early 1945, with the Allies closing in on Germany on all fronts, and the Germans running short on everything from food, to water, fuel, ammunition and more essential things like lederhosen, their campaigns of terror against Britain finally ceased.

Cities all over the British Isles were devasted by the bombing. Streets were cordoned off, buildings were demolished, entire families might be wiped out. Apart from London, probably the hardest-hit city was that of Coventry, where almost the entire city was flattened by German bombing in one night. So intense was the bombing that the Germans invented a new word to describe the sheer level of destruction – Koventrieren – to Coventrate – or to destroy something completely.

Few people today can imagine the terror of exploding bombs, the scream of air-raid sirens and living in constant, daily fear. For many people, it’s something they read about in history-books, see in movies or in episodes of ‘Foyle’s War’…But it did happen.