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Muriel Wells

November in that year of 1940 was as usual dank and dark, but it had been also very wet. Our Anderson shelter in our small garden was flooded. Not surprisingly, as when it was dug out, there had to be some hasty infilling because they had struck a spring! We were given a dispensation to have it higher out of the ground, and a double layer of soil placed on top. Even so the rising water table meant that the shelter flooded; rather inconvenient with night raids on the increase.

So Mum set up a temporary shelter in our tiny walk-in pantry.

On the night of the 14th November, we, having had our tea were ensconced in this little haven because the air-raid warning had already sounded. My father had yet to return from his work at the Rootes Group factory in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. Because of the difficulties in travelling through the city whilst a raid was in progress he cycled around the perimeter along country roads, until he was close to home. His dinner was at the side of the hearth, on a covered plate, keeping hot over a pot of boiling water. It was a meal that he wasn't destined to eat!

We were snug in our siren suits, all-in-one garments that kept out the cold, and were quietly playing----with one ear on the bangs, bumps and thuds that seemed to grow nearer. I was drawing on a pad,----when suddenly there was a explosion near at hand. All the lights went out, windows and doors blew in, the glass kitchen extension was shattered, and there was dust everywhere. When Mum shone her torch I saw that the pad had vanished and I was holding a thick piece of glass!

Things were hotting up, and no mistake. The shelter was the place for us! Luckily the water had gone and a paraffin stove had been airing the shelter, but there was no seating or any of the comforts we usually had.

Mum led us down the garden path and carried Roy. We were left standing there whilst she fossicked around in the house for chairs, then she returned and not being able to find blankets in the confusion indoors, she grabbed her old coats that hung behind the back door. Then returned for a few other comforts and some food. A brave lady as it wasn't at all quiet and shrapnel was raining down from the anti-aircraft barrage.

Dad arrived and was relieved to find us all safely, if uncomfortably, installed in the Anderson shelter. However he had to go on duty immediately because as an ARP Warden he had to deal with the many incendiaries that were dropping and later, help deal with a gas main, in Crabmill Lane, a few yards from our street, that had blown up. These wardens bravely did the above, ducking into doorways when it seemed advisable! My father's beat was in the district of Paradise---but it was anything but that, that night!

You see, Paradise was part of the Foleshill area, the northern industrial suburb of Coventry. Winding through it was the Coventry Canal with factories sited along its banks, from when water was the primary transport for heavy goods during the Industrial Revolution. Brilliant moonlight reflected from the canal helped to pinpoint the location of the Foleshill factory sites---no wonder that it was "hot" in our area!

The night seemed interminable and we longed for it to end. We were scared, particularly when things got close, but we knew that Mum didn't allow screaming. Without being harsh, the philosophy that had passed down from the older generations had always been, "If you are going to make all that noise about nothing, then I'll give you something to make it for". The threat was enough!

Suddenly our world rocked violently and I heard three bumps followed by bangs. Phew---that was very close! "Mum do bombs bounce?" enquired Muriel, far more naive than the youngest of her descendants, today! What had happened was that a stick of bombs had fallen on our street. Fortune was indeed smiling upon us that night, as though our house was badly damaged and was later demolished, it still stood---in a fashion. The house next door was flattened, (as was half the street), and its bedroom floor was acting as a prop to our house.

Finally morning came and Dad was able to go to the General Wolfe area of Foleshill where my Grandma and Auntie Florrie lived, to see if they were safe. En route he'd found his way impeded by a tangle of ropes of some type and he picked his way delicately over them.

Auntie accompanied him back to Silverton Rd. and to their amazement they had to do a wide detour. Those "ropes" were the parachute harness of an unexploded landmine!

We were collected up and walked via the many detours to Webster St. where Auntie and Gran's house was still standing, but was stripped of its roof tiles. We looked an odd sight, two little girls dressed in their mother's coats and having to hold them well clear of the ground. But they were unremarked upon, as there were even odder sights that day.

What I do remember very vividly is the amount of debris and mud covering all the roads and pavements. It became very difficult to walk and felt as though we had concrete clogs on! When we got to Grandma's house we sat on her high front step and cut the mud and muck off our shoes, using her kitchen knives. Once we were settled there was a hunt for tarpaulins to sling over her roof and rope into place.

I can't remember the sequence of events after that, but I suspect Reuben cycled over from Bulkington to check up on us all. They would have been watching the night's proceedings from their rural safety, five miles away. Somehow, we found ourselves back at Great Aunt Alice's place, where we'd stayed so recently for a break from the raids.

Everyone helped each other in those times and often in the months ahead Joyce and I shared our double bed, with three of us at the top and three at the bottom, when family or friends needed emergency accommodation.

Above all my parents made us feel safe so we never felt real fear or panic. Now I am old I can more fully appreciate their achievement, during those difficult and dangerous times.

And what do I remember most about those days? The very distinctive odour of damp sandbags!

The Sequel-----Aftermath

Written by Muriel Wells