World War 2 history is a fascinating subject, and is something that I’ve started to introduce my 7 year old son to in recent weeks. I think it’s really important that kids understand our history, in particular what out not too distant relations went through. As part of that we’ve been getting outdoors with our GoPro to see what WW2 bunkers and artefacts we can find on the south coast of the UK across Dorset and Hampshire.
One of the most interesting explores we’ve done recently is this abandoned air raid shelter in the Canford Cliffs area between Bournemouth and Poole. You can see our exploration of it in the short video below.
WW2 air raid shelter in Canford Cliffs, Poole
Set in a residential area next to a children’s playground, the Canford Cliffs air raid shelter (also known as a bomb shelter) is simple to get to and relatively easy to climb inside. There’s a small concrete wall you need to hook your leg over, which I assume was designed to stop the semi-underground bunker from flooding, as it’s not enough to stop people getting in.
Once in you go around a little corner aspect into a domed shelter. There are 3 sets of benches running down the outsides and middle of the room and I would estimate that you could probably seat between 60 and 80 people.
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for local people running to the air raid shelter in the 1940s when the bombing sirens went off.
Whilst the bombings of nearby Southampton are more well-known due to the military importance of the city, we sometimes forget that Bournemouth and Poole suffered too. In fact, according to a report on the BBC in in 2013, the impact was significant:
“More than 2,200 bombs fell on Bournemouth during World War II, killing up to 350 civilians and servicemen. Nearly 14,000 buildings were affected, with 75 destroyed, 171 demolished and thousands more damaged.” (view source)
Another source I read online says there were 50 air raids on Bournemouth in total between 3rd July 1940, and February 29th 1944, so you have to assume that the Canford Cliffs bomb shelter was used a significant number of times.
I can’t find much information about German bomb damage to Canford Cliffs aside from one online comment. It explained that there was a hotel lost to bombing in WW2 in what is now the land adjacent to The Cliff pub. From what I can ascertain on Google Maps, that would have meant a bomb destroyed this old hotel within 160 metres or less of the air raid shelter.
There’s also another story on the BBC History website which recounts the memories of a boy growing up in Canford Cliffs during World War 2. He recalls how his school was bombed meaning he was unable to attend class. You can read the full story here on the BBC, which contain the following excerpt:
“All the children used to collect bits of the German Messerschmitt aircraft which had been shot down, to take to school. One day when Adrian walked to school he was faced with an eerie sight — his school had been bombed the previous night and was no longer a recognisable building.”
I wonder if Adrian was one of the children who inevitably used the bomb and air raid shelter in Canford Cliffs on the outskirts of Poole and Bournemouth, Dorset?
Was it an air raid shelter though?
Whilst there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the structure was built during wartime, whether it’s an air raid shelter has been subject to online debate.
I read a lot chatter on social media that this bunker in Canford Cliffs isn’t actually a World War 2 air raid shelter at all. Some people have claimed that it was one of many entrances to cliff defence tunnels built during the war.
However, the arguments were finally put to bed by some comments from other people who claim to have been living in Canford Cliffs as children during the Second World War. Here are just two of my favourite comments about the underground bunker.
“It’s an old air raid shelter and I am surprised it’s still there! We used to play in there as kids in the years just after WWII. I also played football or cricket on the green nearby, much of which was taken up by a static water tank.”
“It’s an air raid shelter. My dad used to have to go there when the sirens went off from where they lived in grandpa’s shop in Canford Cliffs.”
That’s good enough for me.
The people who left those comments also mentioned that the air raid shelter was paid for and built by the local residents of Canford Cliffs.
Considering how accessible the air raid shelter is, it’s really surprising what great condition it’s in. There are no visible signs of graffiti, which is extremely unusual for a underground WW2 bunker or bomb shelter – certainly compared to others we’ve explored in Dorset and Hampshire recently.
Let’s hope it stays that way and is preserved for future generations of visitors.
And finally, if you do visit it, please do respect the place and if you can and have the time, take any rubbish you find in it and put into a nearby bin.