Tales of the Wartime Waterside Air Raid Shelters
During the Second World War, local people sought protection from bombing raids in public air raid shelters. Homeowners could also assemble smaller shelters in their own gardens.
Garden ones were called Anderson shelters. These were issued free to homes earning less than £250 a year. Those on higher wages were charged £7 for a shelter.
But not everybody had one.
This lack of protection resulted in the chairman of the New Forest Rural District Council opening a July 1940 meeting by saying: “I hope we will all do our best to encourage the people in our areas to show the same courage and reputation as is shown by the members of our fighting forces.”
Another councillor then requested the Totton to Fawley area be defined as “vulnerable” to bombing, therefore needing a larger supply of Anderson shelters for local inhabitants.
Aside from the Anderson shelters being supplied for gardens, further notes from the time show larger public air raid shelters being planned. Four in Totton, four in Hythe, one in Marchwood, and one in Fawley.
There are also records of public air raid shelters in many Waterside roads. For example, there were two on Thornbury Avenue in Blackfield. In Hythe there were many locations including South Street near the railway bridge, Hobart Drive, New Road, Jones Lane, Shore Road and School Road. One in School Road was positioned outside the Coastguard House, with another at the bottom of the lane.
In the Abbott and Parkes book, “Hythe School” they explain how 3 air raid shelters were delivered to Hythe Primary in June 1939. These were dug in a couple of feet at the rear of the playground, bolted together, strengthened with bricks and cement, and covered over with earth for additional protection.
George Elsey was a local man serving at the flying boat base on Shore Road in 1942. He recalls how co-workers would cross the road to bunker-style shelters built into the bank beneath the railway line. Given that Hythe’s British Powerboat Company was bombed in 1940, this would have been extremely valuable to them.
But once war was over, most public air raid shelters were dismantled. Understandably people wanted to forget the war and move on. As a result, over the next decade many of these ugly concrete structures were torn down.
However, many private shelters remained in gardens, as some still do to this day.
In fact, property sale ads for local houses in the mid to late 1940s would often feature air raid shelters as part of the sale. I imagine the thought here was for prospective buyers to use them as storage in the immediate post-war period.
The public shelters remaining in the Waterside area would often become places for local children to play in. Some recall playing in shelters up until the 1980s.
Occasionally public shelters were re-purposed. For example, in New Milton one was mooted to be used as a bandstand or bus stop. One shelter on Hythe’s Shore Road was even converted to a public toilet in 1949.
However, it was this shelter that was to be the scene of a gruesome crime.
On July 16th, 1956, Sidney Hand, a Lymington hotelier, was found lying dead in a pool of blood in the converted air raid shelter. A 19-year-old naval rating was arrested and charged with murder.
In response to the crime, a local councillor said the toilet was a “den of iniquity” and had become a “gallery for perversive drawings and gives rise to filthy conditions from abnormal habits”.
On a lighter note, in 1993, a local man told the Daily Echo how as a boy during the war he had to run to a large shelter outside Crete Cottages in Dibden Purlieu. Before he could take cover, a bomb hit a cesspit in a garden 30 feet away.
The contents of the cesspit exploded into the air, coming back down onto the poor lad, covering him with the nastiest of smelly fluids.
Fast forward to today, and a handful of air raid shelters remain in the Waterside area, many of which are on public land.
For example, there are two on Badminston Common near Fawley which served cottages that are no longer there, and another two in nearby roads. There’s one in Roughdown Lane in Blackfield, plus a few in local gardens including Marchwood.
Some also survive in Eling and Ashurst and there are many in Totton gardens, and two even buried by the roadside of the Totton Bypass.
I am sure there are many that also still exist I’m not aware of.