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A Miraculous Escape

Sheila survives a direct hit

1940 - the year of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and huge air raids on some of our big cities. I had just started at a grammar school in Birmingham. The night of our miraculous survival was my eleventh birthday - but there was no party celebration for me. We followed our usual evening routine and went down the Anderson air-raid shelter at about 6 o'clock - just before the first wave of German Heinkel bombers arrived with their high explosive bombs, land mines and incendiaries.

As we listened to the bombs exploding all around us we tried to outdo the noise with interesting discussions and singing. "We" included my father, my older sister, her husband and myself. We were comfy enough, armed with a flask of tea, torches and extra warm clothing for our night in the shelter, and eventually we all fell asleep in our bunks.

 

I remember nothing more until I recovered consciousness to find myself being carried to a first-aid post, where they bandaged my cut head. Our shelter had had a direct hit and the shelter and bunks had become a tangled, twisted mess. We had all been thrown out onto the ground outside but survived with cuts and bruises.

 

In the daylight the adults surveyed the devastation. Shrapnel had shattered all the windows and blown the roof off our house along with a couple of houses on either side. The house bordering the bottom of our garden was half destroyed and a bed was hanging perilously over the edge of the first floor. A tree in the garden next door had been uprooted and fell onto their Anderson shelter and crushed it. Fortunately the family who were usually in it had decided to sleep in the cellar that night - so they were safe.

The bomb crater measured 24 ft. across and in it were the remains of our air-raid shelter. Even the local press came along to write an article and to take pictures. Streams of people came to have a look and everyone said that we had had a truly miraculous escape.

The following day I was evacuated to an aunt in Derby and two months later I joined my new school in the small town of Whitchurch. We all lodged with families we hadn't met before and it was two years before I was reunited with my family. So much suffering and so many families disrupted.

 

It saddens me that in the 60 years since those days the new generations have not understood that greed and power will always mean cruelty and war. Will human beings ever learn, I wonder?

 

Sheila Cooper (nee Delaney)
20th June 2001

 


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