Air Raid Precautions

As early as the day that war was declared, Jim reported at Brackenwood, the local headquarters for Air Raid Precautions. Two days later on September 5, she was on night duty. She and four others arrived at eleven o’clock for an uneventful shift. Although the sky was lit with anti-aircraft searchlights, Jim had difficulty seeing on the journey with streetlights being blackened.

Over the next weeks, there were courses to attend and Jim gradually built up her knowledge of safety procedures. Once school resumed, she sometimes carried out a night duty as well as teaching. This made her tired and irritable.  With so much on her mind, it is not surprising that she had bad dreams. For instance, on October 2, 1939, she woke in the middle of the night with a fearful feeling of dread. She imagined herself in a black, impenetrable pit with her senses swimming away.

Turning her experience into something positive, she created a story with an amusing twist.

Going to Bed

Whoo-oo-OO, whoo-OO-OO-OO, whoo-OO-OO-eeee wailed the siren one bitterly cold winter’s night about 11:30pm.

Crump-p, crump-p and almost at the same moment the electricity failed. It was no use thinking of the parable of the foolish virgins now. I was alone in the dark, very much alone too, no neighbours for miles around and, outside, the broken, menacing noise of enemy machines flying overhead in an inky sky crossed with searchlight beams.

There was nothing I could do: the fire was out, the lights were out. I was very, very weary. I thought of the rhyme. “Where was Moses when the lights went out?” Oh no, not that for me – “Sitting in the corner with his eyes poked out”. I might as well go to bed.

I stayed for a while, irresolute, shivering in the freezing dark then I climbed the stairs and, after stubbing my toe, groped my way across the room to my bed. Kicking off my shoes, I lay down between the blankets, pulling the eiderdown closely round me.

Hiss! What was that? I moved gently. Hiss! It seemed to be coming from under the bed. I lay still. There was no noise, only the sickening drone of enemy machines going over in hordes. Hiss-ss! There it was again, this time from behind the picture rail.

All kinds of fancies flickered through my tired brain when Hiss-s-s-s! more insistently this time and I suddenly knew what it was. Hiss-ss-s-s! It was an incendiary lodged in the roof and it must be ready to explode at any moment. It must be one of those devilish new kind. Do you leave severely alone or do you approach cautiously from behind a four-feet-thick wall? Do you spray or jet?

Brief relief then more panic

Beads of perspiration broke out on my forehead. I opened my mouth to yell but no sound came out. My limbs felt stiff and as heavy as lead. I failed to move them. My last second had come and my life had never seemed more desirable when, numbed as I was, I felt an icy trickle in the spine. Was this some fresh devilry of the Hun? Incendiaries were hot, surely? I put my hand down and drew out my old rubber hot water bottle, squeezed dry as a lemon. I must have lain on it and the hiss was the water slowly squeezing out. Clammy with perspiration and icy hot water bottle, I staggered stiffly out of bed.

Crump, crump-p of bombs and – boom-boom – I could hear the quickening beat of an enemy raider being chased by one of our fighters. They were just overhead – bombs might be jettisoned. Shaking with cold, I lay down again on the driest side of the bed and wrapped the eiderdown tightly around me again.

I must have dozed off for I felt as light as a feather as if I were floating on air in the room. Then I changed into a bird being chased by a hawk. I soared, I dived, I circled and always it was just above me, a hideous fowl with cruel, red-rimmed yellow eyes, a sharp hooked beak and long talons ready to seize and rend me. I felt the rush of air from its wings as it swooped and missed. My wings beat frantically, my heart tore at my breast as if it would burst. I flapped desperately to flutter free, the peril was on me. With a despairing croak, I made one last violent effort when – thud!

I was on the floor. It was daylight and all around me was the soft white down I had plucked out of the eiderdown in my dream frenzy.