Reinforced concrete ribs were lowered into the trenches approximately 4 feet apart with reinforced concrete panels to make the walls and roof, photograph below. A layer of tarmac was placed on the top, so that the playground could still be used.
Construction of a Trench Air Raid Shelter at a Brighton School in 1939.
After the war, the shelter entrances at the Downs Junior School were demolished and forgotten about until 1983 when during maintenance work a manhole cover was lifted and the shelter was rediscovered. The conditions in the shelter were poor as it had been sealed up for over 40 years. The school together with volunteers decided to carry out a refurbishment project with the aim of opening the shelters to public view.
The tour started with a descent of a steep metal ladder through a manhole cover in the upper playground. Our guide told us that when the shelter was first reopened it was filled with water and smelt unpleasant. Work was undertaken to make it safe for people to enter and walk through. The passageways formed a figure of 8 although each passage was straight.
One of the metal step ladders used to access the trench shelter today shown above. Originally these would have been emergency exits from the shelter with one at either end and a third exit in the middle of the figure of eight.
The shelter has been turned into a museum with numerous items of memorabilia, letters written by children, and video clips showing children leave class and going into the shelters. There were also some audio recordings; including the voice of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain informing the country that we were at war with Germany.
Wooden slat benching had been fitted in one of the passageways as they would have been during World War 2.
A large screen showed planes overhead, there was an almighty roar from a plane’ s engine and the sound of it dropping its bomb which hit the ground followed by the ground beneath our feet violently shaking.
It was good to experience something of what children went through during the war.
The exit was by means of the steep ladder we had used to enter the shelter.
The school are now trying to raise enough money to have a set of steps built to provide an easier access to allow more people to view the shelter.
The tour lasted about 60 minutes with our guide explain the various displays and answering questions.
Once out of the shelter we looked at a display with more pictures from the war years in Brighton and artefacts from World War 2.
The school has produced a book of the stories people have given them of war time memories.