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Exeter folk and friends in their own words - << Previous storyNext story >>

Peter Phillips - playing war, and the shelter in the garden


We used to play at cowboys and Indians up and down the slopes and amongst the trees which grew on a bank of wild ground next to where No 1 Barley Mount is, and is now a green space. When the war came the game changed to Germans and English and we played soldiers instead. At the start of the war the authorities built a static water tank halfway up Barley Mount, where Higher Barley Mount now is. This was for use in case the water mains were destroyed and was an emergency source for putting out fires. Although it was netted, it held a fascination for young people who always wanted to climb up to see what was in there. When one of the boys fell in, and was drowned, it shocked the whole street. It was a close community and as everyone knew everyone else it felt more personal. After the war it was emptied and dismantled.

Before Higher Barley Mount was built there were fields. When Exeter was bombed father and mother carried me up the street wrapped in blankets and we sheltered under a hedge in a field and watched the planes dropping flares and bombing the city. I was 3½ when the war began and Exeter was bombed in April and May, 1942. This same field had a pond and later I used to catch frogs and newts there. Sadly it is all built over now, as are all the surrounding fields I used to know.

The shelter in the garden

Exeter suffered badly in the Blitz. My father and some of our neighbours built a large shelter in the ditch at the bottom of the garden of number 23 under the oak tree. It was covered with earth and had wooden benches inside. The entrance was covered in sacking. I remember being taken into it by my mother in the pitch dark of night. It must have sheltered about 10 people. The adults had flasks and candles and I can still smell the damp earth smell of the place. 

Later, all houses were then issued with Morrison shelters - a rectangle with angle-iron corners, a sheet steel roof and steel mesh sides. It stood under the front window and I slept inside it during the blitz. I also remember a daylight bombing raid when mother was in the garden and I saw a German bomber, swastika on the wings, fly over our house, so low that I could see the pilot. We heard later that the lower market had been bombed.

Posters at school showed pictures of various types of anti-personnel bombs and we boys would take bits of shrapnel to school After the blitz mother and I were sent to Wales for safety..

Peter Phillips is a retired prison officer, who now lives in Yorkshire.

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