The Archaeology of Air Raid Shelters Alice Gorman

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The Archaeology of Air Raid Shelters

  • Alice Gorman

  • Department of Archaeology

  • Flinders University

Why archaeology?

  • Not just pyramids and pots

  • Material culture tells different stories to historical documents

  • Growing interest in the recent past

The Brisbane Line

  • First raised in 1908 by Lord Kitchener

  • 1938: population of Australia at 7 million

  • Fear of Japanese invasion

  • Adelaide is a target

South Australian Defence Society

  • Founded by Natalia Davies in 1933

  • Raise awareness and teach ARP

  • Membership mostly women

  • Gender roles on the home front

Official organisation

  • 1939 - Commissioner for Civil Defence appointed

  • 1941 - Emergency Powers Act

  • Jan 1942 - arrangements for air raid warnings “backward” in SA

Conflicting views on ARP

  • Building morale or creating paranoia?

  • ARP: Sham or Shelter? 1940. By a group of Australian Scientists for the Research Group of the Left Book Club of Victoria

Types of air raid shelter

  • Personal

  • Public

  • Corporate

  • Military

Features of air raid shelters

  • Shield from flying debris

  • Entrance features blast-proof

  • Robust reinforced concrete

  • Ventilation

  • Sanitary facilities


  • Air Raid Practice, Australian General Hospital, Sydney, August 1942

Deep trench

Concrete pipes

  • Adelaide, March 1942. Air raid shelter in Botanical Gardens.

Dual purpose pillbox

  • Brisbane City Council public shelters

  • Design allowed brick walls to be dismantled - used as bus shelters, public toilets, after the war

  • 16 heritage listed today

Slit trenches

Public air raid shelter

  • UK - designed to fit 50 people

  • Many air raid shelter designs resemble public toilets

Anderson shelter

  • Designed 1938 for use in backyards

  • 2 million in Britain by 1939

  • Manufactured by Lysaght in Australia

Morrison shelter

  • June 1941

  • Sleeps 2-3 people and doubles as a table during the day

Backyard trench

“Our air raid shelter” Recorded by Jack Davey, April 1942

  • We’ve got a house down by the sea,

  • We’ve been busy with the ARP,

  • We’ve built a place where we can hide,

  • Now it bulges when we get inside.

  • It’s made of bags filled up with sand,

  • And all the neighbours lent a helping hand,

  • When it was built, we raised a shout,

  • We rushed in and now we can’t get out.

The Repat shelters

  • Three subterranean shelters - 1942

  • Up to 300 people

  • Military - medical

  • Filled in between 1958 and 1970

The Repat project

What will we learn?

  • Construction: represents level of fear?

  • Style: what are the influences?

  • Use: internal floor plan, artefacts

  • Informal use: is there any evidence?

Contemporary relevance

  • Social memory

  • Can material culture mediate fear?

  • Cold War, nuclear bunkers

  • Responses to threats in post 9/11 world

What’s next

  • 2007 - completion of geophysical survey

  • Excavation to uncover air raid shelters

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