‘Where are we going?’ I asked Molly over the languorous, mournful wail of the siren.
‘To the shelters of course,’ she replied in a patiently patronizing tone, implying that she must
be dealing with some dense moron.
‘I already guessed that,’ I replied wearily. ‘Where are they?’
‘Behind the infants' school, you dummy.’
I took her hand, and she led me round the back of the infants' school where there were four long, grass-covered
mounds. At the end of each mound was a flight of concrete steps leading down into the ground. Children were filing
down each one in a more-or-less orderly fashion.
As she led me to the steps, the siren began winding down into silence. A dank coolness met us as we descended to
turn left into the unlit tunnel of the shelter. After the bright sunlight outside I could distinguish little, other than a narrow
wooden bench along each wall. The tunnel was filling with children, but I could see them only as shadows outlined by the
faint light filtering down the steps.
Molly pulled me by the hand through a confusion of warm jostling bodies to the centre of the shelter where it was
darkest. ‘We can sit here,’ she said, pulling me down beside her.
The bench felt rough against the bare skin at the back of my legs below my short trousers. I was inching cautiously
forward to avoid splinters when, to my great surprise, Molly threw her free arm around me and kissed me full on the
Miss Hangar led me into the schoolroom which was high, with vaulted beams and the musky
animal odour of ten generations of country schoolchildren. There was a large cast-iron stove in
the corner with a metal chimney pipe climbing up the wall to disappear through the ceiling.
Miss Hangar guided me by the shoulder. She had a strong grip.
‘Good-morning children,’ chanted Miss Hangar.
‘Good-morning Miss Hangar,’ chanted the children in automatic reply.
‘This is Miss Ufford's class,’ said Miss Hangar to me. ‘Say good-morning to Miss Ufford.’
‘Good-morning Miss Ufford,’ I said obediently. Then, wishing to make a good impression, I added, ‘Good-morning
everyone.’ This general greeting was received with a slight titter which seemed to indicate that it went down well.
‘This is our new boy,’ went on Miss Hangar, ‘so I want you all to welcome him kindly and show him how we do things
here. I'll leave him in your charge Miss Ufford.’
‘Come in boy,’ said Miss Ufford, ’This is your seat here, next to Molly.’ She indicated a place at the front, in a double
desk, where a dark and very pretty girl was already seated. I hoped she was as pleasant as her appearance indicated.
The air-raid shelters behind the infants’ school