AIR RAID REFUGE ROOM: United Kingdom. Late 1930s-early World War II.  British air raid precautions in the late 1930s and into the early days of World War II emphasized a variety of approaches to sheltering in place as a preparedness measure against aerial bombardment.  One of the sheltering options was the construction of refuge rooms in houses.  The refuge room was intended to be a fortified room within a house that offered the best protection against the range of expected threats in attacks on cities: chemical weapons, blast from high explosive bombs, and incendiary bombs.

The most favorable location for an air raid refuge room was in the cellar or basement of a house.  In a house without a basement or cellar, the ground floor offered the best location, as the upper stories of buildings were assumed to be most vulnerable to damage from incendiary bombs.  Rooms with no windows were preferred; if this was not possible, rooms with windows that faced other buildings or strong walls were preferable to those with windows that had no protection.

Considerable attention was directed to protection against chemical weapons.  Residents were instructed to carefully inspect their refuge rooms, identify possible points at which war gasses could penetrate the room, and take corrective action as follows:

Doors could be made gas proof, while still retaining their function, by nailing wooden strips over a blanket or carpet to the door frame so that approximately half of the blanket could be raised to one side allowing access to the door.  The blanket or carpet chosen was to be long enough that at least 12 inches of material would trail on the floor.  This door covering was to be kept wet to increase its protective ability.    

If windows did open into the refuge room, they could be protected from shattering by blast or penetration by steel splinters by sandbagging with a barrier at least 2 feet 6 inches thick at the top, broader at the base, and overlapping the window by at least 12 inches.  Methods to protect persons in the refuge room from flying glass from blast damage included application of two layers of transparent wrapping material glued to the glass, by mosquito netting glued to the glass, or by thick, strong paper glued to the inside of the glass.  The performance of the window could be improved by either applying a 1/10th inch thick non-flammable celluloid material backed by 1/2 inch wire mesh or replacing the glass with a strengthened glass.  If the window glass was shattered, two options provided some continued protection, a frame of two layers of blanket between two layers of wire mesh or securing a curtain in place over the window nailed in place through strips of wood along the window frame.  In any case holes or cracks in the window glass were to have paper pasted over them immediately to maintain the gas-proof capabilities of the room.   

The outside walls surrounding the refuge room could be further protected against steel splinters from high explosive bombs by adding a brick wall 13 1/2 inches thick or by enclosing a 2 foot thickness of rubble within corrugated iron sheets or placing it in boxes.

Attention was also paid to the types of furnishings and supplies for refuge rooms.  Recommended were:

Sources: Ogden's Cigarettes, "Choosing Your Refuge Room," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 1, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Rendering Your Refuge Room Gas-Proof," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 2, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Making A Door Gas Proof," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 3, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Window Protection," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 4, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Window Protection Against Blast," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 5, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Types Of Splinter Proof Wall," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 6, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Protecting Your Windows - A Sandbag Defence," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 7, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Equipping Your Refuge Room - (A)," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 8, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).  Ogden's Cigarettes, "Equipping Your Refuge Room - (B)," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 9, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).

Entry 0359 - posted 21 July 2003