Having never heard of the Clifford Road Air Museum and almost no idea what to expect, I was more than a little bit excited to visit and host my first member event!
On arrival, we were greeted by our guide who told us about the history of the shelter and a bit of background information. The shelter sits underneath the primary school that stands on the site today and is a uniquely preserved example of a public air raid shelter which was commonplace during the 1940s in towns and cities across the UK.
The shelter was built in 1939 as World War 2 broke out in Europe with the invasion of Poland and was designed to hold hundreds of people as they sought refuge during Nazi bombing raids. After the war, it was sealed up and forgotten about until 1989 when – to their shock – workmen digging on the school grounds unearthed one of the stairways leading into the shelter.
We weaved our way through the tunnels, taking in all of the exhibits on display – one of my favourites had to be the two wedding dresses which were made of a quite thin material but were beautiful and regal all the same – they may even have been made from parachute silk! Another interesting feature is the old train carriage that is situated in the tunnels – with flashing lights to either side of the windows, you could really imagine what it would be like to whizz through the countryside on a steam train. There are plenty of cap badges and the occasional medal on display along with wartime newspapers, letters, uniforms, children’s toys, household items, bunting, posters and of course, reports on the areas of Ipswich that had been bombed and the casualty lists as well.
The exhibits in the shelter gave a real feel of what wartime would have been like - I imagine that during these times of conflict, that there would have been a fantastic community spirit with everyone helping everyone else out during times of crisis. Our guide told us that there are further tunnels leading out from the shelter underneath Clifford Road, but many of these have been bricked up. It seems that after the war, people just wanted to forget and move on, hence why the shelter itself was abandoned.
After the tour, one member remarked to me that she quite clearly actually remembered being in the air raid shelter when she was around 5 or 6 years old, while other members simply enjoyed being taken back to their school days. It was a great experience that gave thought to young and older members alike - if you haven’t visited the tunnels yet, it’s definitely worth a visit!