Remembering damp and musty air raid tunnels

The Red Cross area in the tunnel shelters inside Portsdown Hill

The Red Cross area in the tunnel shelters inside Portsdown Hill


The recent photographs of the tunnels beneath Portsdown Hill, which were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War, brought back vivid memories for Maureen Houghton (nee York).

She was one of several of you who said you would like to see some of them again.

Maureen, who was born in 1938, was between three and four when she and her family used the tunnels, cut into the hill above Portsmouth.

She says: ‘My strongest recollection of the shelters was the smell – damp, musty chalk.

‘Being the youngest in our family I slept on the bottom bunk, which had wooden slats, with my mother. Dad never came because he was on Home Guard duty. My sister slept above us.’

Maureen adds: ‘We had little bedding as none was supplied, so everything had to be carried to the bus, which we caught at North End, and then carried from Cosham up the hill to the shelters.’

She recalls the shelter had a canteen which, to her, had a very high counter.

‘I was only small so often they lifted me up to sit on it.

‘The purchase of a Nelson Square (fruit cake sandwiched between two slices of pastry) was considered a real treat.’

As well as the three-tiered bunk area there was a communal seating area.

‘I can remember investigating this space to see what it was like.

‘People just sat and chatted to each other. Unfortunately for me, I developed whooping cough and so was removed to the medical area for isolation purposes I suppose.

Maureen continues: ‘Being a child I was not worried by all this and no doubt considered it an adventure. I have no recollection of hearing any bombs being dropped, though no doubt the grown-ups were well aware of it. However, sleeping in a damp environment could have been the cause of my contracting rheumatic fever.’

Why don’t you share your memories with us? If you have your own story or pictures from days gone by that you would like featured on this page

please e-mail Chris Owen at or write to him at The News, The News Centre, Hilsea, Portsmouth,PO2 9SX




Back to the top of the page