How NOT to build a bomb shelter

The dreaded mushroom cloud.

I’m not sure whether nuclear weapons were on the curriculum of every New Zealand primary school in 1979, but they were at Lyttelton Main. Someone wanted to blow up the world with an H bomb, and our little township wouldn’t be spared. We all knew the mushroom cloud was the last thing we would see before our eyeballs burst and the remainder of us was minced by a poisonous inferno. All the buildings would be flattened leaving only dust and cockroaches.

My friend Jodie and I thought we’d better dig a bomb shelter. It would be a safe haven for our families; a place to hang out while the rest of Lyttelton fried. We planned a network of interconnecting rooms, accessed by a manhole. Kind of like a hobbit hole but with square walls.

We found the perfect site just behind her dad’s garden shed and met there one day after school.

Dragging the spades out of the shed we set to work.

Jodie and I dug for ages, but the clay soil was harder than we had anticipated. At the end of the afternoon we had not a bomb shelter but a small depression in the ground similar in size and depth to a wok.

We took a short break, planning to come back the next day and work on it some more, but we never did.

These days I walk past Jodie’s old house quite regularly and I like to think that hollow in the clay is still there underneath the weeds. Perhaps home to a family of cockroaches; a remnant of the “cold war” in Lyttelton.

Has anyone had a better (or worse) experience at building a hut?

Leonie Thorpe

5 Responses so far

  1. 1

    jacksccl said,

    Last year a bunch of boys were on the grounds of Breens Intermediate, their old school and decided to make a hut. This was built and the boys settled in to do whatever it is high school boys do when they are together. It was cold and windy. They lit a fire. Two fire Engines and a police car later the boys now knew why it was not a good idea to light a fire on a windy day. Apologies to the Deputy Principal also followed along with a few jobs around the school.

  2. 3

    reardonhs said,

    Once I began building a proper hut, but I only got as far as the frame. Now there’s too much bush around it to finish it!

    • 4

      starauthor said,

      I think you did really well to get that far! My partner was telling me that when he was a lad he really fancied building a World War II anti-German machine gun nest. He talked about it with his friends but they never got around to starting it, which was probably just as well because the site they chose was over the fence from Parkview Primary … in the sand dunes! (Sand dunes don’t make for very safe hut sites as they’re liable to collapse on top of you).

  3. 5

    Great article. How wonderful. I recall digging a large hole when I was young. It was our “underground bunker” and we are lucky it did not collapse on us. Now I know folks who build bomb shelters for a living. I have to wonder is all this digging to hide in a bomb shelter is worth it? It is amazing that we live in a world where underground bomb shelters, concrete bunkers, and plans to live in them are on some minds. I think it’s important to live right, do right, and always remember back to the first hole we dug as a hiding spot and be glad we never used it. Hope you are all well these days.
    Take care.

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