There’s an air raid siren in town, a genuine World War II type with the freaky shaky wail that rises tremulously above the town. We only hear it about once a year, in late summer, when it is tested for about ten or fifteen minutes. It’s on the site of a large defense manufacturing plant, right smack bang in the centre of town and we reckon that they’re using it as a fire alarm. Even in the middle of the day it’s a little bit eerie to hear it.
We’re definitely not old enough to remember them going off for real during the War (and yes there was air raids in this corner of the country too) but it’s such an evocative sound. I always worry whether or not it disturbs the people who were here during the War to hear it again, PTSD style, especially those who were maybe living in the bigger and more heavily bombed cities.
A lot of people seem surprised that there still is an air raid siren in town. I’ve never heard of another one still being in action. Maybe it just is for a fire on site or some other accident/disaster, I don’t know. The US seems to have continued with such precautions, it isn’t unusual for there still to be designated bomb shelters, alth0ugh these are mostly connected with the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War. It is a little offputting to find one though just round the corner from the hotel you’re staying in though! Are there any operational bomb shelters in this country? I don’t know. Plenty of tatty and disintegrating WWII concrete bunkers and other defensive lumps lurking partially hidden in the undergrowth, full of rubbish and stinking of pee. But they’re not really somewhere I would recommend heading in the case of some kind of attack.
I wonder too whether this air raid siren is still intended to serve some greater civil role, protecting the town in the case of air or nuclear attack. Would anyone know that that is why the siren is sounding? We live in a highly apathetic society, the siren rarely raises many eyebrows, life and people continue blissfully ignorant. So what would happen if it was to sound a warning? Could it even count as a warning?!
A couple of nights ago it sounded. The air raid siren. Now if you think that this thing sounds creepy during the day then you should hear it at five to eleven in the dark night. It was terrifying! Immediately my thoughts went to anyone for whom the air raid siren was once a genuine warning of a genuine threat above, how shaken some of them must have been lying in their beds to hear this wail!
In the relative quiet of the night with low cloud the sound just hung and echoed around the nearby hills. It wasn’t as powerful as you may think but quietly menacing, a plaintive wail rather than a rallying cry to action.
So what do you do?
I’ve never heard it go off at night nor of it going off at night. Does this mean that there is some larger threat, that the whole town is in danger? What is the correct course of action when one hears an air raid siren?
I quickly prepared a list of options:-
1. Find out if there was a fire down there (or more accurately, send my husband to investigate).
This didn’t come to fruition as my husband was not keen on getting out of bed, especially not on the part that involved him getting dressed and cycling across town as we both agreed that we wouldn’t be able to see the flames from our windows. It also didn’t come to fruition as I’m the kind of person who deals with loud scary noises in the night by pulling the duvet over my head and hoping they go away. There were no fire engines though, nor any other emergency vehicles for that matter.
2. Hide under a table.
This was fairly common practice in air raids, especially during World War I when there were no shelters. This also didn’t come to fruition as it also involved getting out of bed. It was also hampered by the fact that we don’t own a table, well other than a very low and awkwardly shaped coffee table which at best a dog or very small child could crouch under. Definitely not two adults, one of whom isn’t particularly concerned by the siren and wants to go to sleep.
3. Brace oneself in a door frame.
Apparently this is what you can do in an earthquake. I don’t know how effective it would be in an air raid. But as I didn’t know quite what the threat was it seemed like a good option to add to the list. (Although I wouldn’t completely trust the strength of our door frames as we’ve just had to fill one jam full of filler to get it to have some kind of relationship again with the wall behind).
4. Would a bathtub count if you didn’t have a table?
For that matter we don’t have a bathtub. So what about a shower? (You should be able to tell by now that I’m panicking and getting desperate).
I listed these options to the husband (who was definitely the one who wasn’t particularly concerned) and he seemed to think I was crazy. So he rolled over and went to sleep, DURING an air raid siren! If you can believe.
So I waited a little longer. It’s now twenty past eleven. TWENTY FIVE minutes! Surely there has to be a reason for this thing going off?
After a while your ears become accustomed to the sound and you’re not really sure if you’re still hearing it or not, whether that fainter sound is now just an echo, a memory ringing in your ears. Maybe you are cracking up, maybe you’ve just imagined it. Nothing has happened after all.
Ooh. Has it stopped? Or is it that my ears have finally cleared? No I think it has really stopped. An HOUR that air raid siren sounded over town the other night. No one seems to know why and for once everyone has been talking about it. It kept people awake and it woke people up. Except my husband. Who managed to get to sleep during it. Alright for some!