ALUMNUS DESCRIBES LIFE AS SCOTTISH AID RAID SPOTTER
Censored Letter Tells Of Night-Long Vigils in Glasgow
To the Editor of the CRIMSON:
What a life! Three years ago I was at Harvard enjoying a placid life rowing on the Charles, wandering among the book shops in Boston, or dodging around the coast in a dinghy.... Today, if I am not in the foundry, the machineshop or the drawing office until midnight, I am at home figuring out some new precaution against air-raids, erecting a steel shelter for fire-watching on the roof, propping up the basement to strengthen it, or sharpening axes and replenishing the emergency lamps with oil, and many other jobs which, if sinister, prove, nevertheless, to be interesting.
Frankly, life goes on much as it did before the war. Dinner may be interrupted by the eerie ululations of the sirens wailing out their warning of a coming raid; if so all unnecessary lights are switched off and the shutters closed before finishing off the coffee. We have grown used to this preliminary warning and pay little attention to it... probably it is only a lost plane trying to slip back to Norway; doubtless it will be shot down over the East Coast; maybe it's a reconnaissance! Somebody looks out to see what the moon is like, returning with the information that the moon, a luminous threequarter disk, throws its light over the entire city, and that there are low clouds in the clear sky. According to our experience this is an ideal night for a raid, and, anyway, we have had too long a break now; one must prepare.
On going to bed it is necessary to lay by one's side, ready for instant use, an obscured torch, thick clothing, heavy boots and oilskins.... After the first thrill of excitement wears off, fire-watching on the roof for four hours in the early hours of a mid-winter morning is cold work. What did I say! (one word censored) we are precipitated from sleep by the repeated wails of the sirens. The heart beats a little faster and one feels tired and fed up, stumbling into ones clothes in the dark, cursing the fact that tomorrow's work will have to be done regardless of lost sleep.
We climb out through the attic light, slide down the slates onto a flat part of the roof and begin the vigil. Most of the household are in the basement by now, but they will bring up some refreshment in an hour on so.
An intermittent drone announces the arrival of the first enemy squadron, so we skin our eyes for fire bombs. They cross the city from (half a line censored) again and again... looking for something, or taking bearings. Now they are over us; now they are away to the north; they are dropping flares and a section of the city is incarmined, whilst above innumerable search light beams thrash the inky sky. Within a few seconds the flares are shot out, and the sky darkens. The search lights follow the planes South.... West... back again in a great triangle, and then more flares drop slowly to earth showing up black buildings against the same blood red.
The second squadron arrives; they try to traverse the city but are thrown to and fro by the A.A. fire which is now thundering out, and spitting forth glowing streamers of tracer bullets. We put on our steel helmets and take as much cover as possible for showers of shrapnel fall, fragments of steel cutting slap through the slate roof and tearing off hunks of stone from the walls. The house seems to lift off its foundations as a nearby gun opens fire.
It is now impossible to talk or rather to be heard, but above the din can be heard the methodical thud... thud... thud as (three words censored) bombs explode about a mile distant. There is no respite from the gunfire now. Wheece... a bomb glides right over as and penetrates a lawn 500 yards away; its explosion, fortunately muffled by the soft earth, makes every house in the district reel and shudder. Bombs thud down one after the other. An incendiary bomb smacks onto our roof blinding for a moment and splashing melted metal and flame, but with the aid of a rake it is dislodged and flicked off into the garden to burn itself out; had it been left it would have burnt its way through roof and floor to the basement.
With the welcome approach of dawn planes cease to come in from Germany. The enemy squadrons--what is left of them--those that are not buried in the fields around the city--fly off, knowing well enough that a hot reception awaits them on the East, even over France where our fighters will follow them.
And what of the damage? For the most part it can do little to slow up our production, except that we all feel a little tired the morning after; but not too tired to take a lively interest in the breakfast newspaper with its account of the battle and the positions of the planes brought down.
The all-clear sounds: We squeeze through the skylight and drop onto the floor. A cup of that most pernicious of all drinks... Tea ... which, according to Italian newspapers will be the downfall of the British yet.... And so to bed. Yours truly, E.V. French, Graduate School of Design '38.