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Catalan Bomb Shelters, House of Commons (1 AUG 1939)

Catalan air raid shelters were mentioned in the House of Commons during a debate on the Air Estimates, held on 1 August 1939.
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1 August 1939
House of Commons

Motion: "That a sum, not exceeding £25,984,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, for Expenditure in respect of the Air Services..."

Mr. R. C. Morrison
... We have heard many speeches about the marvellous shelters in Barcelona, the wonderful air raid precautions in Paris and the marvellous preparations in Berlin, but from what I have been able to learn about Barcelona, Paris and Berlin the standard of protection against air raids in this country is probably higher than in any of these places; and by a considerable distance. In this matter I think we are in advance of any country in the world...


Mr. Johnston
I have heard one or two hon. Members refer to Spanish experiences. I think I have read every line that has been published in English and a little that has been published in French about experiences in the recent civil war in Spain. In Barcelona, in March, 1938, there was one occasion on which they had 12 raids within 48 hours by varying numbers of bombing machines. The result was 1,000 dead and over 2,000 wounded. The hospitals were overcrowded; there was a shortage of water and of medical supplies, and an almost complete lack of adequate warning. The experience of Barcelona in regard to shelter was something which we would do well to avoid if we can. In the last War the official figures show that we had, in this country, 51 raids by German aeroplanes. As a result there were 557 people killed and 1,358 injured. But the modern weapons of devastation are infinitely more powerful. The official German figures for the last War showed that it took 19 bombs to kill a German and eight bombs to injure a German. But in Barcelona, in March, 1938, there were 15 casualties for every bomb dropped. In other parts of Spain, in Valencia for example, they dug trenches and had shelters made of concrete blocks, and I believe that in Valencia there was a smaller casualty rate than in any other part of Spain.

Mr. E. J. Williams
Were those underground shelters?

Mr. Johnston
I understand almost all were underground. I am referring particularly to trenches. In other parts of Spain they had trenches 28 feet deep running along the main streets with branch trenches running along the side streets. In those they had benches, cooking utensils, oil lamps, and so forth. The chief of the protection service in Catalonia reported that in August, 1938, they had 2,000 public shelters both open and covered all over Catalonia. Their trenches sheltered 40,000 people; their galleries sheltered 83,000; their railway tunnels, 11,000, and their cellars 12,000. [...] Where we have failed hitherto, is that we have concentrated so largely upon the Anderson shelter and have failed to urge local authorities, where they cannot put up a sufficiency of Anderson shelters, to dig trenches, to line those trenches, to cover them up and do the best they can with them for this winter.


Mr. Simmonds
"... There is also the question of the type of building used for our present hospitals. The new Westminster Hospital, a steel frame structure, is admirable, but I wonder whether hon. Members realise that four of the main hospitals in the Metropolis are of that type of construction which, in Barcelona, was shown to be hopeless in relation to modern bombing. That is the type of building in which the floors simply rest on the outside walls. If a wall is blown in or out all the floors come down like a house of cards. I saw that kind of collapse in street after street in Barcelona, and, frankly, I fear the worst from the type of construction of some of the older hospitals..."

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