Air Raid Drills

When I was attended Roosevelt Elementary school in the 1950s, I remember air raid drills. We all sat in the hall like those children below. There would be singing and then we’d all cover our heads with our hands, which would have done a lot of good if a bomb or tornado came through. Luckily, none did.

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
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I remember hearing the air raid siren go off one day when I was on the way home from school. I was five or six years old. I don’t remember hearing it before that, but I might have been home already. I didn’t know it was a monthly test, I just knew it sounded weird and frightening. No one else was out on the street. I came to my grandparent’s house before I got to ours and stopped there. They told me it was a test to make sure the siren worked. They didn’t mention atom bombs or tornadoes.

14 thoughts on “Air Raid Drills

  1. I cannot remember any air raid or nuclear drills when I was at school in the 1950s and 60s in the UK – only fire drills. I was aware of the Cold War and Russia being the enemy but nothing that actually impinged on me. In my last year at High School, I took part in a debate on “I’d rather be dead than red” which brought the threat home more. I remember my father getting up in the night to hear on the radio President Kennedy’s speech on the Cuban crisis which was regarded as a major threat to world peace.

    1. We had fire drills too. For those we marched outside and stood around and then went back in.

      I remember thinking we were all going to die in a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

  2. I’ve never experienced any drills of that kind either, only fire drills. We have monthly (or perhaps bi-monthly?) siren tests though – always on a Monday at 3 p.m. And if one hears that siren at any other time, one is supposed to go indoors, shut doors and windows, and turn on the radio for messages. (Could be a big fire or some other accident like a gas leak or whatever.)

    1. I don’t know who came up with our air raid drills. One thing, I don’t remember being worried during those drills or thinking that the building was going to blow up. Back then, there weren’t any tornadoes in Michigan.

  3. I lived in the country so I never heard sirens other than the radio my father had that directly alerted us from the country seat when there was a fire. Volunteer fire crews were all we had in the country and my family was responsible for alerting the remainder of the firemen when and where there was a fire. I do remember the time the alert system activated via radio and it wasn’t a drill, just some sort of kerfuffle, and my mom was standing at the stove crying. That was scary.

    1. When we lived in Idlewild Michigan in northwest Michigan, our siren went off for fires, to alert the volunteer firemen to come to the fires hall. My husband was a volunteer fireman for some years so he would go to the fire hall when it sounded.

  4. I remember them, too, from elementary school. But we were also simultaneously being taught science at a furious pace, so while we schoolkids were under the desk we’d be whispering about how this really wouldn’t do any good against an atom bomb, anyway!

    1. I don’t remember even thinking about bombs, any more than I thought about a real fire when those four bells sounded. I’m pretty sure those drills stopped before I reached upper elementary school.

  5. I was only 10 or 11 in the early 50s, so wearing ‘dog tags’ round our neck and ducking under our desks seemed more like fun than anything scary. I remember seeing films about it all, but they didn’t really register. What did finally register when I was in my early 20s was the Cuban missile crisis. I remember going to lunch the day President Kennedy threatened Russia if they continued with their plan to place Russian missiles in Cuba – staring out the window of the cafeteria where I was eating overlooking lovely Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA, and wondering what it was all going to mean if Russia didn’t back down? Thank heaven, they did. But, now here we are again, placing ourselves against Russia in trying to help the Ukraine which is a tricky business at best because we need to be so careful in how we do it.

    1. Same with me. I was in high school during the Cuban missile crisis and thought it might all end in a nuclear war. Yes, and now it seems like we’re going back to those days again. Nothing every seems to be over. Just long enough for most people to forget how it felt the first time around and back we go.

  6. I’m a member of that same Cold War generation and I can remember drills like that. Since my dad was in the army we lived in various places and each school was different. I think the Cuban missile crisis.was when the hysteria reached its peak height. Many years later my dad told me that as a young captain in the Transportation Corps he helped develop logistic plans for a possible war with Cuba/Russia when that was going on. He said it was his most frightening experience in all of his service, which included being in real wars in Korea and Vietnam.

  7. I can’t quite imagine doing air raid drills and we’re much the same age. Mind you, the nuns were so obsessed about China coming for us and one told us horrific stories that stayed with me into my teens. Crazy stuff!! Somehow the Cuban crisis didn’t impact me much though my husband worried about it. As you say, humanity generally doesn’t learn over the years..or perhaps it’s just that each generation seems to have a crazy person in the mix.

  8. I think they stopped doing the air raid drills by the time I got to school. Fire drills were a monthly occurrence, on the other hand. The Our Lady of the Angels fire had happened not long before I started school…

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