18 OCTOBER 1940, Page 1


.5IR. HERBERT MORRISON was applauded in the House of Commons last week when he announced his intention of taking powers to override local authorities, if necessary, when they were not energetic enough in the pro- vision of air-raid shelters. The problem is very urgent, and cannot be solved by the slow official methods of some of the London Borough Councils, and demands driving-power at the top (exercised by Mr. Morrison and the Regional Commis- sioners), co-ordination of the efforts of the local authorities, and a centralised machine capable of dealing with London's problem as a whole. But driving-power and machinery are not enough. The situation demands a policy, and one which should be elastic enough in operation to deal with circum- stances varying from place to place. Mr. Morrison was even more emphatic than Sir John Anderson in dismissing the proposition that. deep bomb-proof shelters ought to be con- structed for the whole population, and described it as " wicked and foolish " to encourage the idea that such a scheme was a practical one for meeting the emergency. He therefore dwelt en the need for more and better basement shelters, for further Use of the small Anderson shelters, and for sleeping-bunks- lo a word, for the dispersal of people with reasonable protec- tion rather than their concentration in large shelters. It is a pity that Mr. Morrison should so readily accept the doctrine of dispersal. Dispersal in a given vulnerable area only means that the casualties are more evenly distributed, not that they are fewer. A direct hit once a month on a crowd of People may have a mere shocking effect than a few daily Qs. ualties, but the total death-roll will be the same. Dispersal IS only effective when people are taken from a more to a less vulnerable area—in other words, when it involves evacuation— Or When it really means more protection, as when blast-proof barriers intervene between one group of persons and another. The disposition of troops in extended order is quite a different Batter, its purpose being to prevent a solid block of troops Presenting an easy target for deliberate aim. It is more on that the people of London want, and they will not be with any scheme of dispersal that does not involve lion. But in many respects Mr. Morrison showed himself to the lessons which the Blitzkrieg has taught. It has revealed much that was not known to Professor Haldane when he wrote his book A.R.P. some two years ago. The latter's case for deep, bomb-proof shelters sufficient for the whole population in vulnerable areas was based to a large extent on the theory of the knock-out blow, by which the quick destruc- tion of the Capital would be attempted. The knock-out blows appear to have been tried, and have not succeeded. Moreover, Professor Haldane over-estimated the casualties that could be caused by bombs. He thought that the knock-out blow might kill from 50,000 to too,000 Londoners, and wound about twice as many. But Mr. Churchill revealed that in the month of most intensive raiding the casualties for the whole country were only 8,500 dead and 13,000 seriously injured. Professor Hal- dane allowed a period of about seven minutes for getting to his shelters. That would not meet the requirements of day-time workers, and so far as the night is concerned he said nothing about what is now known to be of the essence of the matter— accommodation for people who want to sleep.

Such considerations do not mean that deep shelters should be ruled out. The manner in which working-class families have flocked to the tunnels of the Tubes shows how eagerly many of them desire a shelter in which they believe them- selves to be completely safe. Wherever practicable it should be provided—and it is satisfactory to find Mr. Morrison saying that he is not prejudiced against it. What has to be realised is that the problem, though it is one problem, is manifold and various. Some areas are more vulnerable than others—for in- stance, near such targets as the Docks, or where the population is densest, as in the East End. Some are less vulnerable, be- cause the population is thinner, or because there are more well- built steel-frame houses. Mr. Morrison has to insist that the better-constructed shelters should be made available, that more and better shelters, with sleeping accommodation, sanitation and air, should be provided in the poorer neighbourhoods, that Anderson shelters, where used, should be fitted with bunks, and that deep shelters, so far as it is possible to construct them in the most dangerous areas, should be part of the programme. So far as past neglect is concerned, it is not profitable to cry over spilt milk. The necessity is for quick, strenuous action intelligently adapted to the needs of each locality.