When cupboard under stairs was the safest place to be

Herald Series: Christina Eke, 80, looks around the Wallingford Museum exhibition, Siege and Strife. Picture: OX68035 David Fleming Buy this photo Christina Eke, 80, looks around the Wallingford Museum exhibition, Siege and Strife. Picture: OX68035 David Fleming

WHEN the Second World War started, Christina Eke and her family hid in the cupboard under the stairs during air raids.

She has now recreated that cupboard for an exhibition at Wallingford Museum, entitled Siege and Strife: Wallingford and War. The exhibition traces the history of Wallingford at war throughout the centuries, up to and including the Second World War.

Mrs Eke, 80, who lives in almshouses in the town, said: “The sirens warned people there were German planes coming.

“The next sound you heard was bombs and aeroplanes and you didn’t hear anything else until the all-clear came.”

Before the Government started giving out shelters to families, people were told the safest place to be was under the stairs.

Mrs Eke’s family, who lived in Wandsworth then Tottenham in London during the Blitz, furnished their hideout with a chamber pot, candles, gas masks and some knitting.

Mrs Eke said: “I used to spend quite a lot of time under there, staring at the gas meter.

“When you think about it, that was a ridiculous place to sit because that is where the gas came into the house.”

Aged six when the war broke out, Mrs Eke also had to help take care of her sisters who were four and two at the time.

She said: “Eventually my mother got so fed up with having to get us out of bed, my father made bunk beds for the air-raid shelter so we went to bed there every night.

“Houses in our street and all around were destroyed.

“I remember going along the road with my mother seeing a brass bedstead around a lamp post as though someone had wrapped it around it.”

The exhibition traces the impact war has had on Wallingford and its people throughout the centuries, from Viking and Norman invasions through two civil wars and two world wars to modern warfare and the role of RAF Benson.

The Flint House museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm except Sundays and Mondays and the exhibition is on until November.

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