Before the war began Eric recorded how Colchester Castle Museum was preparing for the conflict. On 25th August 1939, he wrote that Colchester's Air Raid Precaution officers had visited the Castle 'to see about converting the Roman Vaults into an Air Raid Shelter.'
The Norman Castle had been built on the site of the Roman Temple of Claudius and the Roman vaults of the Temple formed the foundations of the Castle. The Castle walls - which are up to 30 feet thick - also offered solid protection and work to convert the vaults into a shelter was begun immediately. The air raid shelter was sufficient for 150 people but had very basic amenities and was rather an uncomfortable and unpleasant place to spend the night. Today, visitors to Colchester Castle can take a guided tour of the site of the former air raid shelter in the Castle Vaults. Eric's future diary entries often refer to this shelter and its use by local residents.
Colchester Castle's Roman Vaults, which were used as an air raid shelter in the Second World War
In a letter to his cousin, dated 7th December 1939, Eric describes the use of the Castle Vaults as an air raid shelter:
The only way in which we are compelled to acknowledge the existence of the war so far is the use of our vaults for air raid shelters. I opposed the use of Ancient Monuments for war purposes at the very start, but I am now compelled to admit that we certainly have the best and perhaps the safest shelter in the town. Also, what extra fittings that have been provided, seats, lavatory etc., do not in anyway interfere with the structure, and in fact do not even stop the usual conducted tours of the place.
So far the place has only been open twice for an alarm, but it has proved tolerably efficient.
For more information on the other air raid shelters constructed in Colchester Castle Park, see Eric's diary entry for 31st October 1939, 27th November 1939, 4th March 1940 and 19th April 1940.