Well-Suited for Air Raids; ANSWER TO CORRESPONDENT

Daily Mail (London), March 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

Well-Suited for Air Raids; ANSWER TO CORRESPONDENT


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION How did the 'siren suit' get its name?

DURING World War II, the wail of the siren warned the British public of imminent bombing raids. On hearing it, the drill was to head straight for the nearest air raid shelter -- but raids often occurred in the middle of the night and people frequently needed to dress first -- a time-consuming activity.

The solution was a thick, fleecy one-piece hooded garment, like a jumpsuit, usually fitted with a fulllength zip, that could be donned quickly with the minimum of delay while running for shelter.

This garment, popularised by the nation's war leader, Winston Churchill, was known, not unnaturally, as the 'Siren Suit'.

Bryan Owram, Esholt, W. Yorks. SIR Winston Churchill found the siren suit particularly practical, as it would allow him to jump into action at the sound of the air-raid siren while grabbing something comfortable and easy to put on.

It was very much Churchill's own idea. In 1922, the Churchills had bought the family home, Chartwell, near Westerham, in Kent, where Churchill first watched and then joined his bricklayers, famously building his own wall while dressed in a boiler suit like theirs.

Churchill decided this was a very practical garment for him and had various zip-up jumpsuits made in different fabrics for different activities.

He even sat for a portrait wearing one made of blue serge. His family christened them 'rompers' and they were mostly fashioned by tailors Austin Reed.

Churchill memorably had suits made up in red, green and blue velvet which he would wear at home, often with matching, crested slippers.

You can see the green one today on a tour of Chartwell.

Above all, he was aware of the major drawback to the jumpsuit -- not being able to go to the loo easily. One of his bodyguards, Sergeant Edmund Murray, recalled him 'roaring when he was having trouble with his zip fastener'.

Jack Bellamy, Canterbury, Kent.

OUR Dad was killed on the franco-Belgian border in May 1940. I was seven, brother Teddy five, and baby sister Olive three. Mum worked in the nearby aircraft factory in Fordhouses, Wolver hampton.

Being the eldest, I was in charge of the other two when mum was at work. When the air-raid sirens sounded, I would grab our gas masks and bundle Olive into her green 'siren suit', which had feet, legs and a pixie hood. The three of us would then run down to the Anderson shelter in the garden.

The shelter was always waterlogged and I would dump Olive on to the bunk and Teddy and I would follow. It was a very traumatic period in our lives, but, amazingly, the three of us survived and are still alive and kicking today.

Molly Horrocks, Ogmore by Sea, Vale of Glamorgan.

QUESTION Characters in Balzac's novels talk of money in Louis, livres, francs, sous and others. What was the actual currency of France in the 1830s and how do these various denominations relate to each other?

PROLIFIC French playwright and novelist Honore de Balzac (1799 - 1850) wrote throughout the early 19th century and is best remembered for his sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comedie Humaine.

As the livre was replaced by the franc in 1795, 40 years before Balzac's prominence, there was bound to be a crossroads in 'old' and 'new' terminology, especially as some of Balzac's works are set in post-Napoleonic France (1815 onwards).

So although the currency in 1830s France was the franc, many of the terms used to describe a given unit of the livre or even earlier currencies, would be used later to describe the equivalent unit of the franc.

For instance, one of the most frequently used in French literature throughout the 18th and even the 19th century was the ecu. Earlier uses would denote the ecu as a sixlivre piece, and in 19th century usage -- for instance in Madame Bovary (1856) -- the ecu would refer to the five-franc piece. …

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