Life under the bombs

Plaça de la Porxada. arxiu de l'Abadia de Montserrat. Fons Perera

In September 1936, the Generalitat of Catalonia published an initial decree with specific instructions to protect the civil population from air attacks. After the first bombing of Barcelona in June 1937, the Juntes de Defensa Passiva (the Passive Defence Boards) of Catalonia were founded. Their functions were to create a network of shelters, to inform the population about the preventative measures for protecting themselves in the case of bombing, to organise the alarm service, care, the fire brigade, the debris removal brigade and the signposting of shelters, among others. In October the same year, the Junta de Defensa Passiva Local was constituted in Granollers, presided over by the mayor.

In Granollers, the idea of building shelters had been suggested by the authorities since the beginning of the war. Initially, it was planned to make three: in the north, in the centre and in the south of the city. However, the elevated cost involved, in addition to the consideration that they would not be used very much meant that the first project was rejected and less expensive alternatives were sought that would be faster to build. The basements of private houses and of the factories were used to be made into shelters and some spaces were given a double use, such as the collector that was being built in what is today Carrer Lluís Companys.

However, when Granollers was bombed in 1938, practically none of the shelters were finished. It seems that the only one that was useful was the one in Carrer València. It was not until after the bombing that building was intensified. Most of the groups linked to the construction worked there until a few days before the entrance of Franco's troops into the city.

The lack of material and economic resources represented a significant difficulty to the construction of a network of shelters in Granollers. Therefore, a series of measures were taken aimed at obtaining the necessary resources to carry out the work: the Junta de Defensa Passiva de Catalunya was asked for subsidies, material was confiscated from brickyards and from private individuals and extraordinary income from the town council was assigned to it. Men aged between 15 and 55 were also mobilised to work on them and they were given orders that declared that the priority was to work on the shelters, before removing the debris from buildings destroyed by the bombing.

At the end of January 1939, when Franco's troops were just about to march into the city, many people spent a few days closed in the shelters, to protect themselves from the bombing by the aviation at Franco's service.

What were the shelters like?

The manuals of the Junta de Defensa Passiva proposed a kind of shelter that was fast and simple to build. In general terms, they were projected taking into account the weight of the bombs: the greater the weight, the greater depth required or it needed to be covered with a slab of concrete. However, the reality was that the resistance of the shelters was directly related to the amount of material and economic resources that could be spent on their construction.

In the shelters projected during the second part of the war, when the aerial attacks on cities became a frequent practice and people had to take shelter for hours or days at a time, they were planned to be provided with minimum basic services, such as electricity, natural or artificial chimneys to renew the air, benches for sitting on and hygienic and sanitary fittings.

Most of the shelters that we know about in the city were the gallery type. They were tunnels that were excavated in a zigzag shape to alleviate the effect of the bombs, with small wider spaces which were used to distribute people better. They had two entrances to make access in and out of them easier. At least one cellular type was also built, in Plaça Maluquer i Salvador, with the area distributed into small compartments that communicated with each other and gave on to a common corridor, which was wider than the gallery kind.

Access to the shelters was by means of a flight of bricks steps, with one or two bends to prevent the entrance of shrapnel and the shock wave. The entrances were protected by small pavilions with a sloped roof to deviate the path of the bomb and to prevent rainwater from getting in. The walls were supposed to be lined and covered with vaults, but many of them were not finished and there are still stretches of galleries that were just excavated into the earth.