Object of the month

October 2023

Signalman’s Coffin

October’s Object of the Month takes a look at the disturbingly named Signalman’s coffin which is on display at STEAM by our replica signal box. The Signalman’s Coffin, otherwise known as the Signalman’s Air Raid Shelter, provided valuable protection during the Air Raids in the wars.

This photograph shows a signalman, wearing a gas mask, in a signal box. In the far left of the photo is the Signalman’s coffin, which was used to protect the signalman during an air raid.

The life of a signalman can be seen as idyllic; the image of a small stove in the signal box, slippers to wear and sometimes a cat for company.  However during the wars, a signal box could be a dangerous place to be.  All of the glass in a signal box made a signalman very vulnerable during a wartime air raid.  To avoid the dangers of shattering glass each signal box was equipped with a metal shelter which the signalman could hide in during a raid.

The square boxes were made of boiler-plate and were made in the L2 (Tank) Shop at Swindon Works.  Despite being strong and relatively safe, they were tiny.  A signal man would have only just been able to fit inside and perch on the short plank that was fitted in there as a seat.  It would have been a claustrophobic place to hide during an already terrifying bombing attack. Due to their shape, size and feeling of being closed in, the shelters were given the nickname of the Signalman’s coffin.


Explore more objects of the month here.



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