Duck & Cover drills remembered

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School children participate in a Duck & Cover drill.

We all remember participating in fire drills in elementary school. Interrupting the lesson, the alarm would blare, and teachers lined up all the students, leading them out to the parking lot or field. While this was an important drill in case of emergency, I always remember the relief from students and frustration from teachers as a lesson was missed.

Recently, I was talking to some former Granby Memorial High School students, who attended back when it was the town’s grammar school called Granby Memorial School. Not only did they have fire drills, but they also had “duck and cover” drills. A siren would go off indicating a nuclear attack was on its way and everyone would duck under their desks to avoid harm. In a room without desks, students would sit on the floor against the wall next to one another and cover their heads with their arms. Sitting on the floor in the hallway was an alternative safe place. These drills began in the early ‘50s during the Cold War and continued into the 1960s.

The United States’ decision during World War II to develop and drop two atomic bombs on Japan committed the U.S. to an ever-escalating arms race with the Soviet Union. As the world fully realized the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many governments quietly started to research and build atomic weapons, including the Soviet Union. Over the course of the Cold War, as U.S.—Soviet relations deteriorated, the two countries vied to build the most powerful nuclear weapons. 

On Aug. 29, 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear weapon, which led Americans to fear a nuclear attack at any time. In response, President Harry Truman created the Federal Civilian Defense Administration in 1951 to prepare civilians for nuclear attack. This administration created the “duck and cover” drills for students across the nation.. The Federal Civilian Defense Administration distributed a film starring “Bert the Turtle” that showed children the importance of ducking and covering. In the animated film, Bert the Turtle is attacked by a monkey with a stick of dynamite on a string. He ducks into his shell and survives. Both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy continued with the “duck and cover” drills during their administrations.

In Granby, several families built air raid shelters on their property in case of an attack. On Wells Road, the Pullmans had a shelter and many of my neighbors can recall their parents having one as well. How many other shelters were built in Granby is unknown.

In 1963, President Kennedy signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to limit the number of nuclear tests each country could perform. This agreement eased the tension between the two countries and as a result the duck and cover drills as well as building air raid shelters came to an end.

Want to learn more about the Cold War era Granby? Join the Salmon Brook Historical Society by calling 860-653-9713 or go online at