Memories

First-hand accounts of Castle Bromwich in the past

The Second World War 1939 - 1945

A Memory of Castle Bromwich by Mike Jackson-Cox

Mike's grandparents
Mike's grandparents

 

Flamborough Close, 1945. With my parents (Reg and 'Bunny'), who were married at the village church in 1939, I moved into 31, Hazelhurst Rd in 1945.

 

My maternal grandparents, Fred and Elizabeth Hopkins lived at 19 Flamborough Close for many years (Fred died there in 1957), and my maternal aunt and uncle, Sonia and Ron Akehurst, at (I think) Number 31 or 33. The Close in those days ended a few doors further on, with countryside beyond. Behind 19 there was a large pit, and then a school.

[Editor's note:It was Heathlands School.

 

I was 5 years old, but I remember the street celebrations for either VE or VJ day. For some reason I was chosen to be carried on the shoulders of a chef to light the celebratory bonfire at the end of the Close. I also remember my Uncle Ron dipping for apples in a bucket! 

 

Mike (left) and his cousin, Christine
Mike (left) and his cousin, Christine

I can also just remember attending nursery school in Washwood Heath (1944?), and after the War, learning to ride a bicycle on the pub forecourt near the shops on Chester Rd. Was there an RAF camp somewhere across the road there? 


I recall Saturday morning matinees at the local cinema, The Castle, for the princely sum of 6d (2½p). And taking the Midland Red 'bus into Birmingham centre, via Saltley. 

[Editor's note: The Castle Cinema stood where the Tesco store is now at the corner of Bradford Road and Timberley Lane.]


Hazelhurst Rd in those days also ended a few houses along from number 31, and there was a field behind that I had to cross to get to the County Primary School (I vividly remember my first day there!). Further along the road, there were fields all the way to Water Orton, to which my pals and I often cycled - parents wouldn't allow that nowadays, alas! 


The winter of '46-'47, one of the worst on record, was memorable for the huge snow drifts. 

  

Memory by Mike Jackson-Cox © from Memories of Castle Bromwich on the Francis Frith website. For more go to https://www.francisfrith.com/locations/castle-bromwich/memories.


A Lucky Escape during the War by Vivienne Cross

Image not of Castle Bromwich
Image not of Castle Bromwich

Vivienne Cross, who lived in Castle Bromwich, tells the story of her aunt’s lucky escape:

 

"My aunt Theo was walking home to Hawthorne Road during WWII when a lone German plane flew past. It spotted her and began to machine gun her as she ran across a patch of waste ground. Fortunately for her she tripped and, as she fell, the bullets passed over her. Saved her life!

 

(The waste ground was at the corner of Hazelhurst Road where the shops are now. They built the Co-op there after the War and it is now a bed shop.)

 

My aunt Theo and my mom Sheilagh lived with my grandparents Charles and Marie Rose Swallow in Hawthorne Road. One morning, the whole family was in bed and a German plane came over and dropped bombs on what we called the old barn at Hob Farm. Frightened them to bits and they hid under the stairs.

 

My mom later to move to Hazelhurst Road where I was born."

 

War Years at Castle Bromwich by Paul Riley

A Castle Bromwich Spitfire; image from the collection of the Imperial War Museums
A Castle Bromwich Spitfire; image from the collection of the Imperial War Museums

Living in Brockhurst Rd Castle Bromwich we had P.O.W. camp at the end of the road on the site of Castle Bromwich Golf Club which was also housed an anti-aircraft battery.

 

Our house was regularly hit by shrapnel. My parents had previously lost their home at Belchers Lane, Saltley, when a land mine exploded demolishing several houses.

 

I can also remember aircraft being pushed across the Chester Road (which is now the Jaguar car company) to Castle Bromwich airfield to be tested by Alex Henshaw, test pilot, and his team. After the war, when I was about 8 years old, my brother and I used to sit on Castle Bromwich hill and watch these aircraft being tested.

 

Text by Paul Riley on 'WW2 People's War online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/categories/c1161/index_3.shtml

 

Snapshots of a War Baby by Pauline Udale 

A World War 2 air raid shelter (not in Castle Bromwich) from Sussex History Online
A World War 2 air raid shelter (not in Castle Bromwich) from Sussex History Online

I was born just four months before the declaration of the Second World War, on May 3rd 1939 on the outskirts of the city of Birmingham.

 

I was the only daughter of a schoolmaster and we lived in a modern suburban house in Castle Bromwich. It was set on a hill within sight of the rural fields of Warwickshire yet overlooking what transpired to be an area of highly significant strategic value, namely the Spitfire factory and its neighbouring airfield and industrial sites.

 

As I became aware of life around me I felt secure and safe in my home environment. Little did I realise the significance and poignance of what to me were commonplace events.

 

My earliest recollection was of a large photograph of a young man in an airman's uniform which was placed on top of our wireless in the dining room. I did not understand the heartbreak it must have caused when my mother told me it was her brother Leslie, who had been killed in the war, a fact that I just accepted.

 

I discovered many years later, when researching my family tree, that he was a 22 year old pilot by the name of Leslie Walpole and in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. On June 19th 1940 he was wounded whilst flying his aircraft. He was well known for his flying skills and legend has it that he was commended for his successful endeavour in bringing the aeroplane home before dying of his injuries.

 

Another vivid memory is the eerie sound of the air raid warning which would signal to my mother that it was time to place me in my cosy flannelette siren suit before taking me through the intense darkness of the night, down the garden path to the air raid shelter. I could not see a thing, only smell the freshness of the plants, and feel the cool dampness of the grass as we made our way to a place of safety. Well do I remember going down the slippery brick steps and the musty smell of our underground sanctuary. My father would light a candle and I was fascinated by the flickering shapes on the walls. There were camp beds and blankets and usually a warm drink, although I cannot remember whence that came. We had two compartments to our shelter and the roof was covered with earth, grass and buttercups.

 

I was never allowed to play around it in the day time, inspite of being a curious and energetic toddler. One night this inquisitiveness got the better of me. Soon after my father had stepped outside to observe the aeroplanes, with a sudden rush, I made my escape as I wanted to see them also. There they were, shadowy shapes flying in formation towards us. Again the perfume of the night air, the earthiness of the shelter and the frightening white beams of light, tracing across the midnight sky following the droning planes, stay vividly in my memory. The sound of their engines came quietly at first and before reaching a crescendo my fleeting glimpse was cut short as I was sent scurrying back to our hole in the ground. Luckily no harm was done to us that night and somehow my father could always tell whether the planes were 'ours' or 'theirs'.

 

However, it was soon decided that we were too near the likely action and that Birmingham schoolchildren should be evacuated to the country. My father was involved in the taking of his school, Highfield Road, from the built up area of Alum Rock into the Hinckley district of Leicestershire. I was taken with my mother to my grandparents who also lived in the Leicestershire countryside.

 

Although they had a substantial house and garage business in the tiny hamlet of Pinwall near Atherstone, life was quite primitive in the country compared with ours. But I loved it! There was no mains sanitation so it was an adventure going to the toilet in the little brick room down the garden. Water was obtained from a well, also in the garden, but conveyed to the house with the aid of a pump at the kitchen sink. Some water always had to be kept to pour back down the pipe before it would work.


The garden was a busy place with pigs and chickens and all the home-grown vegetables. Milk was delivered in a churn from a nearby farm and my grandmother would fetch it in a jug which was then placed on a stone slab in the pantry. The pantry was as big as our whole kitchen in our modern house. She would cook on an open range and I can still smell the aromas of the fresh herbs she would use as her pots boiled and sizzled on the fire.The kitchen was always warm and welcoming. We were never hungry and we seemed far removed from the war, yet only 20 miles or so from Coventry. The small quantities of petrol that were sold then were mainly to local farmers and I remember my grandfather storing his coupons behind the mantel clock.

 

My grandmother had the remains of a small sweetshop situated in the hallway of the house. Usually I had to be content with just the wonderful smell of pear drops and toffees as the ration book ruled. One luxury they did have was a telephone,a daffodil-shaped one with a separate ear piece. A notice hung outside the garage saying ‘You may telephone from here’ as there were no others for miles around.

 

Walks in the fields were idyllic. I just loved to clamber over the nearby stile and wander amongst the cowslips and violets with the long grass tickling my legs and the providers of our milk grazing peacefully beyond. The days were heralded by the sound of the cuckoo in spring and it always seemed to be sunny.

 

Sometime later we returned home to find the windows of our house had been blown out by some incendiary device and friendly German prisoners of war were restoring services to the street. The daily round of horse and carts continued to bring us our bread and milk. The car in our garage with its wonderfully smelling leather seats was still there. I loved to sit in it and could never really understand why we never went for rides in it. There it stayed until it was towed away at the end of the war and it was many years before my father could afford another one.

 

Much of our daily routine became centred around the wireless programmes. Workers Playtime, Forces Favourites and the news bulletins I remember well. Wartime songs such as Run Rabbit Run and The White Cliffs of Dover etc. were as familiar as nursery rhymes. In the evening there would be cocoa and bed before my father went off fire-watching or to his A.T.C.

 

Great excitement punctuated the ‘mundane’ when my uncle, my mother's second brother Donald, arrived home on leave ,often in the middle of the night. He would throw gravel at their bedroom window to wake them up. I treasured the gifts he brought back for me for years, namely an exquisitely made parachutist doll and beautifully fine and soft turquoise cotton pyjamas from Egypt.

 

Living above the airfield I would spend much time in our garden watching the training of airmen, both parachuting from a balloon basket or looping the loop in the pretty Tiger Moth bi-planes. I am totally fascinated by aeroplanes to the present day.

 

Eventually I remember being taken beyond the bomb sites, to the centre of the city, to watch the troops parading through the streets on their return from the war. Huge union jacks were hanging from all our windows and there was much cheering, waving of flags and playing of bands.

 

We had a street party to celebrate something called VE day with more flags, jelly and blancmange. Everyone took their chairs - my father, school benches - and trestle tables were erected in the centre of the road. There was a huge bonfire and an effigy of Hitler was burned on it.

 

The grownups were forever talking about their favourite topic — PEACE. I remember asking , as I was held aloft on my father's shoulders to see the celebrations, 'Daddy, what is Peace?

 

Text by Pauline Udall (Lunn) on 'WW2 People's War online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/

 

Building Spitfires at Castle Bromwich by Megan Rees

I was born in 1921 in the small town of Ammanford in South Wales. The family moved to Birmingham to find work in 1936 and we lived in the Erdington area.


I remember coming down the stairs on the morning of Sunday, 3 September 1939 hearing the news on the wireless that war had been declared. It was my father’s birthday.

 

When the war started I was working at the Valor factory. The factory made cookers and heaters. I worked on the hand presses. There were heavy weights on the press and I hurt my wrist. I had to go to the First Aid at the factory and they said I had sprained my wrist. The foreman was not very happy with me. I worked with Joan, a girl from Alum Rock. She was a pretty girl and was a trained hairdresser. We decided to look for work together at another factory.

 

We walked up the road to Dunlop’s, the tyre factory, and found jobs there. There was no problem in getting jobs. My job at Dunlop’s was examining the skeins of elastic rubber. White cotton stuff covered the rubber. The dust from this cotton covered every surface and worker. The floors were ankle deep in the dust. Everyone inhaled the fibres. I began to have chest trouble and Dr Devlin told me to change my job. It was then that I left Dunlop’s and went to work for Nuffield’s where they produced the Spitfires. There was no particular reason for taking a job there; it was just the next factory along the road.

 

I worked in C Block at the factory. Later during the war Lancaster bombers were made in Blocks E and F . We worked in a big shop where there were sections for the starboard wings, the port wings, the fuselage and the finishing section. From the finishing section the planes would go across the Chester Road to the aerodrome.

 

During my time at Nuffield’s I always worked on the same section. I worked on the starboard wings of the Spitfires. The wings of the Spitfires were built vertically in jigs. When I first started, I drilled the holes on the ribs of the wing (the frame of the wing) with a hand held drill. I once drilled through my little finger and went to first aid with the bit of the drill still in my finger and holding the drill steady in my other hand. I then progressed onto marking the position of the holes. You had to be very accurate. When things had to be riveted together you worked in two’s; one person operating the riveting gun and another with an iron block underneath the hole being riveted to take the pressure. A man would have the riveting gun while I held the block of iron . It was very noisy and there was a lot of vibration. Once the ribs had been prepared, the skins (big aluminium sheets) were fitted to the ribs. The skins had also been through a similar process of having holes marked and drilled. I used to machine drill the holes in the skins and then change the tool to punch the holes so that the rivets could lie flush.

 

Albert, a chap that I worked with on riveting had an ulcer so he did not eat. He smoked instead. He was a chain smoker. We would be offering one another cigarettes all day. We smoked Craven ‘A’ and Senior Service. I was forever putting the cigarette down so that most of it went up in smoke. I used to think that I might die from smoking before he died from his ulcer. There were no restrictions on smoking even though paint spraying was taking place in the area. It seems strange now but smoking was a way of life then.

 

Mr Carter was one of the inspectors. He checked that the nuts and bolts on the ribs had been locked securely before passing the job as ready to have the skins fitted. Not everyone wanted Mr Carter to check their work because he was so meticulous in his inspection. The lives of pilots depended on the planes being built properly so it was very important that the everyone did their job correctly. We would see planes coming back for repair and they were all shot up, their propellers mangled like the tentacles of an octopus. Mr Carter did not want anyone working on the jig while he was doing his inspection. However, he would allow me to continue to mark the holes on the ribs at one end while he inspected at the other.

 

When the planes were finished they were taken over the road to the aerodrome. Lord Haw-Haw said that we were waiting for rings (for the guns) to complete the planes and for us not to bother because they would bomb the planes before we received the rings. Now what he said was true, we were waiting for these rings. Someone was supplying him with inside information. They used to say that there was someone by the railway, signalling to the enemy with a torch.

 

Initially we worked two twelve hour shifts, 6 am to 6 pm and 6 pm to 6 am. We all used to clock in and out. When on the night shift, at 9pm we would put our gas masks and clothes ready at the end of the jigs so that we could grab them when the sirens went off. We would have to run to the air raid shelters. The shelters were underground and huge. There were benches each side for sitting. There were no bunks for sleeping. The men used to play cards down one end of the shelter. There must have been some lighting but there were no facilities for making a drink or anything to eat. We would have eaten any food we had taken to work long before. We would then have to stay there until the all clear was given and we returned to our work.

 

I remember going to work to start the 6am shift one morning and D Block had been bombed the night before. The clothes, shoes and gas masks of the workers from D Block were piled in heaps between A and C Blocks. They were wet from the water used by the fire brigade to fight the fires. You could see bodies still in the girders of the roof of the factory. It is a sight that you never forget. It was after the bombing of D Block that they altered the working hours to three shifts, 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am.

 

There were air raids during the day too. The German planes would machine gun the workers running to the shelters. Another time when there was bombing during the day, my mother sent my brother Jack (he was not working because he was ill with TB) to the factory to see if I was okay. While making his way to the factory he had to shelter under a bridge because the German planes were machine-gunning the roads.

 

We had special buses to take us to Nuffield’s. We had to pay the bus fare out of our own pocket. There used to be one of the workers who had a wonderful singing voice. He was a Welshman who lived in Handsworth. He always sat on the top deck at the back of the bus and sang while the rest of us listened. He was a rather big but shy chap. He would not sing if people turned to look at him.

 

One day the bus could not come down its usual route along the Number 11 Outer Circle route because a bomb had been dropped on the road by Rookery Park. Instead, the bus went down Wood End Lane. It was only a small lane and there were overhanging trees. The branches of the trees brushed the roof of the bus and we all dived onto the floor of the bus thinking it was machine gun fire.

 

We wore overalls at work. We had lockers for our personal things. Each block had a restroom and there was a big canteen. In the main canteen there was a stage. The radio programme ‘Workers Playtime’ used to come to the factory.

 

Alex Henshaw, the chief test pilot, would come around the factory. The King and Queen and Prince Michael of Kent came to visit the factory. I remember we were waiting outside to greet the King and Queen and they were late.

 

Towards the end of the war I finished working at Nuffield’s. I returned to South Wales for some treatment that was supposed to help cure the psoriasis that I had.

 

Throughout the war I just remember being so very tired working long hours but you just got on with doing what had to be done. I was too tired to do anything but work and sleep but I will always have a special place in my heart for the Spitfire.

 

Text by Megan Rees (nee Llewellyn) on 'WW2 People's War online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/82/a4093382.shtml.

 

'A History of Castle Bromwich for Young People' written by William Dargue 2016 for the Castle Bromwich Bellringers.

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