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24 September 2014

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St Thomas's Church after a bombing raid

Birmingham's Blitz victims remembered

The Lord Mayor of Birmingham is to unveil The Tree of Life memorial in recognition of those killed in the Second World War bombing raids on the city.

Sixty years after the end of World War II, Birmingham is to get a memorial to remember those killed during bombing raids on the city.

Tree of Life

Lorenzo Quinn and a model of the Tree of Life
Sculptor Lorenzo Quinn

The memorial, the Tree of Life by Lorenzo Quinn, will take pride of place in Edgbaston Street, adjacent to Saint Martin’s Church in the Bullring.

The  unveiling by the Lord Mayor, Councillor John Hood will take place on Saturday 8th October at 12 noon.

The sculpture, twelve and a half feet in height,  includes the names of all those who died and whose names are known.

The tree itself emerges from the ground, and is surmounted by two hands signifying people coming together.

Birmingham in the Blitz

The bombing raids on Birmingham took place between 8th August 1940 and 23rd April 1944 – resulting in 9,000 casualties and 2,241 dead.

Erdington House after a bombing raid
Erdington House after a bombing raid

Birmingham was the second most heavily bombed city in the country and prolonged and powerful attacks destroyed many houses, factories, churches, and other buildings.

At the time government censorship meant such raids were not to be highlighted by the media.

The editor of the city's Evening Mail explained to his readers that: 'the experts, time and again have assured us that the publication of detailed particulars regarding air damage would be slipping a useful card into the enemy's hands'.

The effectiveness of the censors may have resulted from their understanding of Birmingham's importance to the nation's war effort.

Birmingham’s industrial effort

The fact that the Luftwaffe was unable to knock out the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain owed much to the workers of the Spitfire factory in Castle Bromwich.

Destruction in Green Lane and Victoria Street
Bomb destruction in Green Lane

By the end of the war, they were producing 320 Spitfires and 20 Lancasters a month - more aircraft than any other factory in the UK.

The array of war work in Birmingham was staggering, and if the factories had been destroyed, the air force would have suffered a mortal blow.

When the BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) was hit badly in November 1940, Churchill himself was alarmed at the consequent national fall in the making of rifles.

Birmingham firms were making everything from tools to radio components, and by 1944, 400,000 Brummies were involved in the war in different capacities.

A fitting memorial

The Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association (BARRA) has campaigned for a memorial for many years.

The new BARRA flag
Alistair Cave with the new standard

The Tree of Life sculpture will be a focal point where they, and many others can finally pay their respects.

The unveiling of the sculpture by the Lord Mayor will take place at 12 noon.

As part of the event, Alistair Cave who was the General Manager of Birmingham Small Arms during the war, will present BARRA with a new standard to remember the 53 people killed at the Small Health factory during the war.

There will also be a church service at St Martins and a wreath laying ceremony with a speech made by Professor Carl Chinn MBE, president of BARRA.


(Information kindly supplied by Professor Carl Chinn MBE and BARRA. Birmingham bomb pictures courtesy of Carl Chinn's Brummagem Magazine October 2005. Piece edited by Jill Ella)

last updated: 07/10/05
Have Your Say
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Caroline Watkins
I do hope in recognising the efforts of BARRA that the true founders of the association will be remembered and given the credit they deserve. John and Jean Purser founded Birmingham Air raids assocoiation.

Phil Duckworth
I live on Sandford Road Moseley. I had noticed that 115/117 were newer post-war houses. An internet search has shown that an Alfred Reuben Joseph aged 37 years(listed on a Jewish web site as a civilian killed in ww2) was killed in the original house on 23/11/1940. I assume this was part of the 22/11 air raid. About time these discrepancies in our history were addressed and recognised.

Victor de Quincey
During the air raids of September 1940 my father who was responsible for security fire and ambulance at the BSA Armoury road managed to scramble down the railway embankment with my heavily pregnant mother and four year old sister and put her on a train to North Wales I was born a few days later on the 7th October 1940 we returned two weeks later only to witness the terrible raids in november where our house at 7 The Limes Armoury Road was bombed this was the second house we had lost.

Brian Hill [CANADA]
Its about bloody time!.the city paid the price for being the arms workshop of BRITIAN IN 1940s THAT IN TURN SAVED the world.

Rachel Harley
A bomb landed on my grandparents house in Sampson Road ( I think)10.4.1941. My grandmother was killed and my grandad was taken to Selly ak hospital with burns. My mother, Margaret Richards (later Smyth) was trapped in the house. My grandma was Alice Richards and her husband was Harry. My mother still has a funny knee following the bombing. The last words my grandmother said to my mum was that she was going to do the pack ups for my uncle and her husband for the next morning. She then put her coat around my mums shoulders and said 'its cold, Peggy, keep warm. My mother who is now nearly 89 has never got over losing her beloved mother. My father, William George Smyth,who was on leave from the army,(Royal ENgineers), doing some air raid duties, was one of the men who took my mother out of the demolished house.

Jeannie Gately
My sister age 17 was killed in the Carlton picture house,I remember it being at the bottom of Durham Rd Sparkhill, my Dad was killed coming home from Fire Watching during a raid bomb hit the bus and killed my Dad he was 57 Gavin Pollock, my sister Elizabeth Pollock, would their names be on the memmorial?

June Eastlake
I am a founder member of the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association and thank the people who have written in with their kind comments. It was a memorable service in St. Martins Church and an emotional unveiling of 'The Tree of Life' sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn on the 8th October 2005. The Lord Mayor was ably assisted in the unveiling by Mrs Marjorie Ashby (a lady in her 80's and suffering from cancer) who has campaigned for over 30 years for a memorial to the civilians who were killed in the bombing of Birmingham. Sadly, Marjorie died on 23rd November 2005.

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