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Daylight Was A Constant Worry

by WMCSVActionDesk

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Fred Overton
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Contributed on: 
28 October 2005

Our family lived at No. 29 Bracken Road, on the Birches Green Estate. There was Dad, Mom, Harry, Joan, Fred (Myself), Ellen, Amy, Sheila. It was a lovely estate, with its own School, and because it was built (in 1929) for families from inner city areas of Birmingham there were lots of children, to fill the School. As estates go, it was very small and all neighbours got on very well together.

When the War started, I was working at Fort Dunlop, as office boy in the Traffic Office. I used to think at that time "Jerry" would never bomb "Brum" because it was too far from Germany, but I joined the Dunlop 165 Squadron of the Air Defense Corps, later to become the Air Training Corps, to train to become air crew in case the war lasted long enough for my services to be required.

In early 1940, after work, my time was spent learning what I could about A.R.P; how to use Stirrup Pumps, how to put out Incendiary Bombs, and indeed to be as much help as I could in any emergency. Air Raid Shelters were delivered to every house, with sandbags, stirrup pumps, ladders. Shelters were made as comfortable as possible, but as the floor was soil it invariably got very muddy, to make due we made some duckboards from old pieces of wood, and later the Council concreted the floor and sides. "Be prepared" was the official slogan, and indeed we were.

Air Raid warning sirens started during the first few months of 1940, with the Dunlop Hooter, known to locals as the "Dunlop Bull", doing its best to get people out of bed and down the shelters. Our Mom got Sheila, Amy, Ellen out of bed, wrapped them up as warm as possible, and took them down the shelter. Sister Joan helped our Mom, and brother Harry and myself used to stop in bed. Dad was on permanent nights at Dunlop.

Harry and myself used to worry our Mom to death, but as the months went by, we saw sense, and we used to get up as soon as the sirens sounded. Up till August nothing happened, but about the middle of August sirens had sounded, Mom and my sisters were down the shelter, Dad was at work, Harry and myself were in the garden, when following the drone of Aircraft engines there were three loud explosions. This was our first Air Raid, with bombs dropping on Rookery Park, Wood End Road, and I think Lydford Grove. The following morning I went to Rookery Park to see what had happened, there was a crater about 4 yards in diameter and about 2 yards deep, lads were already there looking for shrapnel, this was the first Bomb dropped on "Brum".

Raids started to increase in frequency and length during 1940 (13 hour raids were common), and because of the Birches Green Estates close proximity to Fort Dunlop, and the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, and being situated on the north eastern side of Birmingham, there were not many nights when the sirens did not sound.

Bombs started dropping on Birches Green during the latter part of 1940, one close to Birches Green School where my future Sister-in-Law lived, another in Kingsbury Road and Inland Road, houses were destroyed in all instances, and families were taken to the local Bus Repair Station until other accommodation could be found for them. At the start of 1941, most of the family’s eldest sons, had either been called up for National Service or had volunteered. Sons in their teens such as me were still at home, and most of the menfolk were in the A.R.P Services and others in the L.D.V.

There were no uniforms, but Tin Hats were issued and Arm Bands with the letters L.D.V for Local Defense Volunteers, jokingly we used to call them the Look-Duck-and Vanish Brigade, but what a wonderful job they all did. This later became the Homeguard.

1941; as raids increased, and all Bombs dropped caused more substantial damage, it got to the stage when during heavy raids sirens sounded at about 6.00 pm and the all clear about 7.00 am the next morning. As the sirens sounded we looked at the sky and if the moon was visible used to say "it looks like a bombers moon we could be in for a 'Big Un' tonight" on most occasions we were right.

On one such night, Harry and myself were on Fire Patrol, the raid was well under way Dunlop had been hit, Castle Bromwich Aircraft factory had been hit plus other surrounding areas such as Pype Hayes and Erdington, when a sound which we had never heard before, like the rushing of an express train brought our first major incendiary bomb attack on the estate, hundreds of incendiaries were scattered over the estate. Wardens, neighbours, Fire Patrols seemed to appear from nowhere, and within a short space of time all visible incendiaries were, covered with sandbags, some bombs went through the roofs of houses, but stirrup pump skills soon put them out also. Fire damage to houses was, unfortunately substantial.

This year was the worst, spirits of the local people was magnificent, and their humour despite all what was happening was brilliant, this humour showed itself, by the regular visit by an elderly woman neighbour who used to pass our house on her way to the local pub (The Norton). I don't know what she used to drink, but she always seemed to be let’s say "slightly" inebriated. She always stopped to talk, and was always trying to get anyone around to join her in singing "Old faithful we roam the range together", everyone used to call her "Old Faithful". Before she left us to go to her home in Hartwell Road her last words were in typical Brum "Adolf ain't goin to keep me out of my bleedin bed".

This sadly was soon to be her downfall. It was the 11th April 1941, the worst night I can remember, it was a cloudless night sirens had sounded early and bombers had started to arrive during the evening, the first of which dropped flares and incendiaries which fell on local factories, and other estates. Heavy "Ack Ack" guns opened up as each plane came over, with shells from the local battery sited on the edge of Spring Lane Playing Fields whistling above our heads, in effect "all hell was let loose", planes following up dropped their bombs, and it was obvious the main targets were Dunlop and the Spitfire Factory, the constant drone of the aircraft seemed endless.

Mom, Ellen, Amy, and Sheila were in the shelter, I was in the back garden in front of the shelter with a mate of mine Jimmy Boot, sister Joan had left the shelter to go to the outside toilet. We were told that the one bomb to get you, you will not hear. I never heard this particular one, other than a sudden rushing of wind, and being lifted bodily in the air, I was in fact blown up. I landed on top of my mate, and the only thing that saved us was our neighbour’s shelter which was in direct line between us and the bomb.

Mom, and my sisters were obviously in shock and sister Joan who was in the toilet, had the ceiling of the toilet fall on top of her. Jimmy Boot and I went to see exactly what had happened; our Mom and sister Joan despite being shocked got together with other neighbours and did what they could to comfort the Clarkes, Taylors and the Meades. The bomb had landed in the garden of 19 & 21 Bracken Road, the crater was at least 12 yards across and about 6 yards deep, lying by the back door of No. 19 was Mr. Clarke, who was being attended to by a warden, who said he was dead.

In the garden of No.15 Mr. Taylor was screaming with his leg hanging off and blood covering his face, a stretcher was not available, but the back gate of No.23 which had been blown of its hinges was used to carry him to the First Aid Centre at the bottom of Bracken Road, he was in a critical condition and lost his leg and an eye.

Mrs. Meades was in her kitchen at No.23 unconscious, we could not get her round, but our Mom said I'll go and get some of your Dad's "Brandy"; he always kept a small bottle for emergencies. A small spoonful of brandy soon brought her round, but after licking her lips, she quickly lapsed back into unconsciousness, a further spoonful brought her round again. Jimmy and myself then went up Summerlee Road as we were told Hartwell Road had been hit, four houses completely destroyed, including poor "Old Faithful's" she had lost her battle with Adolf.

There was not much we could do, neighbours and wardens were digging amongst the rubble, five bodies were recovered, all had died. On our way down Summerlee Road we noticed a large hole in the side of one of the houses, which we pointed out to one of the Wardens. He investigated and found that a huge bomb had gone through the floorboards of the house, the tail fin of which could be seen deep into the ground, it was a delayed action. Immediate evacuation was ordered with the whole of Summerlee Road cordoned off. The following afternoon at about 5.00 pm the bomb exploded, completely destroying four houses. Debris was scattered everywhere, some house bricks even landed on the green in Bracken Road.

Houses in Ismere Road, Quorn Grove, Danby Grove, Spruce Grove also suffered damage as a result of these three bombs, the largest dropped on the Estate. On his return home on the 12th April, after his night duty at Fort Dunlop, our Dad said he had heard that Birches Green had been hit, and it worried him. He was shocked to see the damage in Bracken Road, including our own house, kitchen ceiling down, toilet ceiling down, every window broken, garden fences down, we were alright, that was the main thing.

On being told about Mr. Clarke and Mr. Taylor, he was of course saddened, but when our Mom told him about Mrs. Meades, and the fact that she had given her some of his Brandy, his typical brand of Brummie humour came out "she only kept passing out all the time, so she could keep having my 'bleedin' brandy". Sadness and humour, what a contrast, but how could people have kept going without a mixture of both.

There was no let up to the raids, and a further heavy one late in the year brought another incendiary attack, with hundreds scattered over the estate. The house next door No.31 Bracken Road had one through the roof and two houses in Elmwood Road also had an incendiary through each roof, the ones that fell into open spaces were quickly extinguished by sandbags, but where houses were on fire, neighbours using stirrup pumps, and the A.F.S dealt with these very efficiently, and no major fires occurred.

At No.31 Bracken Road the bedroom was on fire and brother Harry and I put our stirrup pump skills to the test, Harry used the nozzle, I used the pump and members of the Roberts family and ours kept us supplied with buckets of water. This team effort put the fire out and made the bedroom safe in about twenty minutes. This sort of team effort was repeated more or less simultaneously at other houses with similar circumstances throughout the estate.

It was later learned that the incendiaries were of the "Anti-personnel" type, each one had an explosive charge on the end. The one in No.31 Bracken Road did actually explode, but fortunately we were shielded by the bedroom door. A school mate of mine was not so fortunate in attempting to extinguish one with a sandbag; it exploded, and blinded him. He was just sixteen.

From the first bombs in 1940 to the end of raids in 1941, I have related what happened during the hours of darkness, but life during daylight was a constant worry. How our Mom coped I do not know, but of course all families were the same. Rationing was a major problem, our Mom always managed to sort something out for us, from the meager allowances.

The slogan "Dig for Victory" helped people to make the effort to help themselves. Our Dad had an allotment at the back of the "Forget-me-not" Club in Tyburn Road. I helped to plant and dig it, with the main vegetables being potatoes, "Late and Early" Cabbage, Sprouts, Carrots, Parsnips, Peas, Beans and Turnips. This certainly helped to supplement our rations. I used to love carrots, and I ate lots of them. There were comments made over the radio that carrots can make you see better in the dark. Whether or not this was fact I do not know, but it didn't seem to make any difference to me, during Air Raids, it was still damn dark. Certain foods, our Mom just could not get Eggs, Tomatoes, Bananas, Oranges and many others.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anastasia Travers from WM CSV Action Desk on behalf of Fred Overton and has been added to the site with his permission. Fred Overton fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

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