- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Eve Smith
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 February 2005
War Time Titbits
One night, as we came out of the pictures, an air raid was in progress. It was like Dante’s Inferno. Incendiary bombs had been dropped and buildings were blazing all around us. Fire brigades, rescue workers, police and soldiers were at the scene. Flames were leaping high in the sky and running along the ground. Through the thick smoke we could see bombs whizzing down and enemy fighter planes swooping to machinegun the fire fighters on their ladders. Shrapnel rained from the exploding shells of the ack ack guns. We could hear the shrapnel tearing through the branches of the near-by trees and shearing them off. Leaves and whole branches came crashing to the ground.
We made for the nearest air raid shelter as quickly as possible. It was pretty crowded. We had just found a spot to settle down when another couple came dashing in. They were wearing coats over their nightclothes. One said to the other, “Have you got everything?”
The other person said, “Yes but you’ve forgotten your wig!”
Oh my god!” and the first person dashed out again clutching her bald head. I wonder if she came back again?
Families used to take certain items down to the cellar with them. In many homes you would hear this conversation, “Have you got your gas mask, ration books, marriage lines, insurance policies, clothing coupons, army pay book and hot water bottle?” Sometimes these articles were the only clues to the identity of the people buried beneath the rubble. Many poor souls were buried unidentified in mass graves.
Organisations like the Home Guard, Civil Defence Corps and Air Raid wardens sprung into action during the war to help civilians. Some of the wardens were self important and bossy. One man’s false teeth fell out and he struck a match to find them. A warden prosecuted him. I a warden saw a chink of light he would shout, “Put that light out!” When he told a man a light was showing under his door the irate man said, “The bloody Germans are going to come in under my door, are they?”
Car drivers were instructed to drive with no headlights when the black-out was first introduced. Consequently twice as many were killed between September and December 1939 than the previous year. After that, headlights were covered by a disc with a slot across the middle, showing a dim light.
When checking the windows to deal with the black-out, a vicar’s wife discovered that the rectory had fifty windows.
One night a woman bumped into a very large, black object that she couldn’t recognise. It felt very rough. It happened to be an elephant from the circus returning to its shelter for the night.
Children collected shrapnel and fragments of bomb cases and anything else they found lying around after a raid. They played war games. Everybody wanted to be the four star general and nobody wanted to be the Germans so that started another battle. Some of the children still played cowboys and Indians and the little girls liked dressing up as Florence Nightingales.
Eve Smith, writing about Birmingham
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