- Contributed by
- The Stratford upon Avon Society
- People in story:
- Gwen Bingham
- Location of story:
- Birmingham and Stratford
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 April 2005
31 — Gwen Bingham, a Birmingham girl born in 1921, was in the Birmingham Blitz and became a LandGirl in the Stratford area:
“We were in Roughley Road, Ward End — and that was Bomb Alley! All right, they had 15 hours bombing, Coventry, we had between ten and fifteen hours every night for two years, and we were bombed out; well, it was a landmine and I lived on the edge of a grove, council house, and the whole grove was disintegrated… I was in the shelter listening…to the brmm, brmm, brmm of the German planes, brilliant moonlight night, and I was listening to ‘em, I never heard a thing till I got my mouth full of dirt and was on my face, or I was on my back, I forget, on my back, and Mom said to me (‘cos we made a bed of our air-raid shelter (Morrison), we had one of those wire mattresses, and we put a mattress on there, and it was a bed, not somewhere you could sit round)… and Mom says ah that’s my house, I bet that’s my house, I said I don’t know. I looked out, I couldn’t see anything (I suppose the dirt and dust) but Dad, who was head warden along with Alan Brewin, his father, he came and he said are you all all right? Mom said is that my house? He said no but it’s The Grove, and he said I have got to go because a lot of those Anderson shelters are close to the buildings because of the gardens, and he unearthed this family called Chamberlain, and he said are you all all right? We got some scratches and that, but our babby slept through, it was her words, the babby slept through it, and my Dad thought oh ah, where is he? And he said I picked him up and he was cold, and he was…, I could see he took the blast, so he said oh, he’s fine, I will take him to first aid centre, whipped him into the Children’s I think or the General (probably the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham). And of course my father was a hero, because he had saved ‘our babby’, and it was a good job we brought him in, he was only two.
So of course our kitchen wall leant out and they said you can’t live there, so somebody, a friend of mine said I know; while this is going on, Mom went to her eldest sister and my dad stayed on because of being Warden, I think he stayed with a neighbour I don’t know, anyway, I took a job on a farm out towards…, through this girl who had been…, to take farming, and it was out in Shropshire, and that was where I got the taste of farming really.
And anyway eventually I came back, father was incensed because I worked for eight shilling a week from seven in the morning till half past eight at night because that winter, we had snow and we were digging ourselves off the little lanes, the main lane at the top, in 1940. And one evening, Mrs…, this lady the farmer’s wife, said to me you come and look at this, she took me up out of the farmyard, she said look over there, the sky was crimson, and I said oh, there’s been bombing; she said that’s Birmingham, and I said oh, and I was so upset I thought how could she say that to me, she knows I’m… But it wasn’t, it was Coventry.
And anyway my dad put his foot down, I never reared a daughter to work as a slave, a servant for a man who can’t even give you a…And I mean, eight shilling, that was it, and I used to work every day, I had a few days off a month, and recently doing this history from Coleshill, I said to one of the girls on the Committee , do you know Emma I worked for that, and they were talkng about the eighteen hundreds, , she said oh, …I said you don’t believe me, do you? And I said I used to come home every month. She said how much was the bus fare? I said I haven’t a clue, so I phoned the RPO in Birmingham, and this lad says I will find out, so he said when he rang (back) were you the lady who was asking about bus fares from Navigation Street? Yes. Five shilling return! (and) I was getting eight bob a week and no clothes. I mean they kept me, and she was very good to me the farmer’s wife, but the man was a real gone by the ground, a real man, he man.
Then I came out of there, I worked at Dunlops in the overseas, and during the war then all the places in Malaya and Ceylon and Burma, we had a lot of rubber plantations there, and stuff used to come back that had been lost, bicycles, tyres had gone down, and the depots and the offices had all closed down. Anyway eventually then I went into the aircraft factory at Castle Bromwich. There’s a story to that, but you want to get me to Stratford!
So I was… I met a boy, met an airman out at Shropshire, and to cut a long story short, I found myself married to him; my family thought he was wonderful and I didn’t really know but anyway I ended up being married to him. I was like a lamb to the slaughter really. And I was very unhappy, and anyway I thought well I can’t do…, when you are married that’s it, so in those days you didn’t divorce, you made your bed you lie on it.
But anyway I thought well if we have a child, perhaps it will cement the marriage, perhaps it will make me feel different, and we had a baby boy. I was married in June ’42 and a baby was born in August ’44 and in February’45 it died of pneumococcomeningitis.
Well I went down with what is called anorexia, and our doctor who was a friend of the family, he said…, he sent for me and he said Gwen is there anything in the whole wide world you would like to do? What would it be? I said I would like to go in the Land Army — have you tried? Yes, but they won’t have me ‘cos when I was fifteen I busted my knee and I had a bad confinement and it affected the whole of me, so they didn’t want to know, you’re not pretty enough! So he said well if I pull the strings and got you in.
I said could you do that? Yes, I will take responsibility which he did, and I went in to Worcester, and eventually I had a wonderful time there.
(To start with) I worked with some farmers that really abused your labour you know, and never had any overtime, and of course it was at least twenty-nine shillings a week with a uniform found by the Women’s Land Army. And anyway our Mom was ill and our doctor sent for me, and I came home, and they said if you don’t come back Mrs Smith said she can’t keep your job open, great. So I stayed another week and then when I heard she’d filled the post, I came back, phoned the office on Foregate Street in Worcester, she said all right come back and I will see you, so I went back to the office, she said go and get your things, and if she makes a fuss just get your stuff together, leave it on the premises and we will send a lorry to collect it, but don’t stand no nonsense, come straight back. So I went, and oh, at last! Now we shall get the work done properly, oh ye gods, and the girl in the dairy said oh, are you Gwen? We’ve heard so much about? Yes. She said well thank God you’re back she said, how you put up with this lot I’ll never know; I said well hold on I’m not stopping; this lady never believed I was out again. Anyway, I got back from there and it was a place called Peopleton (southeast of Stratford).”
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.