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War around the Austin - Part One

by The Stratford upon Avon Society

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Albert Derek Cooter
Location of story: 
Birmingham
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5395836
Contributed on: 
30 August 2005

50a - Albert Cooter's father worked at the Austin when the War started, and Albert was a schoolboy:

"We were living just down the road from The Austin Motor Company at Longbridge, in Bodenham Road it was called, and I remember the day, very exciting for a lad of my age of course.
(Chamberlain made the announcement) and I can remember running up the road to my friend’s and making a noise like a machine gun thinking that this is going to be exciting which it was to a person of that age.
And the …, you know everything was happening. Barrage balloons were installed and guns were put round Longbridge, and as you know then the bombing started at different times during the early ‘forties. I missed a lot of it. I was evacuated to Wales for a short time, mainly because most of my friends were going, it was an optional thing from the school. So I went down there to a small mining village, and saw quite a bit of action down there as well when they were bombing Barry Docks and Cardiff in daylight raids, again exciting, you don’t realize the danger.
My brother had already gone into the army, part of the militia organization that came out before the war; anybody of a certain age they had got to go and do six months military training, six months in brackets. Well of course when he was doing his six months the war started, and he was one of the early ones to go over with the British Expeditionary Force into France, Belgium, Holland, and he got skittled down into Dunkirk and escaped.
But he was downgraded medically, and he stayed in the UK for the rest of the war, but an interesting story about him I will tell you sometime, which has come to light since he died which was last year.

When we got back to Birmingham I remember the raids on Coventry very, very well. From where we …, you know you could sort of see the glow in the sky, and of course we had a lot of bombings in Birmingham. We had daylight raids on the Austin Motor Company as well, that was a Heinkel 111 which I remember well, and it was trying to bomb the rail junction and it missed and hit the power house at Longbridge, killed a couple, my friend’s father was one of them. But again I have got a map sometime I will show you, that was retrieved from a German aircraft and it shows you the Austin Motorwerk as they called it. All these were souvenirs for us kids anyway.
Well it was camouflaged brilliantly. You could sort of go and stand on top of the high point of the Lickey Hills and it was disguised as houses. They actually painted the shape of houses and windows on the side of the big buildings.

Shrapnel was the thing. Oh that was …, in fact I gave some shrapnel to the Wellesbourne Museum only a few years ago, because they had a piece but somebody had pinched it. They had a little museum there for the airfield, so they drilled a hole through it and they screwed that to the bench then.
But oh yes fuse caps and things like that, bits of barrage balloon, and to get a bit of an aircraft that was the thing it was wonderful.

My father was there permanently on days, he was a sort of a superintendent, and his main job, I think they call it (they have got a fancy name for it now), but was known as material control progress; they had got to make sure everything flowed through to get to the destination of whatever it was going to make. Longbridge, obviously, they made everything there you name it, from ammunition, ammunition boxes, gliders, aircraft, everything.

At school the teachers had changed, very much. The younger ones were called up, and they brought a load of guys out of retirement, not happy, not really interested and they were of the old school. I see a few of my friends occasionally who I was at school with, and we were apprentices together, and we always talk about the old characters from the school you know. We had one old guy who came from Brierley Hill and we called him “white fang”, Mr. Curtis, because that was his favourite book, and he used to read it, and then we used to have to write a little essay about it, but in his broad, Black Country accent, wonderful to remember.

But the lady teachers were still there, but they didn’t let us, the senior boys, they didn’t let ladies loose in the classroom with us lot around! So we had these other teachers, and they were a pretty strict old bunch, but they weren’t particularly interested in teaching though, anything they could do for an easy life they were doing it.

The shelters we had at the school were brick built affairs, sort of round the perimeter of the playgrounds, and used for anything they could think of you know. The crafty cigarettes and things like that, so, you know, this is how things were then. We were pretty badly disciplined as they are now, but ours was harmless, but now they’re not quite so harmless.

Dad, mother, two sisters were at home …, sorry three sisters at home yes one had got married, and just me. And we had an Anderson shelter down the bottom of the garden which used to fill up with water of course, and that was basically it. With bunks in there, an awful place, but I didn’t like it in there. When the raids were on, I used to sort of be out ambling round which was …, my mother used to get very upset about it, but you know at that age you don’t know any danger, you are missing too much.

Having Victorian brought up parents, the kids came first, we never went short of anything. My mother did meals good like all the other mothers of that era with very little, and we just never went hungry. And also she used to charm the butcher to get some …, one of the things I can always remember my father used to love it, she used to get a sheep’s head, I don’t know if you ever did, but she used to make this wonderful stewed head, it was very tender, very tasty. And then also there was always a cauldron on the stove for soup, and she threw all sorts of things into it; you couldn’t get away with it these days, I don’t know why, but it used to go up and up and in the end she used to have to throw the thing away, and then she used to get some bones of some sort, we never, never went hungry.

Because my father was in a position to, how shall I put it, allocate overtime we had a lot of the workers used to come from, we used to call it, “Swedeland”. Over Bromsgrove, Catshill, that sort of area; they were known as “swede bashers”. But of course they had always got rabbits and things, countrified, and they used to bring these to my father, he used to hide them away under the table, so that they could get a bit of overtime.

I walked it to school. Walked it in the early days, and it was about sort of probably a mile and a half, but then you knew you got a bike. I have been back a couple of times to see this one, because the school up a hill on a plateau called Tinkers Farms, all pulled down now. To get to it you had to go up this winding lane called Hanging Lane, and the big thing then was to come down there on roller skates and it was rough, because you were running half the way and the skates were rubbish anyway, and that was our big thing, up and down the dell, we used to get knocked about. But a gang of you will, we all went up and down together, we used to, but a lot of comradeship.

Apart from the few bombs on the Austin and one or two round and sort of over towards Harborne, Selly Oak got a few, but Northfield itself never was really hit to any extent. Quite a lot of damage down towards the far end of Northfield where there was a large hospital called the Woodlands Hospital, they had damage down there but it was mainly from … The Germans used to drop mines, which you knew about this, they came down by parachute, the object was that when they did land they exploded and did a lot of damage. There was a lot of those round Kings Norton and bombing generally, Selly Oak and whatever, but actually Northfield was …, the Longbridge end of Northfield we never had that much damage done by mines.
It was mostly night raids you see, there weren’t that many daylight raids because of the range of the aircraft and the vulnerability of them. They just did one or two, and as I say that used to be quite a target, but it was pretty well defended as far as daylight stuff was concerned; night time they used to rely on barrage balloons, anti aircraft guns and a rather primitive rocket system; and the majority of the damage to the area of the houses was from those defence things. I had a fuse cap off a shell which I treasured, it went into our back lawn, and when I went in the army, mother got rid of all my stuff and that was it! I was called up in 1945 for National Service when you were given a group number and everything else, and that was it. Up until that time, started off in the Army Cadets till I was old enough to join the Air Training Corps, and destined to go in the air force doing all sorts of clever things. I think it was we used to come down to Wellesbourne for camps, and Long Marston and Honeybourne, and did a lot of flying from there which was wonderful to a kid of 16, wonderful. But of course by the time I was called up, they had got more aircrew than aircraft, so we tried to get in the navy my friend and I, but unless you could go in a technical branch they weren’t having you in the navy, they said, what he what he meant was that they were short of blokes in the infantry, in the army, and that’s what I ended up in."

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