- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Maurice R Kinsell
- Location of story:
- Smethwick, West Midlands.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 November 2005
My memories of the whole war period are a series of cameos, or vignettes. At the time I was living with my parents in Oxford Road, Smethwick, which is now known as Sandwell and a much larger metropolitan area to the North West of Birmingham. There were many heavy engineering factories within a small radius which made it an important target for enemy bombers. One factory in particular was the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Works, whose title tells all about its peacetime activity but which, during the war, devoted its capacity to tanks and gliders. We lived about 400yards from this site. Thus it was that from roughly 1941 to1943 my memories are of air raid warning sirens, a wavering note warning of an imminent attack and a continuous note telling that danger has passed.
These signals preceded a rapid trip to the Anderson Shelter in the garden, or an exit from the same. The shelter was provided by a government department in what is now known as “flatpack”, consisting of many large sheets of galvanised corrugated iron, some straight and some curved. A large hole, perhaps 8x6 feet and 4feet deep was dug then the sheets were assembled in this hole to form a structure with sides curving into the centre line and flat ends. A door was made of wood to fill the rectangular hole in one end then the whole shelter was covered in the soil excavated from the hole. This gave extra protection from shrapnel and other debris.
The shelter was normally shared between two houses, being built between the two, so the building work was carried out by the heads of the families, in our case my father. It is obvious that the size of the shelter made for very ‘cosy’ living arrangements, in our case a total of 7 bodies. Fortunately the senior males were usually absent on either their reserved occupations or on Home Guard duties. Catering arrangements were also communal, sharing sandwiches etc., although with the shelter being only around 12 yards from the house, we would often await a “quiet” moment before scurrying to the house to make hot tea etc.
Once settled in the shelter, and against a background of anti- aircraft fire, the occasional dull thud of a bomb explosion and reflected glare from searchlights, one would try to sleep. The most clear and tragic memory of this period is of one night when we had been in the shelter for some hours. An air raid was in progress when suddenly we heard a whistling sound which rapidly increased in volume. This was a falling bomb. Then there was a very heavy explosion, so close that the ground shook. We had to wait until dawn to discover that the bomb had landed about 150 yards away between two shelters, killing two entire families, one of which was named Wolfe.
The end of the war was not a sudden event but a realisation that news became more positive during 1944 and, in early 1945, the mood was not of IF but WHEN. In early May 1945 we all knew that the end was very close. Several ladies of the immediate neighbourhood formed themselves into an organising team in anticipation of a ceasefire and the appropriate celebrations thereafter. The end of the war was signalled on the 8th of May 1945 and in a very short time the road was transformed into a giant picnic site with trestle tables laden with sandwiches, cakes, jellies and much other party fare. Wind-up gramophones were brought out and singing and dancing were enjoyed until very late. Truly a day to remember.
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