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West Bromwich at War - Part 2

by WMCSVActionDesk

Contributed by 
People in story: 
J M Day, John Lees, George Darlow,
Location of story: 
West Bromich
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 November 2005

Then of course comes the threat of Invasion. That was the next thing. All were thinking that Hitler would carry on as he intended to do and come to Britain. He was planning Operation Sealion and this was early in 1940. The RAF did a wonderful job. They harassed the preparation of his landing boats. They went there and bombed them and disturbed them. Then of course something else happened, Hitler suddenly found himself in trouble on his eastern boundary. The Russians were on the march and he had to stop what he was doing and divert his troops to the eastern front. The Invasion was put on the back burner and eventually it was abandoned but it was an awkward time while we were waiting. Not being able to invade us he decided that he would bomb us into submission and he started a concentrated bombing escapade. Daytime bombing to start with. He bombed the ports; London Docks of course took a terrible pounding, and the East End. Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth, Bristol, Liverpool, Tyneslde even up into Scotland. The Idea was to prevent us importing the food and the raw materials that we needed. Without food we should soon be pleading for peace and he really thought we would. That is what he thought he would succeed in doing. At the same time he sent his large force of U boats and naval vessels abroad and they were sinking merchant ships, many merchant ships were lost. It was a pretty terrible time. Hitler found he was losing so many aircraft during the day because the RAF were really giving him a pounding, that he had to resort after the Battle of Britain to night-time bombing because he thought that would be safer. That is when the concentrated bombing started. He was able then to penetrate further and further into the country. On the daytime raids he had been in London, around the ports and the southeast. Then he started to move in land and that is when we started to feel the effects. That is when we started to get our bombing raids. Bombing started in the early part of 1940 - he came to Birmingham and he came to the Black Country and we had a fair pounding one way or another. Not an enormous raid but bad enough. For example

June 1940 Gornal was bombed

August Bilston caught a packet September Dudley

October Smethwick

Those were only a few of the details but you can bet your boots whenever these things were happening, the War Room was on alert. If bombers were coming in our direction then we were on alert, very often for hours and hours on end, before the sirens sounded. All these nights we were in the War Room waiting to see what was going to happen.

One night a police inspector came down to the war room for some information which I was able to supply him with and he then put his hand In his pocket saying he had something that would interest me. He took out a large scale Ordinance Map of part of Birmingham, West Bromwich and part of Walsall. I had a smattering of German and could see it was a German map. He explained that it had been taken from a German bomber that was brought down over the Malverns a few days before. On the map there were circles and captions In Ink. One circle which was near to Carters Green with the caption NORD VEST BIRMINGHAM-GASVERK MIT GROSS GASKERHALTER" (Northwest Birmingham Gas Works with big gas tank). That was what they were after, one of their targets for that night, but of course they never reached it.

10th November 1940

There was a raid on the houses in Walsall Road up by the Stone Cross. There was a lot of damage done. They were after the ack-ack gun which was at the back of the Stone Cross but they never got it even though they tried several times. It stayed there and it made a devil of a row when it was operating.

The dreadful night of 13, 14th November 1940.

That was the night when the Luftwaffe flattened Coventry. The whole of the centre of Coventry was completely flattened. I saw it only a couple of days afterwards and I could not believe it. It was most awful, it really was. We had sent some of our rescue teams over there to help and that was why I went. The boss asked me if I would go to see if I could find them and see how they were getting on. When I found them they were getting ready to come back, they had done what they could.

Now let me take you to the 19th November 1940

I remember it very well. It was the day that West Bromwich had what I suppose you could say was the worst raid of the war and strangely enough I wasn't there that night. It was a terrible raid. It started somewhere about 7 o'clock and the raid was concentrated on the centre of West Bromwich and they very soon got fires going In the old area of Paradise Street, where Peacocks had their depot from which they supplied their shops. That caught fire and the whole of Paradise Street was alight. The top end of Bromford Lane was alight, the top end of Victoria Street was alight. It was a really good Inferno and of course to a bomb aimer, there's nothing he likes better than a fire. As soon as he's got a fire he knows which way to go and drop a bomb In It and of course that's what happened. He dropped three bombs in the centre of West Bromwich along the line of Lombard Street.

Three bombs in a line -

The first one dropped at the Bratt Street end and demolished a large house occupied by William Bache & Sons as their Solicitors offices. Fortunately there was no-one there but it knocked about properties on the other side of Lombard Street backing onto K & Js and there were some bad casualties there.

Three bombs in a line -

The second one dropped right outside the Gas Showrooms which were next door to the Library and of course the War Room was next door to that. Down In the War Room that night the people knew what It was like to have a bomb explode not very far away. It completely demolished the Gas Showrooms, made a great big hole In the High Street but fortunately again I think there was nobody there.

Three bombs in a line -

The third bomb dropped at the top end of Lombard Street and smashed the old second class swimming baths. It also demolished a building on the opposite side of the road which was the laundry building for the District Hospital situated right opposite Lombard Street In Edward Street. Now by that time the Fire Chief had been In touch with the War Room and said "Look, I don't' think we are going to be able to control this lot and I think we shall not keep it away from the hospital."

Also the last bomb that was dropped did do some damage to the hospital, not a lot, but It did do some damage. The Medical Officer of Health who was on duty In the War Room said that the hospital must be evacuated NOW and at the height of the raid, ambulances that weren't already being used were got there, the bus was turned out again and all the patients in that hospital were evacuated without loss of life or Injury. They were taken to Hall am Hospital and from there they were decanted as required. Not satisfied with that, the staff then went back to that hospital and started to bring out bandages, dressings and drugs. Anything capable of being ..carried they carried and a lot of the equipment out of the hospital was ,got away to a place of safety. For their work that night the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. William Stanley Walton and the Matron of the hospital, Matron Miss Moore were each awarded the George Medal at the end of the war. That was some night.

A further award was made to a member of the West Bromwich Civil Defence Services. The George Medal was given to a young girl (aged around 15) who joined the Wardens Service as a Dispatch Rider, conveying important messages around the town. This she continued to do during raids, when many telephones were out of order due to enemy bombing. In addition, she worked with Rescue Squads and Wardens extricating people from bombed premises. She showed great spirit and was duly rewarded.

I was at home, I had been in touch with the boss. I knew that there had been a raid and I asked If I should come back. He said "Good Lord no It's far too dangerous. I'll see you in the morning". I got to West Bromwich the next morning (I think It was a Thursday) the 20th about 7 0' clock. The place was a mess, you had never seen anything like it - there were brick ends allover the place. There was broken glass, there were fire hoses, the fires were still burning in Paradise Street and when I got to the Town flail there was a great crowd of people outside. When I got in the Town Clerk said "Thank goodness -can you go and find some staff -we have got to try to deal with these people -we don't know what they want but we must try to deal with them".

So I went and got some staff who were coming off War Room duty and we opened up the Town Hall. They got some pads of paper and pens and we let these people In a few at a time. We said to the staff "write down what they say -write down their names and what they want. We can't promise to do anything at the moment but just do that." It was the best piece of PR work I think the Town Clerk ever did, because these people went away, and, said "We've been to the Town Hall and we have seen a man and he has taken particulars" and they were happy because they had had someone talk to them. There was nothing we could do Immediately. We couldn't go and build new houses and that sort of thing but It was an exercise well worth while.

Well of course the day was spent clearing up. There were a lot of people without any homes. They were In rest centres being looked after until we could billet them. In one or two cases the Surveyor's people had been able to go and rig some tarpaulins up so that people could go back in their homes. A few places could be boarded up but there was very little we could do at that stage. By then the Town Clerk had said "would you come back on duty I can't manage by myself?". I replied "yes I will". So I was on duty on the Thursday. The Thursday night was quiet.

Friday evening the 21st

At about 7 o'clock the sirens sounded and that night flitter came back and gave West Bromwich a second helping. It was a very bad night. Not as bad as the Wednesday so I was told but It was bad enough. We had I bombs In the Trinity Street area, the Lyng area, the Tantany area again .was bombed, the Stone Cross area, the back of the High Street, Richard Street North and South -there was some terrible damage done there and there were a lot of casualties.

By the end of that week I reckon that we'd lost in West Bromwich I suppose 120 people killed and hundreds injured in one form or another. It was a terrible week. It didn't stop there of course the bombing went on through 1941 and into 1942. We had raids sporadically I suppose and they were very unpleasant but by 1943 we'd really started to take the measure of the Germans. The RAF were going back and giving the Germans a taste of their own medicine. We started to bomb Germany and we managed to get right as far as Berlin. It wasn't good for the people, I was sorry for them but there It was, that was war.

By the end of 1942 Churchill had persuaded the Americans to join In and the bombing trailed away then. 1943 really saw the end apart from I think one or two very sporadic raids and then of course the rest of it you know.

The Allies then started to plan the comeback, the invasion of Normandy. They chased the Germans back into Germany and all the way to Berlin. It was a pity in a way that the Russians got there first. They got to Berlin before the Allies did and of course they wanted to be top dog which caused some difficulty.

That was the end as far as I was concerned except for two things. At the end of the war there was a stand down parade in London of Civil Defence. I had been appointed Town Clerk in 1945 and I was privileged to go to London and have a place in the Mall to see the march past of the thousands of Civil Defenders from all over the country. West Bromwich sent a contingent and these people resplendent in their uniforms, marched up the Mall. The salute was taken and it made me feel very proud indeed that I had had something to do with It. We had our own little stand down parade in West Bromwich in Dartmouth Park and that was a very pleasant occasion where I had the privilege of taking the salute.

I went to Germany not long after the war. It was in 1948 I think when a number of us went over to meet the South Staffs Regiment, which was stationed In Germany. A number of the Black Country Mayors and Town Clerks were asked to go over to meet the Regiment who were having some sort of 'do'. We had to travel through Hamburg to get to our hotel and I tell you it was a mess. We really served Hamburg out I am afraid. Lots and lots of it was flattened. It looked a pretty sad place I must say but 'tis war and there it is'.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anastasia Travers a volunteer with WM CSV Actiondesk on behalf of Mr. Day and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr. Day fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

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