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15 October 2014
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19 November 2003

I was eleven when the war broke out. I lived in the outskirts of Birmingham with my parents, and my brother and sister. The first signs of war was that we had to cover all the windows in the house, in a cross or diagonal pattern with sticky paper tape. To stop glass flying if they were blown out by a nearby bomb. We were all issued with gas masks, even my baby brother, who had a rubber and metal contraption that covered him, except for his legs. There was a little hand pump on the outside that mother had to operate to supply him with air. We had a big, neighbourhood meeting, where nurses demonstrated the basics of first aid. Soon, all the road had been issued with Anderson air raid shelters. My dad, being used to construction in his job. soon had ours well dug in and assembled. It was covered in on the top by a thick layer of sandbags and soil. Dad built bunk beds inside. We were now ready for the air raids. When they did finally come we would rush up the garden, and into the shelter as soon as we could. To me it was quite exciting. However, the Midlands, being the hub of Britains industry, were soon the targets for many very heavy bomber raids. We soon learnt to distinguish the pulsing note of the German plane engines as they crossed overhead. This was usually the signal for the two heavy anti aircraft guns, situated at Powells farm at the bottom of the road, to start firing. Their noise was deafening, and seemed worse than the bombers. A few times, when it went quiet, dad would let me go up out of the shelter and look at all the massive fires that you could see in the direction of the city. A stray bomb hit a row of fairly new houses at the top of our road, and several people were killed. All us kids used to scour the roads and gardens after a raid, hunting for shrapnel, the metal fragments that was left after an anti aircraft shell exploded. Sometimes there were pieces everywhere. Some children had big collections of it. My dad even found a small incendiary bomb that had gone off, but just fizzled out. Stupidly, of course, we kept it for many years in a cupboard upstairs. I don’t know whatever happened to it. I was at Grammar school in the centre of Birmingham, and me and my friends were always pleased, that when there had been an air raid warning the evening before, we did not have to go into school until 10 am. When I went into the city for my lunch it was terrible, seeing the tremendous devastation of many of the well known large stores and shops. The smoking ruins were still being hosed down by the fire service, and roads cleared for traffic. Luckily being shops and stores they were mainly empty at night so the loss of life was minimal. The landmines did the most damage. They were a very large bomb that came down on a parachute, and exploded at ground level. Clearing whole areas. Gradually, after the battle of Britain, and our success in the air, the raids got less and less and eventually ceased altogether. Life went on pretty well. People managed with rationing, and shortages. Beer and cigarettes were reasonably plentiful. With virtually no sweets, and an adequate diet, they say that we, of that generation were very healthy in general. As the war finished I well remember going with my friends into Birmingham city centre on V.E. night. There were scores of thousands of people cheering and singing. People were climbing up all the statues, many of them drunk, shouting at their friends to join them. Suddenly some Australian soldiers stripped off their uniforms piled them on the road, and set them alight. Unfortunately, the road around the city, at that time, was made of hardwood wooden blocks, set in rubber, so you can imagine what happened. The road started burning. Not satisfied with this, the soldiers pulled down planking from nearby scaffolding, and piled them on to the fire. No one seemed to bother, this was the end of many years of war, and all everybody wanted to do was celebrate, and that went on for hours. One silly chap tried to drive his car through the crowds, and got very irate when he was totally ignored. Stupidly he shouted some swear words at the crowd. Next thing, the car had been turned over on its side by the crowd, and he was left inside, no doubt regretting his decision to use his car. Wilders the local firework firm, who had been closed down since the war, opened up and sold boxes of bangers that had been in stock since pre-war. My friends and I managed to get a box, and went round throwing them here and there. It was all accepted in good fun. Many of the girls had “Kiss me quick” hats on, and from what we could see there were plenty of takers. It was a long but very happy night. Several months later I volunteered, and joined the army at seventeen and a half.

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Posted on: 21 November 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Harborneboy

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