John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Saturday, January 01, 2005
 

WW2 and Birmingham


There are a lot of lessons to be learnt about WW2 and British culture in the 1930s and 1940s from the experiences of people who were involved at that time.

My Parents both lived in Birmingham. My mother lived in Acocks Green (27 Fenton Road) and my father lived in Handsworth Wood (61 Greston Ave).

Both were evacuated on 1st September 1939 before WW2 was declared on 3rd September 1939. Even during appeasement the country had been rearming and preparing for war. For example one of the biggest arms dumps in Europe developed in Wiltshire during that time.

My mother was educated at Yardley Grammar and my Father at Handsworth Grammar. My mother, therefore, was evacuated to Lydney and my father to Stroud.

One of the oddest aspects about evacuation was that it only applied for the school term. It seems to have been organised by the heads of the various schools and during the school holidays the children returned home. Some children had private evacuations arranged to other locations. However, many were on the basis of 10 shillings a week placed with people in the designated areas.

My mother at one stage was evacuated with a household that had three evacuees in a bed although when this was recognised by the authorities as being unreasonable and an extra bed was found.

It was a bit odd that there was an assumption that during the school holidays the bombing stopped and there was no need for evacuation. However, that was part of the arrangements at the time.

My father returned permanently to Birmingham in March 1941 whereas my mother spent her school time in evacuation until 1942. Both in Birmingham took part in the school childrens hobby of collecting shrapnel. My father lived close to a golf course and with his friend collected around 30 unexploded incendiary bombs. They also colleted a small number of silver high explosive bombs and he still remembers his friend with two bombs in each of his wellington boots. They normally would take the bombs back to his uncles shed and use the vice to remove the detonators. The bombs were only the size of wine bottles although children were hurt from unexpected explosions from things like taking a bullet apart.

When my mother was evacuated Ruck Sacks (ignoring the germanic derivation of the word) were had to come by so they were told by the schools to go to the Fish Market (now the Bullring) and get fish bags and upholstery webbing so they would make their own rucksacks for evacuation. This would ensure that they had their hands free to put their gas masks on.

At that time although 10 shillings a week was paid for evacuation my other had 1s a week pocket money which had to cover 2 1/2d for a letter, 5d for going to the pictures, 2d for a chocolate ration etc ( 1 shilling (s) = 12 pennies (d))

There were rumours during that period of peace parades in Coventry and concerns about a shortage of water to prevent fires.

My mother was particularly worried because when she lived in Lydney she could see Bristol burning from the bombs dropped on Bristol.

During the school holidays, however, many of the children met in Gloucester Railway station on their way back to Birmingham.

Given that the school children in Lydney shared their school with the local children and each group only had half a day of schooling it raises questions as to whether quality or quantity of schooling is important.
 
Comments:
Congratulations on a bit of Lib Dem consistency: namely your defence of appeasement.

Truly, Czechoslovakia was a far away land of which we knew little, and the fact that it was the last democracy in central Europe, had a modern and comptent army, a natural defensive border and the best arms industry in Europe were no reasons for anybody in the Liberal Party to nail their courage to the sticking post.

I hardly have to make the obvious modern parallel about the need to take on the dictators, because I dare say you'll just respond with the usual Lib Dem tripe.

All I say is: Let history judge.
 
There is a question as to whether time was needed to rearm. I make no judgement as to whether it was the best thing to do at the time or not. I do not have sufficient evidence to argue that case. Hitler did need taking on. There is merely a question as to whether or not it would have been better to take him on earlier or in 1939. I was born in 1960 and it would be wrong for me to make a judgement on it. I am, here, reporting the views of others.

The fact that the country was preparing for war by evacuating children from the cities prior to declaring war is a demonstration that preparations were being made for some time.
 
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