I was 4 years old when War was declared in September 1939, living in Erdington near Birmingham. I was one of the youngest children of a large family and as the war years went on my 3 older brothers were called up for military service. By June 1944 (when I was 9 years old and able to understand the dangers) all three were part of the Normandy Invasion.
Although London is known for the worst bombing raids, Birmingham was the second most heavily bombed city in the country. 2,241 people were killed, 3,010 were injured seriously and 3,682 harmed. The Luftwaffe’s air raids began on 9th August 1940 and Erdington was the first suburb in Birmingham to be bombed when a German plane dropped eight bombs in the area resulting in the City’s first fatality. I remember spending most nights in the air-raid shelter between August 1940 and April 1943. Because we were a large family and space in the Anderson shelter in our garden was limited some of us were sent to share the air-raid shelters of neighbours because they had more room.
I have two vivid memories of that time. The first was the tremendous noise that we heard when the undercarriage of an aircraft fell into the recreation grounds of the Delta Manufacturing Company at the bottom of our garden. It made a massive crater and afterwards we children used to play in it. The second was a particularly prolonged and powerful bombing raid that frightened us all. I had one sister who refused to get out of bed when she heard the air-raid siren, saying she’d take her chances in the house. On this night even she was frightened enough to get out of bed and was seen by her family standing in the doorway of the shelter in a trench coat. Everyone’s nerves were on edge and for a moment she was mistaken as an invading German soldier!
My mom had heard such terrible stories of what the Germans would do if they invaded that she declared she would kill her own children rather than let them suffer any torture. I know now that she would never have done this, but it added to the tension we felt as children. I suppose that explains the joy we all felt at the end of war in 1945. We lived in a long street and it was divided up into sections for street parties, with everyone bringing out chairs and tables and food for us children to eat. A bonfire was lit in the middle of the street and there was singing and dancing (and probably much drinking).
Although only one house in our road was bombed I found out later that thousands of properties were damaged (12,391 houses, 302 factories, 34 churches, halls and cinemas, and 205 other buildings) and this destruction was scattered throughout Birmingham. I know that bomb sites could be seen all around Birmingham until well into the 1950s