The quarrymen

What would become Shire Oak Quarry/nature reserve and Sandhills Quarry from the air in 1945. Image from Google Earth.

This is a bit of a delicate one, as I’m aware this might be treading on memories, but the veracity of this particular local legend is intriguing me. In the pub last night, discussion fell to the tale that during the Second World War, tanks were brought from somewhere – assumed Birmingham, but maybe not – for testing of some sort in Shire Oak Quarry. This is a well recanted local legend. What I’m after is some light in the darkness.

On a practical level, there didn’t seem to be a quarry on the Shire Oak side of the Chester Road to speak of in 1945. Looking at aerial imagery provided by Google Earth, there seems to be something going on around the site opposite Fishpond Wood (sometimes called Bluebell Wood locally), just south of the old transport cafe. On the northern side of the Chester Road, there seems to be nascent operations in progress, but they’re quite small.

Why would you bring tanks from manufacture (assumed) to a dot of a site in Brownhills? How did they get here, and what did the testers do with them? You need a lot of room to swing the arse a tank around, are there doesn’t seem much there. Why were none of the other quarries – particularly those around the Tame at Minworth and the like – deemed suitable? Who was the manufacturer? Has anyone any imagery or first hand experience?

As background to this, I know that someone – possibly Ralph Ferrie – operated a short-lived post-war military scrap operation near the Fox Covey for a time; as kids we were still collecting the spent bullets. Military vehicles were possibly driven or delivered there, but little history of that seems to exist. I also know that during the First World War, a tank was paraded through the area in order to raise funds to pay for one (much as Walsall paid for a Spitfire in the second conflict).

It is indisputable fact that testing also happened on Cannock Chase and I’ve posted photographic evidence of tanks being tested there during the same period; this was clearly due to the manufacturers being close by in Stafford. At the time I posted those images, even that proved controversial with a long twitter debate started about the type of tank being tested. Heh, boys and detail.

Please consider this carefully – I’m not saying this did or didn’t happen, I’m open minded. This arose, like so many great local history topics, out of a debate in the pub. And like all great pub debates, it remains unresolved. Let’s see if collectively, we can nail this one.

That’d be BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or comment here. Cheers.

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15 Responses to The quarrymen

  1. Paul Gosling says:

    From the walsall council website

    http://cms.walsall.gov.uk/index/leisure_and_culture/parks_and_countryside/countryside/shire_oak_park_nature_reserve.htm

    there is information that the area was used for tank testing during the second world war, there is no citation for the source of this information, no much yet but another source saying its true. will keep digging.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    would suggest specialist tank testing of some sort …”.Hobart’s funnies” .Google this to see some of them..seems likely candidates. The quarry was called “the Tank Traps” at the time.
    What was being tested and made at the Chemical in Lichfield Road Brownhills at the time?….any connection?

    regards
    David Evans

    • Ho David

      Not even certain the chemical was still a chemical factory – think it may have been Super Alloys, even then.

      Interesting that you called the area the ‘Tank traps’ – never heard that before.

      What we need is solid confirmation – sadly, don’t know if we’ll ever find it.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  3. Facade66 says:

    What are the dark shapes in rows all over the second field SE of the reservoir?
    Vehicles of some sort in storage?

    • I’d say they were hay stooks. They don’t look large enough to be vehicles, and aren’t large enough to cast a shadow (compare with the trees, near the Castlefort, bottom) – It looks like late summer due to the textures and shading in the fields, and I would imagine that machine baling was probably still rare at that time.

      There seems to be a vehicle on the Chester Road which looks a whole bunch darker than that.

      Can’t say for sure, just an opinion. Well spotted, though. Interesting.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  4. Graeme Fisher says:

    In the triangular field between the old and new Chester Roads and Lazy Hill Road in Stonnall there was a fuel tank of the pattern fitted to Matilda tanks. I wonder if it had something to do with tank testing?
    The other thought is that they wouldn’t just turn up, thrash around and go home; there would be some sort of office, wouldn’t there?

    • That’s interesting.

      The problem I have with this is why Brownhills, and exactly your point – where’s the support? You’d expect security, I guess. And maybe a workshop or something, as you say, perhaps offices. I’d have thought the obvious movements and noise would have been a big draw for the young lads of Stonnall and The Wood at the time, yet few I know seem aware of it – but those that do are utterly convinced.

      There must be some evidence, somewhere.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  5. David Fellows says:

    I was once talking to somebody in the pub (yes, another pub story!), who was a bit of a military vehicle buff, and he said that they were testing equipment for the D Day landings up there, mine flails etc. So it might only be 2 or 3 tanks that were brought up there just for this purpose, rather than tanks coming and going all the while. And of course, this would have been highly top secret at the time, so probably not much written or photographic evidence available.
    No firm evidence I know, but there’s probably some truth in the story.
    Dave

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  11. Julian Woodward-Clarke says:

    There was tank testing at James pool in Sutton Coldfield, which was a small partially flooded quarry. They were amphibious tanks preparing for d day. If the Shire Oak quarries were flooded at this time it would set them aside as a unique testing area and therefore worth transporting tanks to. http://www.sutton-coldfield.net/ww2.html

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