Here’s a quick one from top bloke David Evans relating to the tank testing alleged to have occurred at Shire Oak during the Second Word War. He’s kindly contacted Len Jones, of the Gentleshaw Sand & Gravel co. (Hence Jones Pool in Clayhanger) to see what he knows.
This is still cautionary, and very much speculation. Whilst careless talk cost lives, I can’t quite see this not being talked about after the war by excited young lads who’d have spotted all this gripping stuff going on (young lads know exactly what’s happening in their neighbourhood, usually). It’s fascinating and I’m very open-minded, but proof is, as ever, elusive.
First of all, David writes:
Len Jones’ kind letter helps to remove the use of the quarry before he joined the RAF. he has recently celebrated his 88th birthday..so probably enlisted around 70 years ago…
what IS known …
Dieppe raid, operation Jubilee, August 1942..failure of latest Churchill tanks to get off the shingle beach……all 58 of them were stuck.
1943 Field Marshall Sir Alan Brooke set up a scheme to create specialist tanks for Normandy invasion, June 1944……General Hobart and his “funnies”
So, in the year leading up to Normandy invasion these Churchill tank and Sherman tank conversions had to be made…………. and versions tested..
6000 Hobarts funnies were used in Normandy and Operation Overlord ( source;-Sky tv Weaponology programme; tanks )
As with the Mulberry Floating Harbour construction , I would expect the work involved in converting tanks to be spread out over many locations and with many companies……speed and secrecy
Len Jones mentions tanks rumbling along the Chester Road in the early years of the war and being tested somewhere ! These would be early Matilda tanks, I think
I have sent an e-mail to the librarian of the archives at Bovington Tank Museum to see what records exist…………..
And Len Jones mail: Thanks Len, fascinating.
Tank Testing during WWll
During the war there were 3 sand & gravel pits in the Chester Road area.
1) Fishponds Sand & Gravel Company, entrance just to the left of the Fishponds bluebell wood.
2) Shire Oak Sand & Gravel Company, entrance from Sandhills, Lichfield Road
( eventually went right up to the Fishponds Boundary)
3)Chester Road Sand & Gravel Company, entrance to the left of Sam’s Transport Café. This eventually went right over to Holly Lane area , Walsall Wood.
None of the above belonged to what became Gentleshaw Sand Ltd.
Tanks were tested in the area but not at any of these quarries, to my knowledge. They could be seen regularly going up and down the Chester Road in both directions. I don’t know where they were tested.
Before I was called up into the RAF, I was working for my father, Ernest Jones, who had a road haulage company / sand business. I regularly collected sand and gravel from all three of the above quarries. You could drive when you were 16 in those days and I used to drive a 10 ton lorry!
On one occasion, about 1940, we had been asked to work a small sandpit at the bottom of Castle Hill on the Chester Road. I think we were taking the sand off so that they could build a house there. I drew out into the Chester Road, turning right towards Birmingham with my lorry fully loaded. As the tanks were camouflaged I didn’t see one coming from the left travelling at speed, as it was against the trees. I pulled out right in front of it, causing it to put its brakes on. This must have upset the tank driver because he tried to overtake me, probably with a view to braking in front of me, I expect. Fortunately, although fully loaded, I managed to get up enough speed to keep ahead of him.
I hope this information is useful.
Len Jones. 25th September, 2011.
My late father, who was born in Vigo Road, Walsall Wood, when he was a boy during the war saw these tanks going up to the sand and gravel pit to be tested. He said on one occasion a little girl was run over by one of the tanks in the road as the driver could not see her.
Top secret amphibious duplex drive tanks based on the Valentine tank were also tested in the lakes at Sutton Park, a friend of mine now passed away designed the periscope for these. These tanks were not used in the war, they used Sherman tanks on D-Day instead because the short gun meant in theory they could come out of the water ready to give battle. Being too heavy the Shermans did not float too well however, and many men were killed.
These Valentine DD tanks were made by Metro Cammell which had works at Washwood Heath and in the Darlaston area if I remember correctly. I actually had the chance to ride on one (not in the water!) some years ago when I knew a chap who had restored one. Pic to follow.
I have been told by a former engineer at a Darlaston firm that during the war the firm put “bridges on tanks..for D Day. “. according to the “old timers ” .
I think these were Churchill tank conversions. Google “Images for Hobarts tanks shows one such. The firm was Wellman, Smith, Owen..locals will recognise the name, I am sure.
Where were these tested?
The same gentleman has told me that there were Ducks( amphibious trucks), all under camouflage netting in the fields along Pelsall Road, Bloxwich in 1943.
He had also seen Flying Fortress bombers towing gliders..morning time..from direction of between Cannock and Stafford….. On their way to Operaion Market Garden (?) At the end of the war he had seen a lot of scrap Flying Fortresses, their engines covered up, somewhere along the A34 towards Strafford.
As you say, wartime boys saw lots of things!
I have a short bit of family history connected to the sand pit at the bottom of Castle Hill. My Great Granddad owned Prospect House at the bottom of Castle Hill. My mom was brought up there and I was born there. She grew up playing with her brother Ray and cousin Ron. They spent a lot of time (probably without permission) playing in the sand pit behind the house. Around 1940 Ray and Ron, who would have been about ten and twelve, used tohelp the men working in the sand pit. They would let the lads use a hand auger to finish boring a six foot deep hole in the fairly soft sand cliff, while they had a cup of tea in their shed. They would then come out and load small charge of explosive, about the size of a twelve bore cartridge. Then blast the sand out. It was then according to Ron used to fill sand bags. I cannot see today’s health and safety rules allowing any of this. Ron is still going strong so I will ask him if he remembers anything about tanks.
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