The question of tank testing in Shire Oak Quarry is ongoing. I’ve received a large number of fine contributions from David Evans, not least this email communication between him and the Tank Museum….
From: David Evans
Sent: 26 September 2011 17:59
To: Janice Tait (tank museum.org)
Subject: Tank testing in WW2
Please could you help…
The first Shire Oak quarry, at Walsall Wood, near to junction of A452 and A461… on the south side of the A452, south of the junction of the two routes was rumoured to be the site of some testing of tanks during WW2. The site locally called The Tank Traps… possibly testing a flail tank and attached flails for first time.
Streetly Steel works… a few miles away was active and busy during WW2 The Tank Traps was strictly out of bounds to the public at the time.
I would be pleased if you could shed some light on this, please.
I visited your museum two years ago and was thrilled and awestruck.
with kind regards
David received the reply:
From: David Fletcher at the tank museum.
To: David Evans
Sent: 27/09/2011 10:46:29 GMT Daylight Time
Subj: RE: Tank testing in WW2
We have no record of this but we are continuing to uncover sites all over the country so anything is possible. Britain at War magazine recently found a report concerning a site at Wiggonholt in Sussex in the National Archives at Kew so it is quite possible that more will be discovered in due course. Flail tanks were developed on the Matilda, Valentine, Grant and Sherman tanks but we have no record of any being fabricated in the Walsall area – the closest I can think of is Curran Brothers in Cardiff – so there is no obvious reason to carry out tests on them in your area. Finally we have no records of tank production by the Streetly Steel works although tanks were assembled from components manufactured from all over the country, so anything is possible. It might be worth consulting local museums and record offices to see if they have anything.
I also had a contribution from Sheila Norris, daughter of Len Jones whose account featured in the last article:
From: Sheila Norris
To: David Evans
Sent: 27/09/2011 13:45:33 GMT Daylight Time
Subj: tanks etc.
I see Dad’s account has made the blog already! Just for the record, he tells me he received his call-up papers on his 18th Birthday – 13th October 1941. I’ve sent a message to my Aunty, who was living in the area throughout the war, asking if she recalls anything about the tanks. She is 88 and still lives in Clayhanger. I’ll let you know if she has anything to add.
On the subject of the quarries on Shire Oak, longtime reader Steve Hickman had this to say today (I reproduce it here for continuity):
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.
Further to my comment on your Digging for Victory post, please find attached a picture of me in my WWII re-enactment days portraying a British Army AFPU sergeant photographer with a Valentine Duplex Drive amphibious tank of the kind that was definitely tested in the lakes at Sutton Park and for all I know may even have put in an appearance at what is now the nature reserve on the way up Shire Oak hill.
As you can see these Valentine tanks were not massive by later standards. My late father certainly said tanks were tested there when he was a boy, and recounted the incident of the little girl being run over by a tank, I think he said it was near Streets Corner. He would have been ten when the war finished. The tank illustrated is the only one still in working order, it was rebuilt and restored over 20 years by the owner, John Pearson, who salvaged the main body from being used as a farm vehicle and the turret which had been shot off at an MOD firing range! You can see it being driven by John Pearson (left) here in 2004:
Background info on the Valentine tank:
Apparently these and other tanks were built in the Darlaston area and at Washwood Heath, Birmingham, by Metro Cammell. They used them to test the Duplex Drive, including in exercises off the south coast of England, but did not use them for this on D-Day because they would have had to come onto the beach with their gun pointing to the rear until the flotation curtain was lowered – not a very safe option!
They used Sherman tanks instead because of the short gun, and a lot of men died in the Shermans, sadly. The tall tank periscope which was essential for navigation at sea due to the height of the raised curtain was designed and built by the late H. F. G. ‘Fred’ Archenhold, who escaped Nazi Germany before the war, subsequently working for companies in Birmingham and Walsall, and latterly becoming a businessman in Aldridge. His family ran a remarkable public astronomical observatory in Treptow Park in what was later East Berlin, and were friends with Einstein.
Anyway, hope this is of interest.