Now, this is a great article for a lazy Sunday, and one which I suspect may raise some comment within the local history community, where I know there to be still much debate about the war and exactly how Brownhills was hit by enemy air attacks.
It’s my pleasure, then, to present the third article from Gregory and Bill Challis. Bill was formerly a Brownhills Man, and together he and his son Greg wrote the excellent and well-recieved ‘King of Norton Canes’ article, and also the wonderful Keep the Home Fires Burning post about the Brownhills Fire Brigade.
I also know we have a historian of the Kynock plant hereabouts who may be able to add to proceedings.
The images in the article – there seem to be scant few of Brownhills in wartime – are all related to the Staffordshire Home Guard. Please go look at their remarkable site and please help them with any information or memories you may have.
Gregory has let me know that the prospective paper publication of a collection of these and other memories is progressing well, and had this to say:
As I indicated below, this is the final of three brief memories from my Dad’s childhood in Brownhills. This one describes air raids on the village and a surprising find in the aftermath.
We have collected together a series of my Dad’s writings taking us from his earliest memories through toward the end of the war and are compiling a booklet which we will publish in September.
If anyone would like a copy they can send me an email and I will arrange to post it to them.
The charge will be no more than £5 including post and packaging, or possibly a little cheaper.
Best wishes to all followers of your rather splendid blog, and happy cycling to your good self!
As soon as I have details, I’ll pass them on. In the meantime, if anyone wants to get in touch, please mail me (BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com) or comment and I’ll hook you up.
In the meantime, thanks to Bill and Greg for all their wonderful work. Please do comment, we all love the contributions.
Bombs Over Brownhills
Soon into the war there were frequent air raid alerts in the village and the sirens would sound. The family would crowd into the cubby hole under the stairs which was said to be the safest place should the house suffer a direct hit from a bomb.
Sometimes distant explosions could be heard and this had two results for me. First it cured me of being scared of thunderstorms for I realised they were just a lot of noise and flashes of light with zero chance of getting hurt. The second was when I was woken by the sound of an air raid alert and in the silence, I listened for the distinctive sound of enemy bombers.
What I heard instead was the familiar musical clink of the night shift miners’ hob-nailed boots, and their bait tins and Davey lamps which hung from their belts. It was the only time I felt jealous of the miners going hundreds of feet underground where they would be safe from the bombs, at least.
The Luftwaffe first concentrated on Birmingham and then Coventry for one night. After which, they widened their arc of attack to nuisance raids on a wider area of the Midlands.
The first raid Brownhills suffered was when a German bomber dropped a stick of about six bombs which landed in a field and killed Selwyn Smith’s donkey. There was also a delayed action bomb which landed on the other side of the canal and exploded the following afternoon.
The village children spent the following day digging in the craters looking for shrapnel as souvenirs.
In the next raid, bombs landed on the other side of the village on rough ground on the edge of the Common adding a few more holes to those caused by mining subsidence.
Then there were two raids entirely of incendiary bombs. The first dropped in the fields of a local farm so harmlessly that many people did not realise we had been bombed.
The last raid we suffered hit the ‘bull’s eye’ right on the centre of the village.
We stood outside the front door amazed as, in a moment, it turned from night into a glare brighter than the sunniest day.
Many of the incendiaries fell by the cemetery and school playing fields and burned out harmlessly. Others fell on the surrounding houses and shops but only two had any effect. One fell into the upstairs room of a lock up shop and started a fire. The local fire brigade very quickly dealt with it and there was no damage to the building.
The other incendiary went through the roof of the Methodist Chapel and landed inside the organ which was nice and dry and the fire gained an unstoppable hold. The brigade saved the Chapel, but the organ had played its last note and the altar carpet was a write-off.
Schoolchildren had the next day off. We spent it retrieving incendiary bombs which were collected in the yard of the local police station.
Some bombs had bounced off roofs and landed in the streets, which were littered with broken slates and the tail fins of burned out bombs.
Others had landed in fields and near the canal, so I walked along the opposite side to the towpath and, sure enough, there was an unexploded incendiary sticking out of the shallow water.
I dragged it out and in triumph handed in my trophy at the police station. I also picked up the remains of a burned out bomb. This was just the steel tail fin. All ammunition had the name of the maker and the date of manufacture stamped on it. On the tail fin was ‘Kynock April 1938’. This was one of the Birmingham small arms group of factories based in Witton, about eight miles as the bomber flies from Brownhills.