Bombs Over Brownhills

A photo of the 32nd (Aldridge) Battalion, South Staffordshire Home Guard from their excellent website. The webmaster is (still) looking for a better quality scan – or indeed, the original – of this image. Can you Help? See the link in the article for their site.

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:

Hello again,

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!

Greg Challis

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.

The Home Guard were not just about civil defence, but about public morale and a sense of duty to the community. I'd love to know if any readers' relatives are in this neat parade? From 'Memories of Brownhills Past' by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

The Home Guard were not just about civil defence, but about public morale and a sense of duty to the community. I’d love to know if any readers’ relatives are in this neat parade? From ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

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.

This map is brilliant, never seen it before. I wonder who drew it? Just love the 'in' jokes, like Caesar in the bath...

The map of our area, beautifully drawn by a wag from the local Home Guard, and featured on the excellent memorial site, Staffs Home Guard. Click on the image to visit it.

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.

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16 Responses to Bombs Over Brownhills

  1. Pedro says:

    Hold on a bit!!

    At the end of the story a steel tail fin is mentioned, with the stamp “Kynock April 1938”.

    Kynoch was indeed an ammunitions factory in Witton…

    “The range of different ammunition types produced at (Kynoch) Witton is vast, from small arms ammunition to large Q.F. cases, from detonators to anti-tank devices. Throughout the group 67 different types of cartridge are produced.” (1936 to 1945)

    Just what was it doing in the cut at Brownhills? Certainly could not have come from a German plane, or even a British one!

    Kynoch could be said to sound German, but should it read Krups

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    this is an interesting article. The bombing raids, and the various articles and comments that have already appeared in this blog tend to underline the dramatic and frightening events for the children who witnessed them at the time. Mention is made in this article of air-raids on consecutive nights. The headmaster’s log for St John’s school Walsall Wood actually gives a date for this event. August 26th was the day after the second raid, and as the pupils were so tired claases were abandonded. This was during double summer time and confrims my earlier research- three witnesses- that they a) saw a bomber ( Mr Horace Craddock who lived in Chster Road ,b) counted the stick of six bombs..the fourth showing as silence(Mr Walter Lane at Lane’s farm where the unexploded mob and others landed. His recollections, wherever they are in the blog, give detailed first-hand witness accounts. Today I talked with another witness who lived in Clayhanger at the time. He recalled the bomb craters along Spot Lane, near the canal in Brownhills, the Wesley chapel roof being damaged, and the one or two anti-aircraft units stationed in Clayhanger then.he did not know of an incendiary bomb being retrieved from the canal. We have Ron Smith’s recollections (Royal Oak articles) where he saw bombers flying over Ryders Hayes and sweeping over Brownhills, and recalling a horse being hurt by shrapnel in the daylight raid. Todays chat also revealed the Clayhanger witness seeing and hearing a dogfight between, presumably an enemy bomber and an allied fighter. This puts the raid as a daylight event.
    I am under the impression, given the known bomb blasts at Aldridge brickworks, the unexploded hermann bomb near the Horse and Jockey pub in Walsall Wood…that once the target had been bombed, or missed through fighter intervention and pretty accurate anti-aicraft fire in daylight hours, that the bomber simply dropped his bombs, turned and flew back home, to Germany.
    I do find it quite astonishing to assume that a Birmingham munitions factory, where many local people worked, and had been employed ( see Walsall Wood census reviews, 1891, 1901, 1911 ) for many years, in fact, would be allowed to export munitions to Nazi Germany before the outbreak of war, or ever.
    But I do expect that Kynoch were making pretty deadly anti-aircraft shells , later to be put to effective use by the guns in Clayhanger!
    regards, and apologies for the length of the comment.

  3. Andy Dennis says:

    I didn’t think Kynoch made things to be dropped from aircraft.

    Two of my uncles worked there in the war. One was in the Home Guard, though I don’t recognise him in the various pictures. He told me that they had a training weekend at Shugborough where one task was to guard the railway tunnel, which he found rather comical (though perhaps not at the time as it interfered with his courting!). It seems the whole weekend was something of a shambles.

    His brother was on fire watch, spending hours on the roof in all weathers.

    Both cycled to and from work, often in the pitch darkness of the blackout from their home at the corner of Watling Street and Chapel Street.

    Dad was too young to be called up, but was attached in some way to the Air Raid Warden. Advice was to approach incendiary devices with a hose pipe and dustbin lid for a shield. He remembered seeing the blaze when Coventry was bombed. He also told me that a stick of bombs was dropped at Norton Sidings. Just to the north, where today there is some waste ground between canal and railway just south of High Bridges, was a row of 31 houses; the bombs completely destroyed those on either end, but the rest were unscathed.

    Regarding bombs dropped off target, I believe this was fairly common practice for both Luftwaffe and allied forces when aircraft had been damaged, perhaps losing an engine, and the weight was jettisoned to give a better chance of getting home.

    I’ve never understood why there was no concerted attempt to disrupt coal traffic from Cannock Chase to Birmingham and the Black Country by attacking canals, especially flights of locks. They would have taken longer to rebuild than railways and straight stretches would have been relatively easy to see by moonlight and hit, but maybe their importance was underestimated.

  4. Pedro says:

    Kynoch 1936-1939

    Throughout this period the lot of employees steadily improves. “Privilege” Saturday morning leave is granted to staff and foremen. Also “marriage is now no bar to employment of women on the works payroll”. A 1500-seater Oscott canteen and a dental clinic are opened. Marston’s “Sunbeam” motor cycle business is sold (1937). The Board adopts a policy (1937) of containing external sales of several products “so as to clear the way for the Government’s defence requirements”. The Witton Q.F. (quick firing) shell shop is completely reconstructed. A “shadow factory” is erected on the Landore site for the production of large calibre Q.F. shells. Casting capacity is increased for extruded rod. The filling of flame tracer bullets is mechanised. One shop is extended to absorb the manufacture of steel cores for armour-piercing bullets. Buildings at Holford are re-equipped to make detonators. There is a complete modernisation and reorganisation of metallic ammunition production (1938). The building is sanctioned of a full scale aluminium production unit in the Holford area. Many other measures are taken throughout the Witton site to extend production and make it more efficient and effective. Production support facilities are substantially improved also, with renovated offices, a modernisation of the Power House and the building of a two-storey research block. New factories are built for John Marston and for ammunition production in Eire and South Africa, and new premises are found for Excelsior. Confidential discussions occur between the Company and the Government about future agency factories. In many respects the associated companies within ICI’s Metal Group, and especially Kynoch Works, are by 1939 ready for war which finally overtakes them and the country as a whole on 3rd September 1939.

  5. David Oakley says:

    May I offer an explanation to the Kynoch debate, still being around at that time.
    Briefly, the synopsis went like this, always spoken by adults, above the heads of kids, such as myself:-
    “ ‘course Kynoch’s are German, The very name tells yer that !. Some tie-in with Krupps ,
    either related or somethin’ or other. Sendin’ arms to Germany for years , now our lads are being
    killed with British made bullets….” Stories of someone finding tell- tale bits were quite common.
    So ran this urban myth, utterly wrong, of course. Kynoch is an ancient Scottish name and the
    Founder of the firm was George Kynoch, born in 1834 in Aberdeenshire, but this accusation seemed
    to hang in the air for a very long time, never gaining much ground, but always there.
    To fully understand it, one must go back to the early days of the war, a proud island people on the
    brink of probable invasion. German nationals interned on the Isle of Man. Signposts taken down,
    church bells silenced. Ministry of Information working overtime, Fifth Columists, One looked at
    every stranger as a potential spy. “Be like Dad, keep mum” was the watchword in those days.
    A dodgy surname meant trouble and suspicion. I remember a boy named Goring, (not the German
    Goering) whose life was made particularly unpleasant by these suspicions., while on the top of the
    ‘Castles’ opposite the entrance to the old hill fort was a large house, completely surrounded by a
    high wall, ‘Woodcote’ or something, the native populace was of the firm opinion that German
    sympathisers lived there, picking a high vantage point to signal to German planes.
    Ideal situation for such urban myths to grow. Did these events induce any hysterical reaction ??
    Not a bit of it ! Brownhills and Walsall Wood maintained its phlegmatic approach, with perhaps a
    small undercurrent of suspicion , perhaps gradually weakening as the importance of Kynochs in
    the war effort became evident, employing up to 20.00 at one time. Kynoch’s probably had more
    than its fair share of German bombs, it is recorded that between 1940 and 1943, Forty-seven
    high explosives and four thousand incendiaries were dropped on the works.
    To the perpetrators of the urban myth, so very long ago, one can only say, “With ‘friends’ like
    this, who needs enemies ?

  6. Pedro says:

    Can’t let the mention of George Kynoch go without comment!

    Born 1834 in Peterhead, he came down south as bank clerk in Worcester and later to a bigger bank in Birmingham. In 1856 he started on his “enterpreneurial” career as a supervisor at percussion manufactures Pursall and Phillips of Whittall Street, Birmingham. After a disasterous explosion they moved out into the sticks at Witton, and by 1862 he had become the proprietor of the firm now known as Kynoch.

    He married a well to do jeweller’s daughter in 1863, but was later seperated. 1864 had lucrative contract to supply the Turkish Governmen, and by 1883 living the life of a gentleman at Hampstead Hall; the Company having depots and agencies in many parts of the world. In 1884 became a limited Company and the original company sold to this organisation for 110K.

    During his time he became Conservative MP for Aston and President of Aston Villa, but the Company asked him to resign after several disputes, and he did so in 1888. He went into exile in South Africa, and died in 1891, in comparative poverty.

    During his tenure as an ammunition manufacturer there were several horrific explosions leading to loss of life and serious injury. He employed many young boys and girls down to the age of 10. One of the worst explosions in Witton occurred at the adjacent factory of Ludlow’s in 1870, who were thought to be working under licence for Kynoch. For some of the details from the Birmingham Daily Post see the link below…

    (In his generosity George Kynoch allowed his workforce a half day off to go to the funerals of the deceased)

    • Pedro says:

      The above link does not seem to work, I will try to find a better one.

      By memory I have paid too much respect to Mr Kynoch, he only allowed his workforce an extension of their dinner hour!

  7. Ray Wall says:

    Unless I’ve been skippish in reading the articles and comments, I’ve not seen reference to the bombing at the Highbridges, Pelsall Road, where two row houses were wrecked by a bomb that was probably meant for the rail junction. I saw the Coventry raid from my back garden in Brookland Road, Walsall Wood, until the shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells made it dangerous to stay outside. The secondary school at Streets Corner had a below-ground air raid shelter in the school allotments and I recall a few times being shepherded to it during daytime raids. Anderson backyard shelters were not issued to Brownhills residents, but some dug their own shelters, individually or on a communal basis. Early planners for the LDV (later the Home Guard) gave serious thought to the construction of defence trenches on Castle Hill! This didn’t materialise, but I mention it to suggest how out of touch with modern warfare we were in the late1930s. Gas respirators were issued in 1938 and these in their brown cardboard boxes were carried daily to school. I was in Birmingham CBD two or three days after the raids and saw the damage first hand. Serious as it was, it didn’t compare with Hamburg, or Dusseldorf (where my regiment was stationed from VE Day. That was total devastation.

  8. pete dicks says:

    Resident of Brownhills for almost 40 years and didn’t know any of this – thanks!

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  11. snatchmo says:

    Was there a unexploloded bomb found in the clay pit in the late 1960’s my uncle told us he and others found it whilst operating diggers down the clay pit ,can any of your readers clarify this story

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