On the nightwatch

Now here’s a wonderful thing from local history Rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, who in his usual inimitable style, has been rootling trough the newspaper archives for references to the air raids alluded to in the St. John’s School log book I featured at the weekend.

As usual, the man has turned up gold for which, as ever, I’m sure readers will join with me in expressing huge gratitude. Please note at the end, Peter proffers some other article titles readers may be interested in. If you are, please shout up – either comment here or drop me a line: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Peter wrote:

Hi Bob,

In David’s last great post of the School Log he mentions the air raid around 25th August 1940. This year happens to be on the Archives for the Lichfield Mercury, and so I looked to see what could be found.

The details and place names are sometimes a little vague, for obvious reasons, so I have picked out a few that may be of interest to your readers.

Regards
Pedro

page13_2

Thankfully, Hermann never went off and wasn’t a problem until long after the war concluded. But imagine the destruction. Image from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

REGIONAL COMMISSIONER’S APPEAL TO THE PUBLIC

The urgent necessity of keeping a close watch on the incendiary bomb danger is stressed by the Earl of Dudley, the Regional Commissioner for the Midlands. He points out that in its early stages the incendiary bomb is easily dealt with, and that it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to be on the alert to deal with this possible menace.

Experience of recent night raids in various parts of the country suggests that the German method has been to send over a few skilled pilots to drop their incendiary bombs in order to start fires which would guide and give light enough to less experienced navigators to drop high-explosive bombs.

The Fire Watcher Service, which was the subject of a recent Order, therefore becomes of paramount importance. Not only that, but it is the bounden duty of every citizen to do his or her part in dealing with the incendiary bomb menace. The Fire Watchers’ Order, which recently came into force, makes it obligatory upon the occupiers of premises where there are thirty persons or more employed, or of warehouses, saw-mills and timber yards of more than 50,000 cubic feet capacity, to arrange for a Fire Watcher to be on the premises at all times night and day. In cases where there are a number of different employers in the same premises, none of whom, or only some of whom, employ as many as thirty persons, each individual employer is legally responsible for meeting with the requirements of the Order where the premises as a whole come within its scope, unless they make co-operative arrangements to fulfil its requirements. All occupiers of such premises ought to lose no time in finding out whether anything is being done to start a Fire Watching Service in their building, and, if necessary, take the lead in organising one.

In addition to this, however, there are obvious safeguards which every person should take in his own and the common interest. For example, house-holders should themselves keep watch on their neighbours’ premises and ensure that their gardens, if surrounded by unclimbable fences, are left unlocked, so that wardens and other responsible people may deal with any incendiary bombs which drop in them at a time when the occupants are not

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Incendiary bombs were a real problem. This image from Swansea History Web, who’ve written a fascinating post on the topic. Click the image to read it.

about. Owners or occupiers of premises temporarily vacant should also ensure that the sector warden, policeman on the beat, or local fire authorities are given means of access to the building should emergency arise.

The serious part of an outbreak due to an Incendiary bomb of the kilo calibre – which has been dealt with by women and children as well as men, so that there is no reason why women should not act as flre-watchers as well as men – is that essential fire-flghting. services may be occupied in dealing with what, in the first instance, was a preventable outbreak while their services may be urgently required elsewhere for attending to another type of incendiary or a major conflagration of more dangerous proportions. Experience teaches that an ordinary sandbag filled with dry sand dumped on a small Incendiary bomb of the type generally used will do much to render it harmless at once. If, therefore, sand is kept handy, preferably In bags, so that it does not become wet or scatter by the weather it should not be a difficult task to deal with the ordinary incendiary bombs provided care is taken that on non-fireproof surfaces some of the sand should be under the bomb or the surrounding surface kept wet by a stirrup pump until the bomb has burnt out. The chief point of covering an incendiary bomb with sand where possible is that It conceals the glare.

Local authorities who have been keeping sand at street corners and people who have been keeping it in heaps on roofs, are advised to get bags for the storage. Now that so many people are using bricks as a substitute for sandbags protection a large number of bags have become available. In any case, flour bags or sugar bags would be an effective method of storage. It should not be forgotten that any person can get Instruction in the method of dealing with incendiary bombs if application be made to the local Fire Brigade or A R P. authorities.

The Regional Commissioner in his appeal has pointed out the vital himportance of preventing outbreaks of fire. Do not wait until tomorrow, or your premises may be the cause of just another unnecessary fire—and more important a successful enemy search for a vital objective. 

THE WHISTLING BOMB

No more dangerous than others of the same size.

By the use of the whistling bomb, which has contrivances made of sheet metal and wood, shaped like organ pipes, attached the wings, the Germans hope to spread demoralisation among the civil population. As the bomb falls the pipes emit an unearthly an ear piercing scream. Hardened soldiers say it would have a terrific moral effect on anyone hearing it for the first time unprepared.

Members of the public should bear in mind that noise cannot kill, and that whistling bomb is no more dangerous than any other bomb with the same size. They should realise that the effect of the whistle is to make the bomb sound nearer than it really is. A simple way to nullify the effect of the Whistler is to plug in the ears with cotton wool during the raid.

If people allow themselves to be persuaded that the ‘Whistler’ is more dangerous because it makes a terrifying noise, the bomb will be doing far more than it’s worth. If Hitler uses whistling bombs, Britain will use them too. 

September 1940:

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The Dornier was a fearsome craft, delivering death and destruction with startling efficiency. This image from War History Online – click on the image to read about this remarkable bomber.

DORNIER’S BOMB EXPLODES AMONG SOUVENIR HUNTERS

Tragic underlining of repeated warnings against souvenir hunting and going too close to crashed planes was contained in a message issued on Monday by the Air Ministry News Service. 

On Sunday afternoon light anti-aircraft guns near a Kent town shot down a Dornier 17 bomber flying at a height of only 400 feet. It had already been attacked and damaged by a Hurricane. It crashed in an open space. Civilians who had been watching rushed forward to collect souvenirs, no knowing or forgetting that a crashed bomber may contain unexptoded bombs. One of the bombs went off, and several people were either killed or wounded.

November 1940:

DISHONEST LICHFIELD LADS STOLE EXHIBITION SOUVENIRS AND CINEMA PATRON’S PURSE 

At recent Spitfire exhibition in Lichfield, two boys aged 14 and 11 admitted to stealing a partly-spent incendiary bomb and a German gold watch. Also a purse from a patron at the Regal Cinema. 

There are several others that may be of interest such as…

August 1940: Safety in air raids…Anderson shelters

February  1940: Details of the incendiary bomb

March 1940: Details of the effect of bombs

August 1940: Midlands biggest raid

November 1940: Nine Hours raid on the Midlands – Germany’s claim to have ‘plastered Birmingham’ – Too many Blackout Offences

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12 Responses to On the nightwatch

  1. Tony Jakeman says:

    Another excellent piece. In my head it was read by Bob Danvers Walker. What a change in our world. Can you imagine ther uproar now with the government advised that men, women and children are capable of dealing with and should deal an incendiary bomb. I remember my dad watering his plants with a galvanised bucket and stirrup pump in the 60s. The story was it had been issued during the war to deal with incendiary bombs, just as described. I find all this stuff fascinating.

    • David Oakley says:

      Quite correct. Air raid wardens were issued with a stirrup pump and an armband, on joining. I think the stirrup pumps were made available to other civilians for a nominal sum. Air rail wardens had their prestige enhanced after a year or so, by the title of Civil Defence volunteers, a beret and a melton cloth tunic of navy blue. There were also static water tanks dotted about the district, to enable any householder to dip his bucket in and have a go, although, primarily the static water tanks were to provide water when there was any disruption to the mains water supply. Yes, we had those incendiary bombs well covered !!.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob,
    wow! This makes quite remarkable reading. A huge thank you to Pedro. Were these incendiary bombs roughly the same size as the anti-aircraft shells, made by Kynock, I wonder?
    regards
    David

  3. Clive says:

    Nice one Pedro. When i was a kid i can remember my dad was working on a building site down Pauls Coppice opposit the Wheel Inn, they were digging the footing out for the new Bunglows (which are still there) and they dug up a bomb it was a small one and must of gone off when it was drop by the aeroplane as there was just the finns and the end of the bomb remaining.
    I was there when they found the bomb, i think i had taken some sandwiches to my dad for his dinner.

  4. Anyone know anything about a plane coming down between Lichfield and the A5, south east of the city behind the current wood yard?

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    ARP…The wooden hut behind Ebenezer Methodist Church in Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood, was requisitioned by the ARP ” for the duration” and an air raid shelter of some sort was erected inside this old WW1 hut. The church charged the ARP 10 shillings per week rent , bless ’em! The two snooker tables that had been used in this “Institute” were sold off, one to the Working Men’s club across the road from the church, and the other…..to the Home Guard ! It is not known if the table was taken to their local HQ…the Boot Inn, 100 yards from where the unexploded Hermann bomb was discovered ; source; the church records
    The cellar of the Brickmaker’s pub in Salters Road was also used as an air raid shelter, I understand…
    regards
    David

    • David Oakley says:

      Hi Bob and David,
      Yes, the cellar at the Brickmakers Arms was used as an air rail shelter, during the war, so was the cellar at the Vigo stores, formerly known as Dicky Knight’s, who held an outdoor beer licence. There was also an above-ground blast shelter on the field adjacent to the pub, but by then, the tide of the war had turned, and air-raids were becoming infrequent. The building was used, certainly, but not for the purpose the authorities had originally intended. There was also a few Morrison and Anderson shelters dotted about the district, but many householders refused to take to the shelters in the event of an air-raid, preferring the comfort of their own beds.
      In retrospect, it is quite fascinating to look back to those early wartime days, how without fuss and panic, the British, although ill-prepared for war, managed to develop a ‘home front’ well able to defend the nation if things went badly. The Home Guard, which began as the L.D.V, Local Defence Volunteers, facetiously referred as the Look, Duck and Vanish brigade with one rifle between six men, transformed itself very quickly into a highly disciplined fighting force. And the Civil Defence, although in being before the war, quickly split itself into units where the maximum advantage could be gained – A.R.P. posts, Well equipped Warden posts, Gas mask distribution. Air raid siren control and a myriad of other little tasks thought necessary to defend the nation. The A.F.S. (Auxilliary Fire Service) made up largely of volunteer firemen, but well trained, nevertheless. Wartime Special Constables, uniformed, but with the same powers, I believe, as the regular constables. Youngsters, over a certain age were employed as messengers between A.R.P. posts and other key installations, Whilst the rest of us younger element would pile into anything that would help the war effort. St John’s Ambulance had little classes in the village, and as well as learning to list all the points of the emblem star, by the time I was twelve I knew the difference between a compound and a greenstick fracture, could give artificial respiration in either the Schaffer and Sylvester method, could use a triangular bandage, and more importantly, could distinguish between a reef knot and a granny knot, perhaps my major triumph. As stated earlier, no fuss, no panic. We just got on with things.

  6. Pedro says:

    The Day war broke out…Rob Wilton…

    http://youtu.be/775DE0YkT3U

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    …. re The Day the war broke out…thanks for brightening my afternoon..must dash..off to watch Walsall Wood play football …for the duration…may listen to this again when I come back….
    David

  8. Pedro says:

    Don’t tell him Pike!

    http://youtu.be/0V3SqxUomwk

    October 1940. Home Guard manoeuvers.

    Chasetown company deal with invaders.

    Successful exercises were carried out by Chasetown company of the Cannock Battalion the home guard on Sunday afternoon. The exercise was based on the supposition that enemy invading forces, advancing from the south-east, were moving to attack an important colliery in the vicinity.

    The company, which was under the command of Mr WP Cooper, company commander, successfully defended the colliery against a number of regular troops, taking the role of invaders. Non of the attacking units were able to penetrate the home guard defence, all either being captured or put out of action.

  9. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    the description of a whistling bomb is intriguing. Over a cup of tea and chat..last Saturday morning in fact..a dear old friend who was living in Coronation road, Walsall Wood, during the war recalled the three bombs that landed locally. One landed in the fields behind Ward’s farm, near the Coppy Woods,9he brother was a farm labourer there at that time) one in the Fox Covey, near Castle Road and Holly Lane…and the one that stands out most in her memory..was the one that landed in the field between the Anchor pub and Lane’s farm,,She added that this bomb “whistled” as it came down. Her father who was protecting her in his arms, remarked “thisxxx is for us”. He was a WW1 vet who had served at Ypres.
    From the location of the house and the field we might be able to estimate some rough heading of the bomber as it flew overhead. She also remebered the distinctive sound of the bombers engines
    cheers
    David.

  10. Barry Carpenter says:

    Taking of dads army, in the Leighswood on the Northgate, is evidence of square cut fox holes. A number of .303 cartridges dating from WWII have been found around them. Other cartridges found with in the wood include .45 and 9mm bullets. A fragment of Anti Aircraft Shell was also recovered. I suspect that there where Homeguard exercises taking place in the wood which was relatively isolated with no near by roads at that time.

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