Here’s one I spotted courtesy of the kind person who bought me a copy of the 2004 book ‘Walsall Remembered’ by the great Jack Haddock and Ruth Vyse; years ago (and it was years) we discussed the legend of tank testing at Shire Oak Quarry during the Second World War – a passage in this book adds to the mystery.
Longer standing readers may recall we discussed the legend, of which I was initially very sceptical, but eyewitness accounts and incidental details cropping up over the years seem to indicate something was going on in the quarry with military vehicles, but we never got to the bottom of exactly what, or where they came from.
This passage (clearly written by Jack) adds some detail:
As I have said, during the autumn of 1941 I left school to commence work at Birchills bus depot. This meant less time for cycle rides but every available moment that could be spared was taken to observe the changing local situation. For one thing the Yanks were about to invade England. A few troop trains began to be seen passing Ryecroft Junction full of Gls. It was while we were waiting for one of these troop specials that we heard a new sound from the main Lichfield Road direction. We immediately pedalled to investigate and were thrilled to see our ﬁrst tank, which I believe was a Valentine. It transpired that, owing to the war in the Western Desert of North Africa, the manufacture of tanks became a priority and orders for these tanks were given to the Patent Shaft Company of Wednesbury.
The reason for tanks rattling through Walsall was to test them for desert conditions. The most suitable areas for these tests were the sand pits near Shire Oak and Canwell, near Sutton. I well remember one of these monsters approaching The Bridge from Bradford Place with The Bridge traffic policeman standing well back from the spinning tracks. It clattered by Sister Dora’s statue complete with its lethal gun, passing the Town Hall, here, incidentally, one of the ﬁrst tanks ever made was on display in 1916 to raise money for the First World War.
Does this add anything of use? I’m thoroughly convinced armoured vehicles were being tested there now, but I’m still curious as to why there, and where they might have been coming from. A tank uses a heck of a lot of fuel, and in a time when fuel was in short supply they can’t have been going far under their own steam, surely?
I’d still love to know moire about this curious bit of lost history.
Please, if you can help with this or add to it, comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.