The War That Came To Sutton Coldfield
1. Tanks on the Common
1. Tanks Practise For D Day in Whitehouse Common
From an article which first appeared in the
Sutton Coldfield Observer dated Friday 4th February 2005
It’s all houses now, of course. But if you cock an ear closely you can still hear the mad splashing of water, the cackle of boys sailing oil drum rafts, the grind of great mechanical fish and the acrobatic swooping overhead of tin birds. Sutton’s own Tom Sawyer can. For Pete Bates, James’ Pool was a magical Boys’ Own place. “Fishing was top of our list, plus diving in.” Now he’s on a roll. “Plus raft building, ice skating and also depth charging with carbide — highly dangerous from bursting bottles.” Tony Hartland, who still lives within earshot of his childhood memories, remembers the pool just off Deakin Road like it was yesterday. “It was about 90ft deep and as a child growing up in the wartime we used to go fishing, swimming and sometimes sail on a raft made from old oil drums and planks of wood.”
In the 1930s and 40s, lads like Pete and Tony were gone for hours, off to James’ Pool in Whitehouse Common, a private boating pond with secret islands; an ideal place for hide and seek, building dens, general horseplay and army games. As part of their aqua adventures, the cheeky monkeys would ‘borrow’ an army rowing boat and stowaway to one of the little overgrown islands, like Robinson Crusoe's with the option of coming home for tea. Then one day their childhood haunt was mysteriously surrounded with corrugated iron fencing. Now, instead of the boys making machine gun noises and insisting their pals were ‘dead’, it was the turn of the men to play army.
Pete, who lived in
Whitehouse Common Road between 1934 and 1959, remembers: “Us lads would climb
into trees and watch the tanks enter the water and chug around the pool.” The
big iron fish were indeed amphibious Sherman tanks; the tin birds being
Spitfires tested in the skies above the former air barracks. “They attempted
to stop people from seeing the tanks — they were preparing for D-Day. “The
Spitfires were tested virtually continually overhead as they dived over the
air barracks complex. It was all quite exciting.” Little did these gangs of
boys know that the gangs of adults, whose job it was to adapt the ‘DD’ tanks
for water up at Metro Camel in Washwood Heath, were also up to fun and games.
Security was tight at the plant and its workers were sworn to. secrecy. In
fact, in the true spirit of secrecy, our correspondent, who with his cousin
also drove the tanks to Sutton to be tested, still refuses to be named. “Those
dark days were dotted with lighter moments,” says the top secret 80-year-old.
“One day my cousin forgot his lunch so he made a slight detour, drove his DD
tank to his house, parked it and drove on to Sutton. “So much for security”.
On another occasion, one of his gang was called up to go to war, and at
lunchtime the boys took a break from tank work to take him down the pub. From
top secret to loose lips and sunken ships...
Tanks would arrive on vehicles similar to this American M19 tank transporter and the British Army modern equivalent.
This story was submitted to the People's War web site by Sutton Coldfield Library on behalf of Patricia McGowan and has been added to the site with her permission.
I had been working at Morris Commercial Cars in Adderley Road when I was seventeen years old but changes in staff became the cause of my leaving there. I saw there was a vacancy in the drawing office at BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Ltd) at Armoury Road, Small Heath, so I applied. I had been having tuition from a neighbour, Mr Neal, going to his house to become efficient in using technical drawing instruments. From the few samples I did, he took them along to his boss to see and this brought about an interview. I was told at the interview that it would be near enough six months before I could do an actual tracing on linen with Indian Ink, but during this testing period I would be working on charts and graphs. Anyway I must have impressed the Chief Draughtsman because I received a letter the next week to say that I had got the job and I could start on 23rd May 1940. At last I had got the opportunity I had wanted.
I was excited about the job and I would be in the thick of the industrial area. Later on, I did tracings of 'Op Books' which were almost like animation, a small drawing of a piece of metal and then the various processes to it on separate drawings, so that if all the small drawings were flicked through, it came alive, so to speak! They were rather boring to do but later on I worked on the Besa Gun and the 4 Dash. Old soldiers would know what these gun parts represented. We started to get air raids and often it was a case of dashing down to some strangers air-raid shelter when the sirens went off and all this before I reached home. Mr Churchill stressed the need for 'war effort' which involved working longer hours. I willingly agreed to work sometimes to 8 o'clock at night and quite a few times I had to make a dash for the the last bus in operation before they were stopped altogether. My mother, at such times, would be distraught with worry when I was late returning home.
There was a period whilst at the BSA when I moved to the Gauge Control Department and was working on pricing then later on, maps. We had heard that a VIP was to visit the company and everyone was agog at this news. It turned out to be General De Gaulle and one morning he arrived in the Planning Office where I worked. My desk was in the front row and he stopped directly in front of me. My boss was talking to him and explaining things as they walked by but what surprised me was that the General said "Good morning" to me and I replied. Quite a moment to file in one's memory I thought. He was extremely tall, as everyone knew and I had to stretch my neck to speak to him.
When working in the drawing office at BSA I met up with another draughtsman called Bob Price. He was very good looking and used to come over to my board to have a chat. He asked me out and we started to become close friends. At this time he was 19 years old and I was 18. The day we met was October 1st 1940. Our romance was progressing and I had a letter from him every day. Because of the war situation Bob had to join the fire fighting service which was stationed at the BSA itself. His task was pretty gruesome in that he had to stay on the roof of the factory most nights and when there was a raid and bombs had dropped on the building, it was his duty to find the victims and to pull them out of the rubble. He told me that one time he heard this faint cry for help amid the smoke and dust of bricks and mortar. He saw a hand poking out of a pile of bricks. People were working on night shifts during the war years at such factories as the BSA. Bob went to this victim and started to pull the hand…his stomach turned over, he said, when the hand and arm came away unattached to the body. He gathered his wits about him and feverishly, with some help from his mates, pulled all the bricks and rubble away to find a young girl of about 18. She was bleeding profusely from the wound where her arm had been torn off and all she could utter was…"please could someone give me a cigarette and I shall be all right". Later on, Bob found out that her name was Mary and that she had recovered after such a terrible ordeal. He didn't tell me any other stories but said there had been other tragedies like that and the sights often gave him nightmares. Bob would finish his night shift then write me a letter, place it on my board and go home to sleep. I would find it next morning and write back for him to pick up when he came back on duty again. This went on for some time and at last he was taken off the fire duty, thank goodness. Incidentally, our romance progressed and we became engaged on December 24th 1940.
Because of the constant bombing of the industrial area around Birmingham, a lot of folk went into the countryside and even changed jobs if possible. I was one of them! It got so bad at the BSA with the air raids starting before I could get back home, that it was decided I should leave there. For a time I stayed with my sister Evelyn and brother-in-law Mick in Sutton Coldfield. They had moved into a new house in Springfield Road not far from the little pub called The Anvil. It was quite countrified in that area, fairly rural and not many bombs were being dropped there, so I felt a lot safer. Evelyn's next door neighbour worked at Southalls in Birmingham and there was a job going in the typing pool if I wanted it. The plan was I could go with Mr Letts to work in the morning and he would bring me back at night. I used to sleep under the stairs just to be on the safe side! I got the job and stuck it out for a while but I hated it at Southalls. We had a strict Manageress in the pool. If you bent to reach for a hanky, you were wasting time according to her. I played up so that I would get the sack and I did! The raids were getting a little less in Birmingham so I went back home. I rang my old boss, Mr Silver of the Planning Department at BSA and asked if there were any vacancies for a tracer. He said there was, so I went back to the job I liked, commencing on 17th February 1941. I stayed at BSA until 1943 - the year I married, but not to Bill or Bob. I met Oliver Byrne in October 1942 and we married on July 3rd 1943. He was still in the army at this time and demobbed in 1946, then we set up home together and by this time I had a little daughter of two years old.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/02/a4782602.shtml
These three images
were found at
the first two are of the US Base in Penns Lane
When I worked at the crystal palace I had various workmates and occasionally I bump into them we were not too far away from WW2 and so we had interest in the leftovers like jeeps and tank transporters etc in the 50s we had 3 or 4 amphibious jeeps (govt surplus) which ran around the larger of the two small lakes at the crystal palace. I bumped into one of these guys the other day and he gave me a photo of one of these amphibian jeeps. David Wilcox
2. Alec Hinks, 912 Squadron RAF Sutton Coldfield
Alec enlisted in the RAF, for 4 years
service, on 5 March 1939, aged 39. He was enlisted in 912 squadron (Barrage
Balloons) as an aircraftman second class (AC2). The squadron was initially
head quartered on the Tyburn Road, but after a recruiting campaign in
Wolverhampton, it moved to Whitehouse Common, Sutton Coldfield. The squadron
was embodied on 24.8.39 with 377 men of all ranks. The equipment began
arriving the next day, in the form of winches and trailers. There followed a
period of training before he was appointed “Driver Winch” on 16 Oct 1939, but
was still an AC2. The squadron was part deployed in north Birmingham. The
squadron was one of 6 such Squadrons whose task was to defend the war effort
in Birmingham. 911, 912 and 913 protected the North of the city particularly
Castle Bromwich airbase and the Castle Bromwich Spitfire factory, coming under
Number 5 Balloon Centre at RAF Sutton Coldfield. Three flights of the squadron
were posted as follows;
3. Sutton Coldfield US Army Sorting Office
When the Americans arrived in Sutton Coldfield in 1942, Britain had already been at war nearly 3 years. The peaceful part of Warwickshire known as the Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield, was already used to seeing people in uniform, rationing, lack of petrol, black out and gas masks. But the arrival of the Americans was to be a bit of a culture shock. The elderly viewed the event with apprehension, to the kids it was exciting. As the weeks and months went by, the people of Sutton mellowed opinion, usually based on movies and the newspapers. Sutton Coldfield became used to a new kind of language, bonds forged back then are still alive today.
MILITARY historians are angry at plans to demolish a unique piece of Second World War heritage to make way for new houses. The postal depot in Upper Clifton Road, Sutton Coldfield, was built by the American forces in 1942 after they joined the war and sorted every letter and parcel sent from the USA to troops stationed in the UK and Europe. But despite having the protection of a Grade H listing from English Heritage, Royal Mail wants to tear down the building to make way for new housing. Military historians Martin and Frances Collins, from Great Barr, successfully campaigned for the preservation of the building seven years ago and are now angry that a demolition planning application has been submitted. Martin said: "We are hugely dismayed that the Royal Mail would consider demolishing such a unique historic building, the `only one of its kind in the country? The Sutton Coldfield Local History Research Group is calling on the Royal Mail to restore the building instead of demolish it. Spokesman Roger Lea said: "This has been listed because of its historic importance to both the US military and shows the significance of Sutton Coldfield as ‘a centre of communications' during the Second World War.
Owners of historic buildings have a
responsibility to look after them. We do not believe any listed building
should be demolished? But Royal Mail, which has used the sorting office since
the Americans left in 1945, claims that the building would cost £Z million to
repair and is no longer Et for purpose. It points out that another listed
building on the Upper Clifton Road site, an 1879 railway goods shed, would be
retained. A spokesman said: "Royal Mail’s proposals include; redevelopment of
the surplus land for family housing, retention and sensitive refurbishment of
the derelict listed Victorian goods shed for office use and the demolition of
the listed 1942 industrial delivery office. A new modern Royal Mail Delivery
Office would be built on the site with vastly improved customer facilities and
will incorporate a new heritage centre. This will be open to the public and
will record, display and celebrate the history of the site and the buildings.
January 2012. An article has appeared in the Birmingham Evening Mail (Tuesday Jan 12th) in which it is alleged that local residents, Local Councillors and our own MP, Andrew Mitchell, are lobbying for total demolition of this listed building to make room for the construction of 51 homes!! This would also include a smaller more modern sorting office AND a 'modest' Heritage Centre to record the passing of, and the history of, what has been demolished. In other words, has silver crossed greasy palms? Have the developers who are earmarked to build these homes promised the other buildings as a 'sweetener' which is tantamount to bribery. Does the fact that buildings are listed no longer count for anything in this world of greed and more and more unaffordable housing? I also find it hard to understand how local residents want their detached amd relatively exclusive property cheapened by the addition of 51 brand new breeze block and brick extravagant homes. This is an historic WW2 building, a vital part of the history of the town.
December 2012: After news that it was safe, yet another u turn and: a preservation order from English Heritage prevents demolition, so now a plan to pull down part of the building, restore the rest at an estimated cost of more than £3 million and offset that cost by building and selling 27 houses bordering Sutton Park has won approval. Many felt the 1942 depot lacks charm or any architectural merit, but English Heritage believes that its worth protecting because of its role in the war effort, as the depot through which all correspondence between American soldiers, sailors and airmen in Europe and their families across the Atlantic.
The long-running row over the depot and various plans now seems to have finally been resolved after English Heritage gave its backing to the partial demolition and planning permission agreed. Planning committee member Coun Maureen Cornish (Cons, Sutton Four Oaks) said: “Partial demolition seems a satisfactory compromise although at £3.17 million for Royal Mail it is an expensive one. “It has been found to be acceptable by English Heritage and they are the big player here. We have looked at all the plans and there are no further options which will be acceptable to all sides.” Councillors had previously indicated they might refuse the scheme, because some supported total demolition and others wanted the entire building preserved. The plan will see the shed halved, the remaining piece restored and continued to be used as a mail depot. The rear of the site will be set aside for housing.
Sutton women work at the site, helping the operation from October, 1942. Tucked away behind the Town Hall in Clifton Road is a small piece of Sutton's heritage. At present, the building is currently used by the Royal Mail for sorting foreign mail, but it is under threat of demolition so that the area can be redeveloped. The history of the building used by the Royal Mail is unique. It is the only one of its kind in the country, in fact in the world. It was purpose-built as a mail sorting office for the American forces in October 1942 and dealt with all mail to, and from, American servicemen stationed in the UK, continental Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. It had a directory service that used a filing system to plot the movement of all US personnel in Europe and Africa, so that mail was sent to the correct destination as quickly as possible.
The files in the directory service were changed from day to day as soldiers were transferred to different destinations, or to hospitals if they were injured. Part of the directory service dealt with the mail informing families of those killed or missing in action. he history of the First Base Post Office in Sutton started on June 30, 1942 when a US Army unit consisting of just 32 men and one officer moved into the incomplete buildings of what we now know as Plantsbrook School.
The US Army was to use this as a barracks as the unit expanded. On July 1, the US 1st Base Post Office started operating from the Victorian goods shed on the side track of the LMS Railway near Sutton Park Railway station. The space in this building was soon found to be inadequate as the amount of mail increased, as more American units were deployed to the UK in the run up to D-Day.
In October 1942, the current building was erected along the main line of the LMS Railway. It contained approximately 52,000ft of floor space and included a 380ft long platform adjacent to the railway siding. The loading dock accommodated 54 railway cars on the siding and 17 at the platform. The building was divided into three sections. The southerly portion was the main processing area, the middle part was the Index or ID room and the remainder housed the administration offices. The postal operation continued to expand and additional personnel were needed. By the end of October, 51 local women were employed in the directory service.
As more mail arrived to be processed, it was necessary for the building area to expand still further and Romney huts were erected to the rear of the post office. Eventually, a Women's Army Corps battalion joined the men of the 1st Base Post Office.
The girls took over the barracks in Holland Road and the men were moved into billets in private homes around Sutton. Later, tented camps were set up in Penns Lane, Minworth, and Sutton Park to accommodate extra personnel. Late 1943 saw the peak of operations at the 1st Base Post Office. Two complete trains of parcel vans were made up each day. These trains were run up to New Street Station where the American personnel, with the assistance of the British inspectors at New Street, broke up the trains and switched them as appropriate to one of the six tracks to destinations all over the UK. After D-Day, the personnel at the post office underwent some changes. A large number of the men working there were sent to combat training at Tidworth Barracks in Salisbury.
In return, wounded soldiers who could not be returned to combat duty were assigned to work at the post office. Although the 1st Base Post Office was essentially a support unit, its work was of prime importance to the war effort in a time when letters were the only communication between soldiers and loved ones at home. Many of the young boys sent over here would not see their loved ones again for around three years.
Many of the local people of Sutton had fond memories of the GIs around the town. Former resident Pearl Lucas sums up their feelings: "By the time the first Americans arrived in 1942, Britain had been at war for almost three years and Sutton had already undergone many changes.
"The sedate, peaceful Royal Borough, steeped in tradition, had become accustomed to the sight of men and women in uniform – the Territorials, Royal Signal Corps, The RAF Balloon Barrage, Civil Defence, the Home Guard. Living with the blackout, gas masks, rationing, long queues and no petrol was the norm”.
"As the weeks and months progressed, the people of Sutton accepted the influx and, for the most part, revised their opinions of 'Yanks', which had hitherto been based mostly on American movies and the media. The fun-loving, outgoing GIs, with their zest for life, shook up the town and taught us that once in a while, it's good to let your hair down. Sutton became used to a new kind of English language. Certain expressions and usage of words on either side, sometimes gave rise to embarrassment and/or amusement. The bonds that were forged between families and the GIs remained for a long time, even to the present."
It is very sad that such an important building in Sutton's history should be considered for demolition, particularly as it has Grade II, listing in recognition of its uniqueness. We would like the building to remain as a focal point for relatives of those that were based there in during the war and also as an educational resource for local schools who study both the war and their local area as part of the National Curriculum.
Taken from: This is Sutton Coldfield - online and provided by Davis Wilcox
Are more housing developments really needed in Sutton? Anything that generates more income for Birmingham Council obviously overrides any historical connection. Can I suggest that they pull down the Birmingham Town Hall, a high rise block of flats would be a sure fire money generator! This Sorting Office could be turned into a library and museum - lets face it we have NEITHER since they closed out only library due to asbestos which had been there for years anyway. As far as I know, the library has not actually killed anyone.
4. Diamond T Transporter
David Wilcox made me this, showing info from the 40's
5. Sutton Coldfield Home Guard
http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/DotherReminiscences26staffshg.htm - Diary of Cpl Bates (Excellent read)
http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/DotherReminiscences90Sutton.htm By William Thornton
http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/DotherReminiscences88SuttonVol.htm - Sutton Coldfield Volunteers
6. Sutton Coldfield No 5 Balloon Unit
7. Gas! Gas! Gas!
What to do if Hitler launched a Gas Attack
8. Air Raid
9. Anderson Shelters
These shelters were dropped off by the Government and people were expected to 'dig them in'. The government gave out Anderson shelters free to people who earned below £5 per week. By September 1939 one and a half million Anderson shelters had been put up in gardens. Looking at the one in the image I would not be all that hopeful of the survival of the occupants. One blast from a bomb would have crushed it. The best way was to actually bury the shelter with the access point pointing towards an open area, giving any blast time to dissipate before passing over a buried shelter. This one is too high and the soil on top is minimal. Being so close to Birmingham (gun factories) and Castle Bromwich (aircraft factories) Sutton Coldfield would probably have had its fair share of bombs falling a tad too close! They were made from six corrugated iron sheets bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end, and measured 6ft 6in by 4ft 6in (1.95m by 1.35m). The entrance was protected by a steel shield and an earthen blast wall. By the autumn of 1940 the government realised that air-raid shelters on the surface did not offer very good protection from high explosive bombs. Deeper shelters were used. This was a very frightening time for the children especially who could not understand what was going on.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/68/a4114568.shtml This link tells us about a Walsall family in WW2 and their shelter.
10. Anti Aircraft Guns
11. Sutton Coldfield - A Young Girls Viewpoint
At the start of the war, I was on holiday with my Mother in Southsea. My Father had died quite recently and we were having a break. War was declared and on the same day there was absolute panic in Southsea and Portsmouth with people trying to get away from the coast as quickly as possible because everyone thought we would be shelled, or bombs dropped on us! The situation was so bad that the trains were crowded and people fighting and screaming to get away. Lots of people were injured in the rush but my Mother and I managed to get away eventually, back to Sutton Coldfield. As a child I didn't know the war had started properly, until they started to build air raid shelters at the back of our houses. We lived in a row of rented accommodation and a brick built shelter was built between two houses for two families. Some people had an Anderson shelter in their gardens, but these were mostly people who owned their houses. I think the main problem was sharing with neighbours that you didn't like very much! Not everyone was very hygienic or friendly in those days! The lighting was with candles and we might have to spend two or three hours in the shelter before the 'all clear was given'. The worst experience was to be woken up from a deep sleep by my Mother, to be carried down to the shelter, and try and carry on sleeping with the heavy noise of bombers going on overhead.
On a personal note, one air raid saved my life! Because on hearing the siren, my mother fetched me from my bed, to find me bleeding to death, as I had had 11 or 12 milk teeth removed from the dentist and the sockets were bleeding. Mother sent for the GP whop plugged me up. Wartime dentists were really bad! If you cried when they hurt you they slapped your legs and were very rough. As far as food was concerned, I was never hungry, you just managed. Local shops had so called registered customers, but usually these had people they preferred. There were lots of programmes on the radio, which was a God-send, to tell housewives how to manage. My mother was a great jam maker, she would make jam from Carrots, Marrows, Swedes, Turnips, anything! Everyone was encouraged to 'dig for victory' and sports fields were dug up everywhere who that people could grow extra food, which kept us going.
There was a great emphasis on everybody to collect or save
metal of any description, to manufacture airplanes and ships! It was quite
obvious at the time that many metal railings were cut down and taken away.
Schools, civic buildings, private houses, everything was taken away to melt
down. Saucepans, anything in aluminium was also given. Today if you look
carefully there is still some evidence of this where the railings were.
(none of it was actually used, being the wrong metal - it
was all propaganda!! - mk)
We carried on going to school as normal, and we did get
some bad winters in those days with snow and ice. We used to have the off air
raid in the day time, but quite often we would have a gas mask practice where we
put on our masks and went into the air raid shelters under the school. They were
pretty terrible things, smelled awful, and the only good thing about them was to
make funny noises by blowing them in out. Although we had a small house with
three very small bedrooms, we did have several lots of evacuees, who were
usually Mothers and Children, for varying periods of time, mostly from London.
It was difficult to understand what they were saying as they were Cockneys!
On a bright note, some of our local girls did marry American's and went to live in America! I used to help children whose fathers were in the forces and with food parcels, and they used to supply us with powdered soups, sweets, Nescafe- all things we'd never seen before. I sued to go because my Mother was a widow. Although my Mother was a widow, she had to look after me, she was expected to do her part, and she was an air raid warden so she used to go out at night, to tell people to keep their curtains closed, to show a light when their was a chance of air raid was a criminal offence. She was also instructed in the use of a Stirrup pump, which is a pump you put in a bucket and spray water to put incendiary devices out which i, they landed on a hose, could soon set it on fire. They were very hot and difficult to put out. A bucket of sand was also used on occasion to put them out.
As far as delivered food was concerned, the milk, the bread, and the coal were all delivered on carts pulled by horses which meant that, as were were growing our own vegetables, we wanted the horse manure!! I think as child we were well aware that the war was going well, with the announcements on the radio, and without the radio there wouldn't have been any information and entertainment. We had a programme on called 'ITMA' - the name of the chap was Tommy Handley. He kept us going through the war, all the characters on his programme were very funny. My Mother, who was not a lady known to have a drink, unfortunately got drunk on VE night, and I wasn't able to do anything with her. I was so embarrassed I went and hid under the stairs! (I had to correct an awful lot of spelling, so this is what should have been printed - mk). I can see why the American servicemen were not universally loved, as they universally loved our lads wives, whilst our lads were in foxholes, or worse. They ruined a lot of lives.
13. Royal Visit to Park
14. Civil Defence National School
June 2014: I have just found out that, in
the Park, in WW2, was the Civil Defence National Rescue School for
I have found a picture in a photobook of my grandfather (Albertus Gerardus (Albert) van Dinther, born 06-08-1916 Geffen, The Netherlands, deceased 25-12-2000, Geffen , the Netherlands), in which probably also my grandfather is shown (I am not a 100% sure, it might also be one of his brothers, but the photo was in a book which held mainly photos of my grandfather). On the back of the picture it said Rescue School, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, England, 23 February 1942. The thing is that nobody in our family knows anything about my grandfather being in England during the war (or he just never spoke about it). So now I am looking for some more information to see if he really was there, and some general information about this Rescue School. Also maybe you recognize where the photo was taken? I have attached the photo. My grandfather is the fifth person from the right in the back row. Any information to shed some light on this would be appreciated, or maybe you know where I should look to find more information. Many thanks! Best regards, Maarten van Dinther, Leiden, The Netherlands