Escape to Heronfield, near Knowle
Clarice & Richard Usher, my paternal grandparents, had lived in a flat over their shop in Bordesley Green, Birmingham. When the war began, they bought a cottage at Heronfield (just outside Knowle) and began to close the shop at 4 p.m. and go to Knowle to escape the bombing. My grandfather offered the use of the shop to the local wardens, who made good use of the kitchen, somewhere to eat, and a huge billiard room.
On one occasion during an incendiary attack, someone came in, filled a perambulator with ‘swag’ from the shop and set off down the road – the wardens caught him, retrieved the goods, called the police, and the offender was charged with looting, a very serious offence in wartime.
My grandfather had a large Austin car with a platform made to sit in the rear seat well, and called it “a lorry” so he could use red petrol, much cheaper and easier to obtain. He was a shrewd operator, as was his wife, who (with her two sisters) had before marriage worked in pawnbrokers shops.
A view of the bombing from Heronfield, near Knowle
One night the bombing in Birmingham was very bad, and my father returned from work, collected mom and I and we set off for Heronfield for a bit of peace! Bombs were everywhere and the copse in Lode Lane Solihull (to where the Rover Works has now been extended) was on fire. When they arrived at Heronfield, everyone was standing in their gardens, watching Coventry go up in flames!
Refuge in Anstey
A neighbour of mine from where I live now, in Stratford, Mary, lived in Coventry at the time and talked about walking down one of the main streets and hearing nothing but the crunch of glass under her feet. After that, Mary’s father and a neighbour rented a room in Anstey outside the city and they went out there to sleep. The neighbour had a car and Mary’s father, who worked at The Dunlop, had a “hat” made for the car, to protect it from shrapnel damage.
Chipping Campden and Evesham
My aunt and uncle, Catherine Mary and Herbert Vickers, went and stayed with a cousin in Chipping Campden when the bombing in Birmingham got too bad. Food was easier to obtain in Chipping Campden (always the odd rabbit for the pot, and lots of freshly grown produce) but cigarettes were impossible to get – they used to go to Evesham on the bus to try and buy a packet.
The war ends at last
One day a teacher at school told us that the war was ending, and that we were having a day off tomorrow – great!
We had a street party on VE Day [to celebrate Victory in Europe] , when part of the double road was closed, and for the very first time I ate tinned peaches (kept at the back of someone’s cupboard) – wonderful. A while afterwards, Birmingham City Council organised an illuminated tram to commemorate it all. The tram had all its lights blazing (forbidden during blackout) and also some strings of lights attached to it, and we just watched as it went through Acocks Green, a suburb of Birmingham.