From about 1938 until March 1944 my Mum and Dad, Vera and Bill Gregory, ran the pub part of RM Bird and Co the wine merchants, at 32 Bridge Street; this was next door to Bert Phipp’s greengrocers shop. Dad used to drive for them occasionally, delivering drinks around Warwickshire. Occasionally he would take me with him, which for a child of about five was a great adventure, especially as there were comparatively few motor vehicles about.
Watching Coventry burn, and sheltering in the basement
He used to tell us about trying to get into Coventry the day after the big blitz and being turned back by the police. The night before he took me out to the Bancroft where we could see Coventry burning in the distance. When the sirens went off, many of the neighbours used to come into the pub and we’d all shelter in the basements – which in those days ran underneath Bridge Street (as did those in the George at the top of Bridge Street). Naturally enough some liquid refreshments were consumed – to give everyone some courage of course!
We used to get a lot of servicemen in the pub, in particular Canadians, many of whom were billeted at the Red Horse, just up Bridge Street. One of them was a tall man named Joe and he stole me a plastic model of a Dornier bomber which they used for aircraft recognition, I believe! It had a hole in it and I hung it from my bedroom ceiling until we moved to Wilmcote in 1944. Birds closed down in the 1960s and the building was converted to a BHS. It is now, I understand, being made into a hotel – very different from when I lived there.
A German plane crash
In about 1943 someone came in the pub and announced that a German plane had crashed near the level crossing. The lady who used to look after me whilst my parents ran the pub (a Miss Peace) took me, on my tricycle, to see the crash. When we got to the level crossing, the wreckage had burned out and there was little to see (mind you I was only six!), but the fire engine turned up after we got there! The poor pilot died in the crash.