Passages from "The Quinton and Round About", Volume II
by A.N. Rosser
Tom Williams, born at the turn of the century, was a Welsh farmer's eldest son. He joined the army towards the end of the Great War but it was over shortly afterwards and he saw no action. He was very soon 'demobbed'.
Though there was the opportunity of an academic career at this stage, he opted instead to rejoin the army only months later. This time it was for a considerable period. Photographs show him serving in the Rhineland as late as 1928. He remained a Territorial. Friends of his in Quinton claim he was the first man from the village to join up when war broke out on 3 September. He served as a signalman in the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force whose retreat culminated in the epic Dunkirk rescue. He showed sufficient initiative to get away before the flotilla of small ships arrived by jumping aboard a coalship to Boulogne.
From there he was able to get back to Newport in South Wales and eventually to Birmingham. He reappeared in Quinton, his spirit undimmed, and, the neighbours recall, holding a bottle of naval rum in his hand! Only six months later he was sent to North Africa where he was given a surveillance role as one of Montgomery's famous 'Desert Rats' in the fight against Rommel. When 86 years old he underwent an operation for cancer but survived this too and lived to the advanced age of 92. He died in May 1991.
Another Quintonian with vivid wartime memories was Leslie Tye. Born in Handsworth on 5 February 1904, he moved to Clydesdale Road in March 1939 after his marriage. His wife had a liking for Quinton, while he himself remembered, with some fondness, cycling trips to the area as a youngster and buying ginger beer at cottages along the Hagley Road West in its more rural days.
In 1926 he joined the RAAF (Royal Auxiliary Air force). In fact he was the first to enlist in 605 squadron. Starting as an aircraft hand, he then trained as an airgunner and eventually rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, working for the Air Ministry during his later service.
One memory of his pre-war days was that he owned an allotment where the Golden Cup public house now stands. Backing on to these allotments was Rose Farm in Highfield Lane. Farmer Rose would sometimes tip a cartload of manure over the fence for Mr Tye to use. Some maisonettes now stand on the site of this farm.
Such was the political climate in the 1930s that some felt it immoral for the country to harbour weapons of offensive warfare. Military strategy was to be defensive only and rearmament minimal. Pacifism was fashionable, appeasement was in the air-and had not the Oxford Union debated whether it was desirable to fight for King and country? It was in this climate and for these reasons that the bombers at Leslie Tye's air base were replaced by a squadron of Gloster Gladiator fighters (biplanes) and later by Hurricanes with Austin-made Fairey Battles used for conversion training. Leslie Tye, his competence as an air-gunner no longer relevant, was placed in charge of squadron armaments instead.
War broke out in 1939, necessitating service in far-flung parts of the country. His squadron, though first based at Tangmere in Sussex, was soon sent to Wick at the opposite end of the realm on Churchill's orders and charged with defending naval installations at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys.
At the time of the Dunkirk evacuation the squadron was ordered to France. So rapid was Hitler's invasion however that the French surrendered in 194o and plans had to be revised. The squadron never reached France but instead provided the fleeing Allied troops with aerial cover from their new base at Hawkinge near Folkestone. It seemed that German planes outnumbered British aircraft by about ten to one at this time. Mr Tye recalls his bitterness at the politics that had led to this scandalous mismatch.
On 8 August 1940, the epic Battle of Britain began in the skies over the southeast coast culminating in the blitz on London which lasted for 57 nights from 7 September, by which date the Germans had already lost 1,2,59 aircraft. Throughout this period 605 Squadron was based at Croydon and played its part in the heroics to which Winston Churchill referred in his famous words, 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.'
With so much absence from Quinton because of war duties, memories of local events at that time are few, but they do include the Warple Road plane crash: 'It woke me up at about one in the morning. 1 was home on 48 hours leave, but I didn't go to witness the damage next morning as so many others did. I had seen enough of that sort of thing.'
The squadron was later switched from Croydon to Tern Hill near Newport, Shropshire. Whilst there, intelligence information came through that the Luftwaffe were about to launch a raid on Birmingham. To counter this, a night squadron was sent from Squire's Gate, Blackpool to share the base at Tern Hill. Among the visiting pilots was a Wing Commander Deanesly who, having formerly served with 605 Squadron, knew Leslie Tye.
There followed a change of strategy for whatever reason. New orders came through that the German air-raid was to be fought off using only ground-based anti-aircraft fire. The fighters at Tern Hill were not to be used in defence of Birmingham and had to stay at base. The airmen were not well pleased, considering anti-aircraft fire a poor second-best to aerial attack. Wing Commander Deanesly was especially incensed. When the enemy aircraft were sighted and the raid was about to commence, he made up his mind to take the initiative and, in his two seater Boulton Paul Defiant mounted a lone attack on the Nazi planes, shooting one of them down in the early hours of 10 April 1941.
On hearing Deanesly's report, it became clear to Leslie Tye that the enemy plane had been shot down over Quinton. The stricken aircraft had crashed just north of the Wolverhampton New Road. Deanesly, a Harborne man, was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross).
Maurice Molineux came to live in Quinton in 1930. In 1929, with marriage in prospect, he saw that new houses were being built in Ridgacre Road (then Ridgacre Lane) and, being attracted to the area, he duly bought one of these properties.
Quinton, in those days, was largely a rural area and the houses in question were almost certainly the first to be built in the development of Quinton as a fully residential district. When in 1939 war broke out, he volunteered for the ARP (Air Raid Precaution).
The responsibilities of these volunteers, known as ARP wardens, were to keep watch for enemy bombing raids, minimise their effectiveness by enforcing the blackout (no lights were allowed after dark) and the general welfare of the local population in wartime. They were expected to be the first on the scene if a plane had crashed, a bomb had dropped, a pilot had baled out or a street needed evacuating. Easily recognisable, they wore a navy blue tin helmet and a dark blue jacket. At waist level they carried a gas mask in a container strapped over the right shoulder, though this was dispensed with later in the war.
Mr Molineux recollects:
Quinton ARP was formed early in the war. The section for this area was temporarily provided with headquarters in the Rectory. Shortly afterwards a transfer was made to the C. of E. school. Subsequently, and for the rest of the war, the 'Wardens' Post' was housed in the premises later occupied by a Building Society immediately adjoining the Church drive. The building now houses a firm of estate agents.
Much of the work required of ARP wardens in Quinton was, he maintains, fairly routine. The war, as already stated, did not affect Quinton as much as neighbouring districts. Wardens patrolled in pairs on a shift basis and Mr Molineux with others watched over the area of housing bounded by Stoney Lane, Ridgacre Road, Clydesdale Road and Hagley Road West.
A circular trench was dug on the traffic island at the end of Clydesdale Road. The wardens kept watch from this position. The trench was only three feet deep but it offered some protection against falling bombs to anyone crouched inside. This vantage point provided an uninterrupted view into the heart of Birmingham where some of the worst bombing raids took place.
Maurice Molineux remembers a number of incidents. 'The first was a parade and inspection by Lord Willoughby de Broke, Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, in his RAF capacity. This parade was a joint affair with the local Air Training Corps (ATC) and was held in the grounds of the retirement home in Spies Lane. (There was an embarrassing moment when, during the march-past, the younger, fitter air cadets left the middle-aged ARP wardens some way behind them and struggling for breath!) Secondly, after the formation of the Home Guard, the authorities came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea if wardens had some basic instruction in the handling of the army rifle and the hand grenade. To this end a meeting with a trained instructor took place in a field adjoining Watery Lane. There the mechanism of the rifle was explained, and wardens were given individual instruction regarding the correct firing position. Needless to say, none of these weapons was Primed!' Despite this training course, the wardens remained unarmed for the duration of the war.
Though not on duty at the time, he also remembers witnessing the Warple Road Plane crash from his house. It was after midnight when the plane snagged a barrage balloon wire high over the site of what is now the Royal Mall sorting office and was brought down. In common with others he believes the plane was probably in distress before it struck the wire. The collision caused the aircraft to catch fire and, silhouetted against its own flames, it plunged to the ground. There were no survivors. The upheaval caused by an unexploded landmine suspended perilously in the branches of a tree on Spies Lane is recorded elsewhere. The area had to be evacuated. Among those who had to leave home temporarily were his sister-in-law and her husband who came to stay for two or three nights.
Another vivid memory is of a major German air offensive, 'probably in 1941', which severely tested the nerve of the Quinton people. One dark evening, German planes approached from over the Clent Hills. The first of them were pathfinders dropping flares as they drew ever nearer. These were intended to provide an illuminated flight path for the heavy concentration of German bombers, which followed. The length of Ridgacre Road was lit up by the flares. Tension increased as the deep throbbing sound of the bomber engines grew louder and more menacing. There was no way of knowing if Quinton was about to be blitzed. Wave after wave of aircraft passed over. The people of Quinton held their breath, but to everyone's relief no bombs were dropped. Quinton was not the target.
Shortly afterwards there was the sound of distant bombing. The local wardens looking down Ridgacre Road and beyond to the horizon could see fires and explosions against the night sky. The real target was the rail network in central Birmingham, which suffered badly that night.
© QLHS 2005