Quintonians at War

The construction and success of the website depends, to a certain extent, on the public and the families connected with Quintonians who served in this country's conflicts. However, a significant source of information is derived from one of Quinton's local historians, Anthony N Rosser. Tony has given permission for the chapter "Quintonians at War" from his book 'The Quinton and Round About-Volume II' to be reproduced on the website. Not only does it give a list of all those from Quinton who served in the Second World War but it also tells the recollections, in expurgated form, of some of the men and women who served in the major conflicts. The history society extends its heartfelt thanks to Tony.

The story begins:-

The earliest known reference to a Quintonian going to war is to be found in the Assize Court Rolls for 1221 It concerns a man from Rugacre who was away fighting in the Crusades, The court ruled that there could be no legal proceedings against this man or his property until he returned. Thereafter little information is available about Quintonians at war until modern times.

It appears there were skirmishes in the area during the Civil War with traditions persisting that both Charles 11 and Cromwell came to the district; also that there was a burial mound for casualties from this war close to Howley Grange School.

These traditions are writ large in the local consciousness and are reflected in a number of road names-some old and some new. Those that come to mind are Spies Lane, Stuart Road, Goodrest Avenue, Royal Oak Road and King Charles Road. From a headstone in Christ Church graveyard it can be inferred that a local man by the name of Edward Mason fought in the Boer War. He was at Ladysmith and died on 28 February 1900 aged 21 though not of war wounds but of enteric fever. We can be more certain about Harry Price who was born on 9 November 1881 in Warley at a cottage near The Pheasant. In civilian life he was a basketmaker but served with the Coldstream Guards in the Boer War (1901-02) He was also a private in the Great War (1914-18), with the Worcestershire Regiment. He survived both these wars and died aged 58 in 1939. A near neighbour of his, Prop Clay, also fought in the South African campaign but was one of the first Midlanders to die in the Great War.

By the early part of 1915 more than 150 men from Quinton parish had volunteered for Kitchener's army. In the church magazine of September 1916 it was the reported that Horace Hadley had become 'the first Quinton young man to lay down his life for King and country'. Other such reports were to follow. Several local clergymen contributed significantly to the war effort. Among them was the Rector; the Rev'd W. A. Rowlands. Part of a tribute to this remarkably active man by W. E. Jephcott in The Smethwick Telephone (30 May 1957) reads:

During the war period he added to his clerical duties various phases of war work, such as becoming one of a team of four local clergy who worked on a lathe turning shells at a munitions factory, and acting as special constable, postman, and even grave-digger in what was then largely a rural parish.

Tom Bunting writes:

The Rector, a true patriot of the time, felt that the successful prosecution of the war had to come before everything else and he was anxious to play some positive role. It is not surprising therefore to read that both he and one of his curates volunteered for employment in munitions, devoting three days or nights each week to making shells and handing over all their earnings to boost the Assistant Clergy Fund. The same curate, Rev'd J. Sweetman, in charge of St Lawrence's, was later accepted for three months' voluntary service in one of the recreational huts set up by the YMCA some distance behind the lines in France.

Rowlands was Rector from 1912 to 1923. His predecessor, the Rev'd C. R. Martyn (1910-12) is also mentioned:

Early in the war he volunteered for service and spent almost four years in France as a chaplain to the Forces. This service was of considerable distinction and he was twice 'mentioned in despatches, a man devoted to his work, widely known and universally beloved'. His death from pneumonia in March, 1919 after nurses 'literally slaved to save him', deeply affected everyone at the huge English base. A report speaks of his funeral as a demonstration of universal love and admiration, attended by some of the highest in the land that came to honour him.

At home, life was not greatly affected, except of course that people were anxious about their men folk at the front. Church life continued as before. Lantern services were 'conducted with the utmost reverence' at the parish church while the Men's Club was treated to a talk on 'The Structure of an Egg'. This is not to imply however that people at home were in any sense flippant in their attitude to the war. Wartime charities were well supported and working parties were set up to make garments. Hundreds of these were sent off to the troops and even more to destitute people in Birmingham. At Christmas 1916, 350 servicemen from the parish received gifts and cards. Help for war refugees was also forthcoming. Tom Bunting writes, 'Quinton and Beech Lanes were supporting about eighteen Belgian refugees (in local homes) and the subscribed amount each week was a substantial commitment of 5 towards their maintenance.'

Many Quintonians served their country valiantly in the Second World War more valiantly than they will admit in some cases and whereas two plaques in the parish church commemorate the sacrifice made by servicemen who fell in the Great War, no such memorial exists to honour those who answered the call to arms between 1939 and 1945. According to one source, the problem was the perennial difficulty of deciding what exactly constituted Quinton, or indeed a Quintonian, since precious few residents were actually born in the parish. There was no real consensus therefore as to who qualified to be listed on a memorial and so it never materialised.

In the summer of 1944, the Harborne and Quinton Savings Committee published a programme with details of 'Salute the Soldier Week', a project organised to raise 50,000 towards the construction of a base hospital. This publication included a Roll of Honour, which named all the men and women from both wards in the three main services at that time. The number from Quinton alone (with addresses in the present B32 postal district) came to 1200. All of them are listed under the heading "Roll of Honour" on the website.


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