A War Time Childhood in Quinton

By Gillian Collins (nee Yates)

I recently read an article entitled ‘Memories of an Evacuee’. I realised the author had been my next-door neighbour, in Glyn Farm Road, Stella Linnington (nee Bradbury). The article sparked lots of memories. She spoke of her cousin Barbara Martin. I sat at the bottom of her stairs aged 5 and was taught how to knit!

Born in 1936, I was 3 years old when war began, so my memories are random and not dated. Our air raid shelter was built at the bottom of the garden, but heavy clay soil meant it soon filled with water. We slept in it once or twice; sometimes we slept under the dining room table. My father, Jack Yates, came home from a night watch at Belliss and Morcom where he worked as a diesel engine designer, designing engines for submarines. He held me up to an upstairs window and said, “That glow in the sky is Coventry burning”.

In 1940, when aged four, my tonsils needed to be removed. I was taken to the ear, nose and throat hospital in central Birmingham. Whilst there I was lifted out of my cot, by a man with a heavily bandaged head, carried to an underground shelter and placed in a bunk bed. An air raid must have been in progress.

I was evacuated to Southport for a short while to stay with 2 great aunts. Recently I found a letter from an uncle from Tyneside to my mother saying, “Gillian would be just as safe in Quinton, the German planes would not be able to reach Birmingham let alone Quinton”!

Evacuees
Evacuees to South Wales-Old Moor Street Station

I went to Four Dwellings School and with double summer time (clocks put back 2 hours) we walked to school in misty cool conditions in the morning, our body clocks telling us it was 7am but the school clock said 9am! We returned home in the full heat of the afternoon, went to bed in broad daylight. I often woke later with it still light thinking it was the next day and getting ready for school. One night an aeroplane flew low over the house and crashed in the field at the top of Glyn Farm Road. We saw the aftermath on our way to school and as children our comments were “we wished it had landed in the school”! School air raid shelters were occasionally used, but we didn’t like them.

My brother John and I watched 2 planes fighting overhead and stood cheering on the British plane. The barrage balloon field in Ridgacre Road was a good playground, with my brother and his friends trying to climb the wire that anchored the balloon.

Yates Children
Gillian & John Yates in Glyn Farm Road 1941

Being the eldest of 3 children in the family, I spent a lot of time standing in the queue at the Co-op butchers in West Boulevard trying not to faint from standing so long, also trying not to forget the dividend number. I can still recite it! Most of our free time was spent playing games in the street, riding our bikes up and down with no fear of traffic. We knew when the only van would go out in the morning and return at night. The only time the road was empty of children was 6.45pm when Dick Barton Special Agent came on the radio. We spent many hours swimming in Harborne baths, as a special treat we were allowed to go on the bus and tram to Northfield baths.

Both my parents were from the north of England, Father from Lancashire and Mother from Tyneside. At holiday time we travelled by train to stay with relatives. The trains were always crowded with servicemen many being Americans, so of course we always said, “have you got any gum chum?”

VE Day Celebrations
VE Day celebrations Worlds End

I wore boy’s shoes because they were fewer coupons. Dad put studs in the soles to make them last longer but they were very good for sliding in the playground, sending out a trail of sparks.

We made ’Mintoes’ with dried milk, condensed milk and peppermint flavouring, they tasted great. We tried making them again after the war but they didn’t taste as good. My mother was answering the door one day, having finished mixing a cake, leaving it ready to put in the oven. Upon her return she found the bowl empty; my brother had eaten the lot. She had saved all she could of the rations to make the cake. I think my brother’s backside felt a bit sore after that.

VE Day, World's End Lae
Worlds End Lane V E Day

The V.E. Day party was a great celebration for us, but I remember the announcement of V.J. Day better. We were in Dundee staying with an aunt when the radio announced “Victory over Japan” all the adults cheered.

I lived at 20 Glyn Farm Road from 1936-1962 with my parents Jack and Alice Yates.

Ed’s comment – My thanks to Gillian and my apologies for not including the article earlier. Any more memories out there for the next edition?

Click here to go back to the Oracle page.