Wartime on the other side of the Road

by Marjorie Berry ( nee Phillips)

The road in question is Hagley Road West, where I was born in a house opposite the old Rectory and Church. I lived there throughout the war with my parents and younger sister. At a meeting in Quinton Library, during Quinfest in Millennium year, I was asked how living in Oldbury but being part of Quinton affected us. At the time I mentioned little as in my childhood it meant little to me. However, when I visited Quinton Methodist during that week and saw the photos of Home Guard groups but could not find my father on them, or any others I had known, I realised how much difference it had made, not to live in Birmingham.

I was 9 years and 1 month old when the war started and remember hearing the announcement on the wireless. From then on, at least for the first year of the war my main memories are of Dad joining the Home Guard “on our side of the road”. He had an L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteer) armband at first and then a Home Guard uniform. I seem to have spent a lot of time with him and his colleagues – all very local men, of course, and remember their Guardroom being a building, which is still there, further up the road from home. It had previously been a Co-op shop. It seems to have been unused for ages but is now to let as retail premises. It is one storey and next to the barbers. The Home Guard equipment was very sparse at first but the men seemed cheerful. They also did Guard duties overnight in the ‘Danilo’ cinema. I remember Dad letting me into the cinema, through an exit, to the upstairs seats to see Greta Garbo in “Ninotchka”. I didn’t enjoy it, as I was sure I would be seen and get into trouble.

The headquarters of the platoon was a house called “High Tor” at the top of Perry Hill Road where Colonel Fillery held sway. He was a sweet manufacturer (Fillerys Toffees) as was Bill Tyler (Ernests Mintoes). Other Home Guards I particularly remember were Ernie Atack and Bill Salisbury who both lived on Hagley Road West (our side of course). Reg Salisbury, one of Bill’s sons, spent some of the war on the Ark Royal.

My sister, Enid, and I were not evacuated. I remember visiting my cousin in Hall Green and being in their air-raid shelter during a raid. They lived very near Lucas’s factory where munitions were made. At home we had sandbags against the French window and slept under the dining table during raids. I remember the landmine, which landed near Quinton Hall and another on Snow’s Garage, opposite St Hubert’s Church, on the Wolverhampton Road.

As a family, we were invited to cricket matches on Wiggins Recreation Ground, roughly where part of the Expressway runs beyond Stoney Lane. A barrage balloon tethered nearby became a familiar sight. Dad went to a Home Guard camp one weekend – held in the Illey area. While he was away there was a knock on our door late on Saturday night. It was a Canadian soldier who had missed the last bus into Birmingham. Amazingly, mother let him stay the night. After he’d gone the next morning I cycled to the Home Guard camp to tell Dad our exciting news. There was a young lad on guard who challenged me in the usual way – “Halt! Who goes there?” I thought this rather silly at the time, as the answer seemed obvious. I was admitted and told my story. Mother worked at home taking orders and payments for Baggeridge Coal and a large sign (illuminated except in wartime) at our front gate proclaimed “Buy Baggeridge Coal”. This may have attracted the Canadian to our house. Occasional customers called mother Mrs Baggeridge and some even Mrs Buggeridge.

Villagers helped each other. Jas and Heber Rose, father and son, who had allotments round the Highfield Lane area, sold Dad vegetables and Bill Tyler let us have sweets. Dad dug up part of our back lawn to grow vegetables-I’m not sure how successful that was.

One disadvantage of being on “the other side of the road” was that ration books, clothing coupons etc. had to be collected from Oldbury Town Centre from the building which is now the Citizens Advice Bureau-quite a trek from Quinton.

During the first year of the war I was still at Quinton Church School. Then in September 1940 I started secondary school-Oldbury County High in Moat Road (now Langley High School-I think). I was the only child to go there from Quinton then-friends went to George Dixons School and Halesowen Grammar School. To get there I had to catch a No.9 bus to The Warley Odeon where a double-decker school bus picked us up. I don’t think I ever missed the bus but I certainly had to walk back or occasionally cycle, when the whole form was kept in, or there was an evening meeting, such as Girl Guides. This journey back was over the fields of Brandhall-not a housing estate then. I remember entertainments being put on for us in the air-raid shelters at school during air raids. Prefects were present to read stories to us or help us to play word games. The main disadvantages of school during the war was that normal teachers were away in the forces and some of the ones we had were recalled from retirement and were not the best or the nicest. It was a Co-ed school and one master used to get the boys to enter the room after the girls (as usual) but then one-by-one the boys had to put their heads in the waste paper basket and have their bottoms caned. I found this frightening. We were encouraged to knit for the forces and would get badges as awards. I knitted 5 sleeveless pullovers for the R.A.F. and was disappointed when the R.A.F. badges had run out and I had to have a Navy one.

There was a R.E.M.E. Camp near Ridgacre Lane where the soldiers lived in Nissen huts. They worked in the garage near the Holly Bush. Eventually they had some Italian prisoners with them and they were allowed to wander around Quinton as the end of the war came in sight. We girls were interested in them as they seemed so different and lads of the age group we would normally have talked to, were away in the forces. We followed them around and learnt Italian songs. They were a lot older than us and some undoubtedly married men with families back home. But since other people ignored them, they were glad to talk to us and treated us well. I have a photo of myself and two friends with five of them in the field behind the R.E.M.E Camp on VE Day, 1945. I was 14. Dad did not like the Italians and I think, regarded them as cowards. But strangely he would talk to German prisoners we met on holiday and gave them cigarettes. Dad had been a soldier in the First World War and was 46 when the Second World War started.

Of course we had to take our gas masks everywhere. Mum and Dad took us on farm holidays, sometimes by bicycle and train-to places such as Bredenbery, Cleobury Mortimer and Pathlow (nr Stratford) – with our gas masks over our shoulders. We never had a car. Dad worked in Brierley Hill as a cashier at Round Oak Steel Works and travelled by bus, except when the snow stopped the buses. I’ve known him walk both ways in the snow-with brown paper tied round the bottom of his trousers.

Entertainment apart from the cinema seemed to be mainly Horse Shows and Gymkhanas-sometimes in Lightwoods Park or the fields near Hagge Farm. The head boy at school was a hero of mine and at a hobbies competition at school he won a prize for his collection of rosettes won at horse shows. A circus used to come to Hagge Farm-Little Sylvia’s. She may have owned it but she certainly did most of the work- helping to put up the tent, perform on the trapeze and ride bareback on the horses. She was little but must have been very strong.

A special treat was The Norton Follies-an Army entertainment show, which came from Norton Barracks near Worcester and, once more, performed in a large tent at Hagge Farm. All the entertainers were men and presumably soldiers. One of them was Frederick Ferrari who later appeared with Charlie Chester. I particularly liked their rendition of The Quartet from Rigoletto-all male and very amusing. More heartthrobs! Entertainment at home, apart from piano playing and reading, came from the radio with programmes such as I.T.M.A., Henry Hall’s Guest Night and Saturday Night Theatre. I was usually asleep curled up in a chair before the end. There were also classical music concerts at Birmingham Town Hall.

There was an Auxiliary Fire Station on our side of the road nearer the Hollybush, where the Texaco garage is now, and I remember being rolled up in deep snow, with my friends, by some firemen. I felt most uncomfortable going home with wet snow everywhere.

Joe and Hilda Lowe ran a dairy at the old farmhouse that was on the corner of Hagley Road West and the Kingsway. A riding school was started from the old barn attached to the farmhouse, the entrance being at the back, off Kingsway, where there is a small car park now. There were about five horses there and I longed to be allowed to learn to ride as I saw them going out across the Brandhall fields, or up Walters Road and down Stoney Lane to the lanes in the Four Dwellings area. My chance came when I left school in July 1945 and started to earn some money. Quinton was still very much a rural area at this time with fields and lanes to ride over. There were owls in the churchyard trees which we heard hooting and we saw a weasel in our side entry, presumably attracted by the aroma of my pet white mice.

For a time I had a soldier pen friend called Gilbert Geddes. I’ve no memory of how pen friendships happened but they were very popular.

There was an A.R.P. post in the house at the gates of the church and school. At that time it was 2 semi-detached houses. I remember one of them being a watch-mender’s shop and the Post Office being there at one time. We were issued with a stirrup pump, which was to be used to put out any fires caused by incendiary bombs. Where we got it from I can’t say, as the A.R.P. post was on the other side of the road to us.

The war ended with a big bang on August 6th 1945, my 15th birthday, when the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. I started work at Birmingham Central Library at around that time and recall assistants returning from Japanese and other P.O.W. camps.

I received Marjorie’s story some time ago but was waiting for the right time to include it in the Oracle. I think that time is here. - Ed.

© QLHS 2004

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