VE DAY: Sound of the Bombs Haunted Midlanders; Birmingham and the Midlands Played a Crucial Role during the Second World War, Making the Region a Prime Target. VE Day Brought Relief but Memories of 1939-1945 Are Still Vivid
Hundreds of thousands of Midlands people served in the armed forces, with a significant proportion losing their lives in Europe, Asia and Africa in a war for democracy and against intolerance and prejudice.
A news black-out on Birmingham and the surrounding area during the war meant that the scale of the contribution on the home front was not widely known - 2,241 residents were killed in bombings on the city with many more seriously injured. Only Liverpool and London had more people killed by The Blitz and only the capital was more heavily bombed. On one single night in November 1940, 450 tons of bombs rained down on Birmingham.
The city was targeted because of its productive workforce, the Austin works, Longbridge and Cadburys were among those factories turned over to war work and by 1944 400,000 residents were involved. The BSA in Small Heath turned out half of all the precision weapons in the UK and at Castle Bromwich 11,000 Spitfires and 3,000 Lancasters were made - more aircraft than any other factory in the UK.
Places like Stoke-on-Trent also became objectives for the Germans, while bombing raids were frequently witnessed in places such as Kidderminster and Wolverhampton. The region not only had a strong manufacturing profile in the main urban areas and the Black Country, but sites around Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire all provided the perfect bases for the armed forces.
There are many still living in the region with vivid memories of both the war and the day that victory was declared
CATHERINE DEGREGORIO, BIRMINGHAM
'I was a munitions worker at Castle Bromwich, although originally I came over from Ireland to join my older sister. One of the biggest problem for some of the girls was being homesick. They'd been conscripted from all over Britain and some of them were crying. They just wanted to go home
LEONARD BEEMAN, BIRMINGHAM
'A lot is said about the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought, but the factory workers are the ones that kept them supplied. I worked for the Aeroplane & Motor Castings (AMAC) foundry in Birmingham. The foundry made aluminium parts for cars, tanks and planes. I started working in the factory at the age of 14, on leaving school, and, barring a spell when I was called up, continued to work there until I retired at 64. Men would walk to the foundry from Wales and travel down from Scotland or Ireland to get a job there. Their families would follow them and also get work in the factories.
'My father was in the Home Guard and I was roped in, too, as a boy to make the tea. Since I was in a reserved occupation, as a factory worker, I wasn't called up until after D-Day
DEREK LUKE, BIRMINGHAM
'The worst evening I can remember was after the sirens sounded not going into the air raid shelter, but hiding under the stairs during the bombing of Hubert Road in Selly Oak. That night a land mine was dropped at the bottom of the road, which destroyed many houses, and under the stairs we were showered with glass and pottery. It was the most frightening night of the war for me.'
FRANK TIPTON, LUDLOW
'There were over 2,000 US soldiers at Ludlow racecourse and they used to take the local children up in the training craft. Kids used to come from all over. The US soldiers appeared overnight. The officers asked around the village for women to wash their shirts and my mother took some in. But they disappeared overnight, leaving their shirts behind, off to the D Day landings. Some time later an officer came to collect their shirts and told her that all those troops were killed off the Normandy coast
MARY MILLER, BIRMINGHAM
'I lived in the centre of Birmingham in amidst the factories. The day I remember, we were all sitting around the radio and we were listening to the Prime Minister. He said war was declared.
'My father was a builder and we had a larger house, he said: 'Come on and fill some sandbags to put round the cellar heads outside' and he built them quite high. …