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I was trapped in this living tomb with my boots on fire; BSA WORKER'S AMAZING ESCAPE FROM THE GERMAN BOMBERS.

IT IS the night of November 19, 1940. The night-shift has started at the BSA munition works. More than 1,000 men and women are making Browning Colt machine guns for Spitfires - a vital part of the war effort.

Work swings along merrily, and machines sing out their ceaseless tune, joined from time to time by strains of the latest dance tune from some budding crooner. All are intent on producing guns for the defence of our country.

Some of my colleagues look happy, cracking jokes with their neighbours. Others look sad - perhaps after receiving bad news of some loved one. The night is young. It is only 7.15pm.

But listen, there goes the siren, the signal that Jerry planes are within striking distance. Colleagues look at each other. Some chaff, some sneer, others look troubled.

Hundreds head for the shelters. Others, like me, carry on working. It's the same siren we have heard on scores of nights. Perhaps they will be driven off before they reach us.

There's work to do and money to be earned, so we carry on, although we see a steady stream of workers heading towards shelters, with coats and gas masks in their hands.

After they have gone, we settle to work, but not for long - the danger signal sounds at 7.30pm. Enemy planes are overhead dropping incendiary bombs and flares around the factory. It's time for us all to make a dash for it.

I collect my coat and mask. All the lights are off so we must escape in total darkness. My mate Charlie and I safely get down the stairs. Charlie is 65 and can't see in the dark, so relies on me for guidance.

We reach the foot of the stairs, but too late to get to the outside shelter so we go down into the basement - a place we have often sheltered in.

We hear thuds from outside, but is it bombs or guns? Women down here with us hope their children will be all right. Men hope their wives and families will be safe and sound.

Some laugh, some talk, some are quiet, having a hunch that anything can happen on such a night as this. Some eat, some sing as an accordion starts to play.

I sit and talk to old Charlie and the man next to me on our seat. Someone calls out to ask the time, and is told it's five minutes to eight. Some settle down to sleep, others sit and think.

Then comes a dull thud. Bright lights stab the darkness for a second, then a rumbling noise. It's as though the whole building is being crushed in a pair of huge pincers. A bomb has hit the outside wall and the whole building has collapsed like a pack of cards.

Hundreds of tons of machinery and brickwork have descended on us. I'm knocked out by a blow to the head.

How long I'm unconscious I do not know. I come round to find that my two companions have been killed, crushed to death beside me.

I take stock of myself, and am surprised to find nothing is broken, but one foot is held fast by something.

After an hour of struggling, I get my foot free. I'm hemmed in on all sides by a solid wall and roof of machinery,, concrete and brickwork that has come from above. I wriggle into a small space on the floor - about as large as a fireplace. How this small space came to be left clear near me must have been the hand of Providence.

Men and women are shouting out in agony for help. I started to shout, too. I'm in a living tomb. Little do we realise the depth of the ruins above us - no-one on the outside can hear our cries.

A fire has started near my feet and is starting to burn fiercely. There's no escape now. I wonder how long it will be before everything around me is alight.

Soon my two companions are starting to burn. The sight sickens me. How long will I last?

Then I feel a trickle of water coming from above, and realise they are trying to put out the fires above us. I think of my wife and wonder what she will do when they tell her I am gone.

My boot now catches fire but I manage to put it out. My clothes catch light but, again, I get the flames out.

Then I notice the smoke from the fire is starting to blow away from me and the air gets a bit clearer. Water is now beginning to collect on the floor on which I am half-sitting, half-lying.

I become conscious of a voice talking to me. Although I can see no-one, I feel the presence of my Dad around me. Yet he passed from this earth some months earlier. I begin to believe I may be saved.

I start shouting again and after a while I fancy I can hear an answer to my cries. I shout louder and faintly hear an answer, but it sounds miles away. I shout out my position.

Suddenly my prayers are answered. I hear rumbling above and realise they are moving wreckage to get to me. After a while they get a large hole over me and drop me a rope. I hold on to it and am pulled up and up.

I'm dragged through the hole to freedom. They pat my back and congratulate me on my escape. They have won a victory over death.

But when I reach my home, the house has been bombed. I call for my wife but get no reply.

Thank God, she has been taken next door and, hearing my cries, runs to me. We cling tightly to each other

. To anyone who reads this little story, I would say "Never give up hope, you die with despair".

What of my fellow workers? Of the 83 who were sheltering in that basement, 81 passed out of this world. Poor souls. What saved me? Perhaps my prayers, perhaps that spirit around me.

Here I am, although carrying on with a crippled spine and one eye. I often think of the night that has given me the nickname of "The Luckiest Man In Birmingham".

UNKNOWN BSA WORKER Testimony found in company archives by ERIC RUSSELL,

Cleobury Mortimer. A longer version of the unknown worker's story appears in Eric Russell's book Doddington - A Millennium Souvenir.

Do you know the un-named BSA workers who survived the bombing? Write to BSA Memories, Sunday Mercury, PO Box 78, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY.

E-MAIL: SundayMercury@mrn.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

DEVASTATION: the King is led through the streets of Birmingham to see the bombing damage and, right, the shattered remains of the BSA factory which was destroyed in 1940' Our Back In Time features on the old BSA works in Brimingham sparked many memories. Her is a selection of your letters.' REBUILT: workers at BSA in July 1971' INSPECTION: engine assembly and test area
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 5, 2006
Words:1181
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