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Never forget city's role in victory bid.

Byline: Carl Chinn

Send us your memories... email newsdesk@birminghammail.

THE second largest city in the United Kingdom with around a million citizens in the first half of the 20th century, Birmingham was renowned as the city of a thousand trades.

Because of its size and manufacturing importance, both its people and factories played a vital role in the British war effort and by 1944, 400,000 Brummies were involved in war work of some kind. This was a greater percentage of the population than anywhere else in the UK.

Indeed, the fact the Luftwaffe was unable to knock out the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain owed much to Birmingham's workers.

The Spitfires and Hurricanes which won that vital battle were fitted with Browning machine guns from the BSA, with radiators and air coolers from the Serck; and with aero-carburettors from SU Carburettors - and if that factory had been destroyed, the air force would have suffered a mortal blow.

Spitfires themselves soon came to be associated with the aircraft factory at Castle Bromwich.

By the end of the war it was producing 320 Spitfires and 20 Lancasters a month. This was more aircraft than any other factory in the UK and the achievements of the workers are celebrated with the sculpture at Spitfire Island.

Elsewhere in the city, men and women at the Longbridge shadow factory turned out 2,866 Fairey Battles, Hurricanes, Stirlings and Lancasters; while at the nearby Austin works almost 500 army and other vehicles were made each week - as well as a multitude of other goods.

The array of war work in Birmingham was staggering. Bristol Hercules engines were made at Rover; Lancaster wings, shell cases and bombs were manufactured at Fisher and Ludlow's; Spitfire wing spans and light alloy tubing were produced at Reynold's and plastic components came from the GEC.

Workers at many other factories, such as the Dunlop, Kynoch's, the Norton, James Cycle, Lucas, Metropolitan-Cammell, Morris Commercial and the Wolseley, all strove hard for victory - and when the BSA in Small Heath was hit badly in November 1940, Churchill himself was alarmed at the consequent national fall in the production of rifles.

As the fear of defeat gave way to the hope of victory, British Timken produced the bearings for the pipeline under the English Channel that supplied the Allies with oil after D-Day in 1944. Smaller firms were also crucial. Turner Brothers made a wide range of jigs and tools critical for aircraft production; Eddystone Radio and the Monitor Radio Company were signifi-cant in their field; jewellers turned their hands to making intricate parts and Hudson's supplied whistles to the Royal Navy and others. The signifi-cance of the city in the fight against Germany ensured it became a major target for the Luftwaffe.

Birmingham was the second most heavily-bombed place in the country along with the whole of Merseyside.

The Blitz killed 2,241 Brummies, seriously injured 3,010, and slightly wounded 3,682.

Yet the essential contribution made to the munitions industries by Brummies and their suf-f ferings in many air raids have gained little recognition outside the city.

According to Angus Calder in the influential book The People's War (1971), Birmingham 'was let off lightly for its size and importance' during the Blitz. It was not but unhappily the Blitz on Birmingham has become invisible to most national historians, while others are under misapprehensions.

In his thoughtful book Living Through the Blitz (1990), Tom Harrison described attacks on the city but pronounced that they began after the Blitz on Coventry on 14 November 1940. They did not.

Birmingham endured air raids from the evening of 9 August, three months before the attack on Covent r y.

Even historians of Birmingham itself have downplayed the dire effects of the Blitz on the city.

In the third volume of the official History of Birmingham covering the years 1939 to 1971, Anthony Sutcliffe and Roger Smith asserted that, although Birmingham was bombed more heavily than most British towns and cities, the majority of air raids were very light and its ordeal 'was relatively insignifi-cant when compared to that endured by most large German cities, not all of which were large industrial centres, later in the war'.

No-one should disregard the terrible effects of bombing wherever it occurred.

Anyone with compassion must sympathise with the anguish of innocent victims whoever they were and whatever their nationality.

Many Germans underwent horrifying experiences in raids, while in England in the three months from September to November 1940 there were 36,000 explosives dropped on London alone, killing 12,696 people.

But for 70 years the Blitz on Birmingham has been either ignored or its effects minimised. It is time to set the record straight. The Luftwaffe's air raids began on 9 August 1940 and ended on 23 April 1943, although the most destructive air raids occurred between the end of August 1940 and May 1941. Prolonged and powerful attacks destroyed 12,391 houses, 302 factories, 34 churches, halls and cinemas, and 205 other buildings. The censors sought to stifle knowledge of bombing raids - successfully in Birmingham's case.

Seventy years on from the start of the Blitz, Brummies ask only that their city is acknowledged as having played its part in the battle for freedom in the Second World War.

Their efforts have often been overlooked and the sacrifice of those who died has been forgotten by all bar the people of Birmingham, who remain proud of the city's role in overcoming tyranny.

Share your memories of the Blitz by emailing or write to Andy Richards, Bpm Media, Floor 6, Fort Dunlop, Birmingham B24 9FF.


Royal visit: King George VI inspecting cases for anti-aircraft shells in Birmingham on 4 October 1939. Does anyone know where this happened? War effort: Women munitions workers at Canning's in Hockley, above. Right: Making Beaufighter wings at Longbridge. Alex Henshaw was a famed peace-time pilot who became the chief tester of fighter planes made at Caster Bromwich. Right: On 18 September 1940, he is performing a 'Victory Roll' in a Spitfire above Baskerville House on Broad Street. On the ground is a Messerscmitt brought down in Sussex. The event was in aid of the Lord Mayor's Spitfire Fund. Rallying cry: Women take to the streets of Birmingham to urge others to join them. The back of the lorry reads Canning, Gt Hampton Street.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 16, 2010
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