GUARD MEMORIES AND
INFORMATION - WARWICKSHIRE
25th WARKS (B'HAM) BATTN. and
M. B. WILD & CO. LTD. and THE
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WAS it like, on the night of 9th/10th April 1941? A bit
like this, perhaps?
I know what I have got to do. I'm running
across the street, diagonally, trying not to trip over
the pieces of timber and fallen masonry. It's dark, but
I can see well enough because of the fires. With every
step there's a crunch of glass and broken slate under
my boots. I'm gasping for breath. We've just run all the
way from our post up Nechells Park Road. Streets have
been hit all around and many are burning but someone has
decided that this is where we can be of most use.
I nearly collide with a fireman, running
blindly in the same general direction as he reels out
his hose, holding its two handles almost level with his
eyes. I can hear his appliance down the street starting
to rev up and one of the other flat hoses at my feet suddenly
swells and cracks into life. There is a whoosh as the
stream of water passes over my head and slaps against
the brickwork near to an upper window. That's one of the
windows which is belching black smoke and tongues of flame,
right out over the street and above our heads. Everything
inside is well alight. The drums of cutting oil, the rubber,
the paint, all the litter of a workshop, everything soaked
in oil and caked with grease. I pause for a second to
catch my breath and turn. The A.F.S. man holding the hose
leans far forward as he counteracts the force of the water
cracking and roaring out of the nozzle. He braces himself
with even more determination and most of the stream finds
its way through the open window. The smoke hesitates,
just for a moment, and then pours out anew.
There's shouting. Shouting everywhere.
Shouts of orders, excited shouts, shouts of panic even.
Someone's screaming. Terror or pain. I don't know. Three
or four Home Guards are ushering a stream of people up
some steps from a basement under the factory. There are
men and women, mostly in overalls, some of the women wearing
scarves, others bare-headed. Some hold their hands over
their heads for protection. All are covered in dust. Like
ghosts. They are running, stumbling, heads down, almost
crouching, some of them, no one looking right nor left,
all intent on reaching safety. One man is being half carried,
a bandage held to his face. "Keep moving everyone,
this way, keep moving!" Every man in uniform seems
to know what he's doing. We all do. We've had a bit of
practice. It's just tough on the civilians, especially
the young kids and the old people. And the animals. They
know all about it, well, the humans do, of course they
do, but they hadn't thought it was going to happen to
The noise is overwhelming now. The roar
of the pumps, the shouting, the thunder of anti-aircraft
guns not far away, the jangling bells of emergency vehicles
and from all across the city, near and distant, the regular
thump, thump of high explosive. And of course every dog
in Nechells is barking. What I can no longer hear over
all this and my own noisy breathing is the drone of Heinkel
and Dornier above. We heard them arrive, earlier, not
long after the sirens went, and they are still there,
one knows it, wave after wave of them passing over the
city, shovelling out incendiary and high explosive down
upon our heads. Are our lads up there in amongst them
I wonder? In their Defiants? And their new Beaufighters?
Sorting the bastards out?
I feel, before I hear, the clatter of
something hitting my helmet. Lucky I remembered to grab
it on the way out. Just a tiny piece of shrapnel from
an AA shell, or another piece of falling slate. Nothing.
But mixed in with the smell of burning and scorching which
is filling the street I am sure I can now smell gas. Perhaps
I am imagining it. I hope I am.
I've paused for too long. Only for a couple
of seconds, but it's too long. That's the trouble. One
mustn't pause, mustn't think, just close one's mind, get
on with it. I know what I've got to do. I look at the
front of the factory building. Water is now cascading
down it. And at the main entrance. It's been blown wide
open. One half of the double door has disappeared, the
other leans outward, supported by a single hinge. I can
see some of the interior through the opening. It's a tangle
of timbers and machinery. Some of the stuff has obviously
fallen from the floor above. As I watch, one machine settles
down another couple of feet with first a creak and then
a crash I can hear over everything else. And there, deep
inside, is the glow of a new fire. Probably another incendiary.
Brought down from the top storey by the h.e. bomb which
has smashed its way through every floor, right down to
this level. How can I possibly go in there, into all that?
"Try and see if anyone is trapped on the ground floor"
I've been instructed. All my instincts tell me not to
go in, to do anything, but not that. "Just do your
best, lad" he told me. And I will. Of course I will.
Like everyone else on this dreadful night. I know what
I've got to do.