Whose Turn is it to Mek the Tea?

Throughout the war years I worked at George Masons. My elder sister, Winnie, was transferred from 'working on the line' at Joseph Lucas, King St., Hockley, and transferred to the Cadbury's site, Bournville, to work on the Spitfire wings. It was a long walk home, after a hard days work, in the darkness - she and her friends would often do a 'halfway pit stop' at the Kings Head Pub, Hagley Road.

My father would come home to his ready prepared dinner. He would soon be back out on the streets of Handsworth, armed with a bucket of sand and a stirrup pump, to extinguish the fires started by the incendiary bombs. He worked as a warden for the ARP.

Rookery Road Bomb Damage

I would be walking home from my shift at George Mason's, to the sound of the sirens. I longed to sit infront of a cosy warm fire, and leisurely enjoy my evening meal, strange what we just took for granted before the war.As I walked through the door - blankets, flask, and sandwiches would be thrust in my hand, I would jump into my warmest attire and off we would troop to the shelter.

Evenings were long and cold sitting in the air raid shelters, often eating your dinner, it was communal though, often there were 6/7 of you swapping items of food. If you were lucky...........and there seemed to be an extended silence outside, someone would say 'whose turn to mek the tea?' As the surface shelter was in our garden, one of us would dash across the yard and into the kitchen to make a fresh cuppa and a flask to last till the early hours, when we hoped that we would hear the 'all clear' which would allow us to get a few hours kip in our beds. This 'tea run', was of course dangerous practise, but nevertheless, executed with swiftness by the person most desperate for a cuppa. One night we didn't even have to open the back door to get to the kitchen, the Germans had kindly opened it for us - well blew it off, to be precise. The danger was highlighted to us one day, when, an unexploded land mine in Sandwell Road, was awaiting the arrival of the Army to defuse it. It spontaneously exploded, before the Army could get there. My mom was lifted from her feet and blown from the living room to the kitchen. Bearing in mind, we were three streets away from the offending mine, the force was terrific. My mom got up, dusted herself down, she was physically intact - just a little shaken. I recall her saying 'well at least the house is ok', with that, we looked in the 'front room' to find the door blown off and the curtains flying like flags through all the blown out windows.

I remember the night that Coventry was bombarded - it was a long night. Bill Smith, a neighbour who was in the navy was in the shelter with us that night. He taught us how to recognise the sounds of the engines of the aircraft. he explained that German planes have a throbbing engine - bump bump bump, compared to British planes which sounded smoother, a very non-biased opinion I'm sure! This night the planes flying overhead seemed like in their hundreds, and they were clearly on a mission. At one point we slipped out of the safety of the shelter to have a look - I had never seen so many planes in my life, you could hardly see the sky.The following morning, we were to hear the very sad news of the huge loss of life in Coventry and that the City had been virtually flattened.

I can still remember that one of the most frightening feelings that I have ever experienced in my life was the very first time that I heard the air aid siren. Little did I know, that I would become desensitised to it and it was just going to become part of my everyday life. One night, I was so tired, I said - 'leave me, I'm gonna stop in bed tonight', needless to say, my parents weren't having any of that, and I was marched to the shelter.

Douglas Road Bomb Crater

Shattered and half asleep one morning, I was walking to work and thought I was dreaming, when I saw an unexploded land mine hanging from its parachute caught on a large tree in Queenshead Road. It was extremely dangerous, but was pulling a fair sized crowd, and true to form, the inevitable jokes were being spouted about. Reflecting back it seems odd laughing about such a thing, but at the time it was quite a funny sight - seeing a land mine 'growing' on a tree. In all that night, four land mines had been dropped around our road and one bomb.Hamilton Road fortunately had escaped a direct hit. Oxhill Road and Sandwell Road also each had an unexploded land mine. As I walked past Albert road, there was a huge crater, where a row of houses had been - a land mine casualty. Douglas Road received severe bomb damage too from a direct hit. Somehow the humour which seemed so acceptable in Queenshead Road, was extinguished by the sight of devastation, and the inevitable overwhelming thoughts of the families who had lost their lives, homes and treasured processions.

Often in Hamilton Road, there would be Italian POW's, repairing the road, under armed guard supervision. The POW camp, was not too far away - Hill Top, West Bromwich. My mom, was often criticised, by friends and neighbours, for making the lads a cup of tea or providing a glass of pop. She always stood firm - her son had been taken POW in Singapore - ' I would like to think that a mother in Singapore would be doing the same for my Arthur' she would say. Of course, she wasn't to know that they weren't.


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