Winnie Brown recalls living in Cradley whilst working in Birmingham during the Second World War, where the food came from, and what happened to two of her cousins on active service
In 1939 I was 18 years old, living with my mum and dad Elsie and Naaman Pearce, at 86 Butchers Lane and working at Cheneys in Hockley, Birmingham, in the warehouse. All the 20 year olds had to go into the forces or the land army, unless they were in an essential occupation. Five or six of us went into the factory to work, we worked in shifts of a fortnight days and a fortnight nights. The factory made locks and jewellery boxes, but during the war it was turned over to war production and we were producing hose clips by the thousand.
I travelled to Cheneys on the train form Cradley Heath station to Soho & Winson Green, but if the sirens were going off, the train had to stop in the tunnel at Blackheath. My best friend Winnie used to get on the train, the Windmill Dasher, at Old Hill, where we would meet. We had to carry our gas masks in a box wherever we went.
Once a fortnight we had to do fire watch duty, and were paid 5 shillings per shift. Being a young girl, if it was quiet, I'd slip off to the Regal Cinema at Handsworth, and if the sirens went off, I had to run down the hill back to the works.
The pay at the factory was excellent; we earned £25 per week. I was forbidden from telling my father how much I was paid, as it was more than he earned at Ernie Stevens' enamelling works in Wood Lane, just past Cradley Gas Works. My aunt, Jenny Raybould and other members of the family also worked at Stevens. My grandad Charles Pearce had been a stoker at the Gas Works, after being a coal miner in his younger days.
War broke out on Sunday morning. My mum's brother Hubert Raybould who lived with us was going to church, but mum told him not to go, because she thought something was going to happen. Later that day we heard Neville Chamberlain on the wireless announcing that war had been declared.
One night, bombs were dropped on Quarry Bank, called the Holy City because none of them detonated. The planes used the River Stour as a locator when the moon was shining as the reflection illuminated the whole area. I can remember another night when a lot of people from Butchers Lane were carrying buckets of water over the paddock and down the banks of the river to put the fires out.
I only ever had to go into an air raid shelter once, and my mum did not want to go, since her and dad were decorating. That was the night when the Cathedral in Coventry was destroyed.
There were anti-aircraft guns on Turners Hill, about three or four miles away in Rowley and when they were fired the ground shook in Cradley.
My dad's sister Elsie, her husband Cyril Whitmill, and their two children, were bombed out of Birmingham early in the war, and they moved to Butchers Lane. My dad lost his couch out of the shed to help furnish their house. This was where he went off to have a snooze, after working in his allotment on Homer Hill. At the front of the house there was a big lawn, but we had to Dig it up for Victory and plant potatoes to supplement our rations.
My mum's great aunt, Harriet Clee, a daughter of Sally Jones / Attwood / Cross, was a very good woman. She spent a lot of time going from house to house collecting food to make pancakes and cakes for the war wounded. She took them by bus to Stourbridge, I think, to a hospital, probably Wordsley (the old workhouse) or Corbetts.
My Uncle David Taylor had a fruit and veg business in Maple Tree Lane, and he helped us out wherever he could with fruit and vegetables.
One of his sons, my cousin John Taylor, was in the 'Red Devils' parachute regiment and was dropped into Europe several times. Once John was landed at Sheerness Docks on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which is where my then husband-to-be had lived before the War. Later, John saw us together on the first night we went out in January 1946 and he and Dannie talked about it. At one time John was batman to an officer who in civilian life was a Stourbridge solicitor, and one of his clients was John's father. When he was evacuating from Dunkirk John happened to spot someone he knew on the beach and he called out to him - this was the Cradley Curate Wallace Cox who lodged with the Shucks in Colley Lane, and he was tending the wounded. They both returned safely. Another time John was brought back and telephoned his mother, my mum's sister. Aunt Ellen, my mum and I went on the train to Hereford to find him. When we arrived we walked up the hill from the station and were in luck - we saw him walking towards us, his uniform covered in blood. That night we came back to Stourbridge on a cattle train.
My cousin Ben from Intended Street was in the Police force at Oldbury, but was called up and joined the Coldstream Guards in 1940. At Christmas, Ben's parents Aunty Florrie and Uncle Will were at our house, when the police knocked on the door to deliver the telegram informing us that Ben had died on active service in North Africa. He had died on December 11 1940, and was buried in Sidi Barrani, and later was moved to the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery in Egypt.
Due to the long hours and travelling, during the war years I lost touch with some of my friends in Cradley. Sometimes I stayed in Birmingham overnight. During those years in Butchers Lane, first my mum and then my dad died. At the end of the war I was 24 years old.