Balsall Heath at War
by the Four Dwellings Academy project group
We heard some stories from Carl Chinn about Balsall Heath in the Second World War - and we turned them into a play!
Here are some of Carl's stories, with photos from the production. Carl even got to play his own dad in one scene!
I was born eleven years after V.E. Day. Like all of my generation I may not have lived through the Second World War but we lived with it. Every Sunday dinner-time we knew we had to sit up and take notice when Our Dad said, "In the war" Usually he went on, "See that bit of meat on your plates, you've got that for one dinner. That was our meat ration for a week. You don't know how lucky you are." And if ever we said we were full-up and couldn't eat anything else then we were set for a proper lecture. "D'you know", the Old Man'd go, "in the war the poor Poles'd've given anything to have what you're leaving on the plate. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, wasting good food. The Poles had nothing, they starved. So eat up."
Beatrice Withers was a shopkeeper from Balsall Heath. One night in November 1940 she was on duty in St Paul's Road, paying particular attention to a woman with a baby who was on the verge of blood poisoning. Two bombs dropped on a nearby house and Beatrice was hit in the temple by four pieces of shrapnel, whilst pieces of glass and a window frame “came flying over me”. Recovering, she blew her whistle, called for help and went to rescue the mother and baby. This she did. Then she moved to the house which had taken the full force of the explosives, recalling that “I shall never forget the sight”. The building was wrecked and it seemed that no-one could have survived the frightful blast. This is what she said happened next:
“Suddenly we heard a child's faint whimper. Rescue men who came on the scene started tunnelling from the next door cellar and soon saw a woman's hands sticking out towards them. I said, 'That must be Mrs Sharp. The baby will be near.' This proved to be true. The mother had been sitting around the kitchen fire with her children, and when the bomb came and blew them and the fire grate as well into the cellar below she had the mother's instinct to throw herself protectingly over her youngest - Marjorie aged five and a half. The little one was unhurt and soon opened her eyes. Mrs Sharp just idolised that kid. She is a grand little girl, with flaxen hair and dark brown eyes.”
As we listened to these tales we found it hard to believe that there could be any happiness or fun during such terrible times. Yet there was. Our Aunt Win still titters about sending Our Mom to get her sand from the bomb sites so that she could wet it and rub it on her legs. Then she'd get a black pencil and put a line down the back of each of her calves. That way when she went dancing she looked like she had stockings on - except that when she jitterbugged the chaps'd throw her around, her frock'd go up and you could see the whites of her legs above her knees. At one dance Our Winnie met an American soldier and he came calling for her the next day. Our Great-Grandad Wood answered the door and the GI said, “Hi, is blue eyes in”. The reply was swift, short and sharp, “I'll give you bleedin blue eyes!” and the big American fled down the street pursued by little Granddad Wood.
Our show ended in a song - and a speech...
Our generation never went through the terror of the Second World War, nor did we experience the camaraderie and companionship which were ever-present. We can never know what it was like. But we do know the debt we owe to all of you who collared and fought for freedom. We know that without you we would not be here. We know that without you the United Kingdom would have been subjected to tyranny and brutality. It is a debt we can pay back in only one way. We shall not forget. When you are gone you shall live on. We shall recount with pride your deeds of heroism and your defiance of evil. With swelling hearts we shall tell our children and our children's children of how you stood tall and did not bow before oppression and vileness. Generations yet unborn shall know that you gave us life and liberty.
We shall remember.
BELOW: A gallery of photos of Balsall Heath in the war
This is the Home Guard standing outside the Carlton Cinema on Taunton Road
In 1940, Gooch Street was badly hit in a bombing raid, which heavily damaged the bridge. The street was a target for bombers because of the River Rea
On October 25, 1940, a bomb fell on the orchestra pit of the cinema in Taunton Road, killing 19 and injuring 20 more as they watched Typhoon, starring Dorothy Lamour.