Mrs Hortonís Memories



War breaks outPreparingAir-raidsWar productionLodgersRationing


I lived in Birmingham. My name was Barbara Hanmer and now is Barbara Horton. I lived in the part of Birmingham which was near the Castle Bromwich Aerodrome Factory, which was where the spitfire planes were manufactured.

I was four and a half when war started in 1939, nine when victory in Europe, 10 victory in Japan.


War breaks out

When war was declared in September 1939 I was on holiday at Swansea, South Wales. There was an announcement advising all civilians to make for transport home as public transport would be used to mobilise troops. At this time I was four and a half years old so with my parents we returned to Birmingham.

Everyone in Birmingham, probably the country, had to be a registered person. We had ration books for food of all types. We, in Birmingham, even had soap marked off part of the book. At times it was difficult to get whatever made soap and washing powder. All households had to register with a coal merchant for heating. We had identity cards to carry with us as well as gas masks. We were advised not to have more than three inches of water for a bath, as heat restrictions had to be acknowledged as far as heating water. Plus, in Birmingham, the fire service needed the water to put out fires from bombs etc.


Preparing for the Blitz

At school we had a drill as to what we should do in air raids and getting to the school shelter. We had songs in the shelter or drill and sang as loud as we could.

As far as I know the first nine to twelve months or so we were preparing for the onslaught. Birmingham is a large city and everyone had to have a shelter, either a shared one in gardens of neighbours or a communal one for thirty or forty people. We had an auxiliary fire service to be trained to put large fires out when bombs were dropped, and an ARP Unit to warn when bombers were approaching central England. There were tremendous-sized searchlights to search for the bombers in our skies when they raided at night and the marks of the searchlights bearing helped the gunners to know where to point the guns to hit the enemy planes. These were usually placed at golf courses and high land but camouflaged so that when the enemy dropped their bombs at the searchlight, civilians in houses were not so much a target.



My fatherís trade was a toolmaker, and he had to make tools as accurate as 1/1000th of an inch for the Spitfire planes. Of course he had to work long hours and in those days not overtime; they were working to keep Britain free from aggression. My father was also in the Auxiliary Fire Service in Bíham when he was not working at the factory, and the tall factories in Bíham were sometimes bombed as well as the B.S.A. (British Small Arms, guns etc.), on which he was called out to extinguish [the fires]. The factory was also bombed whilst he was there and some of the work force injured and electricity and everything cut.

No ambulances could be found and when they were found, no petrol. They had been sabotaged. My father lay by the side of the injured people all night tending their wounds to stop the flow of blood for when they could be hospitalised.

Once the bombing started it seemed that it never stopped. We had day time bombing and night time bombing. We went to school when we could. Some families had their evening meal and straight into the shelter and made their beds up there before the raids came. They fitted electricity in the shelter. My family did not have electricity in the shelter as my Dad was on one of the above activities or sleeping when he came home.

During this time of being bombed my school was bombed by a direct hit from a land mine and where we lived some neighbours watched a second parachute which was also a land mine come down and the vibration threw her down the shelter. These land mines flattened a large area of where we lived but our houses were safe. When the squadron of bombers came to England they used to come over Birmingham by way of detour plus industry and bomb us on the way to Coventry every night and sometimes on the way back.


War production

The part of Birmingham I lived in was also where Churchill tanks and Wolsley tanks were built and they were tested along the main road where my house was. These had to have a short run before going on battlefield. The Spitfires and Lancasters were pushed across the main road onto ground there and tested.

They used Hams Hall Lower Station for the direction down. There was a film made of the people who worked at C.B.A.F. called ĎMillions Like Usí.



At my home we had a 3-bedroomed house, 2 rooms occupied, and therefore we had a room vacant. Bíham was large industrial city and had essential trades for the war effort. We accommodated all sorts of people. Our first lodger was a Czechoslovakian. My ears used to pop up whenever they could because being an only child I wasnít noticed so much, and she used to say how grateful she was to have escaped from her occupied country because although they were not bombed by Germany any more they all had the fear of the unknown soldier and Gestapo police and neighbours. Because everyone was frightened and although would normally tell the truth, when under threat, and family could be extinguished, one said what was best said for their own person. So she used to be with us in the shelter. We also had two airmen from Yorkshire on convalescence who were also working in Bíham. They worked at the B.S.A. factory. Plus a lodger from Ireland Ė I canít remember much about her except that she had nits in her hair. My mother made sure she got rid of them.



During this time at home with my Mom and Dad, my father was occupied with work or civil assistance. Shopping was a nightmare because we in Bíham were strictly rationed. We didnít have farms where we could get extra food.

Gardens were turned into veg patches. We used to queue at the local veg shop for supplies. Each customer in the queue could have half a pound of tomatoes on that delivery, no more deliveries for a few days. Greenhouse owners were allowed no heating for products, We could buy fish from a greengrocer which he let regulars have. Could have offal from butcher which he allowed regulars. Fish and chips from chippy was a wonderful treat. The Lyons Cafe in Bíham city centre had Bacon and Toast on Thursday afternoons and when my Mom took me there I thought I was the Queen.


We used to have morale boosters of collecting money to be put by for a street party at the end of the war, 1946. Each house had a card with how much had been paid in. The occasional concert was held with [this] fundís money and of course the Fire Service had a small concert occasionally for families and friends.

We also had the King and Queen visit Bíham during the war. After the war we school-children had a message from the King.