She was only two years old, but the memory of the infamous Zeppelin raid that wrought devastation on the Black Country has stayed with her a lifetime.
“My uncle, aged about 26, lifted me up to the flat windows,” recalls Frances Wall, now 100 years old.
“An aunt put the light out – gas then – and the curtains were opened. They would hear the drone and be amazed, so I obviously realised the excitement.”
The night was January 31, 1916. A total of 34 people were killed in the raids on Tipton, Wednesbury, Bilston, and Walsall – 32 on the night, with two more dying later from injuries sustained.
And Mrs Wall, who celebrated her 100th birthday in January, is now one of a tiny number of people who are able to give an eye witness account of the attack.
At the time, she was living with her maternal grandmother at a flat in Avenue Road, Darlaston, almost at the epicentre of the carnage.
The raid began three miles south-west when bombs started raining down on Union Street and the immediate vicinity, killing 14 people.
About the same distance in the opposite direction, more bombs landed on Walsall, claiming a total of five lives, including mayoress Mary Julia Slater who had been a passenger on a tram.
Even closer to home, 14 were killed when bombs hit King Street, High Bullen and Brunswick Park Road in Wednesbury, just a short walk along the Darlaston Road from where Mrs Wall was living.
Young lovers Maud Fellows and William Fellows – they were not related – were killed after taking an evening stroll along the canal at Bradley in Bilston. Maud died later in hospital, leaving a young son behind.
Despite the drama of the night, Mrs Wall says it was a subject the family very rarely spoke about.
“Though I have given much thought to it, I am sure no conversation ever occurred in my presence about it,” she says.
“My grandmother was ill and at seven years old I went to live with my father, grandfather and maiden aunt on the main Walsall Road.
“My aunt had a drapers’ shop, so she had customers who would tell her if they had known anyone connected with the bombing.
“The only time she mentioned it was because Dad did not eat dinner – she remarked that only once had that happened, it was when he returned from a two-mile walk to Wednesbury and had seen results from the bomb.” She says her late husband, who was six years older than her, never mentioned it either, despite living in Tipton at the time, and enjoying sharing stories of his life.
“He enjoyed telling me anything of interest from his young days, Dudley Grammar School and church,” she says. “I know it was never mentioned by him and his family.” Another young witness to the drama was 103-year-old Edna Smith, who was a four-year-old living in Walsall at the time of the carnage. “We saw it in the sky, my mother and I, as it went over,” says Mrs Smith.
“It was very noisy, like a grinding noise, we didn’t know where it went to. I was by the side of my mother, the people in the distance were just looking up, they weren’t chatting about it, they didn’t even seem to be worried about it. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but we learned the next day that it had bombed a church. We went along to the church, and on the table were quite a few books that were for sale, including a Bible, and my mother bought it for me. When I was about 14 or 15, I had diptheria and I had to go into isolation.
“I couldn’t have any visitors, and all my books had to be destroyed, including the Bible. My mother was very upset.”Subscribe to our Newsletter