historian Alan Cox of Codsall tells of a night of horror.
the Home Front is mentioned names like London, Plymouth, Coventry
and Liverpool spring quickly to mind - but what about Willenhall?
" On the night
of the 20-21 November 1940 Willenhall found itself on the Home Front.
Not on the scale of the big cities mentioned, but of equal intensity
in tragedy, loss, heartache, tales of lucky escapes and courageous
was an area of high density working class houses situated next to
factories and centred around St Anne's Church and St Chads. The
community was one large extended family, each household being related
to others in the close vicinity. My grandparents house, No 41 Springvale
Street, was warm and all the rooms were pervaded by the delicious
smell of the baking of a rich fruit cake. Preparations for my Aunt
Gwen's 21st Birthday on the 4th December were going ahead despite
rationing. Ray, Gwen's boyfriend, left her at about 11.30pm to return
home and she retired to bed. At two minutes to twelve the bomb fell
into an adjacent house. A whole gamut of sounds filled the air,
the crump of the explosion, the shattering of masonry, screams and
cries and the tinkling of a million bells as windows and glass shattered
- and then came the silence of shock.
"Bill and Jane
Cox, my grandparents, were still in the living room. He called up
the stairs Gwen, Bill', and received answers from both. My aunt
recalls her father saying "thank God for that'. The four of them
were blackened with soot and dirt brought down by the explosion
and they looked like miners. Their home was ruined by blast damage,
the 21st birthday pierced with glass shards but they themselves
without injury. They were the lucky ones. My aunt's cousin, Lily,
aged 28, her husband William Noreton James, aged 30, and their children,
Frederick, aged four and Mary, aged two, lived next door at number
40. Their mothers, Lily and Jane, were sisters with Lily Tonks occupying
number 43. Freddy and Mary spent a lot of time at their grandparents
and several times a week, Freddy would spend the night at number
43. He spent the evening of 20 Nov with his grandparents. At about
l0pm he changed for bed and, already asleep, he was carried to his
family home, number 40.
dislodged the chimney of number 41 and sent it crashing into the
bedrooms of number 40. The four were killed - a family wiped out.
Number 39, Springvale Street, had borne much of the force of the
explosion. Thomas Bird, aged 50, his wife, Clara, aged 48, and their
son, Ronald, agd nine, lost their lives here. On the corner of Ann
Street and Ward Street, stood a redundant pub - formerly known as
Skinny Lizzie's - it was now occupied as a house by the Morris family.
George Morris, a serving soldier, was on leave. Earlier in the year
he had fought in the rearguard of action which resulted in the Dunkirk
evacuation. It was here the next bomb struck George Morris, aged
22, his brother Owen, aged 13, and Geoffrey, aged 11 as its victims.
At the funeral the wreath for George was in the form of a Staffordshire
Ward Street, a blast claimed yet another victim. It is believed
Joyce Fox, aged 19, was blown from the top to the bottom of the
stairs. The rear of the houses, in St Anne's Terrace, came out in
Ward Street. The fronts overlooked the church and school across
a narrow alley. Diagonally opposite the corner occupied by the Morris
family at the other end of Ward Street, was number 12, St Anne's
Terrace, the home of Joseph Lockley, agd 24, a well known bandleader.
He died buried beneath debris when the next bomb, in a stick of
six, fell. It took rescuers four attempts to find him. Twelve people
dead, three houses demolished, St Annes Church and School, and eighty
houses damaged was the outcome of Willenhall's unwanted appearance
on the Home Front.
Wolverhampton-built Boulton Paul Defiant saw
action in the desperate 1940 Battle of Britain. With a top speed
of only 300mph, the Defiant was never in the same class as the legendary
Spitfire and Hurricane and was no match for the German fighters.
But in the hands of an expert pilot and gunner, it packed a formidable
punch from its unique power-operated turret carrying four machine
medal secret: A
young airman from Lower Gornal, who dropped the first British bomb
on Germany in the war, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal
Sergeant John Smith wouldn't even tell his parents what the award
was for, simply saying it was "for doing my job."
After the well
kept secret was eventually revealed, the airman's proud mother said
that even as a pupil at Wolverhampton Grammar School her son would
never tell anyone of his record-breaking achievements in school
She said she
had to wait for the Express & Star to come out with the results.
Boulton Paul Defiant saw action in the desperate 1940 Battle of
Britain. With a top speed of only 300mph, the Defiant was never
in the same class as the legendary Spitfire and Hurricane and was
no match for the latest German fighters. But in the hands of an
expert pilot and gunner, it packed a formidable punch from its unique
power-operated turret carrying four machine guns.