Our Century

Emergency plans go into action

War announced in paper
War is announced on the front page of the Express & Star on Sunday, September 3, 1939

As Britain declared war on Germany the West Midlands girded its loins along with the rest of the country in September and put war-emergency plans into operation.

This included thousands of the region's children being evacuated to places of safety in the country and seaside resorts. The mass exodus took more than one-and-a-half million youngsters to places out of the danger areas.

The Express & Star ran pictures of the great evacuation, showing local children on the move with their belongings.

Some had shorter distances than others to go to find a safe haven. Youngsters from Smethwick were evacuated to homes in the heart of Shropshire for instance.

The region's towns and cities took their own individual steps to meet the new wartime conditions. In Dudley ARP wardens reported that the townsfolk were giving assistance ungrudgingly and the issue of respirators had virtually reached saturation point.

Loudspeakers were put in the market place to direct people in case of impending air-raids, It was planned to supply special protective helmets for children and babies and a special Dudley relay station was set-up with the help of the BBC so the ARP office could contact all parts of the town.

In Walsall special first-aid and wardens posts as well as public shelters and cleaning stations were being set up at a cost of about 21,000.

Underground shelters were also being planned for the Manor Hospital for patients and staff - and a "food control" committee and a fuel rationing advisory committee was set up in the town.

In Wolverhampton ARP officials launched "black-outs" and issued gas masks and steel helmets to police on patrol. Official advise to local residents included getting near a brick wall in the event of an air-raid.

Those who couldn't reach a cellar or shelter were advised they would be safe from splinters or blasts in their own kitchens - and people were warned not to congregate in the centre of town and to do their shopping on any day but Saturday.

Dad goes off to war:
Geoffrey Bubb of Kingswinford recalls how the whole world changed on September 3, 1939

The back street in Blackheath where we lived comprised two rows of "workers' cottages". They all looked the same. Inside, cooking was done on the black-leaded grate in which a fire burned summer and winter.

There was no internal plumbing and all "services" were in the brewhouse across the "fowd" or at the end of a dirt-track yard. The rooms were gas lit; an electricity supply was a luxury.

The lives of the inhabitants appeared to be as dull and empty as the houses in which they lived. For many, the events of September 3, 1939, changed that.

Crowding around the neighbour's humming accumulator-driven wireless we heard many say, in sombre tones: "This country is now, therefore, at war with Germany." I was six years old.

The Phoney War became real to our back house when father, with shaking hands, ripped open the manilla OHMS envelope and announced that he was a Coldstream Guardsman. Weeks later I woke to find that he had gone to war. My tiny world fell apart.

We still did not have electricity and until we had our own wireless - a relay extension speaker - mother disappeared nightly to hear the nine o'clock news on the neighbour's wireless.

Years passed and the war progressed. We were never really sure where father was, for his occasional letters were heavily censored although I recall that one "accommodation address" was "c/o 2nd. Battalion, Coldstream Guards, Italy."

Then, one summer evening in 1946, a stranger in a khaki uniform appeared round the corner of the street in which I played, to step into the sunlight which shafted over the tops of the slate roofs. "It's my Dad !!!!!" I shouted, and raced the 30 yards or so to crash into his long legs. "Hello, Geoffrey," was all that he seemed able to say .

Changed for the better: How did it feel to be one of the hundreds of thousands of children evacuated when war broke out in September 1939? Charles Sammonds of Penn, born in 1926, remembers:

"I was born in the family's single room in a slum in London, of poor but honest parents. Life was hard but forgettable, until the War.

"Evacuated on September 1, 1939, to a small village in Hampshire, my lifestyle and morals underwent a dramatic change.

"I ate better food than I had ever done, had a room to myself, and was provided with a bicycle to go to school in the next village.

"The countryside entranced me and I forgot my home life, was never homesick and rarely wrote to my parents, who never failed to send me sixpence a week, once my father was in work. I have carried the guilt of disregarding them ever since.

"Although gaining a scholarship in 1937, I was unable to take it up then because of my parents' circumstances, but I did transfer to a grammar school in the nearby town of Petersfield in 1940.

"My cockney accent had to be lost as I stood out like a sore thumb amid the cultured accents around me.

"However, I soon did well, academically, in sports and the Officer Training Corps, where I was sufficiently well-trained to obtain a commission when eventually I was called up in 1944. My life was completely changed by the evacuation for the better."

Shock as IRA bomb hits Wolverhampton
The damage at Wolverhampton's Low Level station.

A massive explosion wrecked the parcels office area of Wolverhampton Low Level Station in July as the town was caught up in a wave of IRA violence which targeted towns and cities across Britain.

The enemy within struck while all eyes were on Poland on the eve of the war.

The bomb exploded at 5.33am as the town slept hurling glass and debris all over two rooms and onto an adjoining platform. The force of the explosion was so strong it blew out windows of a train compartment at a nearby platform.

Luckily there were no passengers on board.

Police revealed that the bomb had been deposited in a small weekend case at the parcels office the previous night, Detectives investigating said there was no doubt it was the work of the IRA.

Alec Huff, the railway porter on duty at the time of the blast, spoke of his amazing escape from injury.

The porter, who was 15 yards from the scene at the time of the explosion, said he had just gone through the platform door of the parcels office when he saw a "vivid flash."

He went on: "Then followed a terrific explosion. Glass flew about in all directions, onto the platform, and the room was soon in a wrecked state."

He said he immediately called in the police after surveying the gutted area.

"A few seconds more and I would have been in the room - and maybe I wouldn't be here telling you this," he added.

Officials said the parcels office and an adjoining room were extensively damaged and two railway employees had narrow escapes.

Ivor Morgan
Six million Jews sent up hundreds of prayers a day and every one in vain.
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