Frances Barrack lived at 77 Watford Road with her parents (William and Elsie) from the 1920s until she married and moved to Bournville after the war. She spent her working life as nurse at Woodlands Hospital, and now lives in Rednal with her husband Stanley Newton.

Here she recounts her memories of Cotteridge to her nephew Andrew. Frances would like to hear from anyone who remembers her at school or the Barrack family at Watford Road. If so, e-mail us or leave a comment at the end of the article.

The text below is the edited version featuring the sections on wartime Cotteridge and the shops – for the full reminiscence including family history and home life, click here.

My brother Frank and I both went to Cotteridge School and sat together in class. When I was eleven years old I moved over the playground from the Junior School into the Senior Girls. But that was just for girls, so Frank had to go Stirchley School. I remember teachers Mr Tozer and “Gerty” Garfield (I couldn’t stand her).

I remember a lot of the mothers used to be outside the railings giving the children biscuits and all sorts, because there were no school meals. No shoes were allowed in the hall, so you had to walk around the edge, you couldn’t go across because they polished the floor, it was like glass. In the war I used to hope a bomber would come and blow the place up. I used to say “if a bomb dropped I wouldn’t have to go to that bloomin’ school again!” I was never lucky, the Germans never hit it.

Another teacher was Mr Major, he lived in Woodfall Avenue. He wrote on my school report “Frances talks too much” and when I took it home Dad refused to sign it, and instead wrote on the report “and it is your job to stop her” and I had to take it back to school. Then Mr Major pushed a letter through our letterbox telling our Dad to go up to the school.

I remember the Life Boys at St Agnes Church. And Councillor Fryer, he used to come round and give you a talk and bore the pants off you. He used to give these talks in the school hall, we all used to groan “oh gosh he’s here again.
I think Fryer had two sisters who opened a wool shop… Fryer’s Wool Shop.
Of course the railway bridge was just outside Cotteridge School on Breedon Road and Frank would run along the parapet. Never thought twice about what would happen if he fell off the bridge. And I remember there were some stiles there and we used to take a short cut back to Watford Road.

Frank, Ernest, Frances and Elsie Barrack

Frank, Ernest, Frances and Elsie Barrack

When war started Frank and I were evacuated to Headless Cross at Redditch. Because Mum wanted us to stick together as brother and sister we went with the junior school but they were only children and Frank and I were 13. So we had no companions really – I think it’d been better if we were separated and went with the seniors. We went on the train and they put these labels on you and they took us to what looked like a school house and women came in and they just picked who they wanted. At the end there was Frank and I left plus another girl. You felt like a spare part. So then they walked us round the roads in Headless Cross and started knocking on the doors asking “will you take these children…” It was really that haphazard. Anyway we got to this one house and this lady answered the door, her name was Mrs Moseley and she said “well I only want one but because you are brother and sister I will take you both in.”

But Frank had to sleep next door – there wasn’t enough room for both of us to stay at Mrs Moseley’s. Frank had his meals with us but he slept next door. I always remember Frank said how they got MacLeans toothpaste at his house. Well we’d never had toothpaste back in Watford Road, we used to clean our teeth with salt and soot. He said the toothpaste “tastes lovely” and used to eat this MacLeans. I bet the poor woman wondered where the toothpaste was going.

But Frank soon had enough and packed his bags and came home on the Midland Red. Mum brought me home soon after that. The war started in September and we turned 14 at the beginning of December the next year so after that we were at work. Me at Cadbury’s and Frank at Charles Taylor’s.
I remember the plane that came low over Cotteridge School looking for the Triplex factory, you could see the pilot and the swastika on the side of the plane. Then I remember we heard a German plane was shooting at people in the street. Mum was beside herself as she had sent Frank out on an errand. When he eventually came back Mum was so relieved. But Frank had got the sense to shelter in someone’s entrance.

We had no electricity at number 77 until after the war. It was gas, but only downstairs. We had a candle to go to bed at night. We weren’t allowed to read in bed because candles were too expensive. But when the Germans bombed Grant’s Wood Yard it lit up Watford Road like it was daylight. Frank was able to read in bed that night, he thought it was bloomin’ marvellous.

Dad built an Anderson shelter in the garden; he made a right mess of it. Dad used to do a job and he’d say that it was temporary but nothing he did ever became permanent, nothing ever got finished. We only went in the shelter once. After that we said if we are going to die well we might as well die in bed. Mum would say she would get us up if it got too bad. I think you got very blasé about the bombing. All you used think was “oh gosh they’re here again.” We went into the pantry under the stairs the first time the bombs came down, but after that we stayed in bed. You knew they were German bombers because their engines made that “whum-whum” sound. And you could always hear the anti-aircraft guns starting up. A bomb did drop just beyond Kings Norton railway station but nothing round the houses near us. You just thanked God it wasn’t you. That’s how you thought about the bombing really.

If you were at the pictures then you got the warning come up on the screen if they thought there was a raid. I remember being at the Savoy watching “The Last Days of Pompeii” when the sirens sounded. Elsie wouldn’t let me stay to watch the end. I never did see what happened at the end – until it was shown on telly a few years ago. 65 years later and I finally got to see the end! But I always remember Elsie dragging me out the Savoy because of the air raid warning – I could’ve killed her!

Dad was working nightshift at the Austin throughout the war and whenever there was a raid they used to go into what they called ‘the tunnel’. They always played “Woody Woodpecker” on the loudspeakers, so if that started he said they knew they’d be down there all night. I suppose it was meant to cheer up the workers but he hated that song. I know Frank said one night the sirens sounded when Dad was on the tram to the Austin so he just stayed on until it got to the terminus at The Lickeys and spent the night in the Hare and Hounds. When they asked him the next night at work where had he got to he just said he’d been in a public shelter. Public house more like!

Dad used to take us into town to see the bomb damage. We’d get off the tram in Navigation Street and sort of walk around. I remember one shop that was blown up and there was all these sweets scattered about amongst all the broken glass on the pavement. Our Dad said “don’t you dare touch anything.” And nobody touched anything.

They made Hollymore Hospital into a wounded soldiers hospital and my sister Elsie used to go up there and get chatting to the soldiers… she was a bit flighty and liked to go out and dance with the men – one time when she stayed out too late at night, Dad went out to find her – she must’ve been around 21 then – but he still got the walking stick to her.

I know Frank used to listen to the radio or read about the war in the papers but I don’t remember following the news myself. The only time I can remember, I was down Stirchley and they’d got all these newspapers with photographs of the bodies in the concentration camps. I went and had a look and people were saying it’s not true, it’s all fake. They didn’t believe it: it was too horrible to believe this was happening.

When I was young none of the shops existed at the top of Watford road, they were just houses. You had to go round the corner (into Pershore Road) before the shops started.

I remember Fleetwoods, they were opposite Cotteridge School and Clifford Fleetwood was in my class. Everything was delivered by horse and cart then. But when it snowed… I remember the horses used to come up Breedon Hill and the poor horses used to slip in the snow and they got sacks out to try and help them get a grip with their big hoofs. I used to feel ever so sorry for them.
I remember Huins the shoe shop. Dad took Frank in there to have his feet x-rayed because he couldn’t believe Frank had outgrown his shoes so quickly. Dad went barmy and refused to buy a new pair of shoes until the x-ray showed Frank’s feet were bigger.” (Before the harmful effects of radiation were realised, many shoe shops used to have an x-ray machine so customers could look at their feet. It was more for novelty value than anything else.)

I remember the carnival in Cotteridge Park and the Ten Acres Co-op, they used to give you a cardboard box with oranges, a squash and an ice cream. Then you went into the park to the carnival. We thought it was marvellous, you got this box with sandwiches. And The Blue Belvederes band. The Bummer Toots, as our Dad used to call them.

Ferris’s was a great big house. As children we used to say they had a gold bath in there with gold taps.

The Treasure Trove: I remember there was that big bear when you went in the entrance. And then there was a statue of a nude man outside and people used to come along and stick chips on his wotsit. When we were children the place was just a little shop then Mr Vincent opened it as the Treasure Trove. There were sheds round the back where they stored all the big things – suites of furniture, grandfather clocks and beds and wardrobes and all sorts of things. With the house and the sheds it would take you quite a while to go round and look at everything.

Yoxall’s – they sold dog biscuits.

The chemist Bellamy’s: Frank worked at Taylor’s chemist, the one opposite. He used to deliver prescriptions for them. They would make up the medicines in the shop and also refill soda siphons and Frank would take them to addresses even as far as town (Birmingham) on his bicycle. If there had been an air raid the night before there would be broken glass and water running down the street but Frank always had to deliver the prescriptions. And he’d always come back with shrapnel, which he collected in a drawer at home.

There was a music shop – Dugmores – and they got like a concave window. And when you looked in the window it was like those mirrors at the fairground, and we used to pull faces in the shop window and your faces were all terribly distorted. And the shop woman used to go barmy she used to go “Clear off! Clear off!”

Then there was Jones, a little sweet shop. And our Dad was always sending me up there, “Go and get me some acid drops,” then you’d get home and Dad would say “These acid drops are stale. Take them back!” I had to go back and say our Dad says these sweets are stale. The shop woman shouted “I do not sell stale sweets!” She went barmy and said tell your Dad from now on not to come in here. But he never did go in there – he always sent me!

I remember there was another sweet shop on Dell Road, near Fleetwoods. Elsie used to get them root liquorice from there. I hated it. But Elsie loved that root liquorice

Apart from Bellamy’s and Taylor’s, there were other chemists too…

Wakefields, Bloomfields and Hedges. Dad used to send me there for his snuff. I used to run down the Cotteridge and I used to shout “L2-60 box of snuff” all the way to Hedges, because I used to think if I forget the number… and you could only get the snuff from Hedges.

Mum and Dad used to go out on a Saturday night, always to the pictures. The Savoy, in Cotteridge. The King’s Norton on King’s Norton Green. The Empire and Pavilion down Stirchley. That was their night out. And if they went to Cotteridge they went in the Grant Arms after the pictures.

Friends I can remember? Well there was Connie Booth who lived in Holly Road. Her father was an engine driver on the railway. You thought he was God, I mean… a driver on the steam train! Nice man he was. Millie Tye was another friend, she lived in Heathcote Road.

Frances Newton (nee Barrack)
Rednal, Birmingham
July 2008

6 Responses to “Watford Road in wartime”

  • Cliff:

    Cliff Fleetwood writes,
    Thank you Frances for the lovely story. Oh! How I wish I could recall her and me in the same class at school. Any school photos? A couple of additional bits:
    First, the night, yes it was a night raid in December 1940, when Cotteridge was bombed. The device was known as a “Goering Beadbasket” consisting of part high explosive and lots of incendiary bombs. We know where the fire bombs landed, Frances Road (several), Fleetwoods (two), the rest Elm Tree Road area. The HE took out Bournville Lane Bridge (see p78 of Birmingham at War, Vol 2, by Alton Douglas) which drained the canal and so reduced the amount of water available to put the fires out.
    Frances writes about the horses having difficulty climbing Breedon Hill in the snow, and I have read elsewhere, even in the Birmingham Post & Mail that the last horses were pensioned off in the late 40s? See here for a picture of one the last working horse at Fleetwoods which shows my wife (Phyllis) introducing Roger my son, born September 1952, that makes the date of the picture around 1953/4.
    Roger, my son, reminds me that he accompanied Tommy Batchelor (lived at 32 Midland Road) to Walkers Heath Road to catch horses and bring them back to Breedon Road when he was aged 6 or 7 years of age, so that makes the date of the last horses 1958 or so.

  • Adam:

    Thanks for the post. That was very interesting. A bit like traveling back in time.

  • Christine:

    Thankyou to Cliff and Adam for your comments regarding Frances Barrack’s wartime memories.
    Unfortunately Mom passed away last Christmas Eve at the age of 83.
    She was a ray of sunshine, who always made everyone laugh with her stories of her life, she made me laugh till I cried.
    Very sorely missed
    Regards,
    Daughter Chris

  • Emma:

    What a great read, thanks for sharing : )

  • Derek Gilbert:

    What a surprise! I used to live next door (79) and remember your parents and their cat “Niggsie” (not PC now, lol). Sorry, but I only vaguely remember you. Your dad gave us brass and copper items he made at work. We had a air raid shelter up the garden as well.

    On the other side to you were the Huggins and their son Derek.

    No. 81 was the Mrs Robinson who were the landlord. Her son was a naturist and vegan.

    No.83, can’t remember their name but their daughter married a German POW that worked outside (so we was told) doing road works.

    I am retired and living in Prestatyn

  • Christine:

    Hi Derek, a surprise for me also. I remember your mom and dad, from when I used to visit my grandparents. If I went to play in the garden, I was always told not to make too much noise, as Mr Gilbert was on nights. I think he worked at Triplex.
    I vaguely remember you, did you have a motorbike? That memory stuck as I have one myself now, LOL.
    I certainly remember Dougie Robinson. Grandad took me round there once on the pretext of paying the rent so I could look through the window and see what an awful state his house was, what cheeky devils we were. Over the years going past his house I saw the cutains rot away to tatters, what a strange man he was.

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