od has many and varied memories of Coventry as a youngster, a particularly vivid one being up the Old Cathedral tower to watch the planting of the Flying Angel onto the New Cathedral fleche by an R.A.F. Belvedere helicopter in the Spring of 1962. Although that was one of his most pertinent memories, he also remembers seeing from home, aged about six, a white Armstrong Whitworth AW52 Flying Wing.... possibly the sight that resulted in his career in aviation, where he was apprenticed at Baginton and studied Aero Engineering at Lanchester College. Closure of AW led to him moving to the Manchester factories of Hawker Siddeley Aviation.
We begin this collection of family reminiscences during the war, with Rod's brother, Reg:
"I remember Dad fetching me up from the cellar during one air raid to show me the field in front of the house, the avenue of trees was one mass of incendiary bombs on fire on the ground; I think they thought it looked like a factory from the air. I also remember going to town with him after an air raid and there were buildings that had been bombed and were still burning, and bomb craters in the roads and houses with the fronts blown off. I can also remember going to school we had to walk through a small park. We would go along Lammas Road, left into Browett Road, right into Marriott Road then through the park. One day there were dead bodies layed out on the grass covered with sheets."
Between the two blitzes on Coventry, my father's school was evacuated, lock, stock and teaching staff, to leafier Lincoln. He was eleven.
On the day after the second blitz the school authorities decided to give the boys the afternoon off. They were taken to the cinema, where they sat, in class order, in the rows, and were told to keep quiet and enjoy the film.
About fifteen minutes into the first reel, the boys started to notice whispering in the aisles. Masters were scurrying to and fro, with clipboards. Here and there, boys started to get up and shuffle out towards the aisles.
Then individual surnames began to be whispered, from boy to boy, along the rows. If your name got whispered, you had to go out. To be told, in the aisle, which member or members of your immediate family had been killed at home the night before, which the masters had on their clipboards. In class order. Judging by the reaction of the boys who were called out, the rest of them pretty quickly worked out that hearing your name being whispered was not a good thing. But they had been told to sit quietly and watch the film so they did. Whispering the names that came their way to the next boy along the row. Hoping that their name didn't come down the row next. This went on for two and a half hours.
Our thanks to the magazine publishers for permission to reproduce this article.
Rod's family home was on Allesley Old Road opposite what is now Allesley Park. Though he wasn't part of the war-time scene himself (born between VE and VJ days, 1945), he well remembers the frames of the bunk-beds in the cellar, which at the outset of hostilities his father had kitted out for sleeping in as a kind of shelter - an arrangement discontinued after the youngest fell ill with pneumonia.
The black-out curtains also remained until replacements became available, so imagining what it was like in wartime was not difficult for Rod, who now fills us in with his post-war memories....
Aged about four, I think, I was taken by my mother and aunt to see King George VI, who was visiting Coventry, possibly to see the plans and progress for the city centre reconstruction. I think we were stood near the bottom of Bishop Street. It was a chilly day and eventually an open top limousine drove by with two overcoat clad gentlemen stood in the back. I was very disappointed that the King wasn't there. It was then that my mother explained that one of them was indeed His Majesty, and that he usually wore ordinary clothes. I, of course, was expecting a King in full regalia, just like the ones in a pack of cards!
Before there was significant progress with the new precinct, I remember a covered shopping arcade off Smithford Street and being revolted by the aroma of coffee being roasted in a machine with a horizontal rotating drum, (possibly at Allwood's shop). To my nose it smelt more like more like coffee being burnt to a cinder!
The old Woolworth's store was still trading roughly where BHS is today, with a back door that led to the Barracks Square Market. Close to the back door was the area selling lino, to be cut off from big rolls. I'll never forget the distictive smell of the new linoluem.
I went into town every Saturday morning with my father, and recall watching the construction of the new Precint, specifically a steam shovel excavating some deep foundations. I also remember a high rise crane that delivered hoppers of cement for building of the Upper Precinct shopping block that included the Leofric Hotel. The crane was green and had a huge concrete counter-weight at the back. Ever since, I've coveted a Meccano set big enough to re-create my own working example!
The younger of my brothers has post-war memories, too, and remembers seeing the steam shovel digging away in a huge hole that would eventually become the Upper Precinct.
During the early part of the war, soft drinks were obtained from J. Tanser & Co., probably from a delivery round. The drinks were in stone jars with screw stoppers, emblazoned with;
"J. TANSER & CO, 6 CROMWELL STREET COVENTRY"
and had the stern warning;
"To buy, to sell or make use of this bottle is illegal and must be returned when empty, 1936"
I understand that Tanser's was bombed (not sure when) and ceased trading. With nobody to return an empty jar to, it stood in my parents' pantry for the next fifty years or so, not being bought, sold or otherwise made use of. Since then I have formed an attachment to this unlikely survivor!