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34. Brian Porter, A Coventry Kid
35. Experiences of the Coventry Blitz, by Joan Powell
36. War-time memories of Brian Richards
37. War-time memories of Jeanne Richards
38. Coventry Remembered, by Andrew Ross
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War-time memories of Brian Richards

Many thanks to Cathy Clapinson for sending in the memories of her parents, Brian and Jean....

Brian Richards

Born in 1932, Brian moved to Coventry at the age of five years. Here are are some of his memories....

....I can remember living at Brandon during the war, fishing for sticklebacks in the roadside stream. While I lived there I was always making miniature gardens in shallow trays, with twigs for trees and an old mirror for a pond.
When war was declared my dad was working at Marks & Spencer in Smithford Street as a storeman. When the bombing started he used to patrol the shop every night as a Firewatcher. He was equipped with an overall, steel helmet and armband, and carried a stirrup pump for dealing with small fires. There were small buckets of sand all around the shop, used for smothering fires too.

Smithford Street in the 1930s
Smithford Street as Brian's dad would have known it in the 1930s.

On the night of the November Blitz, he was on duty in the shop when the raid started. The bombs fell so heavily that the Firewatchers had to retreat into the air raid shelter behind the store. When it became too hot even to stay in there, Dad came out, to find the shop fully alight, and the constant noise of the tinned goods exploding in the storeroom. He made his way through the bombing, to a deep underground shelter in the basement of the Herbert Art Gallery. On his way he passed a group of Firemen watching the flames take hold of the newly built Owen Owen. They could do nothing to prevent it, as the water supply had been cut off.

There was a bus parked outside the Art Gallery when he went into the shelter. In the morning when he came out, just the framework remained, standing on its steel wheel rims. He walked back to Marks & Spencer's to pick up his bike. Just the shell of the store remained, and someone had stolen his bike! He started to walk to walk home to Coundon, but couldn't get up Bishop St because of the piles of rubble blocking the road, so he had to go up Holyhead Road.

Until suitable premises could be found for a new Marks & Spencer in Coventry, Dad was transferred to Leamington. From there he had a medical for the army, which he passed and was sent for training to Norton barracks, Worcester, to be an infantryman in the Royal Worcester Regiment. After he completed his training he was found to have a minor medical condition, so when all the rest of his company were sent abroad, he was kept behind and worked in the stores at the barracks. His company suffered such heavy casualties in the war, that it was disbanded. While he was working in the stores, he used to come home at weekends with food that was not available to civilians. One weekend, he slipped home without a weekend pass, and the bus he was on was stopped at Stonebridge by the Military Police. He was removed from the bus and spent a night in police cells, before being taken back to barracks under armed escort!

Brian as a lad during the war years

I actually enjoyed the war. There was always enough to eat - although not much variety. Meat was scarce, so we had whale meat and something called snook. There was also loads of spam. We also had horse meat, which wasn't too bad, although the fat was very yellow. Our education must have suffered as we only went to school for 3 hours a day because we had to spend every night in the air raid shelters. When the new Hill Farm School opened, we all went down to see the ribbon being cut. We were told we could choose to go to school either mornings or afternoons, so I decided to do afternoons so that I wouldn't have to stay. But of course I then had to come all the way back at 1pm, and even worse - all my mates had chosen mornings, so I never saw them at school for the rest of the time I was there!

One day, during the war, I was walking to school through the back entries, when a plane flew low over the houses and I could hear machine gun firing, just like on the films. I looked up and could see the black crosses on the wings. A workman, who was doing some bomb damage repairs on one of the houses, rushed out and pulled me onto the ground against the wall until the plane had gone over. I then carried on walking to school, but when I got there, the place was deserted. I wandered through the corridors looking in to all the empty classrooms, wondering where everyone had gone. It wasn't until the all clear siren sounded later that I realised the teachers had taken all the children to the underground shelter.

After school, when there had been a raid the night before, our gang used to scour the streets looking for shrapnel from the bombs. We once found a complete bomb, and were trying to take the fins off it when the Air Raid Warden took it off us, and lectured us on the dangers of picking up unexploded items. Another day I can remember watching a Spitfire chase a Messerschmitt over towards Tile Hill. I stood on the flat roof of the shed, cheering him on. When they disappeared behind the houses, I heard a loud bang and saw a cloud of smoke rising into the sky. I thought the Spitfire had shot him down, but I later learned that the German had dropped a bomb on the paint shop at Standard Motor Factory.

Family Sundays were very boring, usually my Mum and Dad read the papers, listened to the radio and went to sleep. I used to roam across the countryside around Coundon and Allesley, with my gang named "Rex". There were four of us; Trevor Wilson, the leader, me, Graham Basketts, and Roy Harrison. Later, when we were older, we used to go to the Savoy on Sunday afternoons, and then on to the cafe in Jubilee Crescent. Our gang used to get into stone fights with our rival "Burns Gang". They got me on the day I sat my 11plus exam. I had to go and run an errand for Auntie Dot - a neighbour - to the Co-op. As I passed Billy Burns' back garden, three of his gang popped up from behind the fence and pelted me with missiles. A large piece of house brick caught me and split the back of my head open! Auntie Dot didn't seem too bothered, but my Mum went mad when she found out I had been to school with blood all down the back of my shirt!

Brian on his 'speedway' bike

Games we played were usually seasonal. Bowling car tyres around the street, marbles in the gutter, hide and seek that went on for hours. In 1947 the Speedway reopened at Brandon, and us kids loved it. We formed our own cycle speedway team called "The Keresley Cobras". I was captain. Dad was team mechanic, and Mum was in charge of refreshments. We had matches every week with other local teams. We rode to the away matches on our bikes, with no lights and no brakes!

In my teenage years I used to go to the pictures three times a week, because the films changed on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays. There was a mighty cinema organ that used to rise up out of the floor at the Savoy cinema, and we all used to pelt the organist with ice cream cartons, cigarette packets and toffee papers! Saturday mornings were spent down the town in the Milk Bars, then round all the record shops, where you could go into a booth and listen to a record before you bought it.
While I was growing up, the bedrooms were very very cold, so the bedtime routine was as short as possible. After Mum had made supper of cheese and biscuits, and a cup of tea, which I ate while reading a library book and listening to the radio, I would visit the outside toilet, and then go upstairs to have a wash and brush my teeth in the bathroom. It was freezing cold in the winter, so my clothes would be taken off and I would jump into my pyjamas as quick as possible, and under the blankets and an eiderdown. On really cold night, I had a hot water bottle.

Christmas in those days was much quieter, with very small presents and simple food. We always went to stay at my Grans in Birmingham. It was a good time. While all the grown-ups played cards in the back room, the children would be left to amuse themselves in the front room. Me and my cousins Jean and Margaret had great fun. Our favourite game was sliding about on the Lino floor with dusters tied to our feet. Every year the canal would overflow and flood all the cellars in Gran's street. After heavy rain the men in the street would take it in turns to use the hand pump at the end of the street to pump the cellars dry. In my Gran's cellar, the coal would be delivered through a big hatch which opened on to the pavement. The coal would lay at the far end of the cellar from the steps and when the water rose above the third step, and it was too deep to paddle across, Grandad used to lift the tin bath off the hook on the wall, and I would climb in, paddle across to the coal, load it into the bath and paddle back again!

Brian's Gran

Family outings were rare, none at all until the war ended and Dad returned. Mum and I used to go to Birmingham to visit Gran. We would walk from Coundon to the Birmingham Road to catch the bus, then a walk to the council house to catch a tram, and then another walk to Gran's house. One day we must have just missed the bus on the Birmingham Road, so we decided to start walking. We stopped at the duck pond in Meriden, and waited for the bus, which nearly went sailing by, and we had to run to get on it. We had been on the bus a few minutes when Mum realised that my dog, Spot, who came everywhere with me, had been left sitting at the bus stop! Mum said she would be fine, so we carried on to Birmingham. When we returned at night, Spot was waiting on the doorstep. This was the only time she had ever been to Meriden, so she must have got home on instinct alone.

I must have had the usual childhood illnesses, but none that I can remember - except Mumps. We all had it, and we blamed it on Sam Robbins! The week before, we had taken our trolley into the countryside around Coundon and collected carrots and potatoes from the farmers fields. This was risky, but exciting. We used to pull up the carrots, cut the tops off and put the tops back on the soil, so it looked like nothing had happened. We took all the vegetables back to our den in the field at the back of our house, lit a fire and decided to make a stew in an old 5 gallon can, but we had no water. Sam Robbins, the youngest and smallest in the gang, was ordered to fetch some water, and not to come back without it, or else! We knew his Mother was out, so it should have been easy. When he arrived back, we dropped the vegetables in the water and boiled it all up on the fire. None of us knew the first thing about cooking, but when we had tired of waiting, we dished it out and all ate our share. The day after, Graham Basketts went down with Mumps, and the day after that I caught it, and so on. When we had all recovered, we had a detective hunt to find out what had caused it. The vegetables were ok, so it must have been the water we decided. Under mild torture, Sam Robbins confessed. When he had gone to fetch the water, his Mum was out, but she had locked the door. In desperation he had filled up the water can from the bowl of the outside toilet! Needless to say, we all had a go at him for that!

Continue with the memories of Brian's wife.... Jeanne.

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