Digby Street

AT 7 DIGBY STREET, ASTON, BIRMINGHAM 4 by Joan Jinks

There were seven of us trapped in the cellar.

My mom, Lillian Jinks, my older brother, Stan, my younger brother, Derek, my younger sister Pat, and me, Joan – always known as Betty. Plus two elderly ladies who lived next door, Mrs. Marlowe and Mrs. Gregg.

My dad – Henry Jinks was an air raid warden and having helped us into the cellar had gone to the ARP post at the top of the road.

We were all trying to sleep but the noise outside was keeping us awake. We could hear the planes going over and loud bangs and crashes. At first it sounded like a very bad thunderstorm that seemed to be creeping nearer.

Suddenly there was a strange whistling and screeching noise which seemed to be getting closer, then a thud. This was followed by an eerie silence and then a tremendous explosion.

We were all absolutely terrified. It felt as though the world had shuddered, there was the sound of breaking glass, loud bumps and bangs as if buildings were collapsing - which of course they were. The cellar was full of brick dust from the vibration so it was difficult to breath, but at least we had survived. The two elderly ladies crying and Mrs. Marlowe were clutching her wooden box which she always brought with her. (Never did find out what was in there.)

My dad had seen the bomb dropping and ran towards the house but the blast threw him back up the road. Fortunately he was not badly hurt so came to help us out of the cellar.

We could hear him outside calling to us to say we would be okay and to just hang on a bit longer. Having reached the cellar he realised we were trapped and he needed help.

I cannot really describe the terror we felt. There was nothing we could do but wait and hope while listening to the people outside trying to get us out. By this time the elderly ladies were inconsolable and convinced us we were all going to die. We kids were petrified and shouting to our dad to get us out.

At this point I must pay tribute to my mom. I don’t know how she coped with trying to pacify four hysterical children and two distraught old ladies. But she did.

When they finally got us out the sights and the noise were even more frightening. The sky was a vivid orange and looked as if it was on fire. There was thick smoke everywhere. Searchlights flashing across the sky. There seemed to be fires burning and a lot of the buildings had disappeared. There was rubble and broken glass all over the place and people crying and searching for relatives. It was like something out of a horror film.

We were taken to a public shelter at the top of the road. I was wrapped in an eiderdown as were my brothers and sister. Someone gave us food and a hot drink and told us to try and sleep.

Next morning still wrapped in the eiderdown we were told to sit on the kerb in Legge Street while they found us somewhere to stay. Again food and drink was given to us. It just seemed to appear like magic.

I can’t remember how many days we sat on the kerb in Legge Street – we went to the public shelter at night – but that again was scary. Legge Street which the bomb disposal chaps was trying to diffuse. The workmen were pulling down unsafe buildings and everywhere was just a mess.

Our house was declared unsafe and we were unable to return home. Mom and dad were allowed in to collect some essentials but that was it Mom managed to get some food for us and left it in the house while she came to check on us but when she got back it had gone.

Eventually we went to stay with my mom’s sister in Handsworth. We lived in the Anderson shelter in the garden. Although it was rather cramped at least we were under cover. I am not sure how long we stayed there but I remember going to school there. I think it was in Rookery Road.

Then, at last the council allocated a house for us in Weoley Castle. Oh what joy! This again presented us with problems. Like how do we get there? Somehow somewhere transport was found and off we went.

When we arrived another family had already moved in. It seems the council had allocated it to two different families so back we went to the shelter.

The council then offered us another house in Northfield so off we went again. Fortunately this one was empty and we were able to move in and try to make a new life for ourselves.

I loved my gran, she used to sit me on her lap and give me a cuddle. Her real name was Mary Anne Jinks but everyone called her Polly. She was a dressmaker.

For several years she and my granddad George Edmund Jinks kept a shop on Newtown Row.

Granddad used to go the warehouse and buy materials and gran used to make it up and sell it in the shop. She made lots of different things like pinafores, overalls, under slips, blouses, dresses you name whatever they thought would sell she made.

One of the busiest times was when there was a confirmation service at St. Chad’s Cathedral. The girls all have to wear white dresses, headdresses and veils which gran supplied. Then of course there were the boys who needed white blouses and a pair of trousers each.

Gran used to spend hours sitting at her sewing machine under the stairs trialling away. No such thing as electric motors in them days! I don’t know how she could see because it was so dark and she was blind in one eye, but it never stopped her working.

She also made wedding outfits and christening robes with all the lace trim plus of course if there were ever processions around the town on holy days she was busy.

Sad to say that at the beginning of World War Two the shop had a direct hit and they lost their home and business in one night.

Fortunately gran had a feeling, and that night they stayed with their daughter Ellen, known as Nellie at Kenilworth Road, Witton. So they were safe.

They still did not give up! They opened a lock up shop on Witton Road or Lane (I am not sure which) and carried on working as before. I feel very proud of them and the courage and spirit they must have had. Like most people in those awful times

When I left school I got a job in a workroom and was taught dressmaking so I still feel I have an affinity with my gran. The sewing has certainly proved to be very useful throughout my life if I need to earn a few pounds.

Thanks to Nannyhammy AKA Betty Hopper & Olly Meade