Defending Handsworth by Paul Holmes

In a previous article I mentioned my father's defence of The Endwood pub during the war (see Memories of Handsworth). To say he was single-handedly responsible for maintaining the freedom of the suburb would be misleading and unfair to many others who made sacrifices in those dark days of WWII (1939 - 1945). Therefore, in an attempt to expose some other history, I decided to look into what other defences were employed besides Harry Holmes and his band of hard drinking Home Guards.

One particular feature that caught my imagination was the Hill Top Gun Site (see Handsworth & Beyond). Like many others from the area growing up in the fifties, I fought many an imaginary battle there myself. However, it is only in recent times that I've been drawn to discovering more about the Hill Top Gun-site. Ideally, besides the history of the structure, I would have liked to learn more about the men and women who operated it.

I have managed to assemble a few facts and memories on the site itself but, unfortunately, not many first hand accounts of what actually went on up there on Hill Top. There appears to be certain amounts of legend and myths surrounding the place but, sadly because of the passage of time and me dragging my feet for so long, personal first hand accounts are becoming harder to research. With that in mind, I would like to ask the indulgence of readers for any inaccuracies - they can only be accredited to me and not to my sources. If anyone has any corrections, additional memories or information, I would love to hear from you.

The area, situated on farmland between Handsworth and West Bromwich, was apparently used as both an anti-aircraft installation and a prisoner of war camp.

Here is a recent archaeological report on the emplacement (Courtesy of Birmingham Archaeology Dept.




Grid ref>


ADS Record ID>

Anti-Aircraft Gun Emplacement

Council for British Archaeology (CBA) - Defence of Britain Archive

Condition: Bad




1d 57' 1" W 52d 31' 9" N,

SP 0337 9130

Anti-Aircraft Gun Emplacement


Anti-Aircraft Gun Emplacement

Council for British Archaeology (CBA) - Defence of Britain Archive

Condition: Bad




1d 56' 59" W 52d 31' 12" N,

SP 034 914

Anti-Aircraft Gun Emplacement


And a recent photograph of the concrete construction:

There are two of these large circular constructions where a gun was mounted on each.

Each was encircled by six large concrete magazines (now often mistaken for air-raid shelters) with heavy steel doors, used to house the ammunition.

There are also the remains of at least two pillbox type bunkers. These, although I am not certain, may have been used to protect the gun crews, should they come under direct aerial attack. Of course, the gun crews would work in close cooperation with the Air Raid Patrols.

See map below, in which the gun site was located somewhere northwest of the compass indicator.


Besides other interested parties, since my original article on this important part of Handsworth's Defences, I have been communicating with Christopher Hayward on the topic.

As stated in Chris' own piece, he was brought up, with his brother Mike, near the location of the Hill Top gun site during WWII. Chris now lives in Queensland, Australia and Mike, two and a half years his senior, in Victoria.

Sharing a common interest in the topic, the brothers got together to supply me with the following map (drawn by Mike; forwarded to me by Chris). This clearly shows the locations of the guns (red>), a barrage balloon (blue>) and huts (green). [I trust Mike will forgive me for adding the colours to emphasis the military structures.]

Hill Top Farm c1950s

Mike writes,

"I remember the huts at Hill Top when they housed Royal Engineers or Sappers or something like that. Maybe they were building the emplacements? This was in 1940? The huts had names like "Rain Drops Inn", "Nobody's Inn". When the P.O.W.s arrived they wore uniforms with coloured patches. I can't remember balloons at Hill Top they would have interfered with the line of fire I should think. But there was definitely a barrage balloon at the recreation ground. I remember the cemetery at Camp Lane."

Although Mike's input has added a wealth of information to that in the original article, it still seems a pity that we still do not know the exact location of the P.O.W. camp(s).

Chris suggests:

"There must be official records somewhere. According to what I have read on the Internet the first raid on Birmingham was in August, 1940. West Bromwich was bombed on November 10 and 20, 1940, according to Terry Price's book "West Bromwich People and Places". The anti aircraft guns could have been put in during 1940, or in late 1939. Birmingham is said to have had 27 raids in all, but I don't know how accurate that figure is. I don't think there were many raids during 1943 or later. It might be worthwhile tracking through the Birmingham Post for this period but that would be a very laborious task."

Despite having investigated in the areas he suggests I have, so far, drawn a blank. So, I am hoping this addition to the project will inspire others like Chris and Mike to come forward with their recollections. Whether they be first hand or passed down, I'd enjoy learning from them.

Paul Holmes.>

What's surprising is how heavily Handsworth was bombed, considering it was not an industrial area. (See record of air raids on Birmingham below.)

Doreen Hall gives a very vivid description of what life was like for the residents of Handsworth at this time in her article. "Who's Turn To Mek The Tea", also on this site.

As there only appears to be Doreen and me who have heard anything about the prisoners of war that were held up on Hill Top, it seems a pity there is no physical evidence of there ever being a camp up there. All I have is anecdotal evidence from people who lived in the area at the time.

Doreen talks of her mother being ostracised for bringing refreshments out to the Italian prisoners repairing bomb damage to Hamilton road. My late next-door neighbour talked of hearing the prisoners singing as they made there way back to the camp after a night out at the pub or cinema. Yet another told me of her liaison with a German prisoner. Her boyfriend was away with the British army and would send her coffee, which she would exchange for tea with the German. All in all, from what I understand, these prisoners were treated humanely, which is something we should feel proud of. I have heard of only one other incident of animosity towards them, besides Doreen's mother's experience. It involved a neighbour telling me that as a child, he was encouraged by adults to throw stones at the prisoners working in the fields.

I'm just disappointed that I have not been able to gather more information on them.

In more recent times, Tom Kilkenny writes on the Great War Forum:

`I have great memories of playing on the site at Hilltop back in the late 60s and early 70s. We lived in Uplands Road at the time and we used to have a walk up to Hilltop most Sunday afternoons and, if we were feeling adventurous, we might carry on to Dartmouth Park. I seem to remember there still being doors on a number of the concrete structures, especially on the smaller ones around the gun mountings.

In our ignorance, we used to call them the 'air-raid shelters'. It never dawned on me until I was much older that there would not have been much point in building shelters the best part of a mile from any housing!'

Staffsyeoman, also of the Great War Forum Writes:

Just to add some 'folk history'... my Mother and Father - who hadn't quite met then... lived two streets apart approximately 3/4 mile from this location. It was known as 'the gun site' for many years - and I remember playing in the remaining elements of the site in the late 1960s/early 1970s. My father was away at boarding school during the 1941 Birmingham blitz; but his father (a Firewatcher), my maternal grandfather and my mother remember a 'broadside' from the site breaking nearby windows.

There's nothing of it left now - it was dug up to build a golf course. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to show up on the database.'

My note:I'm not sure of his source for the last paragraph but, as the content of this article proves, it is incorrect. The golf course is situated quite some distance away from the area of the gun site. However, it raises speculation as to whether it could be where the POW camp was situated.

Then Marc McNamara on Ted Rudge's Winson Green website tells us:

`.what I recall is the top of the hill immediately behind the Leverettes estate was the old air raid shelters although I was told that they were actually a holding area / barracks for the military UK & US] during world war II and we must have reenacted many battles scenes with sticks for guns as young lads. These shelters were great fun as there was one with lookouts for guns and a set of covers that formed a hexagon shape - one looked destroyed and we convinced ourselves it was as a result of a bomb but that could just be youthful imagination.

One thing that sticks out in my mind is the carvings in the trees behind this area - many of them are `sweetheart' carvings with initials and dates which marry up with the expected dates. It does require you to climb a number of these as I gather there was competition for space! That said I think we added a few carvings ourselves and this was a `romantic' place to take potential sweethearts to.

I recall some 25 + years ago a near neighbor of ours uncovering a box containing some large automatic rifle / gun and loads of ammo - I think it went to the military and there was a bit of a write up in the Evening Mail.'

My Note:My sister has confirmed that she has seen the love hearts carved into the trees and believes they are so high up because the trees have grown so much over the years. I think there could be some confusion about who was actually stationed up there, but it does indicate that soldiers, be they U.S. and U.K forces, or Italian and German prisoners, were billeted on Hill top.

Besides those mentioned in the above text, I would like to thank the following for their assistance in researching this all too vague history:

Dr Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British

Andrea Bembridge, Content and Resource Development Manager


West Midlands Sites & Monuments record (or Historic Environment Record)

Chris Pounder for putting me in touch with the Great War Forum

Ted Rudge of Winson Green to Brookfields website

Some other useful websites:

As I see this history of the old Hill Top gun site as an on-going project. With that in mind, I would like to request, once more that if any reader has any additional information, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Paul Holmes ©2004