5th February 2010: There is an update to this blog post. Please scroll to the bottom of the post for details.
Blighty's Blog is taking a break from its usual tongue-in-cheek look at the British way of life to publish a very touching story submitted by a very dear customer and friend. Joyce Wildsmith, a proud native of "Brummagem" is 84 years old. Her life has been filled with strife, happiness, tragedy and very fond memories. I hope you enjoy reading her tale as much as I did.
My late parents Annie and George Wilcox managed the Junction Inn on the corner of Bloomsbury Street and Great Francis Street by Ashstead Row. There were many poor families who lived in the back to back houses in Great Francis Street. When the air raids started at 6:00 or 6:30pm the men would just be coming home from work and the women would run with their kids to try and shelter underneath the billiard hall in Great Francis Street. Their husbands followed and, not having had a meal, must have been hungry.
The Co-op butcher would give Mom bones and bits of meat and she would make soup for the people in the shelter to keep them warm. When a lull came in the bombing I would go with her across the road to the shelter and take the hot soup. On the way home early one morning we noticed bullet marks along the wall of the inn. We both thanked the good Lord that we were safe.
One night there was not enough room in the shelter so my father took some people into our cellar under the inn - they were very happy to go in. The people began to sing and one man played a tune with a pair of spoons. Another man performed a tap dance and the children recited a poem they had learned at Loxton Street School. It was just like having our own music hall; the talent was amazing.
That particular night was one to remember. The air raids went on for thirteen and a half hours - all through the night and into the next morning. No matter how loud we sang we could still hear the bombs falling and we all wondered if our homes would still be standing when the raid was over.
The following day we heard the Germans had tried to bomb Saltley gas works. If they had succeeded we would all have been killed as the gas works was very near to the inn. Instead, the bombs hit Guys beer bottle factory. The street was littered with broken glass in the morning.
My grandparents had both passed away before the start of the war leaving their house on Warwick Road in Acocks Green to my father. My father worked at the BSA factory in Small Heath. I was just 18 and received my call-up. I wanted to join the Wrens but was sent to work at the Coop Invincible factory in Tysley. I also volunteered at the ARP post in Acocks Green where I helped dress the wounds of people hurt in the bombing.
After the war I trained as a hair stylist and took a job at Florence Partridge's shop on Warwick Road, then at Frazer's barber shop on Yardley Road. That was where I met my future husband Bert. We married in 1947 at St Mary's church. A bomb had destroyed a large part of the church roof so our wedding ceremony was conducted in a side chapel.
In 1955 I opened my own salon called Joyce Hair Stylist on Castle Lane in Olton. I kept that business for over 21 years until my husband died.
Our son Paul, who was born in 1951, trained to be a technical illustrator and was offered a job at Spar Aerospace in Canada. Paul created the drawings for the famous Canadarm used on the International Space Station.
I was alone again after a second marriage, and when in 1986 Paul offered me a home in Canada, I left Birmingham and came to live here. Sadly, Paul was killed in a snowmobile accident in 2001. At 84 I now live with my memories and new friends, several of whom are also Brummies, in a seniors community in the village of Tottenham near Toronto.
Are you a Brummie too?
Blighty's has several copies of "Brummagem" magazine containing many stories like this one. The magazines were donated by this post's narrator Joyce Wildsmith. We'll be happy to mail one to you free-of-charge. Simply tell us your story of the Birmingham area using the comment field below this post
Joyce Wildsmith is very keen to hear from any of the staff who worked at "Joyce hair Stylists" on Castle Lane, Olton, Birmingham during the 1960s and 1970s. Joyce's employees were Christine, Gillian, Sheila, Jean and Lynda. If you recognize any of the faces in this picture please use the "comments" field below this post to contact Blighty's Blog. We will forward your information directly to Joyce.