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Reminiscences 

Joseph Arch 

Coventry Blitz 

 

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COVENRTY BLITZ, 1940
by John E Smith MMBA (former baker in Barford)

On the morning of Friday 14th November 1940, I got up at my usual time of 3.00 am and started work. I called Tom Freeman about 5.00 am. Tom, who had previously owned the business, still lived with us and helped me for a considerable time. As a rule he got up at the same time as me, but he had been over to Birmingham to see if his two daughters were all right. He had stopped rather later than usual on account of the air raid and so he had had a bit of a lie-in.

It was this Friday night that the Germans decided to bomb Coventry and, as we only lived some 12 miles away, we wondered if it would be our turn next as we seemed in direct line for their bombers. We understood that their pilots followed the river and made St. Mary's Church in Warwick a landmark for either Coventry or Birmingham.

Anyway we were lucky and escaped the bombing but "One Bomber was brought down on the outskirts of the village of Barford". Poor Coventry got it very badly. We managed to get the bread made and delivered on the Saturday. We only made what we considered a sufficient amount - not any spare.

We were just having a cup of tea in the Bake House at about 5.00 pm when Mrs Burton (later Lady Burton by virtue of the fact that her husband was knighted for some special work connected with The Daimler Car Company and his war effort) came to see if we had any bread we could let her have to take to Coventry. The city was without and not able to make any because the water supply had been completely shattered.

Well, she was so disappointed we hadn't any bread I said to Tom did he feel like working through the night to help me make some. (Remember we had worked all Friday night.) Anyway, he said he would, so we set to work, got the oven going, made the doughs and by 7.00 am we had 400 loaves ready.

I contacted Mrs Burton and she asked if we could take the bread to Coventry as she, being the Head of the local W.R.V.S., had so much to do she could not spare the time. While I had a short rest my wife, Flo, loaded the van.

In the meantime Tom, remembering Mrs Burton saying there was no clean water in Coventry, found all sorts of vessels that would hold clean water and loaded 50 gallons, which was as much as his car could carry.

At last he was loaded up and by 9.00 am we set off and arrived at the outskirts of Coventry. Here we were stopped by the police. "And where do you think you are going?" This was the greeting we got! However, when we told them we had 400 loaves and 50 gallons of water on board they could not get us through fast enough.

The police must have contacted their comrades further along the route for we were instructed to go to the Central Fire Station. Not knowing where it was, we found ourselves by the still-smouldering Cathedral. From there, after riding over dozens of empty hosepipes, we eventually got to the fire station.

On going inside we were asked: "Where have you come from? How did you get through? Did the police stop you? Who sent you? How did you know? Now, what have you got?" All very strictly formal and precise. Anyway the answers we gave seemed satisfactory.

But what a change when we told them we had bread and clean water on board. The women, who were at their wits end for want of clean water to make a cup of tea, immediately left what they were doing, came over to us, hugged and kissed us, lifted us up and wept. They would not let us unload the van or the car. They said it was the least they could do and told us to sit back and have a rest. By now I realised how tired I was and knew I had to drive back to Barford. I went fast asleep and did not wake until the unloading was finished.

This reminiscence was recorded in November 2005, when Mr Smith was 96 years of age.

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