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Memories of building 100 Coseley prefabs and German POWs playing mouth organs

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 11, 2014

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I CAN help Mrs Finch with the history of the prefabs in Coseley! I worked on them for a short time as a 14 year old having just left Ladymoor School.

They were built by Webbs of Ivyhouse Lane. They began at the top of Summerhill Road opposite Philip Street and finished at the end of Flavell Avenue.

If I remember right there were probably around 100 built but I cannot say exactly. It was quite a mad job as we could not put them up quick enough. The frames were delivered on site with the paint (red lead) still wet and I remember that well, as one collapsed on me while I was putting the steel pins in the corners cutting my hands badly.

The only medication on site was iodine, which was poured on my hands by the Site Foreman. I finished the shift with bandaged hands soaked in blood and iodine and red lead paint (no compensation in those days!).

Anyway it was fun while it lasted, great camaraderie made up of local labour and German Prisoners of War who used to meet up at the top of Summerhill Road at the end of the shift playing mouth organs and having a sing along while waiting for the transport to take them back to their camps.

Local characters like Thomas Merrins who was known as 'Jotta' and Big Wally from Princes End who I believe was a brother to Little Albert who was well known in the area.

Jotta and Big Wally manned the concrete mixers and at the end of the shift neither of them was recognisable, as they were covered from head to foot in cement dust.

The highlight of the day was a race between Jotta and Big Wally between the two bridges at the bottom of the site. This was a daily event during our lunch breaks. There were a lot of men who had just been demobbed from the Services, some with wounds hard to describe.

I never witnessed any animosity between the lads and the prisoners who mostly worked on building the roads. The ground the prefabs were erected on was our playing fields as kids and also home to a battalion of artillery soldiers during the war who came from all over the United Kingdom.

Lots were from up north Liverpool way and they brought searchlights and big guns with them. The snow in 1940 was 2 feet deep in the street when they arrived and we kids used to snowball them. I used to live at number 36 Norton Crescent, so it was just a matter of falling out of bed and into work for me with not much money for labour in those times but nevertheless 'Golden Days' it has to be said.

I also worked at the Phoenix Glassworks but that's a story for another day.

Mr Roy Nicholls,

8 Middleway Green,

Stowlawn,

Bilston,

WV14 6DJ.

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