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The war as seen from the guns of Turner's Hill

By john workman  |  Posted: November 11, 2010

Anti -aircraft fire lights up the night sky.

Anti -aircraft fire lights up the night sky.

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A HEFTY piece of shrapnel, which landed on Haden Hill in the dark days of World War Two, was still causing ripples as recently as a couple of months ago, when Bugle readers came forward to identify it as the nose cone from a British anti-aircraft shell.

One reader who is more than familiar with anti-aircraft fire is Charlie Timmins, who as a young man during the war found himself up on Turner's Hill, Rowley Regis, with the job of loading the 'ack-ack' guns which were located at the summit.

Charlie was still at school when the war broke out in 1939, but when he turned 16 he joined the local Home Guard, the 40th Battalion South Staffordshire regiment.

Charlie was based up by the Rowley Olympic, not far from where the huge mast now stands, dominating the skyline for miles. Headquarters was a large old house, which later became part of the Tarmac offices for the adjacent quarry.

Much of the top of the hill was taken up by army barracks, with an entrance opposite Darby's Hill.

"The minute you walked through that gate, you were in the army."

 Charlie recalls.

It wasn't until 1944, in the last year of the war that young Charlie was transferred onto the guns, where he was part of a team of five.

Battery The first guns on the hill, he tells us, were Coastal Battery, four ninety pounders. There was never a 'Big Bertha' on Turner's Hill, but when they fired together they would have had much the same effect.

However they usually fired individually. Some time later, four 56lb guns were installed there, before they were replaced by 6 automatic 56 pounders. These could be loaded by putting the shells into a hopper tray, rather than straight into the gun.

Charlie's day job was at Pardoe's Drop Forge in Portway Hill, making engineering tools. The owner, for religious reasons, would not make anything which could be used to kill; but no doubt his engineering tools were put to good use as part of the war effort.

"I came out of work one day after nine hours," says Charlie, "and went in through the army gates for a training session. It was a red hot day and I'd been in the factory all day, and the sergeant told me off for taking my tunic off. 'I'll let you know when you can take that off', he said."

 The guns were tested each week with blanks at these training sessions, and Charlie and his colleagues quickly became adept at loading and firing.

Loading into the tray and hitting the firing plate on the side of the gun, they could get through twenty rounds in half a minute; not far off one shell per second.

"My job was to put them into the tray, and they weighed 56 pounds each; about a foot and a half to two feet long.

We'd get through abut half a ton of them in thirty seconds."

 Regarding the Haden Hill nose cone which featured in the Bugle a couple of months back, Charlie is sure it would not have come from Turner's Hill, as they were under strict instructions not to fire in certain directions for fear of hitting civilians or damaging property. It is more likely to have come from Stone Cross in West Bromwich, several miles off.

"One time we saw a German plane, close enough to recognise the markings, and flying really low. We didn't fire because we couldn't, at that angle, but I think he was hit later by the Stone Cross guns."

 Charlie also recalls seeing German land mines coming down by parachute; a couple of houses on City Road were destroyed by one, and another landed on Cartwright's farm and killed one of the cows.

Unexploded bombs were put in Samson's Quarry out of harm's way.

Colleagues Though he doesn't recall the names of any of his fellow gun crew, Charlie does remember several of the men from the Home Guard.

Amongst them were Major Harper from Beeches Road in Blackheath; Sgt Bob Woodhouse, who lived behind the Wheatsheaf at the top of City Road, Corporal Arthur Lawrence, the butcher who lived in Throne Road, and Joey Phipps, also of Throne Road.

Ironically, once the war was over Charlie Timmins was called up for National Service.

Though he wanted to join the Royal Artillery, something his previous experience would surely have made him ideally suited to, he was drafted into the Army Catering Corps which was just forming at that time, and spent several months in Northern Ireland, undergoing basic training in Belfast. Most of the next two years he spent in India, as it moved towards independence: "I flew out from Egypt to India in a converted Lancaster bomber. I was sitting on the bomb doors all the way. We refuelled in Iraq, and did the last bit of the journey, from Karachi to Dacuna, in an old Dakota. I thought the wings were dropping off.

“I was based only about half an hour from the Taj Mahal, up in the foothills of the mountains, and spent a lot of time in Rawalpindi, somewhere I've always wanted to revisit. It was clean, and the people were very friendly. We used to go to the pictures about ten o'clock at night, and then go dancing afterwards.

“It was an experience, I really enjoyed the whole thing. I wouldn't have seen that part of the world if it hadn't been for National Service."

 Charlie had little time to enjoy the spectacular scenery though. Most days he would have to start cooking at 4 in the morning and would finish at 9 in the evening.

When he finally left India, it was at a key point in history. As Britain formally handed over sovereignty to the Indians in 1947, Charlie was on one of the very last boats to leave.

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