Moseley at War
For Britain the First World War was to be a war which was to be fought not only on the front lines but also at home. The home-front was a new experience of war which affected every man, woman and child – the first “total war”. The impact of the war on Moseley was felt quickly in different and often unexpected ways:
“When the War first broke out, they commandeered all horses and carts. They took the horses away and brought them into this park here, locked the gates because it had big railings round in those days. We had a sentry on duty guarding these horses, and the man next door took cups of tea to the soldiers. I can remember that I was 14. That was the outbreak of the 1914 war. They commandeered all the horses, anybody’s they took, anybody’s horses to take them to France I suppose to carry the gun carriages you see. That was dreadful.” Mrs. Haden)
During the first fortnight of the war, buyers went across the country to find and obtain draught animals for war work. They collected some 165,000, including, according to the resident above, several from Moseley. Most of these horses and mules were shipped to theatres of war, where they were needed to pull wagons, ambulances and light artillery. Alongside the soldiers, they starved, froze, worked to exhaustion or death, suffered enemy fire, wounding, disease and infection. On the Western Front alone, over 256,000 animals died. Of those that survived the war, the fittest were kept by the army, the rest were auctioned off, most likely to local butchers – an ignominious end for such service.
The impact on the people whose horses were requisitioned in this way was at best inconvenient but could, if the animal was essential to earning a living, be catastrophic. With replacement impossible, doubtless some businesses would have closed.
From the beginning of the war there was the threat of being bombed by Zeppelins. Even Moseley wasn’t safe from attack, as although the Zeppelins confined themselves to attacking the east and south coasts for the first year of the war, they eventually struck the Midlands in 1916. According to one Moseley resident they had already been over, possibly on reconnaissance before then.
I can remember the Zeppelins coming over at the beginning of the First World War. They came right over Moseley, the lower end of Moseley. They went towards Birchwood Road and I’m sure I could hear the men receiving orders on the platform underneath the Zeppelin. People won’t believe me but I’m sure I could hear it.” (Mrs Haden)
By the time the Zeppelins did arrive in the Midlands Birmingham had adopted blackout conditions every night. This caused accidents but at least led to the city avoiding the bombing that affected Walsall, Tipton, Wednesbury and Bradley, all of which were lit up. Air raid drills and the use of public shelters had been rehearsed, albeit half-heartedly by a population who found it hard to accept the danger without evidence to back it up. When the Zeppelins were finally seen they often provoked curiosity from people who were not used to seeing anything other than birds in the sky.
“One thing that sticks in my mind was the Zeppelin coming over and everybody was gawping up at this Zeppelin until someone suddenly saw the sign on it which told them it was German. .. My mother took one look and ushered us down the cellar! Pushed us all down the cellar.” (Mrs Geipel)
Those local men who enlisted often gathered at Moseley Station or Brighton Road in Balsall Heath waiting for the train to take them on the first leg of the journey to the front. The same stations would often bring them home on leave, some of them destined for one of the local auxiliary hospitals which had been set up to cope with the unprecedented casualties. Mrs Haden remembers:
“Soldiers coming home from the trenches from New Street station, just as they were from the trenches covered with mud, absolutely one mass of mud. Kit bags hanging on their backs absolutely worn out, I can remember that now. Just occasionally we would see one stray one coming home at first, that was terrible wasn’t it? The soldiers used to go through to France from Brighton Road to Moseley. You could hear them all singing ‘Tipperary’ all the way. We used to see another troop train going through. It was every two or three hours so sometimes, never came back. I can hear them now shouting and singing, we could hear them you see. Brighton Road, Moseley and Kings Heath went straight through to France I suppose, terrible. But it didn’t strike me at the time, isn’t it funny? Perhaps it did.”
The Second World War brought an even greater awareness of the threat that was presented to Britain. Since the First World War there had been great advances in aircraft engineering and Birmingham was a major target for the German Luftwaffe. While Moseley itself presented little of interest as a target, its close proximity to other key areas meant it was always going to be at risk from stray bombs. Sadly there were many people killed during the air-raids from 1940 – 1942 in Moseley. Amongst them were a young girl, Suzanne Marburg, who had been sent by her mother from Prague to escape the Nazis. Young Suzanne died with her foster family at 167 Swanshurt Lane. On the same night, 11th January 1941, in Oxford Road four members of the Piccioni family were killed – the men of the family almost certainly not present through being interned. The bombs did not discriminate on the targets and even St. Mary’s Church had windows blown out.
Yet again there was conscription to the armed forces to swell the ranks and yet again Moseley men set off to fight and protect their country from a threat that was even closer to home than in 1914-18.
For more information, click HERE to look at the Moseley at War booklets
Click HERE to see images from World War 1