A First World War Childhood

Throughout the project we have been hopeful to find material in children’s own words telling of their experiences during the first world war.  Sadly this has not materialised to any great extent but we have gradually uncovered a number of later reminiscences or memoirs of older people looking back to their childhood during the War.  Some are referred to in the Learning and Resource Guide which will be published at our Birmingham Children of War event on Saturday afternoon at the Library of Birmingham.  This is another one that has recently been uncovered by Alison Smith- and like others we have seen the Zeppelin loomed large in the memories.

The memories of Florence were recorded in 1989 as part of a Stirchley Local History Workshop.

Florence was born in May 1908 and attended the nearby Stirchley School on the Pershore Road.  The 1911 census return records Florence and her family living in Bull’s Buildings (also known as Rose Cottages), several houses set behind a row of shops, also on the Pershore Road in Stirchley.  In 1914 when Florence’s father, Jimmy, joined the army, there were five children living at home and a sixth was born to her mother, Rebecca, during the war years.

An oral history interview records several aspects of Florence’s experiences as a young child in the First World War.  When asked about her memories of the war, she said:

‘I was about six when the war broke out.  My Dad had to go to war.  I can remember the blackouts at night. Everyone had to put up blackouts.  I can remember the Zeppelins coming over.  There were searchlights in the sky.  When they heard the Zeppelins a man would yell “all lights out, all lights out” and the searchlights would go from the sky.  You never forgot the noise of the Zeppelins.  When they came over they would shine lights all round.  The Zeppelins would circle slowly and they would drop bombs.  Quite a few houses were damaged I think, and some children were buried in the rubble in the crater of their house’.


Zeppelin Raid over Black Country
Picture World’s coverage of Zeppelin damage in the Black Country, February 1915. No casualties were incurred in Birmingham but Flo may have heard the Zeppelins flying overhead.

Florence recalled the end of the war:


‘The soldiers used to get off the train at New Street Station and they used to march up the Pershore Road to Stirchley.  Each soldier that came to his destination where he lived, used to drop out and there used to be singing and a band playing …. I remember when my dad came home and they said “here they are, they’re coming”.  Some crippled, some on sticks and some that could hardly walk.  My Dad was a very tall man and when he dropped out they said, “See you in the next war Jimmy”.

Florence also tells some interesting stories of her schoolteachers, friends and school life in general.  These can be read in full in the ‘Memories of Stirchley’, copies of which are available at Stirchley Library, Bournville Lane, Stirchley and in the Heritage Research Area of the Library of Birmingham.

Alison Smith

One thought on “A First World War Childhood”

  1. Excellent read. I have been down the Pershore Rd path to Stirchley via Higgins family history, and a cousin who obviously hooked up with a Canadian soldier at 18yrs, was wed and shipped off as a military dependent for a different kind of life in Ontario, Canada in 1919.


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