Birmingham and the Blitz

Bomb damage High Street, Saltley

Bomb damage High Street, Saltley, 17 May 1941 (Ref: photos/ww2/blitz/48)

Birmingham Archives & Heritage holds numerous collections of photographs relating to Birmingham during the war, providing graphic evidence of the impact of air raids on the city and its people. The following are from a box of miscellaneous images from various sources in the former Local Studies and History Department’s photographic collections. They were taken after the intense bombing raids by the Luftwaffe that marked the period 1940-1941. The photographs are currently being digitised, renumbered and repackaged by two volunteers.

Most were taken by photographers working for the City Public Works Department. Their remit was to capture visual evidence of areas of the city badly devastated by bombs. This was to help plan the reconstruction of property, even the mass redevelopment of districts, when the war ended. Most show parts of the city centre and industrial areas hit particularly hard, but densely populated inner suburbs of large cities were also susceptible to aerial attack, as this view of Saltley High Street taken in May 1941 shows.

The photograph also hints at the stoic determination of the population to carry on despite the psychological impact and physical carnage inflicted. To the right of the shot can be seen a man apparently bending to clear debris from the site. Just beyond the houses a factory chimney belches out smoke, industrial production pressing on in spite of nearby raids so that Britain had the resources to resist the continued threat of Fascist aggression.

The photographs are an interesting and relatively unknown resource, forming part of a much larger collection of material held by us relating to Birmingham during the Second World War. This includes photograph albums, air raid maps, minutes and other records of the Council’s Civil Defence Committee, and personal records and papers of individuals engaged as civil defence personnel.

Michael Hunkin

4 responses to “Birmingham and the Blitz

  1. The air raid photographs of Birmingham city during the Second World War would greatly enhance the history curriculum of Birmingham. These photos would give history students a detailed picture of what the situation was like during the war. Although these photographs are used as exhibitions in Birmingham’s Archives & Heritage facility, it would be a good idea to post some of those photos online so that they can be easily accessed as learning materials.

    • Thank you for your comment – its always useful to have such considered feedback. The air raid photographs are very much in our thoughts with regards to material highlighted for a digitisation strategy and subsequent availability online. When this will happen is dependent upon the availability of resources and we will keep you updated on the blog with any relevant news…

  2. Ruth Naidia Woolf

    I’m writing my memoirs about my Jewish childhood in Birmingham during the Blitz. Would like to use the photo on your site, showing the bomb damage to the High Street in Saltley after one of the air raids. Would it be OK to use that picture so long as I acknowledge its source? Please advise.

    Naidia Woolf

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