Tag Archives: Second World War

100th Anniversary of the RAF

Royal Air Force Birmingham wireless telegrapher appeal, a recruitment appeal for ‘Young Men, 17 1/2 years and upwards’(MS 2966/3/1).

The 1st of April 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force (RAF), when the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to become the first independent airforce in the world, following the passing of the Air Force (Constitution Act) 1917.  In this week’s blog post, I thought I’d take a look at some of the varied sources we hold here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, relating to the RAF.

To start with, some of the earliest material I found comes from a collection called ‘Circulars relating to recruitment, fund raising and coal rationing from the First World War, 1917-1919’ (MS2966).  These circulars were sent from various sources to the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham for the purpose of supporting the war effort.  It is likely that they were displayed in a number of Birmingham’s Catholic churches. You can see some examples of these in the image at the top of this blog post and below.

Birmingham Royal Air Force recruitment appeal to the men of Birmingham to keep up the bombing campaign against Germany by volunteering at the RAF Reception Depot, Paradise Street, 1918 (MS 2966/3/2)

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The War Poetry Collection in the Library of Birmingham

Book Plate from the Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. 1921. L52.31.


The War Poetry Collection was presented to the Birmingham Reference Library in 1921 by an anonymous donor, in memory of William John Billington, 2/24 London Regiment, (Queen’s Hussars), 60th Division, formerly 2/2 South Midlands Field Ambulance, who was killed in action at Abu Tellul Ridge in Palestine  on 9 March 1918.



The donor was William Cross of Rubery, who had assembled an unrivalled collection of 1,233 books and pamphlets of poetry relating to the First World War, written by both soldiers and civilians.

Included are poems in English, Breton, Czech, Danish, French, Gaelic, German (Swiss), Italian, and Latin, by members of the British and Allied Nations. There is poetry which was published in Britain, Canada, Australia, America and Barbados.

Many additions were made to the Collection by the Reference Library, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 volumes of newscuttings of poetry and verse from newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired, which represents many different social attitudes to war from the patriotic to the despairing.

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Quakers and the Kindertransport

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10, 000 children, the majority of whom were Jewish, were brought to Britain from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to escape persecution by the Nazis between 1 December 1938 and 1 September 1939. What came to be known as the Kindertransport was the result of the combined efforts of Jewish and Quaker organisations in successfully persuading the British government, in the days after Kristallnacht in November 1938, to ease its immigration restrictions for refugee children. The children were permitted to enter Britain on temporary visas without their parents if a guarantee of £50 per child were provided to cover the costs of care, education and re-emigration from Britain once the war was over. If the children were over 14, they were to be found work in agriculture or domestic service. The first group of children arrived at Harwich on 2 December 1938 and was accommodated at Dovercourt Camp for Refugee Children until suitable accommodation could be arranged with a host family or in a hostel.

Led by Bertha Bracey, Secretary of the Friends Germany Emergency Committee (later Friends Committee on Refugees and Aliens) in London, the Religious Society of Friends, working with Jewish and other Christian organisations, was involved in all aspects of the Kindertransport.  In Birmingham on 13 December 1938, the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends agreed that a committee should be set up locally to coordinate relief work for Jewish refugees.

Religious Society of Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book, 13 December 1938.

Religious Society of Friends, Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book 1936-1939, 13 December 1938, minute 581.

The Committee worked with the Friends Germany Emergency Committee and the Birmingham Council for Refugees. Some of its objectives included setting up a clearing house for children from Dovercourt Camp and for other refugees, finding homes for refugees, seeking agricultural and industrial training, raising money to support relief work, and helping Friends House, London by undertaking some of the advisory work it carried out.

Religious Society of Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Refugees and Aliens Emergency Committee report: list of members, 1939.

By 10 January 1939, the Committee had already been offered the use of Allendale Cottage, Wast Hills by William and Emiline Cadbury which was to be used to accommodate 6 refugee children prior to finding them more permanent housing. An advice bureau was set up at the Library in Bull Street Meeting House and each Thursday 8 volunteer Friends and 6 volunteer refugees provided advice both for refugees in need of aid, and for Friends wanting to offer their services in the relief effort. The principle objective of the bureau was to,

‘penetrate the maze of Refugees organisation and disorganisation, and to master the intricacies of  case preparation for successful approach through the Refugee Committees to the Home Office’ (Warwickshire Monthly Meeting reports relating to minutes, 1939-1943, extract from Refugee and Aliens Emergency Committee annual report, 1939).

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Rationally Speaking

Following on from what might have been, for many, a slightly over indulgent Christmas, spare a thought for 75 years ago when rationing was being introduced across the country.

Fuel rationing had already begun in September 1939, with the issuing of ration books following in October that year. To counteract any threats to supply lines coming into Britain, and to ensure the nation was fed, food rationing was introduced on January 8th, 1940.

Ration Book dated 1948-1949. © IWM (EPH 1751)

Ration Book dated 1948-1949. © IWM (EPH 1751)

One of the most obvious targets during the War was the supply of foodstuffs. With convoys coming across the Atlantic constantly under threat from German U-Boats, it would only be a matter of time before the nation began to starve, unless the distribution of available supplies was managed properly.

Butter, sugar and bacon were the first items to be rationed. Followed by eggs, tea and cheese. Rations were allocated based on weight, value or a points based system, with points often being used to obtain dried and tinned goods. This was strongly supported by the famous ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, which encouraged the nation to make the best use of any available land to grow vegetables.  Of course the well documented effect of this was that the nation’s diet and health actually improved, particularly for the poorer of the country.

Pages from a ration book issued in Birmingham. [MS 1893/3]

Pages from a ration book issued in Birmingham.       [MS 1893/3]

Pages from a ration book issued in Birmingham. [MS 1893/3]

Pages from a ration book issued in Birmingham. [MS 1893/3]

Rationing was introduced very early on in the Second World War, seemingly influenced by the successful trial during the First World War. As would be the case some 20 years later, protecting Britain’s supplies would prove crucial. In 1917, queues outside shops were becoming a regular part of daily life. Recycling was encouraged, along with growing your own food, prompting the Parks Department in Birmingham to make more allotment plots available, leading to 1,800 acres of land being used as allotments by the end of 1918.

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