Wartime research began close to home for author Jan

As part of her researches into her book looking at the wartime experience of Shropshire, Jan Johnstone was able to tap into a source close to home - her own father, Jack Bird.

Entertainer George Robey stayed at Shrewsbury
Entertainer George Robey stayed at Shrewsbury

"My late father told me little bits about what happened," she said.

"He was in a reserved occupation at Joseph Sankey's in Hadley. He lived in Hadley, and although he had quite serious asthma, they still made him a fire watcher.

"He told me a story of being on the roof of Sankey's and seeing the glow in the sky from the bombing of Liverpool. It's in the book. It must have been a horrific night."

Shropshire At War

Jan's book, Shropshire At War 1939-45, has now been published by military publisher Pen & Sword, and costs £14.99.

Having been born the year after war's end, there was much that was new to her.

"Being born in 1946, people didn't want to talk about the war in the 1950s when I was growing up. I've talked to various people who have given me information and while I won't say you have to drag it out of them, it must have been an awful time to live through.

"One thing that did fascinate me was that they used elephants in Shropshire to clear away an airfield at Bratton, and another thing that interested me was the number of air crashes, particularly the one at Lawley where there's a memorial to the pilot who avoided the school so the children would be safe.

"Also, I never realised that George Robey lived in Shrewsbury. He toured around the country and also in Shropshire to encourage people to save."

A memorial at Lawley Bank in memory of 2nd Lt Clifford W. Jenson, an American pilot based at Atcham airfield who died at this spot on June 20, 1944, when his Thunderbolt aircraft crashed.

Robey was a popular entertainer of the early 20th century.

Among other stories included are how COD Donnington transformed the area, and how Pitchford Hall, south of Shrewsbury, would have been one of several safe houses used by the royal family as they were moved upcountry in the event of an invasion.

Jan, who lives in Wellington and has just retired from being in charge of health and safety at Telford shopping centre, is in the Wrekin Writers group.

She had done a previous book for Pen & Sword called "Oswestry & Whitchurch in the Great War," and it was this that led to her being offered the chance to do the new book.

A cutting from a contemporary newspaper telling how circus elephants Saucy and Salt were recruited to clear the way for Bratton airfield near Wellington - although due to censorship the location was not given.

"I grabbed it with both hands."

Apart from tapping into people's memories, her research encompassed a wide variety of sources, including contemporary newspapers, books, and the internet.

And with the latest book now completed, she is hoping that she will be commissioned to do a further one.

"I'm waiting to hear back. It will be a bit different to the ones I've done before," she said.

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