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Family photos reveal memories of wartime Bridgnorth

By Toby Neal | Bridgnorth | Nostalgia | Published:

For just over three years, Alan Bickley lived in Bridgnorth. But what years they were.

Enjoying the snow at The Hookfield in an early winter of the war. Alan is standing left.

The family arrived in the town in 1939 when his dad's job took him there, and they left in 1942.

It meant of course that they were there for the early part of the war and Alan has a family photo album recording that time thanks to his dad's lifelong interest in photography.

"He always took photographs. He took hundreds and hundreds. His name was George Bickley and he became a highly skilled mechanical engineer.

"He became the resident mechanic in charge of the Bridgnorth Post Office engineering department," said Alan, who lives in Penn, Wolverhampton, and is 92.

Alan Bickley, 92, who lived in Bridgnorth during the early war years

The family travelled around a lot with George's job – Alan himself was born in Walsall – and they arrived at Bridgnorth from Oldham.

"Our first house in Bridgnorth was at 2 The Hookfield, and then we moved to 7 Kidderminster Road, probably early in 1940."

George did his bit for the war effort, first being in Bridgnorth's Home Guard, and then being a training officer in the town's Air Training Corps, in which Alan was a cadet.

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They would do drill and exercises at Bridgnorth Grammar School, which was also the school Alan attended.

Still without uniforms, the Air Training Corps drills at Bridgnorth Grammar School in 1940 or 1941. Alan is the short boy, third from right.

George's photos of the Bridgnorth ATC must capture the earliest days of that movement, as in some the cadets still do not have uniforms. The ATC was officially established in February 1941.

"Mr A.E. Swann, our maths master, became the officer in charge. He lived two doors from us. We had to apply. I was the very first boy to give Mr Swann an application to be a cadet and the very last to get a uniform as I was such a little lad, much to my annoyance."

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Born in 1900, Alan's dad was 91 when he died in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton. Alan's mum was Winifred, who was known as Wyn.

"In 1942 my father's job took him to Wolverhampton in his biggest and final promotion. He was the mechanic in charge of the post office engineering department in Wolverhampton, and looked after all the red and green vans and other vehicles and had a team of about six mechanics working for him.

"They had a big garage at the bottom of North Street. It's all disappeared now."

George Bickley's domain – Bridgnorth Post Office in the winter of 1939 and 1940. He was a mechanical engineer working on the vehicles. George took this picture.

During his time in Bridgnorth, young Alan was a witness to the bombing of the town in 1940, when a Luftwaffe raider let loose a string of bombs.

"We were living at 7 Kidderminster Road at the time and there was this enormous bang. We all shot out of our house and had a look. It looked to us as if the whole of Bridgnorth was on fire.

"My brothers and I thought we won't be going to school tomorrow. But we did.

"There was a stick of bombs. He dropped one by the dairy place on the river (i.e. Fort Pendlestone), a second landed by the baths on the river – there was an open air swimming baths at Bridgnorth.

"The third landed in the street up to St Leonard's church and killed two old ladies. One fell at the top of Squirrel Bank, and the last but one fell just beyond Panpudding Hill fractionally the other side of the railway station. There was an Observer Corps station beyond that and I think the last one fell a mile beyond that.

"We were very excited. We were young lads. I don't know what the older folks thought. They were pretty horrified."

Father and son George and Alan in the ATC in Bridgnorth

Another memory is of watching a film at the Majestic and the scene showed somebody opening the bonnet of a car.

"As he lifted it, the air raid siren started. The air raid siren was on top of the cinema. For a fraction of a second I, and I suspect others in the cinema, thought it was out of the film. They stopped the film and I went home. There was no air raid.

"The only other thing in terms of air raids I remember was the night they bombed Coventry. You could see the glare of the fires in Bridgnorth. We were standing outside our house in Kidderminster Road. We all thought it was Birmingham, but it turned out to be Coventry, so you can tell how intense it must have been."

Alan's time in Bridgnorth ATC proved a taster for joining the Fleet Air Arm during the war, as an Observer although he also learned to fly, and serving immediately post-war, being commissioned as an officer.

The family had a farm in Coven area post-war.

He left the FAA in 1947 and married in 1948. He worked in the agricultural department of the Colonial Service in the Gold Coast from 1951 to 1957, and then went into insurance, which led to him running his own business in Penn, finding time to be a local councillor along the way. Ultimately he had a small property repairs business.

He had two brothers, Norman and Tony. Tony married Susan Court, a reporter on the Bridgnorth Journal.

"Tony got killed in a car accident on the Bridgnorth road when he was about 30, driving from Bridgnorth to Wolverhampton."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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