Blitz woman dies after theft
Sickening final indignity as thieves destroy spirit Hitler failed to break
THE Midlands’ best known Blitz survivor has died – only weeks after her entire collection of treasured wartime memorabilia was stolen.
Friends have said Barbara Johnson, founder of the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association ( BARRA), never recovered from the loss of the vast collection.
“That pushed her over the top,” said one BARRA colleague.
The 83- year- old, who died at the city’s Heartlands Hospital on Thursday, May 31, had stored the wartime items in a van before showing them at an event dedicated to the 1930s and 40s.
The vehicle, laden with gas masks and shells, was stolen.
The items – including a unique map of where the Nazi bombs dropped in Birmingham – have not been recovered.
The thieves unwittingly spirited away a vital part of the region’s wartime history. It cannot be replaced. To them, the stock is worthless. To those who endured the Blitz, it is priceless.
Barbara, from Castle Bromwich, used the pieces to illustrate school talks about the horrors of the Birmingham Blitz, which claimed over 2,000 lives.
The pensioner, who lived through the bombs as a child and lost her own grandparents in the constant air raids, dedicated her later years to ensuring Birmingham’s blackest years were not forgotten. Joe Beddowes, BARRA welfare officer, said Barbara’s World War 2 collection was taken on May 12. They were destined to be put on show at a Castle Bromwich Hall nostalgia event.
“I think that tipped her over the top,” he said. “It really was a blow. Barbara was the most dedicated person you could ever wish to meet.
“What Barbara wanted, Barbara got. She had the kind of personality whereby you couldn’t help admire everything she did. She was a gem. We always called her the Golden One.
He added: “She had a bad bout of flu at Christmas and never really got over it. At the last meeting, she wanted someone else to take over from her and you never heard that from Barbara.”
Barbara helped form BARRA in 2001. The organisation went on to provide a memorial to those innocent families destroyed by the raids and organise an annual remembrance service to the many victims. Barbara tirelessly represented the association. Effectively, she was the association.
“She was BARRA,” said fellow member Dorothy Bradbury. “She did so much work behind the scenes, she did everything.”
And Barbara spoke from experience. She lost loved ones to the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign. Former BARRA secretary Jean Frier said: “She was very passionate about the subject because of losing her grandparents. It is quite a loss and quite a shock.”
Former Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore said: “Barbara was a wonderful, kind person who worked tirelessly on behalf of BARRA. Barbara was instrumental in securing a memorial for those who lost their lives, which stands at St Martin’s Church in the Bullring.”
During a meeting with the amazing pensioner, Barbara spoke to me in detail about the terrifying twilight world of the Blitz.
The memories of cowering, as a seven- year- old, in a cramped, corrugated Anderson Shelter stayed with her long after the deafening violence came to an end. She wept as she spoke of the harrowing nights.
The statistics are truly shocking. Birmingham’s blackest hours stretched from August 8, 1940, to April 23, 1943. There were 365 air raid alerts, 77 actual raids and 9,000 casualties. The Nazi bombers that hunted by day flew low and strafed with machine gun fire those who braved the streets.
Such was the carnage and suffering, that the government, fearful of flagging morale, banned references to Birmingham’s skyborne siege.
We became merely “a Midlands city” in newspaper reports of the bombings.
Barbara broke into tears as she recalled the devastation. She was determined future generations never forget how residents rose above the rubble.
Barbara was not bitter about what Hitler did to Birmingham. But she felt angry the world has not learnt from the cruelty she, as an innocent child, watched unfold. She added: “Now they are fighting again. If anything, it has got worse. I don’t think we’ll ever learn.”
Barbara has left a legacy. Thanks to her work, the price and sacrifices paid by ordinary Birmingham folk will never be forgotten. And she was right. It’s still all about the politicians.
thin‘ t‘ Ikh at tipped her over the top. It really was a blow. Barbara was the most dedicated person you could ever wish to meet. JOE BEDDOWES
Barbara Johnson, with the book about Brum Blitz memories, founded the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association