Blitz woman dies af­ter theft

Sick­en­ing fi­nal in­dig­nity as thieves de­stroy spirit Hitler failed to break

Solihull News - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE LOCKLEY mike. lockley@ reach­plc. com

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

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