This is a page within the www.staffshomeguard.co.uk website. To see full contents, go to SITE MAP.

Ernie Humphreys, a young sailor in the Royal Navy, tells a remarkable story of how he was caught up in the Birmingham Blitz and only very narrowly survived; and, indirectly, of acts of great heroism which saved his life. The streets which he is talking about are those shown on the map below. These are his words.

Home on seven days boiler cleaning leave from Royal Navy Destroyer Westcott, based at Gladstone Docks, Liverpool, the convoy base, 1940.

After a couple of days at home, one Tuesday evening at about 7.30 I decided to visit an old school friend. I was informed by his mother that he was visiting his sister who lived in Bishop Street. A few minutes after arriving and meeting my friend Jim Farrell and sister Sally and Annie as well as some friends, the Air Raid siren sounded. Jim and I opened the back door, looked into the moonlit night and saw a solitary plane. No guns were being fired.

Then Annie called us to come in and go down the cellar, “It’s OK, it’s been reinforced with girders so we will be alright”, she said. All I could think of was my mother at home with my gran and brother, I wanted to make sure they were alright, but there was no time.

After being down the cellar about five minutes or less I found myself buried in bricks and rubble up to my chest. I do not remember hearing a bang. After a few minutes I eventually freed my arms and as I looked up I could see the sky and it seemed I was at the bottom of a tunnel. The more I tried to pull myself out the more I was covered in old plaster and broken wooden lathes. My body was rigid and I was not able to move. I remember hearing Sally cry out "Please help me", I called back, "I can't, I'm stuck and can't move".

Nothing more until I woke up on Wednesday afternoon in the Queens Hospital, Bath Row, the centre of Birmingham. When I woke there was a person at the side of my bed who said he was a police detective, he gave me a cigarette and asked me a number of questions, then left leaving me the almost full packet of Players cigarettes.

After two days in Queens and being visited by one of my brothers, who told me he had seen my name on the casualty list outside Digbeth Police Station. I was relieved as my mother knew I was alright, and I knew they were alright. I was also concerned about my Burberry raincoat as it contained my Pay Book, Identity Card, and also six one pound notes inside. (Gone but not forgotten). I was then taken by an American Red Cross ambulance to Rubery Hospital for the service wounded. I was treated for bruises and swollen limbs. After seven days I was allowed home. My mother had cleaned my uniform as I refused to wear the hospital uniform of white shirt, red tie, and light blue suit, worn by wounded service men.

Catching the tram to Brum I stopped at Bristol Street and walked down Wrentham Street towards my home in Barford Street, I called at the public house in Wrentham Street, I decided I would like a drink. Buying half a pint of mild I looked at the side of me and a man was holding a collection tin.
"What's that for?" I asked him.
"It's for the widow of the Home Guard who died of gas poisoning being lowered down that hole in Bishop Street", he said.
"I'd been told it was a land mine and took a row of houses. Was the person rescued?" I asked.
"Yes”, he replied, “eventually, it's a sailor, I do hope he's alright?

When I mentioned the sailor was me he nearly fainted. "Do you realise you are the only one out of twenty to survive?" he said.

The lad who was also rescued lost a leg under the cellar girder and died under the operating table of shock from losing his remaining leg.

© Ernie Humphreys 2003 (see also below)

Ernie Humphreys was obviously unaware at that stage, only days after the incident, of exactly what had happened in Bishop Street. The full story possibly did not emerge fully into public view until Michael Minton researched the subject many years later. It is told in detail in his book, “Heroes of the Birmingham Air Raids” and is related in summary below.

It was the evening of Tuesday, October 15th 1940. The house which Ernie was visiting was no. 154 Bishop Street. The siren going at 8.07 p.m., just a few moments after his arrival, heralded the start of a dreadful night during which many people died including a very brave member of the Home Guard, Section Commander George Walter Inwood (right). After that initial alert the bombs started to fall on this area of Birmingham at 8.40, about half an hour later. One high explosive bomb hit and demolished three houses, amongst them no. 154, as well as a small nearby factory. In the reinforced cellar below these houses a number of people were trapped, their situation made even worse by the escape of gas from a nearby fractured main.

A squad of six Home Guards from the 10th Warwickshire (Birmingham) Battalion had been called upon by the police to assist. The man commanding them was Section Commander George Walter Inwood. A cavity was formed in the debris through which trapped people could be seen and heard. Section Commander Inwood was lowered into this cavity. He succeeded in bringing up two men alive. That was at 9.37. Fifty minutes later there followed a boy who had unfortunately already died.

One can imagine the rescue attempts getting increasingly frantic The senior policeman present, Inspector W. F. Wade, had previously attempted to go down himself but was too heavily built for the cramped space. He continued to assist at its mouth, having to leave temporarily at 10.56 to recover from the effects of the coal gas. Section Commander Inwood, although exhausted, went down for the third time when he was finally overcome by the fumes. He was dragged out by his comrade Volunteer Leonard Isoyn Tidball. Attempts to revive him were in vain and he died at 11.53 p.m.

The rescue attempts continued despite all the dangers. Other brave men risked their lives including Messrs. Woodland, Rainbow and Pickersgill, all members of the ARP Rescue Party, Kingston Wharf Depot. All of them were overcome and had to receive hospital treatment. We must assume that the efforts continued for as long as there remained any hope of finding any of the victims still alive.

This night of tragedy led to many acts of bravery of which several found official recognition. B.E.M.s were awarded to Messrs. Tidball and Wade and the George Medal to Messrs. Rainbow, Pickersgill (pictured here at their 1941 investiture) and Woodland.

And a posthumous George Cross was awarded to Section Commander Inwood. The official citation included these words:
“He showed the highest form of cool courage and self-sacrifice for others."
His widow, Mrs. Lily Inwood, received the medal at a presentation in 1941. Here are newspaper cuttings from the time:















George Walter Inwood now lies in Yardley Cemetery, Birmingham. He was 34 years of age at the time of his death.

Research by the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association and Swanshurst School has revealed the true extent of the tragedy that night in Bishop Street.

In memory of

George Walter Inwood


All the men, women and children

who died in Bishop Street
October 15/16th 1940

Acknowledgements and Links
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the sources of much of the above information:

-  Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association (BARRA)
-  Swanshurst School and their excellent Blitz database/website which they maintained for many years and for their permission to publish some of their data. (This is the current
(2019) link for the BARRA information.)
-  Michael Mintonís book “Heroes of the Birmingham Blitz”, Brewin Books, 2002, ISBN 1 85858 211 3
-  The London Gazette and The Times Archive
-  An excellent Home Guard website: http://www.home-guard.org.uk/
-  Mr. Ernie Humphreys and the BBC’s WW2 People’s War website
(WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found here on the BBC website. Acknowledgement is made to the BBC and to the author for the creation of that record under terms which permit its reproduction on this website. The original article can be read here.)
-   Mr. Brian Southwell for providing the headstone image.
-   Matt Felkin's "Wartime Birmingham and the Blitz" Facebook page.
-  Mark James, Ruth Lockley and the British Newspaper Archive.

(Headstone image © Brian Southwell 2011

Please go to this page for further information about many members and units of the Birmingham Home Guard in WW2; and here for 1943 images of the devastated streets adjacent to Bishop Street.




x87 November 2010; updated November 2019 
wef29Aug21 web counter   web counter