Prisoners of war
Prisoners of War were held at various places in the area, including Billesley Common. They had to work repairing roads, and building prefabs. POWs built the prefabs by the Fox Hollies site.
We used to go and talk to the Germans. They used to sing at lunchtime, just like a choir. We used to take them sweets. they were ever so nice to us kids. One was a naval officer. When you're kids you don't take it in that much, you know that they were Germans, you're just going out to enjoy yourselves.
Ray Newton also lived nearby as a child
The POWs were German or Italian. I used to give them an apple on my way to school.
Some of the women took the Germans ice cream from a cafe that had just opened on York Road. They saw the Germans as young men, just like their own. They had just been doing what they had to. The women were quicker to forgive.
They may have taken an innocent view of POWs, but an incident recalled by John Bagley tells a different story:
I remember an old woman, who must have been over 70, standing outside the Co-op on the Warwick Road. She was watching German POWs digging up the road. Along came a lorry with their lunch. When she saw how much food was on their plates, more on their plates than she got in a week, she marched forward and set about them with her umbrella.
We met several of [the German POWs] when they were working on the construction of a prefabricated house site (which later became Lakefield Close). They wore battledress jackets and the long-peaked caps of the German Afrika Korps. The field where they had been working had been part of Izod's Farm..., and was for a time Gaskell and Chambers' Sports ground. As the prisoners cleared the old hedgerow and lit bonfires, the local children went out to meet them. The Germans cut hawthorn, and in their breaks they used the wood to make small carvings, which they sold or swapped. They carved short cigarette holders, which they decorated with burned poker-work, and sold for 6d (2.4p). They also made ashtrays, most of which had one or two carved power-diving eagles attached near the bowl. These they sold for 3s (15p). (Quoted from his article Brothers in War, in the Birmingham Historian, no. 11)
There is a picture in Birmingham at War, vol. 1, by Alton Douglas, which shows POWs doing bomb disposal work on the Warwick Road.