April 1941 was one of the worst periods of heavy bombing experienced by the Midlands during the Second World War. It was also a very costly time for the police forces of the West Midlands with Birmingham City Police and Coventry City Police experiencing 11 fatalities between 8th April and 17th May.
On the 8th April, 54 year old Special Constable Frank Henry Kimberley lost his life during an air raid at the Central Police Station in St Mary Street in Coventry, opposite the cathedral which also suffered significant damage.
Arthur Frederick Matts, a 48-year-old builder and contractor, was caught up in the same blast. Commandant of the Coventry City Special Constabulary, he was awarded an MBE in March 1941 for his ‘leadership, initiative and devotion to duty’, having been on duty through all of the enemy air raids in Coventry. He later died in Warwick hospital.
The Coventry raids that night also killed Police War Reserve Constable Thomas Arthur Harroway. Aged 60, he died in Coventry and Warwickshire hospital when it was hit during the raids but his body was not located and identified until the 30th April due to the damage suffered by the hospital during the bombing. He is buried at the London Road Cemetery in the Civilian War Grave.
Special constable Frank James Cook, aged 29, his wife Mabel and their three-day old son Geoffrey were killed in a bombing raid on the 9th April in Birmingham.
Mr Cook had been a special constable for less than a year and was visiting his wife’s family in Alum Rock, when the house was struck by a bomb. Mabel’s father was also killed.
The bombing did not let up the following night with both Birmingham and Coventry again suffering extensive damage from more Luftflotte 3 aircraft.
Inspector Mark Sellek was on fire watching duty on the station roof at Digbeth Police Station when the building was struck by a high explosive bomb. He was killed instantly. He joined Birmingham City Police in 1925 aged 24.
Insp Sellek was born and raised in Bristol and was commended twice between 1939 and 1940 for work involved in an IRA case and the arrest of a person in connection with explosives.
PC Bertie Gready joined the Grenadier Guards upon leaving school and signed up with Birmingham City Police in 1939 aged 20. Like Insp Sellek, PC Gready grew up in Bristol. He was also killed during the bombing of Digbeth Police Station on 10th April.
Ralph Wilkinson, a 50-year-old Special Constable from Bordesley Green East, was off duty when Luftflotte 3 swept over the city, dropping 285 tonnes of high explosives and 40,000 incendiaries hitting targets including the Saltley Wagon works, Midland railway, Birmingham East goods station, large gas holders in Saltley and Nechells and Windsor Street gas works.
Special Constable Wilkinson was killed alongside his wife Edith when bombs exploded in Richmond Road.
Specials Sub-Commander Rowland Thomas Harman was also killed that day. Married 60-year-old Mr Harmon, a section leader attached to Hay Mills Police station, was killed at 9.45am when a delayed action bomb exploded in Kenelm Road, Small Heath.
Special Constable Harold Leslie Lowe was 37 when he was killed during an enemy air raid in Coventry on 10th April 1941.
PC Jack Frederick Goodchild was born in 1911 and joined Birmingham City Police in 1934. He was on duty and was killed when a High Explosive bomb exploded in Parkdale Road at 4.05pm on the 12th April 1941.
A printer by trade, Leonard Arthur Mead joined Birmingham City Police as a War Reserve Constable in 1940 aged 32. Whilst on duty at 17th May 1941 at 1:10am in Elkington Street, Aston, he was killed during a raid in which a total of 30 people lost their lives. The raid was carried out between 12:45am and 3:47am by 111 aircraft of Luftflotte 2 and 3. It caused fires at the ICI, the Dunlop Rubber Company, Wolseley Motor Company and the Kynoch Works.
Birmingham City and Coventry City Police have a total of 32 officers recorded on the West Midlands Police and predecessor forces Roll of Honour as having lost their lives to enemy action either at home or whilst on duty during the Second World War. Work is currently underway reviewing historic records to ensure all necessary updates are made to the board before it is re-hung in the refurbished Lloyd House reception in the Autumn.
A recent discovery from this work is that of Special Constable Ralph Henry Corfield, aged 41, who was killed by a German bomb which landed near his home in Lozells Road, Lozells, in July 1942. He was buried at Handsworth New Cemetery. He had been on duty the night before and after returning home there was an air raid at 1am. His two children were in bed in the family’s Anderson shelter in their garden and SC Corfield went to check on them before going to help fight fires in Wilton Street where houses had been bombed behind the family shop. His wife later went to look for him and found him under a pile of rubble.
There are also many tales of heroism and bravery from officers who survived the war.
Howard Etherington Wood, a Sergeant in Birmingham City Police, was awarded the George Medal for Gallantry in 1942. Following an air raid whereby six people had become trapped underground in a shelter, Sergeant Wood and Constable Ernest Callaghan forced entry and found one injured man and the body of another before a partial collapse blocked the entrance to the shelter. Sgt Wood and PC Callaghan cleared debris by hand, and were helped by a civilian, in recovering survivors. The building contained heavy machinery and could have collapsed at any moment, and enemy aircraft were still dropping bombs nearby. PC Callaghan and the civilian who helped them received the British Empire Medal.
Pc Ron Jackson also received the esteemed medal for bravery during April 1941. Aged 24 and still a probationary PC, he burrowed beneath the rubble of the bomb-damaged block of flats to rescue a woman trapped when her ceiling collapsed on her.
Three wardens had tried to rescue the woman, removing some of the concrete rubble before backing away amid fears that removing any more would cause the rest of the ceiling to collapse.
A report of the incident in the Birmingham Mail stated: “Announcing that something must be done for the woman [he] went to the rear of the premises and burrowed a way through the debris to a place where the fallen masonry was.
“Lying on his stomach he commenced to saw through the reinforced concrete with a hacksaw and after lying in water for two hours was successful in freeing the woman.”
Former Sergeant Geoffrey Canning joined Birmingham City Police in 1937 aged 21. On 10th April 1941 along with two wardens, PC Canning found a man trapped in the debris of a house demolished by a bomb. Despite continual bombing and brickwork from the house falling all around him, PC Canning spent four hours working to free the man with the help of the wardens. For this heroic act he was awarded the British Empire Medal.