We met Rob Johnson in Key Hill cemetery whilst the Friends of Key Hill and Warstone Lane Cemeteries were helping him locate the grave where some of his family members were buried.
Rob explained that the grave belonged to his mother’s grandparents and that she she had written about them in the Birmingham Blitz – Our Stories book produced by BARRA (The Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association). Barbara Johnson was a founding member of the association and chairperson from 2006-2018 before her death.
Barbara lived in Richmond Terrace, Bridge Street West, Hockley with her mom, dad and older sister Gladys (her older brother Billy was in Wales at the time). Her maternal grandparents were Harry and Louisa Gregory, who lived in Rosebery Street (less than a mile from Key Hill Cemetery) and were killed in an air raid on 28th July 1942. Her Auntie Daisy and 2 year old cousin Jimmy were also injured and taken to hospital.
Barbara recalls what happened on that fateful night:
‘Every night mom and dad used to put on our coats, shoes and gasmasks and waited for the sirens to go and get us out of bed. On the 27th July 1942 we were all in the shelter and my dad was fire watching. He came to the shelter and told my mom that Rosebery Street had been hit. That’s where my Nan and granddad lived. My mom just panicked. She got out of the shelter and left us with Mrs Patrick, a neighbour who lived opposite us in the terrace.
When the all clear went we were taken into her house. We didn’t know where mom and dead were. Mom had gone. When mom came home we were taken back over home. My mom was in the chair with two neighbours who lived in the terrace and were trying to get mom round with smelling salts and tapping her face. I was so frightened I thought my mom was going to die. Later that day mom and dad told us that Nan and grandad had gone to heaven.’ My Auntie Daisy and cousin Jimmy aged two were in hospital. I cried and cried because I loved my grandparents so much. We used to go every Saturday and I knew I wouldn’t see them again.’
Quote from Birmingham Blitz – Our Stories, page 10
To read more about Barbara’s war time experiences, including memories of evacuation to Evesham and the loss of other family members, please see Birmingham Blitz – Our Stories, which is available through Birmingham Libraries or to purchase directly from BARRA.
The loss of her grandparents was the reason why Barbara joined BARRA, in order to see a fitting memorial erected to them and everyone else who was lost. Now Harry and Louisa are remembered not just on their gravestone at Key Hill but also on the Tree of Life outside St Martins in the Bullring.
Harry and Louisa are buried in Key Hill Cemetery in Section L, plot 205. This is a public grave containing 109 interments most of which date to 1911-1912, with 7 burials added from 1942 onwards including Harry and Louisa Gregory, whose family later erected the memorial above.