Friday, November 10, 2017

Remembering when Redditch and Royal Enfield were targets

The Royal Enfield factory in Redditch, England made an inviting target during World War II.
Saturday is Veterans Day in the United States, an official holiday honoring all military veterans, observed on the anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I. On Sunday, the UK and Commonwealth Nations will observe Remembrance Sunday, commemorating the two World Wars and later conflicts, and also linked to the date of the Armistice.

In the U.S. observations include flag ceremonies in many cities and Florida State Parks will offer everyone, veteran or not, free admission. A barbershop in one city is offering free haircuts to anyone who can show military identification.

In Redditch, England, birthplace of the Royal Enfield motorcycle, there will be a Remembrance Walk Sunday, organized by the Redditch Ramblers. Walkers will use a map from the Second World War, showing the sites of anti-aircraft guns, wartime factories (including the former Royal Enfield works) and the locations of road blocks and fortified positions that would have opposed a German invasion, had it come.

I learned of the walk in a Redditch Standard article written by Imogen Buller. She put me in touch with Paul Field, of the Redditch Ramblers, who graciously emailed the map. The original is highly detailed; I've simplified it considerably to make it easier to read on this blog.

It's still eye opening. There were even powerful land mines meant to wipe out an advancing invader. These were called "flame fougasse" and consisted of barrels of petroleum that when exploded projected burning liquid onto an enemy. Serious business.

Near the center of Redditch a "Keep" is shown, presumably to serve as the final stronghold in a struggle.

"I cannot be certain of the date of the map but suspect it illustrates the anti-invasion preparations of World War II, which would date it to 1940," Paul said.

"The road blocks, trenches, flame fougasse and Keep (conjectural) were all there to defend the town in case of ground invasion; the Bofors guns (fast-firing light anti-aircraft guns) and searchlights to defend against air attack. The Bofors guns were in place from 1939 until the end of the war."

"Redditch did suffer a number of bombings in 1940. The worst was at night on Wednesday 11th December, 1940. A German bomber followed a train heading to Redditch from Birmingham. When the train entered a tunnel in Redditch the bomber veered left and dropped bombs on the town.

"It missed the factories but hit residential areas killing six and injuring 36. Glover Street was worst hit and many houses were destroyed by the bombs. The site is still known locally as the bomb site and I will visit on Sunday together with the old cemetery where I will show a grave of a six-year-old child killed by the bombs.

"The road block identified with the red circle on the attached map is Pigeon Bridge on a main road into Redditch. Under the bridge there were incendiaries and petrol bombs ready to use in event of a ground invasion reaching Redditch. The flame fougasse identified with a blue circle was on another main road into town on the top of a hill, and would have been ignited.

Two-pounder anti-tank ammunition
manufactured by Royal Enfield.
"Royal Enfield was based in Hewell Road in Redditch and was a large factory. During the war Royal Enfield manufactured 125cc motorcycles for the paratroop and airborne regiments and 250cc/350cc/500cc for naval, military, RAF and civil defense.  In Redditch it also manufactured armor-piercing shot for 40mm anti-tank guns (known as two-pounders).

"Very little of the factory exists now. Most of the factory was demolished when Redditch became a New Town in the 1970s and the industrial estate that was built in its place is called Enfield Industrial Estate.

"A small part of the original factory survived and it is easy to tell that it was part of the Royal Enfield because the roof system had a wider pitch on the right compared with the left. I will be visiting this building as part of the walk on Sunday.

"The weather looks promising for Sunday. I have led similar walks in the past and each time I gain more information from the walkers who come along and recall conversations they had with their parents or grandparents."

For more information on Redditch under aerial attack in the two World Wars see the blog item Bombed! on Jorge Pullin's "My Royal Enfields" blog.

Update: Paul passed along these photos from the Remembrance Sunday wall, organized by the Redditch Ramblers. They were taken by Graham Price, one of the members.

Walkers pass the few buildings remaining of the Royal Enfield factory.
New sign commemorates the long history of Royal Enfield in Redditch.
Paul Field (holding book) shows walkers the foundation of the old St. Stephen's Chapel
and the remains of Bordesley Abbey, built in 1140 but demolished in 1538 by Henry VIII.


  1. Is there anything left of the HAA site to the North of the old town.

    1. The Defense of Britain Archive of the Council for British Archaeology lists most Redditch defense sites as "removed," the one exception being the old Drill Hall at 103 Easemere Road, which served as Home Guard headquarters. It is now the Community House.


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