Searchlights Over South Gloucestershire is a dramatic interpretation of real-life experiences gathered from oral histories, letters and diaries of people living in the area during the Second World War and retold on Twitter.
Follow the lives of three fictional families, whose members include a schoolboy, a land girl, a Red Cross volunteer and an aircraft engineer at Filton, as they do their bit for the war effort.
Brass Works Theatre and writer Adrian Harris present the project in association with South Gloucestershire Council’s Second World War Stories initiative and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. With additional thanks to volunteers at Yate Heritage Centre and Kingswood Heritage Museum, and to the Imperial War Museum, London.
Margaret was born in Church Road, Kingswood, in 1926 and moved to Hanham Road, opposite what is now Beacon Rise Primary School, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Here she talks about her early life during the war and remembers a particular air raid when the Luftwaffe targeted the aircraft factory in Hanham Road.
In the following video from South Gloucestershire Council’s Second World War Stories project, Roland Wood, who was born in 1928 and grew up in Kingswood, remembers the Bristol Blitz, nights in air raid shelters and joining the National Fire Service as a bugler.
The Crew family
Cliff is an engineer at the aircraft works in Filton and travels there every day by motorcycle. He is proud of his skilled work as an internal grinder, keeping to strict tolerances in finishing engines for the RAF.
He has been courting Dorothy Hicks for a year and they have discussed a future together, looking at some new houses in Kingswood.
Cliff's mother, Doris, is a clippy on the trams from Kingswood to Bristol, and his father, Gilbert, served in the First World War, returning a changed man. This has encouraged Cliff to explore setting up a home of his own.
Cliff is excused military service because he is in a reserved occupation, but when the Luftwaffe targets one of Britain's biggest aircraft works, Cliff's job is almost as perilous as serving on the front line.
Dorothy works part-time in the kitchen at Hanham Road Infant School. She hopes one day to be head cook but feels that becoming a chef in a restaurant is beyond her reach.
Her father, Bert, works in boot making in one of the many local factories, and her mother, Mavis, looks after her two younger sisters, Mary and Ivy.
Dorothy has been courting Cliff Crew for nearly a year and is very much in love. She is terrified that Cliff will be called up as her mother lost four brothers during the First World War. Despite her fears for Cliff's safety, Dorothy is quick to help out when her street is bombed during an air raid.
The Hubert family
Jack grew up in Yate where his mother ran the village post office. He enlisted with the Gloucestershire Regiment during the First World War and fought at the Somme. He met Elizabeth when she sent a ‘Billy Do’ (billet-doux) letter in a box of hand grenades supplied by the munitions factory where she worked in Warmley. They wrote to each other throughout the war and grew very close despite never having met in person. Jack was injured at the Somme and married Elizabeth shortly after he was demobbed. They have two children, Kenneth and Iris.
Jack now works in Parnell's factory in Yate making gun turrets for RAF bombers. He also volunteers as an Air Raid Precautions warden, patrolling the streets at night to enforce measures to limit damage from enemy bombing.
During the First World War Beth worked in Crane's factory in Warmley making hand grenades. Here she joined in efforts to cheer frontline troops by sending them ’Billy Do’ (billet-doux) letters in the munition boxes. Jack Hubert found one of Beth's letters, which led to their growing close during a lengthy correspondence and, eventually, to marriage.
Beth became a staunch supporter of women's rights during her time as a munitions worker, and was sorely disappointed to be made redundant after the war. After her children left school, Beth found further employment at Newman's in Yate where she rejoins the battle for the rights of women in the workplace.
Kenneth is just old enough to join the army at the outbreak of war. His parents are unhappy about his following in his father's footsteps, though, both because he has an apprenticeship at Parnell and because Jack doesn't want his son to experience the frontline horrors he endured 20 years earlier.
Posted as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Franco-Belgian border, Kenneth and his comrades are driven back by the German advance to Dunkirk.
Iris lives with her mother and father in Yate. She has inherited Beth's strong will and Jack's sense of adventure, which makes for an abrasive relationship with her parents.
Iris finds her first job, working in a small hut assembling gas masks for the children of Yate and Chipping Sodbury, dull, so she volunteers for the Women's Land Army. The local Land Girls have been charged with ploughing available land in Yate and Westerleigh for growing crops.
Iris also finds work as an usherette at the Kings Cinema in Yate where her fertile imagination is fired by all she sees on the silver screen.
The Thomas family
Wesley is married to Eileen and they have two children, Mary and Michael.
Wesley has worked in a small bakery in Warmley High Street for most of his life and volunteered for the Auxiliary Fire Service established at the top of Warmley Hill in Kingswood when it became clear that war was inevitable.
He served in the army in the final year of the First World War and saw action in northern France. The prospect of a second world war troubles him greatly, but he feels he should keep his fears to himself.
Eileen moved to Mangotsfield from Thornbury as a young woman to work in the new Carson's Chocolate factory. She met Wesley through a friend at a village dance and they were soon married.
The couple have lived happily in Warmley for several years and Eileen returned to work at Carson's when the children started school.
As the phoney war ends and the danger of bombing increases, Eileen considers sending her son Michael to live with her sister in Thornbury.
Mary hoped to follow her mother into Carson's chocolate factory on leaving school at 15, but the introduction of rationing meant that the company stopped taking on new staff.
She wants to do her bit for king and country and find adventure. Too young to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1939, she instead volunteers with the Red Cross. The onset of air raids finds her as part of an ambulance crew with a dashing young lad named John.
Michael attends High Street School, Kingswood, he is a Boy Scout and sings in a church choir. While his mother is quite protective of him, he is excited by the prospect of war.
When the Civil Defence co-opts his Boy Scout detachment to run messages between Air Raid Patrol posts, Michael is keen to help out, but when the air raids start, his mother considers sending him to stay with his aunt in Thornbury — much to his dismay.
Michael enjoys doing his bit as an ARP messenger with his best friend Robert Britton, and the boys grab every opportunity to collect bomb shrapnel as wartime souvenirs.
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