RECENT research has shed light on a group of unsung heroes who played a crucial part during the height of the Blitz.
Hundreds of local men joined the auxillary airforce to protect Birmingham and Coventry from German bombs. They were made responsible for the region’s barrage balloons - a vital defence against the Luftwaffe bombers which plagued Midlands cities.
One of the last surviving members of these squadrons is Solihull’s own John Frame. He served in 916 Squadron and still has vivid memories of his time with the group.
“I was working in a bank before the war,” explained the 88-year-old. “In 1939 I tried to join the territorials with a couple of pals of mine, but only one of us got accepted. I made a few inquiries and had a choice between the auxillary fire service, which I didn’t really fancy, and the auxillary air force. I ended up joining the second.
“The whole objective of what we did was to fly these balloons which acted as a deterrent. They prevented the bombers from coming in too low and protected the cities below.
John’s squadron was fondly referred to as the solicitors and headmasters’ squadron - because it had recruited from the white collar professions. Among the other members was Graham Bell - father of Solihull’s Mayor David Bell.
“It could be really hard work,” said John - who attended Solihull School. “We were on call 24 hours and had to make sure the balloons were fine. To begin with I was based in Birmingham and Coventry but later I would be sent to other parts of the country.
“A big part of what we did later on was stopping the V-1 flying bombs - which didn’t have any pilots. They would make this horrible noise and when they ran out of power they would come down. But the balloons were sometimes able to stop them.”