Policing during World War II was very challenging - as well as all the additional administrative duties officers had to deal with, the loss of many experienced colleagues to the Armed Forces, the dangers of the air raids and dealing with the horrific aftermath, some officers were also separated from their families who escaped the horror of the blitz and temporarily lived outside of Birmingham.
We are fortunate to have had a letter shared with us that PC Robert Evans Ace sent to his beloved wife Carrie and their young son Gerald during an intense period of bombing during WWII.
The letter vividly brings to life the horrors of wartime policing: the seemingly never ending bombings of the German Luftwaffe, the devastation wreaked upon the city night after night and the heartbreak of being separated from his family.
PC Ace joined Birmingham City Police on 29 May 1930, aged 20, and married his sweetheart Carrie in March 1936. Based on the E Division his whole career, he would have served around the Moseley, Kings Heath, Sparkhill and Sparkbrook areas. Their only son Gerald was born in January 1937, but life was soon to change dramatically for the happy young family.
With the imminent threat of air raids, Carrie and Gerald left Birmingham early in 1940 and went back to her native Winchcombe. The couple regularly exchanged letters, Robert telling his wife how much he missed her and their son and how dangerous things were in Birmingham. He refers to the Germans as Jerry, a nickname given to them by English troops on the front line:
"Last night, Wednesday, is the worst night I have ever spent in my life. Jerry came over at 8:10pm... Hundreds of bombs were dropped on ‘E’ division alone. One bomb fell on the Rowton house next to Moseley Street Police Station, 30 yards away, another fell in the park another 30 yards away, and another fell at the top of Moseley Street in Moseley Road, breaking a gas main, lifting the tram lines into the air and starting a fire which lasted 4 hours. How Jerry missed the Police Station I do not know."
He wrote the letter at 3am Thursday morning - shortly after the all clear had sounded and he was released from duty at 2am. His thoughts are clearly all over the place as he goes from telling her some of the horrors he has seen, to how grateful he is that they are safe and out of Birmingham, to how it has been pouring with rain all night and is still going strong.
At one point Robert references an bomb that dropped on a shelter containing eight people - four of whom were killed including a 3 and a half year old boy, the same age as Gerald. His love and fear for his wife and child are very clear:
"I stood still there and then and thanked God that you were out of Birmingham. Darling believe me it was like hell let loose and the things that happened were terrible. Darling Beloved, don’t come back and live in Birmingham until I ask you, it is terrible. I think about 100 persons were killed and the shelters that were hit was uncanny."
But although it must be quite therapeutic to document and share his thoughts about all the terrible things he is seeing with the wife he misses so much, he then recovers himself and decides he does not want her to be anxious:
"But don’t worry unduly about me Darling. I take good shelter when they are dropping. I have you and Gerald to think of and live for. Beloved I wouldn’t let Jerry take you two from me, I will see to that."
The letter finishes with a picture of what daily life and wartime policing was like for Robert - he talks of wanting to visit Winchcombe to see his wife and son but states he does not know if leave will be cancelled and it would not be a surprise if it was. He concludes:
"It is simply pouring outside, the time now is 3:30am & so to bed. The all clear went about 2 hours ago. All for now Beloved, until I see you and Darling Gerald. I remain yours forever, Robbie xxxxxxxxxx"
World War II took its toll on Birmingham City Police at home as well as overseas, with 17 officers being killed during air raids. Robert was lucky enough to survive the majority of the air raids but tragically he was hit by a car whilst on motorcycle patrol on Stratford Road in September 1941, dying before he reached hospital.
Carrie eventually re-married; this was a necessity for many war widows with children to support. Carrie was at a particular disadvantage as Robert's death did not quality her for a special war pension as it was not a consequence of the War. Gerald was blessed with a half-sister as well as a step-dad and he and Jean had a very close bond. Jean was always very aware of how much her mother loved Gerald's father. Gerald lived a long and happy life, passing away in 2018 age 81.