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Alderley Edge wartime memories: Who was 'Big Bertha'? MP3 audio interview

Oral history is all around us. Everywhere there are people with remarkable stories to tell. Standing on Castle Rock on Alderley Edge, I got talking to local resident Wallace Ford who chatted to me about the War. Where was the clock that got blasted out by a bomb? Who was Big Bertha and why did he get an Austin 7 for free? Listen to the MP3 audio interview.

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The view over the north east Cheshire plain from Alderley Edge doesn't usually make me think about World War 2. But a man I got chatting to whilst admiring the view has very vivid memories of that time and started to tell me about them in detail. I decided to record some of them, using my recently purchased Roland Edirol R-09 MP3 recorder.

In matters concerning oral history and shared memories, I think the term 'every litlte helps' definitely applies. Every small detail can help to fill out the mosaic and provide a lasting impression for the future. Some details may seem trivial, but they are important.

An interesting aspect to the account is his accent. You may not expect someone from Wilmslow to speak like this - i would have put the accent further north, maybe to the east of Manchester - but this is an accent that's native this part of Cheshire. Wallace Ford was born in 1931 and grew up near Wilmslow. He worked as a mechanic, specialising mainly in Fords. Young people just don't speak with an accent like this any more so it's important to have it on record.

Here are some questions

Who exactly was 'Big Bertha' and where was she stationed?
Why did men from the Territorial Army bury food in the ground?
Where exactly was the clock that was badly damaged by a wartime bomb?
What kind of bomb was the one that fell on the farmhouse near the Macclesfield Rd?
What was his impression of the cars parked on Blackpool prom in 1946?



Austin 7 on Princess St Manchester 23 Nov 2000
Austin 7 on Princess St Manchester 23 November 2000



Who exactly was 'Big Bertha' and where was she stationed?

Big Bertha was a big gun, set up at Morley, just south of Ringway Airport. It was used to fire at enemy aircraft on their way to or from Manchester. The planes would be picked out by the searchlight battery in the fields near Alderley Edge and Big Bertha would try to shoot them down. Looking online, I can find no reference to any 'Big Bertha' in the Wilmslow area, though there was one near Bristol. BBC website which has thousands of wartime stories.

Why did men from the Territorial Army bury food in the ground?

He describes how the Territorial Army buried food under the ground in a field near his house, to the north of Alderley Edge. They had been carrying out exercises there. He's not quite sure why they buried the food, but suspects it was because if they returned to base with it, they would be allocated less food on their next visit. I wonder if any of the food is still there now.

What kind of bomb was the one that fell on the farmhouse near the Macclesfield Rd?

The bomb he remembers falling on the house near the Macclesfield Rd was a bomb on a parachute or parachute bomb, not a land mine as he says first. It killed the woman in the house and blasted the stairs up into the trees. He remarks that she was making mince pies and it was Christmas. Details like this bring out the human tragedy of war that's often overlooked.

Where exactly was the clock that was badly damaged by a wartime bomb?

The clock is the one that used to be above the entrance to Birchfields Road bus depot, which was demolished in the 80s. I had forgotten all about this clock until he mentioned it. This image on the Manchester local images website confirmed it really did exist. Click here to view. On the site of the clock today is a Burger King restaurant, part of the Fallowfield Retail Park, which was built on the site of the former Birchfields Rd bus depot.

What was his impression of the cars parked on Blackpool prom in 1946?

The cars parked on the promenade, reflected the austerity of the time. Many had improvised repairs, including riveted patches or bits welded on. They were mainly Austins, Standards and other British cars. A departing soldier left him an Austin 7 car.

Just a quick conversation can reveal many interesting details, and it's great to hear the local accent too. If you have an elderly relative or friend - or maybe a not so elderly one - why not record an interview with them? It's easy with today's technology. A PC, laptop or mobile phone can record to a good standard of sound quality.

I recommend the fantastic Edirol (Roland) R-09 MP3 and WAV recorder, which I now carry with me everywhere. Around 100 years ago, following the invention of the first speech recorders, which used wax cylinders, researchers went out and recorded interviews with all kinds of people. I am carrying on that tradition today using the latest technology.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-07-23

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