This is a written account of one woman’s experience of the night of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974. Sheila Gate was prompted to write her memories down after the recent 40th anniversary commemorations of the event.
The Birmingham pub bombings were a series of bombings which occurred in public houses on 21 November 1974 killing 21 people and injuring 182 others. A memorial to the people killed in the bombing is in the churchyard at Birmingham Cathedral.
21 November 1974
“After leaving Sparkhill Commercial School in 1954 I regularly met three friends in Birmingham. On Thursday 21 November 1974 we arranged to meet at 8.00pm in the Wimpy Bar as usual and to bring children’s Christmas present to exchange. The Wimpy Bar was located on the ground floor with The Tavern in the Town pub underneath.
I was concerned as there had previously been bombs and hoaxes in the city, usually on Thursdays. One friend lived nearby and having heard on the radio about disruption caused by the funeral procession of an alleged IRA bomber in Coventry we decided to travel by train instead of driving. At the station we learnt all trains had been cancelled. Instead we caught a bus into the city, making us later than usual.
On arriving it was immediately evident there was trouble. The atmosphere was very tense, with an acrid smell in the air, emergency services everywhere, people running in a state of shock and panic. We could see carnage in New Street, glass littering the road and pavements, cars badly damaged, body bags being carried by emergency services. A policeman calmly advised us to go home. On asking if we could search for our friends, even by visiting hospitals, he repeated it would be wiser to return home. We walked out of the city, found a phone box and my friend phoned her husband, who offered to drive into Birmingham to collect us as the transport system had ground to a halt. First he took their young children to my house where my husband was looking after our children.
Somehow he found us and we arrived at their home in a state of shock and worry about our friends. Later we ascertained they had made their separate ways home by bus. They were in the café when the bomb went off underneath. Flying glass had cut the leg of one friend, fortunately she was wearing long boots the injuries weren’t too severe, but was in a state of shock because of the sight, sounds, and smell and the thought of what might have been…
We were all so fortunate – because of our altered travel arrangements we were late. Had we been on time we would have probably been affected by the blast. Also we usually sat in the window, but our friends sat in the rear of the café so were saved from serious injury by shattering glass and falling masonry.
We never met in Birmingham again; we have all moved away and seldom meet up but are in regular contact.