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The Blitz in Hockley, and the unknown lady victim

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Bombing of The Vine Pub

Alfred James WAKELING was born 1885 in Hockley, Birmingham to Alfred WAKELING & Mary Ann KENDALL .

He had recently taken on the tenancy of the Vine Inn Public House , 96 Carver Street , Hockley, Birmingham with his second wife Mabel when on the 12th December 1940 the pub took a direct


During that fatal night a passer by, informed Frederick WAKELING who had a greengrocers in Spring Hill ,that his brothers pub The Vine Inn had been hit.

It was originally thought that both Alfred and Mabel were killed instantly.

Alfred’s body was found near a dead woman, thought to be his wife.

The Birmingham Hospital Contributory Association Emergency Hospital Scheme –Information for Relatives -

Fatal Casualties – Raids on the 11 and 12 December 1940

Published 9am on 13 December 1940 – list N0: 3, states that the bodies of –

Alfred WAKELING N0: 187 and Mabel WAKELING N0: 188 had been removed from the Vine Inn, Carver Street.

The family placed an announcement in the Birmingham Evening Mail 16 December 1940 informing relatives of Alfred and Mabel’s death. WAKELING- Alfred James, also Mabel ( Late Mrs Owen ) passed away (suddenly) in December.

Will all Relatives communicate with F. Wakeling , Spring Hill, Birmingham.

Alfred & Mabel and were buried in the same grave Section R plot 1260 at Key Hill Cemetery formerly known as the General Cemetery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in December 1940.

Mistaken identity

With horror my family recalled, that after the funerals had taken place that Mabel’s dead body was found in the cellar, she was sitting on a chair with her knitting on her lap. Mabel had been buried alive and apparently by the state of her hands and nails she had tried to clear away some of the rubble around her.

Mabel was buried in January 1941 , in the same grave as her husband and the unknown female. The identity of the other female remains a mystery to this day.

After reading this article in the Birmingham Mail November 2010 a lady named Joan Randall nee Lilley contacted me. We arranged to meet for the 70th Anniversary of the Blitz at Birmingham Council House in 2010. Joan recounted during an air raid her family used to shelter in the catacombs at Warstone Lane Cemetery, however her older sister Evelyn who was a teenager refused to shelter there and would make her way to a relative’s house. During this journey she had to pass the debris of the Vine Inn Pub in Carver Street, when she heard some distressing sounds. Alarmed, Evelyn informed her family, who in turn informed an Air Raid Warden that they thought someone was trapped inside the rubble .The Lilley family were informed that the funerals of the Licensee and his wife had already taken place ! Eventually the Police were called , and Mabel’s body was found in the cellar. This supports my family’s recollections. Joan Randall’s son said it was a story he too had grown up with too.

I have since found two burial reference numbers for Mabel for Dec 1940 ( 56974) and January 1941 (56989) at Key Hill Cemetery. Burial plot Section R , plot 1260 .

I had wondered why the Birmingham Mail death announcement referred to Mabel as the late Mrs Owen. Originally, I had wondered if they were not married. Further investigations, shows that Alfred and Mabel had only been married seven weeks, and had just taken on the tenancy of the pub. Presumably Mabel was still known to locals as Mrs Owen. This was a second marriage for both parties.

The marriage is indexed in the same quarter as their deaths in 1940. Alfred had lived in Hingeston Street and worked at the New Hudson Cycle Co in Icknield Street, Hockley . He had been a driver in the Royal Engineers during WW1 Mabel WAKELING nee HILL , formerly OWEN managed the Outdoor / Off Licence at 85 Hingeston Street, Brookfields. She had previously managed the Hope & Anchor Pub, 79 Caroline Street, with her first husband Albert William OWEN but was demoted to the outdoor when he passed away. I believe at that time by a couple had to be married to take on a tenancy of a pub.

Alfred & Mabel’s marriage certificate states that both the bride and the groom are widow and widower. I took this to be a fact until I purchased the death certificate of Alfred’s’ first wife Mildred Annie Eliza CARTER. Her 1961 death certificate states SHE is the widow of Alfred WAKELING a Licence Victualler.

So was Alfred still married to Mildred when he married Mabel in 1940?

Did they divorce or did Alfred presume that because Mildred had been missing for more than seven years that she would be presumed dead ? Or did Mildred’s daughter Annie, who register her death list her as Widow of Alfred ?

Alfred married his first wife Mildred Annie Eliza Carter on Christmas day in 1905 at St Marks Church, Ladywood. They had three children between 1906 &1911. Sometime between 1911 and 1918 , Mildred left Alfred and returned to her family in the south.

In a strange twist of fate Mildred’s death certificate states –Dead body found 17th February 1961 at the Hinds Head Hotel, Bray, Berkshire. - Widow of Alfred WAKELING.

Secret D Notice:

Regarding the newspaper announcement of Alfred and Mabel’s death in 1940 , it states that they died suddenly. My family were unable to announce they died in an air raid. We now know that this is because Birmingham had a secret D notice and unlike other cities Birmingham was unable to disclose how serious the bombing raids had affected the Industry of Birmingham and the great loss of its Civilians.

This is because we did not wish for the enemy to know of the damage they had caused to the factories that was supplying the war effort . “Walls have ears ” was one of the slogans at the time. In the news, Birmingham was often referred to as a “Town in the Midlands “ was bombed last night . It is because of this secret D- Notice, that the history books and the media today rarely give Birmingham a mention regarding the War, yet it was the second most heavily bombed City outside of London.

Alfred & Mabel names are listed on The Tree of Life a memorial for civilians who died in the Birmingham Blitz. This is located in Edgbaston Street near St Martin’s church in the Bull Ring. The Birmingham Air Raid Remembrance Association .

Their names are recorded in Birmingham's Hall of Memory.

They are also remembered with honour and commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission.

After the Birmingham Mail article in 2010, part of this story was published in Carl Chinn’s Brummagem Magazine N0: 128, November 2011. After this was printed someone else came forward, a lady named Hilda Brookes from Kings Norton. Hilda who had recently married had purchased an eiderdown from Mabel at the pub just a few hours before the pub was bombed.

Alfred & Mabel had only recently married themselves, I wonder if the eiderdown was an unwanted marriage gift and did they have other items to sell?

Perhaps the unknown lady who is buried with them had called to make a purchase?

I suspect we will never know.

Research Compiled by J. Fielding

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