NEWS: A search for living relatives of WWII Erdington Aircraftman Maurice Joseph Berry

Words by Ed King

A search is on for living relatives of an Erdington aircraftman who died in the Second World War, hoping to invite them to a special memorial ceremony to be held in May later this year.

The Airfield Construction Branch Association (ACBA) have reached out to Erdington Local, looking for help in finding any friends or family members of Maurice Joseph Berry Aircraftman 2nd Class – who lost his life in a bombing raid whilst serving at RAF Ashford, Kent, in 1944.

Alongside Aircraftman Berry, a total of 20 people died in the raid on RAF Ashford – after a German Bomber dropped a 1000lb bomb on the construction camp whilst the men were on active service at the base.     

14 servicemen were killed immediately with a further six losing their lives following the attack. All the airmen were Volunteer Reservists attached to 5003 Squadron.

Founded in April 1918, the RAF grew to around 1.2m personnel in the Second World War – following the merger of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in the final stages of the First World War.

In the Second Ward War the RAF were also heavily supported by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), established in 1939, which made up over 15% of the RAF at its peak and saw reportedly 2000 women signing up each week.

The RAF played a significant role in Second World War, as advances in German aircraft and airborne warfare gave birth to the German Luftwaffe – who had been secretly trained in the years in between the First and Second World Wars.

This ‘fight for the skies’ culminated in the Battle of Brittain and what is referred to today as ‘The Blitz’, air fought conflicts which lasted from July 1940 to May 1941 and were the German army’s precursor to their planned land invasion of Britain – named Operation Sea Lion.

However, by spring 1941 the Luftwaffe suffered significant losses and German plans for an invasion of the British Isles were scrapped.

Many of the Spitfire planes and Lancaster Bombers flown in the Second World War were made at the Castle Bromwich Aerodrome, on what is the Fort Dunlop site and Castle Vale estate today – with roads across the area named after the people and planes from Erdington that were so pivotal in Allies’ victory over the Third Reich and Axis powers.

Maurice Joseph Berry was born to Joseph and Alice Berry, who lived in Erdington. Maurice is buried at Witton Cemetery and it is believed he may still have family living in or around North Birmingham – or that people in the area might know how to locate any living relatives.

Anyone who has any knowledge of Maurice Joseph Berry or could help locate any living relatives is asked to contact ACBA Associate President Geoffrey Chesher-Brazier by emailing [email protected] – or phoning 07481 992 2279.

A memorial service will be held in the St Mary parish church in Ashford, scheduled for 19 May, to honour the 20 fatalities from the raid at RAF Ashford, with a subsequent service held at Ashford War Memorial.

A letter sent by Mr Chesher-Braizer to Erdington Local concludes: ‘It will be greatly appreciated if you would assist us in locating living relatives of these young men who gave their lives in order that we may live in peace.”

OPINION: Why the NHS should be awarded the George Cross

Words by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands / Photography courtesy of Andy Street 

As we continue the fight against coronavirus, May 8th has taken on a new significance – as the next date on which the lockdown will be reviewed.  Yet there is other celebration connected to that date – VE Day – which resonates with so much that is going on now.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day may have been disrupted by a new enemy, but it links us to a past generation who faced another great national test.

It was during World War Two that the George Cross was created, to reflect the courage of civilians who showed extraordinary bravery. I believe we are seeing that courage again today. That’s why awarding our NHS staff the George Cross provides appropriate recognition for their incredible efforts.

Recently I was honoured to join HRH Prince William to help officially open the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC. Just a few weeks ago, this was an empty space. Now it is a fully-operational hospital with 500 beds ready to join the fight with COVID-19. It stands as a testament to what we can achieve if we pull together as one. It also represents the respect and gratitude we all feel towards our NHS staff.

The ‘Nightingale’ name above the door also perfectly embodies the driving principles of those who are on the frontline on this crisis – they are saving lives whilst demonstrating care and compassion.

The NHS, from the doctors and nurses on the wards, to the ambulance crews and paramedics, and all support staff, represents the very best of our society.

This crisis has shown, more than ever, the vital importance of a health service that is free at the point of use. Look around the world, at the disjointed approach produced by countries where private healthcare is prevalent, and you can see the true value of our single, united health service.

The nation’s weekly doorstep appreciation of the NHS – where millions of people applaud in support – is proof of the debt of gratitude we all feel.

The NHS reflects so much of the best of British society. The NHS is truly democratic, treating everyone the same. The personal gratitude expressed by the Prime Minister to the nurses and staff who oversaw his recovery from COVID-19 illustrates how the NHS is there for all of us.

The NHS also reflects of the diversity of our modern society. In the crisis, we see the young caring for the old, and we also see retired doctors and nurses returning to join the fight. We see NHS staff from all backgrounds and from across the globe helping the people of the UK.

Right now, the NHS is also hugely important to the health of our economy. As we try to protect business through the duration of the crisis, the NHS is a huge employer that simply keeps going.

Of course, as an institution, the NHS needs care and investment. Prior to the outbreak, the Government unveiled a huge programme of future investment, but now, as we fight this virus, our focus is rightly being placed on the here and now. Some areas are clearly not as good as we want – such as the continuing issue of PPE.

We see now, more than ever, how the NHS is the embodiment of British society. And it is the NHS staff, putting themselves at risk daily, who have become our modern heroes and heroines. That is why I believe the George Cross is an appropriate acknowledgment of the bravery we are seeing.

This is not a gimmick. These awards exist to allow us, as a society, to recognise those who have stepped forward in a time of need.

These are unprecedented times, but awarding this medal collectively, to thousands of people for their joint bravery, has been done before.

In 1942 The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George, so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the great siege they underwent in the early part of the Second World War.

Six years after Malta was awarded the George Cross, the NHS was born. Now, after seven decades of devoted service to the British people, our NHS staff now find themselves under siege too, from coronavirus. There is no doubt in my mind that this is their finest hour.

It is time to reflect the unique contribution to our society of the NHS, and the gallantry shown by its staff. The National Health Service has earned the George Cross.

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands. For more on Andy Street, visit