Rare wartime photographs on display

West Bromwich at War 1939-45 is an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia curated by West Bromwich Local History Society; featuring some never seen before images by local sports photographer Albert Wilkes, who served with the Army Film & Photographic Unit in the Second World War, from Normandy to Berlin.

There is a preview of the exhibition on Tuesday 4th October, 6pm-7.30pm, at the Arts Café, to be opened by Cllr Steve Melia, Town Lead for West Bromwich. On Saturday October 8th, 11am, the Central Library in West Bromwich hosts Oldbury Writers Group, who will present a reading from their anthology of their World War Two writing. Friday 28th October, 2pm – 4pm will see the launch of the new West Bromwich Local History web site at the Arts Cafe, with a talk from historian Robin Pearson.

About the exhibition

For many years Albert Wilkes worked in his father’s photographic business in West Bromwich, specialising in football and cricket photographs. He first served with an Army Ordinance unit stationed near Carlisle, then transferred to the Army Film and Photographic Unit. He joined Unit No. 5 in 1943 at Pinewood Film Studios and was allocated to document the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944. Albert followed the progress of Montgomery’s troops in the battles to liberate Caen, Rouen, Le Havre, then into the Netherlands and Belgium, having several lucky escapes. At the beginning of 1945, he was in the Reichswald Forest as the Allies fought their way towards the Rhine. In April, along with others from the AFPU No. 5, he entered Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. Albert later told his family: ‘One thing that photographs can’t do is capture the smell.’ He followed the troops all the way to Berlin. He attended the Potsdam conference in July, photographing Stalin, Churchill and Truman in the Cecilienhof garden. He photographed the Victory Parade in Berlin in September and the Court Room under construction in the Town Gymnasium in Lüneburg, before the start of the trials of the Belsen Guards. He then travelled across defeated Germany, a nation of rubble ­– 3.6 million German homes have been destroyed leaving 7.5 million people homeless. His job was then to document the post-war reconstruction efforts in the British sector, the provision of food, water, sanitation, the new infrastructure of roads and bridges, the return of peace. He finally came back home to West Bromwich in 1946 and returned to sports photography.

Councillor Richard Marshall, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for leisure, said: “We have such a rich history and thanks to local historians there is always more to discover about our borough and people from it, like Albert Wilkes, who captured a momentous time at the end of the Second World War.”

The project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and a bequest from Stan Wilkins.