The new secondary school in Upper Holland Road remained unfinished and empty at the beginning of World War II, earmarked for possible military use. America entered the war at the end of 1941, and the build-up of American forces in Britain began. The troops wanted to send letters home, and the people at home wanted to send mail and parcels, so a US postal system was urgently needed.
All the mail went through a first base sorting office, and Sutton Coldfield was selected as its location. Men moved into the new school buildings (now Plantsbrook School), and the post office took over Sutton Park Railway Station. By July 1st 1942 the sorting office had been set up by the thirty-two trained men, who were joined by more ex-postmen the next month.
More and more American troops came across the Atlantic, and the scale of operations at the first base post office grew. More soldiers came to work there, but still more help was needed, and at the end of October fifty-one local women had been recruited to work alongside the 140 Americans. In August 1943, rather than construct more camps (there were already American camps in Penns Lane and at Streetly Gate in Sutton Park), the hundreds of G.I.s based in Sutton were billeted on local people - everyone with a spare room had to give it up to a soldier if required.
The sorting office used existing railway property at first, while huge purpose-built premises were under construction. This utilitarian building of 52,000 square feet was ready by October 1942, German prisoners-of-war providing some of the labour force for its construction. Late in 1943 there were hundreds of soldiers and hundreds of civilian women working there, despatching two train-loads of mail every day, and even so falling behind with the work - at one time there was a backlog of over 100 trucks of mail in the sidings.
The sorting office had been built to the specifications of the U.S. Army, with its own sidings and a loading dock which could accommodate fifteen trucks. At the end of the war it was taken over by the G.P.O., and is still used for postal services. It is one of the few American buildings of the second world war still standing, and its local, national and international historical significance is now recognised, being grade II listed by English Heritage. However, it may not last much longer, as there are plans afoot to replace it with a housing estate, wiping another piece of Sutton history off the map. (article based on research by Martin Collins)