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24 September 2014
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War in West Yorkshire
V.E. Day Party
Many children were evacuated during the war
While West Yorkshire’s towns never experienced bombing on the scale of other parts of the country, the area’s factories were fully engaged in war production and few peoples’ lives were untouched by the war.
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Many Bradford children were evacuated to Nelson in Lancashire or to other West Riding towns like Mirfield and Harrogate. For the Jewish children arriving at a Manningham hostel in 1939, Bradford was itself a place of refuge.

The realities of war were brought home to one Huddersfield schoolboy when sleeping soldiers, evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940, had to be carried into houses in Trinity Street. Following the German occupation of the Channel Islands there were also refugees from Jersey.

Many West Riding people, seeing or hearing the Blitz on Sheffield in December 1941, must have wondered if their turn would be next. On that night, five people died when bombs fell on a house in Dewsbury and at Shaw Cross Colliery in Batley.

Between August 1940 and summer 1941, various parts of the county experienced bombing incidents. A single bomb in Hanson Lane, Halifax on 22 November killed 11 people. Six died and many houses were destroyed when two large bombs fell on Thornes Road, Wakefield, on 14 March.

In Bradford, most damage was done on the night of 31 August 31 1940, when 120 high explosive bombs fell on the city. Lingard’s department store was destroyed, and 10,000 windows shattered. Although 100 people were injured there was only one fatality. Luckily the audience had just left the Odeon cinema when a bomb landed in the stalls. Another bomb in Tyrrel Street just missed people waiting for a tram.

The most serious incident happened not as a result of enemy action but because of a smouldering pipe left in a pocket, which caused a fire that destroyed Booth’s Mill in Huddersfield in October 1941. A memorial in Edgerton Cemetery marks the grave of 44 of the 49 workers, mostly women and girls, who died in the blaze.

Lives were also lost through planes crashing into houses. Four people were killed when a German bomber hit a row of cottages in Idle, five died when their home in Darrington was destroyed by an RAF plane, and in 1944 a plane with a local pilot crashed in Central Avenue, Fartown, killing four.

The county’s looms were working at full capacity making cloth for uniforms or other war purposes - Lister’s giant mill in Manningham made material for parachutes. In Meltham, David Brown’s was for a time the sole manufacturer of Spitfire gears. Broadbent’s in Huddersfield made midget submarines and Jowett’s in Bradford expanded its factory four-fold, many of the new workforce being women.

The AVRO factory in Yeadon offered what was sometimes considered ‘glamorous’ factory work - building bombers for the war effort. But not all war work was glamorous. At the ICI factory, workers were sometimes accidentally gassed while manufacturing chemicals, and had to be taken to moors above the Colne Valley until they recovered.

One in ten of those conscripted were sent down the pit and like Jimmy Savile, who worked at South Kirby, became Bevin Boys. Essential war production of another kind was carried on in Holmfirth, where Bamforth’s boosted morale by adapting their saucy seaside postcards to wartime themes.

For those in the armed forces, war meant travel. Those at home waited and worried. One woman recalls children in the playground with ‘eyes red from crying’, their fathers reported missing. The regimental chapel in Halifax Parish Church is dedicated to the 1,200 soldiers from the local Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who lost their lives.

The dead are also commemorated in war memorials and by the many military graves in the county’s churchyards. On the moors above Holmfirth, aircraft wrecks can still be found while above Ripponden the remains of a decoy bombing target can be seen.

VE Day meant street parties and specially decorated buses, quickly followed by the closure of factory nurseries as women were laid off. When Churchill visited Huddersfield during the election campaign of June 1945, thousands turned out. But attitudes were changing. Churchill was about to lose the election. One woman in the crowd perhaps summed up the popular feeling when she remarked: ‘He hasn’t had to queue for potatoes.’

Find out more...

A permanent exhibition can be found at the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regimental Museum at Bankfield Museum in Halifax, although most of West Yorkshire’s museums do include artefacts relating to World War Two.

Most of the county’s main library services have extensive photographic collections showing how the area appeared in the 1940s, and copies of local papers.

Bradford Industrial Museum houses the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit while the Kirklees Sound Archive, together with the Bamforth Postcard Collection, is available in Huddersfield Local History Library. Original papers from both organisations and individuals can be found at the district offices of the West Yorkshire Archives Service.

The Second World War Experience Centre in Leeds aims to collect, document, preserve, exhibit and encourage access to the surviving material evidence and associated information of the men and women who participated in the war in whatever capacity whether military, civilian or conscientious objector.

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