Memories of the war years in Nidderdale

1939

THE onset of war was excitement and adventure for us boys. For my father, not many years out of the trenches, and for those who had agonised at home, it was a tragedy.

My first war contribution was helping to make ‘blackout frames’ for the shop windows.

Dacre folk were soon called to arms with the early arrival of the Leeds Royal artillery territorial battalion billeted in the dale. These young lads (men to me), future heroes, were preparing for the front line. How many would return?

Dacre folk responded well. Our house was always busy. Make your own tea, help yourself to cakes and biscuits and leave pennies in the dish.

Some mornings I had to crawl under the table to get out and catch the 7.40am train to Harrogate and Knaresborough King James’s Grammar School. We missed school on Wednesdays in the autumn term as it was on loan to evacuated Leeds Grammar School pupils. No air raids, so the Leeds school re-opened after Christmas.

Dacre was very primitive. water came from the well or pump for drinking and toilets were outdoor earth closets – not hygienic for a grocery shop.

The young Sgt Carr-Walker was used to a different style than the Parochial Hall provided. Off-duty, he sought comfort and privacy in our sitting room with the luxury of a gas fire. Latrines were dug in the field by the Hall and scaffolding was erected by the river for a tank and cold showers, with water pumped from the mill cut. Later, a luxury changing room when we swam in the river dam stakes.

In December, excitement – cousin Harry arrived. His ship, Dalryan, was sunk off Margate by a magnetic mine. There was an article in the Nidderdale newspaper. Harry’s homecomings were always memorable and this was no exception. He married Connie, from Hartlepool, and the Royal Oak had a busy night serving a packed house of soldiers and well-wishers.

Christmas came and the soldiers performed in the Hall. Mother and friends had the usual round of carol singing and collection for the Blind Association.

1940

ALL of our first evacuees had gone home. No threat of air raids so far.

January brought a very heavy snow. Soldiers were engaged digging but made the mistake of digging a trench on Duck Street to Greenhow, rather than full clearance or tamping down for vehicles. The sledging field at Summerbridge was very busy and the soldiers’ improvised sledge, a length of corrugated iron, was very fast and could seat four or six. It looked lethal. On one occasion, someone taking the scenic route which crossed the fast track rolled off his sledge when he saw the impending collision. The soldiers’ sledge took off through the air for 20 yards and landed four passengers safely.

The Leeds soldiers left for Iceland in February and were replaced for a short time by Sheffield troops. Spring and summer were less active but it was all ears to the wireless. Narvick, France and Dunkirk. We youngsters took it in our stride, never doubting that we would win through.

Not so the veterans. I remember Mr Hirsch and my father looking very serious in a head to head conversation in the back of our shop.

The outcome was the birth of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). At the start they were issued with a cotton oversuit and an armband.

Mr/Major Hirsch joined the Green Howards and served in Italy. His brother was posthumously awarded the VC for deeds at Wasncourt in 1917.

Frank Brindley Hirsch of Low Hall, Bradford wool merchant, contributed to life in the district, providing a playing field, children’s parties, started the Young Farmers’ Club and was a local councillor. He was a descendant of the canal builder Brindley. He had part Jewish ancestry, which no doubt added to his opposition to Hitler.

Mr Munro, his very Scottish farm manager, bred Short Horn cattle for export to Argentine. His four sons and a daughter were all in the services.

1941

MRS Hirsch provided a home for a Canadian Battle of Britain pilot whose face was severely burned and scarred. Presumably he was treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe, the plastic surgeon pioneer. He was afraid of going home with his disfigurement.

1942

The Home Guard was somewhat better than TV’s Dad’s Army although there were lighter moments.

It was my night on duty. I had finished my two hour stint watching for German paratroopers and returned to HQ. Our lieutenant was teaching a farmer/local preacher bayonet practice. Long point – withdraw – short point – jab, brought the remark: “if w’st come t’ w’st I s’u’d faint”.

It was his turn to look out. A few minutes later he returned saying: “I’ve forgotten me rifle – I’m gittin’ right absent minded of late – I’ve known mesel’ sit down with two stools to milk a cow and then look round f’t bucket.”

In June we defended Dacre and Summerbridge against the real army as an exercise. It was unfair. They had flash bombs. It lasted from noon Saturday all night to 6pm Sunday. I slept well and on Monday sat two school certificate exams. I can’t remember my marks.