The history books tell us that the morning of Sunday September 3 1939 was bright and sunny. At 10am the BBC told its listeners to standby for an announcement of national importance. Every 15 minutes listeners were told that the Prime Minister would make announcement at 11.15am.
Music and a talk on “How to make the most of tinned foods” was broadcast in between, and then came the Prime Minister’s announcement:
“I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11am that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany. Now may God bless you all. May he defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution and against them I am certain that the right will prevail”.
The realisation of a Second World War getting even closer to Brighouse drew nearer in July 1938 when a Home Office van drove up Clifton Common and into Clifton. The time had come for the folks at Clifton to be shown how to fit and try their new gas masks.
Whether it was a random choice or for some particular reason Brighouse along with the rest of the Calder Valley had been selected as one of a number of areas in the West Riding to implement Air Raid precautions, we don’t know.
Why Brighouse, what did it mean? This was the question many people were asking. Was Brighouse on Hitler’s master plan as an area to be bombed first; was it the local industry that could be a possible target? These were just some of the reported comments and rumours doing the rounds.
The initial action as part of the air raid precautions before the announcement was made, meant digging trenches in Wellholme Park, The Stray at Lightcliffe and the Bramston Street recreation ground. As the crisis in Munich gathered pace the war preparations in Brighouse were described at the time as a shambles.
Chamberlain’s broadcast on that September morning in 1939 will for those who lived through it be forever one of those occasions in history when they will always know just where and what they were doing at the time.
A blackout in Brighouse had been in force since the Friday and I understand from many people who lived through those early days they believed that an attack on Brighouse was imminent. I remember as a child of the 50s my grandparents still having the blackout roller blinds up.
It was early on the Monday before Brighouse experienced its first air raid warning and thankfully a false one. However, people in Rastrick and no doubt in other parts of town were making their own preparations. They were not going to be the ones caught out.
Wet blankets were on hand to blank off the top of the cellar in case the much talked about gas attack came. But gradually the hours turned into days and nothing had happened. Slowly the town began to return to some degree of normality.
However, it didn’t remain that way as some of you will recall. How many of you can still remember the sound of the unsynchronised engines of the German Luftwaffe passing over Brighouse on their way to bomb Bradford and Leeds?
The first of our featured photographs for this 1940s feature was taken during one of Brighouse’s many wartime parades in Thornton Square. For those that can remember those days one or two familiar shops are in the background. From the left hand side firstly is Barnett Bros. the shop where ladies could invariably find the right outfit.
Next is Earnshaw’s the jewellers, a business which had been in Brighouse longer than most people could remember. Moving from Earnshaw’s is the electricity showrooms. All these buildings have long since been swept away, but for those of you who are still lost; if they were standing today they would be between the public toilets on the left moving across to part of Wilkinson’s.
By 1941 the war had taken a serious turn when during the late summer all women between the age of 20 and 30 were called up.
In our second featured photograph perhaps someone may be able to identify some of the ladies on parade that day in Thornton Square.
That was almost 75 years ago, and although to many it was almost a lifetime ago, those who lived through it will agree that Sunday morning speech by the Prime Minister was to change lives forever.