Air raid precautions in town

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THIS week’s featured photographs will bring back memories for a number of ladies who were part of the GEC war effort at Bailiff Bridge.

On May 20, 1946, Mrs Lily Wickens who lived at 7 Court Number 2, Lillands Lane, Rastrick, received a letter from Coventry. The letter was from the General Electric Company and was the official notification that her efforts during the war had finally come to an end. Thanks to her son Eric who has kindly made both the letter contents and photograph available.

In this group photograph Lily Wickens is fifth from the left second row back and her sister Doris is second from the right on the same row.

Before that announcement by Mr Chamberlain on September 3, 1939, that ‘this country was at war with Germany’, the Home Office had been to Clifton 12 months earlier to test out local people trying on their new gas masks. It had been decided that Brighouse would be one of 16 districts chosen for air raid precautions.

The result of this saw trenches being dug in Wellholme Park, The Stray at Lightcliffe and Bramston Street Recreation Ground. But as quite often, with the best will in the world and with the September crisis getting nearer and nearer it was evident the war preparations were in a chaotic state.

Just as every other town, city and community in the country Brighouse had to come to terms with the new situation.

I remember Herbert Airey at Rastrick explaining to me many years ago that following the announcement he and his wife and baby went into the cellar at their home. Herbert once having nailed a wet blanket to the top of the cellar steps and wrapped a wet towel round their new baby, no gas masks for them yet, then they went into the cellar and waited. But how long did he stay sitting in the cellar I asked, “four hours, but nothing happened” Herbert expected an attack straight away but it didn’t happened.

Another old friend told me that her experience was while living on Catherine Street as a child when the announcement was made. She and the other children in the street who were all younger than she was had to take part in air raid shelter practice. The shelter was quite close to their house and the adults in the street told her that if she was told to go with all the other children in the street into the air raid shelter they must not come out unless they knew the voice – and she was in charge of all the children.

The sound of unsynchronised German aeroplanes flying high over Brighouse became familiar sounds. The German pilots would use the canals almost as a route map to bomb the major cities.

The nearest Brighouse came to being bombed were the bombs dropped in Walterclough Valley in 1940. At this time the management at T.F.Firth’s were going to lay workers off because no one was buying carpet. One of these was Marjorie Murley who well remembers those days. The six storey North Vale mill in Bailiff Bridge was being used by Firth’s and was requisitioned for GEC in Bradford. Rather than being out of work at Firth’s Marjorie joined many other ladies who went to work for GEC at North Vale, including Lily Wickens and her sister Doris.

Lily Wickens (nee Longbottom) didn’t work at Firth’s - she worked at Woodhouse and Mitchell’s using a cylindrical grinding machine which made her well qualified to work at GEC. Like Marjorie, Lily left after the war and went to work for a local spinning company.