Please rotate your device

World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

Information

The Town played a vital role with industry, airfields and a major railway centre. The flat landscape meant there were many airfields including RAF Peterborough, Westwood, which was a major RAF training centre. Local people volunteered for Military Service but those in ‘reserved occupations’, (jobs important to the war effort) were not conscripted but often spent their spare time in Civil Defence e.g. Home Guard and Auxiliary Fire Service. Businesses set up their own firewatchers while first-aiders and plane spotters were essential. National Service became compulsory for unmarried women aged between 20 and 30, then up to 50 in 1943, unless they had children under 14. Many joined the various women’s forces and nurses were attached to all the Services. Women worked in factories making war machines, ammunition, clothing or parachutes. Engineering industries such as Perkins Engines and Baker Perkins switched to wartime production supplying engines, guns, torpedoes and manufacturing machinery. Amidst this, dancing at local hotels and cinema-going were popular and there were several cinemas, showing films three times a day.  Foreign servicemen became familiar sights on the street. They included including Americans, French and Poles, many of the latter remaining in the city at the end of the war. Peterborough was not a prime target for bombs, so the city received 1496 London evacuees. Brick air raid shelters were built in the city centre. There were 644 Air Raid Alert warnings and bombs were hitting Bridge Street and the Lido. Raids of high explosive and incendiary bombs continued to 1942. Peterborough Cathedral was hit by incendiary bombs but damage was limited by the quick reaction of the fire-watchers.





Death of Variety Star Nosmo King

1949

Information

Mr Vernon Watson was born in Thorney in 1885, in his youth, a clerk  at Barclays Bank in Peterborough. His interest in the stage began with performances at smoking concerts and when, in 1911, he appeared at the old Empire, Leicester Square, he became an overnight success. He took part in many subsequent productions there and as a single turn on the music halls. At first he relied entirely on his voice in his imitations of the popular comedians of the day. His imitation of Wilkie Bard - exact in every way - was as remarkable a piece of virtuosity as the variety stage has produced. Among his favourite subjects were Harry Champion, Fred Emney and Frank Tunney.  His stage name Nosmo King was inspired by seeing two open doors at a music hall which had split the notice 'No Smoking' into Nosmo King.  He was later assisted by 'Hubert' - his son (Petty Officer Jack Watson) He appeared at the Embassy in Peterborough in April 1947 as Colonel Blimp in a G.I. Bride farce 'For the Fun of it' Though it was 39 years since he had been a clerk at Barclays, he still remembered his old friends in and around Peterborough. Mr Watson died at his home in Chelsea on January 13th 1949. His funeral was held at Thorney Abbey and he is buried at Thorney cemetery, with 'Nosmo King' on his headstone.    





Resources

Milton Hall and the Jedburghs

1943

Information

Built towards the end of the 16th century, Milton Hall is the largest private house in Peterborough.  Once home to the Fitzwilliam family, it is now resided in by the Naylor Leyland family who inherited it from the 10th Earl. The Hall was used by the military during both world wars, a hospital being established in World War I and initially in World War II, the Czech army occupied part of the house and stable block. In December 1943, 300 volunteers from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were brought together and trained at Milton Hall.  From there they were sent to join small teams to arm, train and co-ordinate foreign resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy in May and June 1944.  Codenamed the Jedburghs, the volunteers came from army forces based in Britain, France and America with small contingents coming from Holland, Belgium and Canada.  Between D-Day and VE Day they carried out 101 operations in Europe. In May 1996 surviving members attended a special service at Peterborough Cathedral where a memorial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the 37 men who lost their lives during operations in Europe and the Far East.





Resources

The National Health Service is Born

1948

Information

On the 5th of July 1948, Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service (NHS) at Park Hospital in Manchester. Its ethos was to provide health services for all, free at the point of delivery.  For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists  were brought together, nationally,  in one organisation.





Resources

Start of the Battle of Britain

1940

Information

The Battle of Britain was a major air campaign fought over southern England in the summer and autumn of 1940.  Germany aimed to invade Britain but in order to do so they had to secure control of the skies over Southern Britain and remove the treat of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The battle for control lasted from July 1940 until October 1940 and airfields around Peterborough were much involved. The men of the RAF who fought were named 'The Few' by Winston Churchill. They numbered nearly 3,000 and while most of the pilots were British, Fighter Command was an international force, men came from all over the Commonwealth and occupied Europe, from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Belgium, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. There were even some pilots from the neutral United States and Ireland.





Airbases in World War 2

1940s

Information

As the East of England is very flat and because of its relative closeness to mainland Europe, many airfields were established or enlarged during the Second World War, roughly one every seven miles. Several of these were around Peterborough, amongst them were: RAF Peterborough (now the Westwood area of the city) was used as a training base for pilots. American servicemen were stationed there during the war and post-war French airmen were also trained there. It was not used for operational missions but was bombed several times. RAF Wittering, established in 1916 as a fighter station for the Royal Flying Corps. In 1938 it became a fighter base, with Spitfires and Hurricanes based there taking part in the Battle of Britain. It was bombed at least 5 times, one attack in March 1941 resulting in the deaths of 17 servicemen. Post war it was a home for the British nuclear deterrent and a base for Harrier jump jets. The American Air Force also had bases in this area, including at the villages of King's Cliffe, Polebrook and Glatton from which they launched daylight bombing raids over Germany in their B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. Clark Gable, the Hollywood star did his military service from Polebrook in 1943, flying combat missions as Major Clark Gable. In his time off duty he was very popular with the female population of Peterborough!  Peterscourt in Midgate was the base for the American servicemen when off duty, being known as, 'The American Red Cross Club'.  





Resources

Air Raid Causes Loss of Life

1941

Information

On the night of the 10th of May 1941 Britain experienced the heaviest night of bombing of the entire Blitz. Peterborough got off lightly compared to other cities, but bombs did fall. Some hit close to the Museum in Cross Street causing severe damage to buildings, though the museum escaped with just shattered windows. After the 'All Clear' two fire officers entered a severely damaged building to see if anyone was trapped but unfortunately an unexploded incendiary device went off while they were inside killing them both. They were killed trying to help others.





Conington Level Crossing Tragedy

1945

Information

On 30 April 1945 a lorry taking German prisoners of war from Glatton camp to work on nearby farms crossed Conington Level Crossing in thick fog; in the very poor visibility it was hit side on by a railway engine. Six of the prisoners were killed and five more injured. To add to the tragedy a lorry carrying the injured away from the scene hit a bus in the fog badly injuring two more people. This level crossing was notorious as an accident black spot, combining a narrow road, limited view of the line and gates operated by the public.





Death of Arthur Mellows

1948

Information

Arthur Mellows was a Mayor of Peterborough. Born in 1896 he worked as a solicitor, but he was also an officer of the local Home Guard during the war. He was keen on improving education in the city and helped to make changes to the education system in Peterborough.
Tragedy
He was returning home from a day's shooting in October 1948 with his dog and a friend. As they reached the Conington Level Crossing his friend got out of the car to open the crossing gates. Mellows noticed a stationary train to the south, obviously waiting for a signal change.  He started to drive across the crossing, keeping a keen watch on the train to the south. Unfortunately, in watching that train he completely failed to notice an oncoming train from the north. The train from the north hit his car killing both him and his dog. Conington Crossing was well known as an accident blackspot, and this was the second fatal accident in this year.
Arthur Mellows' Legacy
Arthur Mellows is commemorated by the secondary school in Glinton named after him, Arthur Mellows Village College. His dog is buried by the crossing.





The Cathedral is Bombed!

1942

Information

At the outbreak of World War II Peterborough Cathedral published its procedures for when an air raid siren went off during a service. The service would pause, the organist would play a hymn whilst those who needed to leave to attend to their duties could do so. Then after a few minutes, the service would resume. The Cathedral escaped major damage thanks to the vigilance of its firewatchers. For instance, on 10th August 1942 at 12 a.m, two aircraft came over the city, one dropping flares and the other about 250 incendiary bombs. Six fell on the Cathedral roof and thirty on the Town Hall. The incendiaries were all extinguished before they did any significant damage.