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WUTAC at Peterborough East Railway Station

1915

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The Great Eastern Soldier’s and Sailor’s Rest Room opened on Christmas Eve 1915 at Peterborough East Railway Station.  The rooms were managed by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council (WUTAC), supporters of the temperance movement popular at that time. During the first nine days alone, 321 servicemen called at the tea room. They were given food, drink and an opportunity to rest in comfort whilst waiting for their trains to and from the front.  The ladies who managed the tea room encouraged the men to write in the visitors’ books, only two of which have survived from 1916 and 1917. There are over 590 signatures in the books that reveal the servicemen came from across the United Kingdom and as far away as Australia.  They wrote messages of gratitude, poetry and drew pictures expressing their appreciation for the service that the ladies were providing. These two slim volumes provide a brief insight into the thoughts and feelings of the men transiting through the city during the Great War. The books have been digitised and transcribed and the servicemen’s personal histories researched in an effort to tell their story and trace their families.





Peterborough East Station Opens

1845

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Opening on the 2nd of June 1845, Peterborough East was the first railway station in Peterborough, built by the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR). It linked Peterborough with the London and Birmingham Railway. It was located on Station Road just off the Town Bridge south of the River Nene. A section of the now defunct railway line to Northampton still survives as the Nene Valley Railway. It was closed to passenger traffic in June 1966. With the arrival of the railway a new age began for Peterborough, it was the catalyst for turning a small market town into the city we know today.





Airbases in World War 2

1940s

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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

First Distress Signal Sent at Sea

1909

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The first ever distress signal at sea was sent by John (Jack) Robinson Binns. Early Life: Jack was born in Brigg Union Workhouse, Lincolnshire, in 1884, but moved to Peterborough in 1885 to live with his uncle, William. He left school when he was aged 14 and gained employment as a Telegraph Clerk with the Great Eastern Railway. Unfortunately for Jack, not long after he started work he sustained serious injuries to his legs in a railway accident and spent six months recuperating in Peterborough Infirmary. He continued working for the GER but eventually left to attend the Marconi Radio Company Training School and ‘graduated’ as a ‘Marconi Man’ in the merchant marine. Heroism at Sea: After serving on board various German ships and doing a spell of shore duty in Ireland Jack joined the White Star Line as a Telegraphist (Wireless Operator). Jack was on duty on the RMS Republic in January 1909 when the liner was in collision with the Italian liner Florida in the North Atlantic. The Republic sustained serious damage but John was able to transmit a Morse code distress signal, 'CQD' (CQ being a call for any ships or land-based radio operators, and the 'D' being the all-important signal for distress), which was picked up by the Marconi Radio shore station on Nantucket Island. This signal is acknowledged to be the first ever distress signal sent at sea. The signal was re-transmitted to the SS Baltic which, together with other vessels, was able to steam to the assistance of the stricken ships, guided by the radio signals sent out by Jack who stayed at his post for nineteen hours, in the biting cold (part of the radio cabin had been ripped away in the collision leaving it open to the elements) working with crude equipment running on emergency back-up batteries. Six people died in the accident; all surviving passengers and crew from the Republic were transferred to the Florida which made it safely into port. The RMS Republic, however, was too badly damaged and sank in 40 fathoms south of Nantucket. Life After the Sinking: Jack was welcomed as a hero when he returned to New York where he was subjected to much unwanted publicity and inducements to profit financially from his experiences but these were rejected and Jack returned to England. He arrived back in Peterborough, which he considered to be his home, on Feb. 9th, where he was greeted by the Mayor and presented with a scroll of honour. Marconi presented Jack with a gold watch in recognition of his heroism.  He had suggested after the 1909 collision that every merchant ship should carry two wireless operators and this principle was incorporated into the US 1912 Radio Act. In 1939 he received a medal from the ‘Veteran Wireless Operators Association'. Jack continued his employment with the White Star Line and, in 1912, was offered a job on the company's newest liner, the Titanic. By this time, however, the young 'Marconiman' was engaged, and his American fiancee didn't want him to return to sea.  He resigned his position and went to work as a journalist in New York. Ironically, his first journalistic assignment was to report on the loss of the Titanic! Jack died of a stroke in New York in 1959. He bequeathed his gold watch, medals and scroll to the citizens of Peterborough and they are now in the possession of Peterborough Museum. References: Peterborough Archives





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Record-Breaking Mallard Steams into Town

1938

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The growth of Peterborough in the nineteenth century was thanks to the arrival of the railways. It is only fitting then, that Peterborough was part of a record-breaking railway achievement. The East Coast Main Line that runs North to South through the city was the destination of the fastest speed achieved by a steam engine. The Mallard, an A4 class of steam locomotive, regularly travelled the route from London to Edinburgh. On July 3rd 1938 whilst heading south from Grantham towards Peterborough, it travelled faster than anyone could have hoped. It was being driven by the experienced driver Joe Duddington and Tommy Bray the fireman. Amazingly it achieved a top speed of 126mph (203kph). No other steam train has been able to achieve that speed. Tommy Bray was said to be 'grinning from ear to ear' when he arrived in Peterborough. (1) The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) had planned the event and knew that pushing The Mallard to achieve such high speeds was risky. They had a back up engine waiting in Peterborough North station, which was swapped with The Mallard. The train continued its journey on to London and The Mallard turned back towards Doncaster for some TLC. The Mallard is now part of the collection at the National Railway Museum in York.
Reference
(1) http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/features/10520647.The_day_Mallard_steamed_into_the_record_books/