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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945

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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.





Food Machinery Company Moves to Peterborough

1904

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In 1904 Werner Pfleiderer and Perkins established a new factory close to the railway on Westwood Bridge Road (now Westfield Road). The factory was built to manufacture bakery and chemical machinery. They relocated from London to make use of the excellent transport links, which still draw companies to Peterborough today. A further tranche of employees relocated from the Willesden factory in 1933. This was a strong move and the company grew to be one of the most respected suppliers of specialist process equipment worldwide. The company went on to become Baker Perkins and later Perkins Engines. Throughout the 20th century Baker Perkins was a major Peterborough employer. Anyone who can recall the 'Perkins Fortnight' will remember how quiet the city was whilst Perkins employees were on holiday! The business moved to its current state of the art facility beside Paston Parkway in 1991. The previous site in Westwood was demolished and Peterborough Prison now occupies the site, although some listed buildings remain. It has the capacity to produce 500,000 engines per year and around 2,500 people are employed there. The Peterborough factory is part of a network of factories, which are located as far away as America and Singapore.





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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'.  





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Cathedral Lavatorium Found at Farm

1200

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Peterborough Cathedral has a history much older than the present building and its name. Prior to be being a cathedral, the buildings formed an abbey. Monks lived and worked in the abbey grounds and some of the buildings they used still exist today. However, many have vanished entirely or are in pieces, such as the refectory. Occasionally pieces of the abbey appear in odd locations, such as the lavatorium discovered on a farm. Whilst cleaning a well on the Westwood Farm site a large stone bowl was discovered. The fine stonework led the finders to believe they had stumbled across something important. Analysis revealed the bowl was likely to be part of the abbey lavatorium where the monks would have washed their hands. It was dated to the Thirteenth century, which made it a significant find. Quite what it was doing down a well, we will possibly never know! The remains of a more modern lavatorium can be visited in Peterborough Cathedral.