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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.





The Last Reading of the Riot Act

1914

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On Thursday the 6th of August 1914, just after the outbreak of World War I, a crowd gathered outside the Westgate butcher shop owned by the German Frederick Frank, shouting insults and singing patriotic songs. The next day, Friday 7th August things turned nastier and stones were thrown, breaking the shop windows. This developed into a riot and the shop was badly damaged and its stock scattered. The Chief Constable rang the mayor, Sir Richard Winfrey, who arrived on his bicycle and read the Riot Act. The police were assisted by the Northampton Yeomanry in restoring order. On Saturday the 8th of August the unrest continued and a public house on Long Causeway, the Salmon and Compass was attacked. Following this trouble 24 men were brought before the magistrates, 3 were jailed, others were fined, bound over to keep the peace or recruited into the armed forces.  





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Milton Hall and the Jedburghs

1943

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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.





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Outbreak of the Second World War

1939-1945

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The Second World War (WWII) was a war that lasted from 1st September 1939 to 2nd September 1945 ( though there were related conflicts which began earlier and some that went on later). The vast majority of the world's countries were involved and eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities. It included the genocide of the Holocaust, bombing that destroyed towns and cities, massacres of soldiers and civilians, starvation and disease for millions and ultimately the first use of nuclear weapons. The Allies:                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In 1939 the Allies consisted of Poland, France, the United Kingdom and dependent states, for example British India, and the independent Dominions of the British Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1940 they were joined by the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Yugoslavia (after the German invasion of North Europe). In June 1941 the Soviet Union joined after being invaded and in December 1941 the United States joined after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (though they had been providing materials before this). The Chinese had been in a prolonged war with Japan since 1937 but officially joined the allies in 1941. In 1945, the Allied nations became the basis of the United Nations. The Axis:                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Axis consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan. The Axis members agreed on their opposition to the Allies but cooperation and coordination of their activity was not great.





Founding of Perkins Engines

1932

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Perkins engineering was founded in a small office in Peterborough, UK, in 1932. It was founded by two men, Frank Perkins and Charles Chapman; Frank a superlative salesman and Charles an engineering genius. Their focus was on the diesel engine and their belief that it could revolutionise the motor industry with high performance and low running costs. Peterborough was the perfect place to start the business as it had excellent transport links and so could ensure rapid delivery of products. Its first high-speed diesel engine was the 4 cylinder Vixen followed by the  more powerful version, the Wolf. With its success in the motor industry it expanded into the agricultural industry. During the Second World War Perkins was instrumental n its production of diesel engines for the war effort. In 1947, production was moved to the Eastfield site in Peterborough.  





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The London Brick Company

1877

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Peterborough benefitted from a type of clay that provided an ideal raw material for brick making – first exploited by the Romans, abandoned after they left and again revived in the 1400’s by local craftspeople who created the material for building locally. In 1877 James McCallum Craig bought a property at auction near Peterborough, known as Fletton Lodge. He decided that the site was ideal for local brick making and started a small company. When excavation of the surface clay at Fletton began, a much harder clay was found deeper down, the unique Lower Oxford Clay. It was locally known as the ‘Fletton’ because of its original place of manufacture, but its main market was in London, transported there on the Peterborough to London rail line, so giving the name London Brick. The end of the First World War in 1918 brought a huge demand for London Bricks to fulfil the massive increase in house building and in the late 1920s there was an amalgamation of several small companies into a larger, more efficient company, London Brick. By 1931, 1,000 million bricks a year were being produced. After World War II there was another building boom and this increased the success of the company; demand for bricks far outstripped supply and by the early 1950s many workers were being recruited from as far afield as Italy to satisfy the need for London Bricks.





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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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Thomas Hunter, the Lonely ANZAC

1916

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Thomas Hunter was born in County Durham in 1880 but emigrated as a young man to Australia where he worked as a coal miner. At the outbreak of the First World War, he, like many young men enlisted, in his case in the 10th battalion of the 10th division, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces. He fought at Gallipoli and then in the trenches of France and Belgium. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, Sgt Hunter was badly injured, so severely that he was shipped back to England for surgery. He was put on a train for Halifax with other wounded but on the journey his condition worsened badly so he was taken off the train at Peterborough and brought to the infirmary where, sadly, on the 31st of July 1916, he died. As he died away from home and his comrades he came to be known as the 'Lonely Anzac'. His death touched the hearts of Peterborians, in a way he came to represent their young men away fighting. A public subscription fund paid  for his funeral and a memorial. The mayor and civic dignitaries led the funeral procession to the Broadway Cemetery and the entire town came to a stop to pay their respects. A two metre tall granite cross was placed on his grave, and a brass plaque to his memory mounted in the military chapel in the cathedral. Every year on ANZAC day, April 25th, a civil ceremony is held at his graveside, attended by the mayor, civic dignitaries and a representative from the Australian High Commission.





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Peterborough Memorial Hospital Opens

1928

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The Memorial Hospital was opened by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson in 1928, as a memorial to those of the city and the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment who died in the First World War, it replaced the Peterborough Infirmary; the building that had housed the infirmary becoming  Peterborough Museum. When the Memorial Hospital opened it had six wards in three blocks: separate male and female surgical and medical wards, an accident ward and a children's ward. It had 150 beds, two operating theatres, a radiology department, a small casualty department, and outpatients, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy departments. A separate hospital at Fengate was used to treat infectious diseases. The Memorial hospital was transferred to the newly formed National Health Service in 1948.





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Opening of Peterborough District Hospital.

1968

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After the Second World war the Memorial Hospital was no longer big enough to deal with Peterborough's health needs and in 1968 it closed and Peterborough District Hospital opened, incorporating the Memorial Hospital as the Memorial Wing. Peterborough District Hospital had 357 beds, five operating theatres, an accident and emergency department, outpatients clinics, as well as radiology and pathology services, an  intensive care unit  and surgical and medical specialist units. In 1988 Edith Cavell Hospital in Bretton was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it was built to complement the services provided by Peterborough District Hospital. Peterborough District Hospital closed in 2010.





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