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World War 2 In Peterborough

1939 – 1945


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



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.