Today we set the scene of a York under threat of invasion, a York living on rations with its men away at war, a York during World War II.
The involvement of in York in WWII was inevitible, it was after all surrounded by air fields, Linton-On-Ouse, Pocklington, Driffield, Elvington and Clifton (Clifton later became an aircraft repair centre) and played an hugely important role in the railway system for the North. Having recovered from the attacks made upon the city by German bombers during the First World War just a few years earlier and with the scars of the great war still visible, the people of York rallied together and began the preparations needed for the fast approaching World War Two. York remained as vibrant and elegant a place as ever, despite the numerous attacks made upon the city throughout the extent of the Second World War, and as the Daily Mail describribed it after one particularly vicious attack “The gates of York still stand high like the spirit of it’s people who, after nearly two hours of intense bombing and machine gunning, were cleaning up today“.
Although life in York carried on as closely to normality as possible, there were many obvious changes to be seen. Tanks and troops were appearing on the streets of the city as well as huge craters post-bombing. There were at times some particularly devastating sights to be seen, many houses and schools had been destroyed. Beautiful and historical buildings had also fallen victim to enemy attacks with buildings such as the Bar Convent, Guidhall and St. Martins-le-Grand church being hit. Changes such as the stained glass being removed from York Minster were necessary in order to preserve Yorks precious historical artifacts.
One of the worst air raids in York during the war lasted approximately 90 minutes and involved over 70 enemy planes, several important targets the Germans had planned on destroying such as York Minster, the station and the carriage works remained unharmed although 92 people died in this attack. Camps were set up over the city to house the huge numbers of British, American, Canadian and French troops and airmen that had been dispatched to York. There were a number of schools and buildings that were taken over to house them and a tented village was set up on the Knavesmire to house both airmen, troops and prisners of war alike.
Rationing was in place and affected not only the entire country but much of Europe too and York was no exception. The city changed and adapted in order to comply with the strict rationing rules. Due to the restrictions on the importation of sugar and the very little families were given in their weekly rationing, the factory at Rowntrees converted from the production of sweets and chocolate, to the production of a number important goods for the war effort. No longer producing what was considered to be luxury items, they instead opted for goods which ranged from Ryvita and dried eggs, tomunitions to secret fuses and even propeller blades. Bins were attached to lamposts in streets around York and were used for household waste. Blacked out windows were a must, and anyone who disobeyed the no light after dark rule were told off by the patrolling air raid wardens. Even car headlights had to be blinkered which caused obvious issues in crossing from one side of the street to the other. Anderson shelters were popping up all over the city too, and 1500 were distributed to the Yorks poorer families.
Despite the destruction, life was not all doom and gloom, the influx of airmen to the city was something that was celebrated by many of the young girls of York. The Albaney Rooms in Goodramgate, The De Grey Rooms and The Co-op Hall held dances and events which were attended regularly by the visiting airmen and the local youngsters. It was a fantastic place to let your hair down, dress up in your best clothes to relax in the midst of the war. Even Bettys tearooms played its part and was a favourite of many of the airmen, many of whom carved their name into Bettys mirror, which can still be seen in the basement of the famous tea rooms today. More of which here
Who out there can remember this York? Has there own stories to tell? Please get in touch and share with us your anecdotes.