Local wartime memoirs

The 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, which marks the end of the Second World War in Europe, had a full programme of extensive activity planned months in advance. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic, however, meant that most of this was cancelled, to avoid putting people in danger. The Kirklees community nonetheless came together to celebrate peace between nations and give thanks for the sacrifices of Britain's key workers in the fight against coronavirus. These webpages were made to help residents participate in the celebrations safely.

Remembering VE Day
Celebrating VE Day

"Jubilant, oh - excited and happy...dancing in the street, bunting up, flags everywhere, singing and dancing and oh - jubilation! Yes, it was lovely."
Ada, Dewsbury

"It was wonderful to know that it was over, but you were sorry for all the people that had been lost, there was a lot from Huddersfield you know that went and were killed and maimed."
Kathy, Huddersfield

'Somebody flew into the ward and shouted, 'The war is over', and even the poor old soldiers sat up in bed and shouts 'Hip Hip Hurray!' That was the one and only time I was drunk, and I honestly didn't know I was getting drunk. I had a glass of cider and I felt fine until I actually got outside. I slept in a field that night... Ooh it's indescribable really, I mean sheets and blankets all went to pot in the ward, and we were throwing pillows at one another. Outside, well, all hell was let loose outside...Catterick had grown tremendously it had... and I think every camp had come into Catterick centre and they'd all a drink in their hands, so it was - well it was marvellous, marvellous! And everybody was singing 'Land of Hope and Glory' and 'There'll always be an England' and I think there always will be you know.'
Helen, a nurse from Huddersfield

The first days of war
sandbags surrounding Huddersfield Town Hall

The war did not come as a surprise to most people. Preparations for war had started in 1938 including issuing gas masks, building air raid shelters, organising evacuation of children from cities and recruitment of civil defence workers and armed forces was already well under way. Buildings were surrounded by sand bags and blackout curtains were made. However, the actual final announcement that Britain was at war was very upsetting for a lot of people.

"We were expecting the announcement on the radio and we were all there in the living room, sitting there listening to it, and mother started to cry, and father who'd been in the First World War was very upset at the thought of any of his children having to go. I always remember him saying I'd give my right arm rather than have any of you go through what I did in the war."
Eileen, Huddersfield

"Two o'clock in the morning the sirens went for the first time and we all rushed into the cellar...we sat there until daylight and I said 'Good gracious there's nothing going on' so we came up out of the cellar. There was a man passing by and I asked him 'Are the sirens over? 'Oh,' he says, 'get back to your beds they have been over long since!"
Doreen, Huddersfield

Find out more about the war:

National Archives: Home front

BBC: World War Two: History's most savage and devastating war

BBC: KS2 History: World War Two

Gas masks
Mickey mouse gas mask

The Second World War was the first war where civilian populations were in great danger from aerial bombing. Chemical weapons such as mustard gas had been used in the First World War so there was also a danger of gas attacks. Everyone was issued with a gas mask and had to carry it with them all the time.

Caution - if your family still has a WW2 gas mask at home please do not put it on as the filters contain asbestos. It should be all right to handle it, just not to breathe through it.

"The kids had been issued with gas masks, y'know the Mickey Mouse gas mask. Well all the kids wanted their gas masks on and they was all going round 'grunt, grunt, grunt 'like little pigs...they wouldn't take them off, the novelty did wear off after a while but the kids thought they were grand!"
Maggie, Huddersfield

Air raids
Watering plants on top of an air raid shelter

When the air raid siren sounded you had to take shelter. For many people in Huddersfield living in old houses they would go down to the cellar. Some people had a Morrison shelter which was like a strong cage to have inside your house, or you could build a small shelter called an Anderson Shelter in your garden. There were also some public shelters.

"There was nothing in of course - it was left to the individual to make it as comfortable as possible, so most people put in chicken wire type bunk beds and so forth. They were always very damp, bedding was damp. Most people'd take their bedding out and bring it in.

If the sirens went then people would emerge from the house there with an armful of bedding, thermos flasks, with first aid equipment and so forth, with books and candles..." Jack, Batley

Find out more about air raids:

Listen to the eerie sound of an air raid siren

Build a model Anderson shelter

The blackout
Blackout warden post

A total black out was required to protect Britain from air raids. This meant making sure light did not show at any window in homes and factories. It meant no street lights, so getting about after dark was difficult, even dangerous. Car lights were shielded, torches and bicycle lamps were also shaded so that the light only shone down to the ground. Part of the ARP warden's job was to check that no lights were showing.

"Well we used to have to go and knock on t'doors and t'windows and tell em to 'Put that light out' you see. Even if they lit a cigarette up you'd to go and tell 'em to put it out. You hadn't to show a spark at all, because they could see it from t'air."
Irene from Liversedge, who worked as an ARP warden.

"I remember one night we were on fire watch duty and I was in the shop up Northgate (Dewsbury)... I remember quite clearly we were on top of these buildings when they were coming to bomb Leeds...the planes were so low passing over we could see the pilots in the enemy planes, and that's when they dropped the land mine in Wakefield Road...and when we got home we'd no windows, we were so near and of course we had to have the windows boarded up"
Nelly, Dewsbury

Make a blackout picture

Ration book

More than half of Britain's food was imported before the war. The government knew it would be impossible to keep the country supplied from overseas as ships would be attacked by enemy submarines. To make sure everyone had enough food there would have to be less variety and more equal sharing. This meant everyone would be limited to a certain amount of certain foods. Vegetables were not rationed, and people were encouraged to grow them wherever they could. Clothes, petrol and coal for the fire were also rationed.

"...you'd only those little portions, but you did get those portions because you were on ration which was a good thing. You all got the same and you'd always a little bit." Annie, Huddersfield

"I can't say that we were hungry. I think we had a balanced diet you know... fish and chips thankfully weren't on the ration!" Tom, Huddersfield

"You had to make do, make things do. You had to mend, oh, forever mending things and patching...when my husband got a better paid job, I was able to spend a few coupons on some pants and vests and that was a luxury!" Joyce, Hightown

'...to make coal go further, because coal was rationed...you used coal bricks and jam jars - put a jam jar on the fire you see and stack the coal bricks around it and that gave off more heat...and made your coal go further.' Jennie, Dewsbury

IWM film on rationing for the Green family

Complete our ration book maths challenge

What is happening on 8 May

3pm: National Toast

Raise a glass with us and toast the heroes of the Second World War 'To those who gave so much, we thank you'

5pm: Doorstep tea parties

Have a 1940s style tea party from the safety of your own doorstep or garden

9pm: Sing-along to 'We'll Meet Again'

Join us on your doorsteps as we provide a mass rendition of the wartime classic

9pm - 11pm: Light up Kirklees

Watch the live coverage as Victoria Tower is illuminated red, white and blue with wartime-like searchlights. Live stream from Castle Hill from 9pm starting with the singing of 'We'll Meet Again' by local singer. Batley, Dewsbury, Cleckheaton and Huddersfield Town Halls will also be lit up as a mark of respect.