From 1939-45 every Warrington man, woman and child was affected in some way by the Second World War and the fight against Adolf Hitler and his allies. But for many Warrington families even when the war was officially over life would never be quite the same again.
Warrington’s Wartime Role
Many local people were killed or injured fighting for their country whilst others suffered in captivity as Prisoners of War (POWs.) During the Second World War Warrington was the site of several key installations including:
Risley Ordnance Factory
Risley Ordance Factory filled, assembled and shipped out explosive shells.
Padgate Camp was national training centre for RAF recruits No. 3 RAF Depot Padgate opened in April 1939 (before Britain was officially at war.) Its role was to provide basic training to raw recruits to the Royal Air Force. By 1943 the camp’s weekly intake was 1,500 as the RAF steeped up its bombing campaign on Germany. (Padgate Camp closed in 1957 and the site was later redeveloped by Warrington New Town, who named the nearby Insall Road after a former camp commander.)
HMS Blackcap was a Royal Navy Air Station at Stretton.
Burtonwood USAAF Airbase
For most local people Burtonwood USAAF Airbase had the most impact on their lives. The American GIs became a familiar sight about the town and the noise of engines from the test beds were heard day and night over the town.
Warrington’s Wartime Industries
Many of Warrington’s industries made vital contributions to the war effort. Wire works such as Rylands and Greenings produced items ranging from springs for gun mechanisms, suspensions for tanks, the frame work for Morrison Shelters to wire mesh for gas masks.
Cardboard boxes for gas masks were produced at the Alliance Box Works and Thames Board Mills, which also produced boxes for Red Cross Parcels.
Other factories produced shell casings, prefabricated ships and vital chemicals, including Crosfields, which produced soap and glycerine (for use in explosives).
Despite the number of military bases and crucial war industries around the town Warrington escaped a serious blitz. It was clear from German aerial photographs that the Luftwaffe was aware of crucial targets, including the nearby Manchester Ship Canal. Perhaps the dense fog which often hid the town was the town’s saviour, or more likely neighbouring Liverpool and Manchester were considered greater priorities.
Bombed Out at Howley, September 1940
By early September Warrington was experiencing the fiercest air raids of the war. This bomb fell opposite Rylands Works in Church Street (the present day site of Sainsbury’s supermarket). During the ten hour raid the town had its first fatalities when a courting couple and another male passer by were killed here in the street, only yards from a public air raid shelter. The occupants of the bombed house had a lucky escape as they had taken refuge under a sturdy kitchen table.
The Thames Board Incident, 14th September 1940
This was Warrington’s worst Wartime atrocity, coming without warning on a fine Saturday afternoon and targeting innocent families enjoying a fete on Thames Board Mill’s recreation Ground.
“Bomber Kills Women, Babies,” reported the local press. “Mothers and tiny babies were among the helpless civilians killed by a lone German raider who swooped down upon them in a North-West town. They were attending a Spitfire gala in a recreation club when the bomber dived without warning and released two bombs. One completely wrecked the light wooden club… two families were partly wiped out, members of others lie in hospital gravely wounded. It was all over in seconds… but dead, dying, injured and a mass of mangled debris were the pitiful aftermath which this Nazi bomber left behind as, immediately he swept back into the skies and vanished.”
Later there were many conflicting eyewitness accounts from those who had seen the plane swoop over the town, but most agreed that the pilot was low enough to see exactly what he had bombed. The Warrington Fire Officer’s log reported, however, that German radio reports that evening claimed that the Aluminium Mills at Bank Quay had been bombed.
The Home Front
Those men and women who had not been called up into the armed forces joined the Civil Defence Forces at home to protect Warrington people and property from enemy attacks.
Many local people who did not join the armed forces helped to protect Warrington from enemy attacks in civilian defence forces, including:
Air Raid Precautions Wardens (ARP)
whose duties included giving out air raid warnings, guiding people to shelters, enforcing the Black Out and organising first aid and rescue work. Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Wardens were Warrington’s first line of defence in an enemy attack. Most wardens were volunteers who did the job in their spare time.
In 1937 the government had said that “an Air Raid Warden will be a responsible member of the public chosen to be leader and adviser of his* neighbours in a small group of streets in which he is known and respected.” (*Women also served as wardens.)
The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS)
Who were additional fire crews called out to fight fires caused in air raids.
who kept watch from the rooftops to see where bombs fell and warned the emergency services.
The Home Guard
(local Defence Volunteers) whose job was to fight off a German invasion (Remember Dad’s Army on TV?)
The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS)
who ran mobile canteens and emergency rest centres, helped with evacuees and other important tasks.
Wartime German pilots didn’t have computerised missile guidance systems to help them drop their cargo of bombs at night. Street lights, house windows, car and cycle headlamps might show them their target from the air so Britain had a strict ‘Black Out.’
During hours of darkness heavy black curtains covered windows, there were no streetlights, car and cycle lamps were fitted with masks to give only a small beam. (Even the glow of a cigarette was regarded as a crime!) Air Raid Wardens went round shouting, “Put That Light Out!” if they found someone breaking the rules.
The Black Out was dangerous. Pedestrians couldn’t be seen and got run over by cars and people bumped into lampposts. So hazards were outlined in white paint to make them visible on the ground (even cows might be painted with white stripes!)
The Kitchen Front
Rationing All Warringtonians had to cope with rationing and shortages especially of food and clothes. Everyone supported the war effort, by raising money to buy warships and aeroplanes and salvaging and recycling ‘rubbish.’
Early in World War II German submarines began attacking the shipping convoys bringing vital supplies to Britain. This was serious because as well as fuel oils and machinery Britain imported much of her food e.g. 50% of meat, 80% of fruit, 70% of cheese and butter and 90% of cereals and fats.
Yes, We have No Bananas! Soon foreign grown fruit such as bananas, oranges and lemons disappeared from the shops. Supplies of tea,, sugar, cooking fats, wheat and other food stuffs were threatened. The government feared there would be panic buying, that food prices would rise out of the reach of the poor and that people would hoard food.
Register for Your Rations Between September and November 1940 everyone was issued with an ration book and had to register with particular local shopkeepers who would serve their ration of food.
On Monday 8th January 1940 food rationing began.
As each person was served the shopkeeper took out coupons from their ration book which allowed them to buy particular amounts of food e.g. 4oz (113 g) of butter and bacon.
As the war went on more food was rationed, portions got smaller and food queues got longer. later Britain’s American ally sent over tinned dried milk and eggs and processed meat, called Spam.
Dig For Victory!
The government encouraged people to grow their own vegetables and fruit in their gardens, on allotments…or even on the top of their air raid shelter! Vegetables were healthy food and full of vital vitamins. (Carrots were full of Vitamin A which was said to help people see better in the dark. Very useful in the Black Out!)
Make Do and Mend
People were encouraged to repair or alter clothes and household goods instead of throwing them away. In June 1941 clothes were also rationed and in June 1942 ‘Utility’ clothes were introduced. These were made from specified amounts of material and were only allowed a certain number of buttons and pockets (Utility clothes were identified by the mark ‘CC41.’).
Don’t You Know There’s A War On?
Petrol, soap and furniture were also rationed and soon items ranging from alarm clocks to toothbrushes were hard to find. Housewives never knew what would be on the shelves when they went shopping but would join a queue in the hope of getting some scarce item
People got used to the wartime shortages but it was harder to bear after the war ended. Rationing actually got stricter until life began to get back to normal in the early 1950s and rationing ended at last.
Peace At Last
In the summer of 1945 Warringtonians could join in the celebrations which marked the end of the war in Europe and later in the Far East. Children could enjoy the street parties; the Mayor welcomed home prisoners of war and thanked the American allies from Burtonwood camp but many families found their lives had changed for ever.