Image: Rat Catchers in the Women's Land Army (WLA)
A Skidby volunteer team exhibition about WWII, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day.
A Skidby volunteer team exhibition about WWII, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. This exhibition was due to be displayed at Skidby Mill but has now been displayed online during museum closures.
Image: Dummy aircraft such as this were designed to confuse bombers that were attacking airfields. Skipsea decoy, protecting Catfoss airfield, was equipped with dummy aircraft.
In an effort to confuse German bombers heading for Hull, an arrangement of 47 water-filled concrete tanks, each one illuminated by an overhead lamp, was constructed on the Outstray. This was a large area of saltings on the north bank of the Humber estuary, downstream from Hull. The tanks were designed and positioned in such a way as to simulate the Hull docks at night in an imperfectly blacked-out state.
The walls of the tanks were 0.5m high and were either rectangular (9m by 5m), right-angled triangle (6.5m by 6.5m) or pentagonal (10m by 9m).
The lamps were attached to the top of 3metre high wooden posts set in concrete and were angled to shine onto the water-filled tanks. The overhead lamps were known as 'Leaking Lights' and were operated by the Royal Navy from a post centred near Little Humber farm at Paull.
Image: Drawings of aircraft at Stone Creek HAA site, presumably to aid distinguishing friend and foe.
Image: Remains of the Stone Creek gun emplacements.
After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, it was thought that an invasion of British shores was very likely. The Holderness Coast was very vulnerable and the landing places for the enemy would certainly include Atwick, Mappleton, Withernsea and Easington right down the estuary to Sunk Island and Paull. Defence measures were needed to prevent such attacks from going unopposed.
Along the beaches of the Holderness coast, pillboxes were to be built and the Home Guard and Territorials were given training. Pillboxes were very important for coastal defence, the only snag being they were static. They were solidly made and were tough obstacles for attacking forces throughout the Second World War. They were manned 24 hours a day.
During the winter of 1939, the Germans began to drop magnetic mines in the Humber. It was the job of the 'Wrens' (Women's Royal Naval Service) who were deployed at Fort Paull to degauss ships using electric cables laid over the river bed, so would not set off the magnetic mines.
Beach defences were a matter of urgency; soldiers and civil engineers caused great concern as the first rolls of barbed wire were washed out with the tide. A row of scaffolding to prevent tanks and vehicles from landing and large anti-tank blocks were created. On top of the cliffs, there were reinforced concrete pillboxes and six-pounder gun emplacements.
Image: Impressive remains of Sunk Island battery. It was originally built during the Great War to defend the Humber estuary. It was reactivated during WWII and equipped with two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns. It was also the Control Centre for an anti-submarine minefield in the river.
In the end, Britain was not invaded but all that had been put in place seemed to be a deterrent. At the end of the war, all the defences were dismantled. "The beaches were cleared and paths made through the maze of barbed wire". Traps were still about but "still one must not complain as at least one could wander along the shore, swim or sunbathe".
In 1940 the threat of invasion became imminent as the Germans had begun to assemble a massive force on the other side of the English Channel. With the amount of equipment losses in France and the lack of reserves, this became a critical time in our defence of Great Britain. Defences such as using canals and rivers as gigantic anti-tank ditches were in place, but Winston Churchill realised that this was not enough to slow any enemy. One solution was the creation of a highly secret volunteer army of saboteurs called the 'Auxiliary Units'.
Image: Auxiliary Unit training.
The Auxiliaries were intended to carry out sabotage, guerrilla warfare and spying. Emerging at night from their Underground operations bases, their purpose was to carry out attacks against enemy targets such as supply dumps, railway lines, convoys and enemy-occupied airfields.
In the East Riding, Brough, Catfoss, Driffield, Leconfield and Cottam were listed as Class 1 airfields, and many Operational Bases were sited near these for high priority of sabotage in the event of an invasion.
Image: Plan of Rise Auxiliary Unit hideout.
In 1940, Captain Peter Hollis became the Intelligence Officer for the Auxiliary unit in East Yorkshire. He was the son of the Vicar of Hornsea, Canon Hollis.
In 1939, Captain Hollis had volunteered for the Territorial Army in the East Yorkshire Regiment, aged 19. In May 1940 after the Dunkirk Operation, he volunteered for the role of Intelligence Officer. Captain Hollis controlled the East Yorkshire area as far as the village of Bainton.
Image: Members of Cottingham Auxiliary Unit.
The East Riding Yeomanry (ERY) was a local Territorial Army armoured unit based in Hull. In 1939 it consisted of two regiments: the 1st and 2nd ERY. In February 1940 the 1st ERY was sent to join the British Expeditionary Force in France whilst the 2nd ERY remained at home. The Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on 10th May 1940, quickly breaking through the Allied Lines. The 1st ERY was thrown into battle, fighting seven rear guard actions before being surrounded and destroyed at Cassel on 29th May. Only about half escaped via Dunkirk; 55 were killed and the rest were captured.
The 1st ERY was brought up to strength by the 2nd ERY (which was disbanded) and spent the next 4 years training in preparation for D-Day. The regiment landed on Sword beach and was involved in the bitter fighting in Normandy, afterwards liberating Le Havre in September 1944. Following heavy fighting to free Holland in October 1944, the regiment was rushed south to block any German advance north during "The Battle of the Bulge". The 1st ERY subsequently supported the Allied counterattack in the bitter winter temperatures of January 1945.
The ERY was re-equipped with "Buffalo" amphibious vehicles, taking part in the assault crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, ferrying troops and supplies over the river. After this, their tanks were returned and at the end of the war, they occupied Kiel and Laboe on the German Baltic coast. The regiment was demobilised in 1946, to be reformed in the Territorial Army in 1947.
Image: Above Sherman tanks waiting to go into action, June 1944.
Image: ERY landing during a D-Day rehearsal.
Image: ERY tanks advancing, October 1944.
Image: ERY tanks moving to the front, January 1945.
Leaving aside members of the armed forces who might be on active service abroad, one of the biggest impacts of the war on the population was the air war. In the summer of 1940, the Germans attempted to defeat the Royal Air Force in the 'Battle of Britain' and in 1944 the so-called 'Vengeance weapons' (the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket) brought terror to civilian populations far from the war fronts. Although not in itself a key target area for the German Luftwaffe, the East Riding did see a lot of activity during the Battle of Britain. It lay across the route to the industrial cities of the West Riding and was adjacent to the port city of Hull, the most bombed city in Britain after London.
Much of the bombing activity in our area was a result of German bombers who had lost their way and needed to offload their bombs somewhere before making their way home. Sometimes too, they may have misidentified targets. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain bombs falling in isolated rural fields, troubling some livestock, but very few people.
Coastal ports were more intentional targets, and Bridlington, in particular, received much attention, with Hornsea and Withernsea also seeing raids. Likewise, there were deliberate attacks on the Blackburn aircraft factory at Brough and the oil terminal at Saltend.
Hull may have suffered as many as 82 air raids, with about 1200 people being killed. In the East Riding, the figure was much lower - 82 civilians and 39 military personnel (mainly on airfields, such as RAF Leconfield).
Image: A crashed Heinkel 111H, possibly near Garrowby. From the Hull Daily Mail 7th April 1940.
In 1942 a plaque was presented to Alderman T.D. Fenby JP, Mayor of Bridlington and chairman of the Air Raid Precautions committee, which listed the bombing raids on Bridlington for the period October 1939 to October 1941. Forty-three separate incidents are itemised for the two years.
The list distinguishes what weapons the bombers were delivering. The least deadly event was the dropping of leaflets over a wide area to the north of Bridlington on 4/5 August 1940. Types of bombs were mostly high explosive (H.E.) and incendiary bombs (I.B.), designed to cause a fire. There were also 2 Parachute Mines, 2 Oil Bombs, 2 "G" mines and one Sea Mine.
The most severe bombing was in May 1941. On May 3rd-4th six high explosive and 160 incendiary bombs fell on the 'cemetery, near Baker's Cafe, Sewerby Drive' and on May 11th-12th 14 H.E. and 500 I.B. fell on 'South Pier, South Side Beach, King Street, Windsor Crescent, Manor Street, New Burlington Road, Hilderthorpe Road'.
Image: Aerial view of Driffield airfield.
Image: Hangar, Driffield airfield.
Originally created in 1938, the organisation became the Royal Voluntary Service in 1966.
Set up by the Government, its original aim was 'the enrolment of women for air raid precaution services for local authorities' and more generally, to spread knowledge in civilian circles as to what to do during and after air raids.
Technically, there were no ranks in the WVS, but there were titles. The organisation was split into 12 regions, with almost 2000 centres during the war. Women from all classes of society joined. This social diversity did raise some issues with regard to uniforms. In June 1939, a suit uniform, hat and overcoat could be obtained, but as these were made by Harrods, they were rather expensive for working women! Uniforms, therefore, remained optional, and many wore their own clothes with just a WVS badge for identification.
WVS members were employed in a wide variety of roles and were an important and much-appreciated resource. For example, they staffed canteens for those fighting fires, drove ambulances and operated information points during air raids. They also greeted returning soldiers, handing out clothes, food and drink.
Service in the WVS counted as war service and members were, therefore, eligible for the Defence Medal after the war ended.
Image: Amy Johnson's ATA Badge.
The Women's Land Army (WLA) was originally established during the First World War but was reconstituted during WWII. Its primary purpose was to ensure an adequate supply of food for the home population as a large proportion of the male workforce in the countryside was called up for military service. The WLA was eventually involved in all aspects of agriculture including driving tractors and other machinery, planting crops and looking after animals. Sometimes they had to work alongside German and Italian prisoners of war and although fraternisation was officially banned, relationships could (and did) develop.
The WLA met considerable opposition in some quarters, with many farmers for example feeling that women would simply not be strong enough for farming work. It is certainly true that with women volunteering from all walks of life, some found their new circumstances harder than others.
Surviving accounts tell of the comradeship and the laughs that were had, but also make clear the unremitting hard work and often basic living conditions. Despite the initial prejudice, the WLA kept the country fed through the war and proved its worth.
Official recognition was a long time coming - it was not until 2007 that surviving members were awarded a badge for all their efforts.
Image: Painting by Bernard Casson.
Whilst the Second World War pitted nations against others, it also brought different peoples and cultures together on a scale which had never occurred before in Britain. As British service men and women landed on foreign soils across the world, foreign nationals including refugees, allies and prisoners of war arrived in Britain, including the East Riding.
Thousands of people from overseas found themselves in the East Riding between 1939 and 1945, indeed the number of inhabitants across the East Riding who did not come into contact with foreign nationals at some point during the war must have been very few. Memories of French, Italians, Germans, Polish, Americans and Canadians loom large in the recollections of locals who lived through this time, and they provide an insight into the curiosity, amusement and empathy that was often felt towards those from other countries who found themselves far from home amidst the conflict.
The Riding's largely remote location and rural economy made it favourable for the holding of enemy prisoners of war. There were camps at Welton, Goole, Bishop Burton, Rudston and West Cowick. The first POWs held in Britain were German pilots, aircrew and naval personnel; however, these were only small in number. The first major influx of enemy prisoners occurred in July 1941 when Italians captured in the Middle East arrived on British shores.
The arrival of these Italians allowed the Government to begin alleviating the labour shortage, particularly within agriculture. Gordon Bulmer recalls encountering Italian POWs at South Cave as a teenager in 1941:
"We went down into the woods and said "what are we going to eat" and they said "well there's some pigeons here" so one of them had a catapult so I said "well you shoot a pigeon and we can roast it" y'see? ... this was going down into South Cave in the woods there and then suddenly this man appeared and he was an Italian prisoner of war ... their camp was on the way down that hill into South Cave on the left-hand side. They had some Nissen huts, they were working on the lands of the farmers and he said "don't do that" this Italian, he said "come and have tea and a cake with us" and we went into this camp and all the chalk in the area they'd carved it into beautiful statues did the Italian prisoners and he said "sit down and he said the only thing is we can't buy anything in the shops because we only have prisoner of war money and we can only use that at sort of the NAAFI but we could use it if you could change one of my notes for one of your notes". So I think we swapped a pound coin or something can't remember what it was a pound note I suppose it was in those days and he gave us this prisoner of war money for it."
Image: Land Army girls with Italian prisoners of war.
Amongst Britain's allies, it was the French who were the first large overseas group to arrive in Britain. After the evacuation of Dunkirk between 26th May and 4th June 1940, thousands of French found themselves in Britain. Betty Atkinson related her memories of the 'Free French' who resided in Hornsea:
"We had Free French [in Hornsea]... for quite a while. I don't know why they ended up in Hornsea they were just landed on us and we just took it for granted like. They used to do exercises in the park, you know? and they weren't any bother a lot of the girls went with 'em."
From the very early stages of the conflict, the RAF and Fleet Air Arm also included personnel from outside of the United Kingdom. The open and flat expanses of land in the East Riding, coupled with the region's close proximity to occupied Europe made it suitable for the establishment of airbases and therefore the arrival of a large number of foreign pilots. Many of these were exiles from Nazi-occupied Europe and also some American emigrants. James Hardy of Beverley reminisced about a particularly dramatic episode involving a Polish pilot:
"One night my dad said to me, come and have a look here, they've shot a Jerry down! and we went outside to see this plane coming down in flames and the next day we went to look and it [the plane] was in a field opposite Figham, he'd crashed in there and the pilot had bailed out and he was a Pole - a Polish pilot and he was in a [Hawker] Hurricane [aircraft] and they took him in and they thought he was a Jerry."
Image: Women's Land Army girl Lena (Laverack) marries an American soldier at Welton Church in November 1944.