Tadcaster got through the second world war, relatively unscathed. Young men volunteered and were enlisted, some not returning afterwards. Everyday life continued and adapted in various ways.
The 11th (Tadcaster) Battalion, West Riding Home Guard was affiliated to the West Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion was formed in 1940 by the redesignation of the Local Defence Volunteers. Men who worked in reserved occupations, and those over or under age to serve in the armed forces made up the volunteer platoons. They wore an army style uniform and were equipped with a few rifles. They met at the Drill Hall in Mill Lane.
Air raid sirens were positioned in the town with one being on the tower of Braime’s Brewery between Kirkgate and Chapel Street. Vegetable growing was encouraged throughout the war and food rationing applied here just as it did across the land.
The Regal Cinema, which had a capacity of 670, was used extensively as a place of entertainment during the war years. The National Anthem was always played before any performance began. The Salvation Army band often played by the Memorial Cross on Saturday evenings to entertain the crowd whilst they queued for their tickets. Stutton Amateur Dramatic Society played in the Riley Smith Hall during the War under their Director of Drama, Miss Pickering. Personnel from the R A F often supported the cast.
Tadcaster station was busy during the war period as the branch line fed the Thorp Arch Munitions Factory, some 4 miles away, which had just been completed in 1941 on a 642-acre site. There were 18,000 workers per day employed on the site – three continuous shifts of 6,000 – mostly women as the men were in the armed services. Most arrived by train. Raw materials came in by rail and munitions went out.
John Smith’s still had several of the Sentinel steam wagons working in town during the war – they were referred to as “Steam Pigs”. An eye-witness stated that they left a horrible black smoky smell after they passed in the street, which afterwards wafted around for quite some time.
The old vicarage off Chapel Street had been occupied by the Rev. Jones before the war. Dr Scatchard, who previously had lived in Ivy House, Leeds Road, occupied the building during the war. The doctor lived and had his surgery here.
The outbuildings of Edgerton Lodge during WW2 were used by the local Women’s Institute whose activities included looking after evacuees and running the Government sponsored Preservation Centres, where volunteers canned or made jam from excess produce. All this produce was sent to depots to be added to the rations.
At the Council School in Station Road, air raid practice included putting your gas mask on initially and then taking shelter in John Smith’s Brewery’s cellars. This was later changed to The Tower Brewery’s cellars. It seemed a long way away from the school for the children to take shelter in either venue. Fortunately the need never arose. Later c1942, brick air raid shelters with reinforced concrete roofs were built at the front of the school – they were later used for storage and the growing of hyacinths!
RAF Activity around Tadcaster
There were several active airfields around Tadcaster including Church Fenton and Acaster Malbis. The Bramham Moor Airfield which had closed in 1919, was used as a decoy airfield, with dummy aircraft during World War 2.
The Riding School at Grimston Park was taken over by the RAF and was converted into the Control Centre for Fighter Command 13 Group controlling all Fighter operations north of the Humber. A descendant of the then owner of Grimston Park recorded: “Early one morning in 1940 a very senior officer from the RAF came to Grimston with a view to requisitioning the house and taking it over. The story goes that my father (still in his dressing gown at the top of the stairs) bellowed at him and told him in no uncertain terms to go away. It worked as far as the house was concerned but not for the stables and gardens.”
The old Riding School (a vast building created in 1840 for Princess Bagration to ride around under cover) was taken over and drastically changed to become an Operations Room for the Church Fenton fighter base five miles away. Nissen huts were erected in the gardens for the female staff and the men occupied the stables which became dormitories. One end of the Riding School became a cook house and a block of latrines was erected in the middle of the Stable Yard. A marble statue of a naked Venus in the grounds acquired a tasteful bra.
The interior of the Riding School is almost as it was left in 1946, except for the fact that its asbestos sound proofing tiles have been carefully removed. Otherwise its network of little rooms for wireless operators and the large central Ops Room with three overhanging balconies are still there as a relic from all those years ago.
There was a plane crash close to Tadcaster on the night of 22nd/23rd October 1943 when a Halifax bomber from Leeming had to turn back from a bombing raid with engine problems. It flew low over Tadcaster and hit the tops of some trees at Smaw’s and crashed onto the railway between Smaw’s and Newton Kyme. The crew of 7 were killed.
Army activity around Tadcaster
The A64 dual carriageway between Tadcaster and York had been built and completed before the outbreak of WW2. It was the only part of the A64 between Leeds and the East Coast to be dual carriageway and one of the first ‘A’ roads to be converted to dual carriageway in the North East of England before the War; no part of the A1 in Yorkshire had been upgraded to dual carriageway status.
This 10-mile section between Tadcaster and York had been built to a high specification. Not only did the road have dual carriageways but each carriageway also had a wide cycle path and a footpath at the left side of each road; so this made for a broad strip of land either side of the carriageways assigned as pathway.
From early 1942 the east bound carriageway was closed and the west bound carriageway became a contra-flow roadway. The area of land to the left of the eastbound carriageway was put to use in a quite different way from the purpose for which it had been originally built. It was requisitioned and used as a huge parking area for assembling part of a huge armada of military vehicles being prepared across the whole country, which would eventually be used to invade Europe. D-Day was to be June 5, 1944 but postponed to the 6th because of bad weather.
Three maintenance workshops with large rounded roofs were strategically built along the eastbound carriageway; one at the Islington Tadcaster west end, one at Bilbrough and one near to the main line railway bridge at the York east end of the dual carriageway. The dual carriageway terminated before crossing the rail bridge leading to York.
The military vehicles were parked side by side with their tails up against the hedge – engine bonnets towards the road. It was an impressive sight to be seen, as the vehicle numbers kept growing and growing over a period of 2 years – 10 miles of them. The vehicles ranged from flatbed 10-ton trucks, utility trucks, artillery, tanks, low-loaders, amphibious landing ‘ducks’ to ordnance vehicles of many sorts.
And then they all vanished in the summer of 1944 as D-Day approached. It would not be difficult to conjecture that many of these vehicles would go to the Thorp Arch munitions factory to collect ordnance before travelling south in convoy for the invasion rendezvous.
Prisoner of War Camps
Bramham Park was the location for two POW camps during the WW2. Both Italians and Austrian prisoners of war were held here. One of the camps also housed a large number of Russian soldiers who were not POW’s but liberated citizens.
There was a POW camp in Tadcaster, Camp No 1015, by the Council Office building and cricket pitch in Station Road. This housed Italian and later German POWs who worked on farms locally.