On the Home Front
When the UK joined went to war with Germany on 3 September 1939, conscription became the order of the day. Men and women joined the forces. They worked in civil defence, teaching, farming, munitions, and many other jobs besides. Women frequently filled the gaps left by active servicemen. All were involved in the war effort, including the thousands of children who were evacuated from the cities to the countryside. They were even expected to help salvage and ‘dig for victory’. In Craven, as elsewhere, nothing was wasted. Travel was restricted, food was rationed, houses were blacked out at night and signposts removed.
In this ‘People’s War’ everyone pulled together. People provided practical comfort for the sick and those on active service. They produced goods, and grew and preserved food. encouraged by such slogans as ‘Waste not, want not’ and ‘Make do and mend’. An RAF maintenance unit was based in Settle and many of the men were billeted with local families.
North Craven had an impressive record of voluntary service and fundraising. During War Weapons Week in March 1941, £206,350 was raised, an average of £13 a head (today’s equivalent: £400)
A Safe Haven
Families in North Craven opened their homes to the children, pregnant women and the disabled who were evacuated from the cities. Some larger houses, such as Mount Pleasant in Langcliffe, were requisitioned for the purpose. Efforts were made to absorb all evacuees into the community. During the ‘phoney’ war, which was the period at the start of the war when nothing much seemed to happen, some evacuees returned home.
All children, local and evacuee, joined in the war effort. Five-year-olds from Bentham Council School knitted blankets for needy families abroad, and children from Bentham Parochial School raised money for the Lord Mayor of London’s Relief Fund and the RAF Comfort Fund.
In the bitter winter of 1940, evacuees and locals were cut off by snow and ran short of food. Despite this, many evacuees returned home with happy memories of their stay. Others never left, and some came back to live and work.
The Lighter Side
Wartime wasn’t all doom and gloom. The latest feature films as well as Pathé News were on show at the Nuvic in Settle. At home, everyone listened to the wireless for the latest news, as well as for entertainments and singing. Vera Lynn was very popular.
Zion Congregational Church held song-game-dance socials and there were always the Toc H Rooms at the Settle Services Club for sing-songs, games and a quiet room to read. The Ribble Dance Band of Long Preston played throughout the district, even as far afield as Morecambe, raising money for the British Legion, the Red Cross and comfort funds.
Tightening Our Belts
Ration books and clothing coupons were issued. People made the best of the situation. Brides were unable to wear white wedding dresses because they took up too much material. Permits were allocated for the newly marrieds, the newly pregnant and the bombed-out to buy furniture. Queues formed outside shops for goods not on ration. Only 5 inches of bathwater was allowed, and in 1942 soap was rationed. Everyone grew food, ‘digging for victory’ in gardens and allotments.
The rationed diet was sparse but well-balanced and nutritious. Menus made the best use of available food, and ingenious solutions were found as substitutes for cream, custard and coffee. The Ministry of Information urged people to ‘waste not, want not’ and ‘make do and mend’ in posters and adverts.
Feeding the Nation
The ‘War Ag’ (West Riding War Agricultural Executive Committee) set targets for farmers to plough up pasture land to grow oats, kale, mangolds and potatoes. Farmers worked hard to reduce the need for imported food. However, the wet climate and thin soil were unsuitable for cereals. Kale and mangolds at least made good winter feed for animals. The War Ag provided tractors for farmers to use instead of horses.
Because able-bodied men were away on active service, the often elderly farmer was helped by Italian and German prisoners-of-war and by ‘Land Girls’ (Women’s Land Army).
‘Our ship’ HMS Ribble
HMS Ribble was adopted by the people of Settle Rural District after they raised the astounding sum of £197,000 during Warships Week, February 1942. That would be worth £9.5 million today. She was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Ribble in July 1944 as part of the 26th Escort Group of Western Approaches Command. She sailed on anti-submarine patrols to protect convoys. At the end of hostilities, she was returned to the Royal Navy and was finally scrapped in 1957.
Prepared to Defend
The Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Department of the Home Office produced practical handbooks and gas masks and gave anti-gas training for all householders. Air raid wardens and auxiliary firemen were recruited. Public air raid shelters in cellars were designated in Settle and an air raid siren erected on the Town Hall. There was a strict blackout with equally strict fines. Local Defence Volunteers (Home Guard) were formed as the first line of defence in case of invasion to protect such key sites as Ribblehead viaduct. Observation posts were established at Horton, Settle, Bentham and Caton, staffed by members of the Royal Observer Corps. They plotted and reported the movement of aircraft passing overhead.
VE Day, 8 May 1945 was a national holiday to mark the end of the War in Europe. was a There were thanksgiving services in the local churches, and parties, dances, bonfires and processions. In Settle, a huge crowd filled the Market Place, flags flew from public buildings and houses were decorated with bunting.
The War continued to rage in Asia until August.
Local people searched for fitting means of commemorating those who had given their lives during the six years of conflict.
What happened to HMS Ribble's Bell?
The ship’s bell rests in Vancouver, owned by HMCS Ribble’s former Navigating Officer, who bought it from the Admiralty when the ship was scrapped in 1957. In 1946, on a train returning to university, he spotted in his newspaper that the Admiralty was selling off bells from decommissioned ships and he wrote at once to enquire. In March 1957, the Admiralty let him know that Ribble was now decommissioned and her bell was available. He bought it and, to his delight, it arrived in February 1958. He made the bell a gallows, and it has brought in the New Year a couple of times along with the bells of the ships at anchor in the bay below. Each May, on Battle of Atlantic Sunday, he takes it to the Remembrance Service at Sailors Point in North Vancouver where it is rung in the Ceremony of the Missing Ships.