20th Century

Second World War York

Troops march past Mansion House

1939AD - 1945AD

Even before Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, preparations were underway.  The first Air Raid Precautions meeting in York took place in February 1937.  Some residents were hurt in the city’s blackout rehearsals.

When the hostilities began, York took delivery of 1,500 Anderson shelters for poorer families.  A map of 23 air raid shelters in the city centre was published for the use of shoppers and others.  All the preparations proved necessary in 1942 when the city was attacked from the air.

York’s war effort

Among the local regiments which fought in the Second World War were the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Green Howards, the East Riding Yeomanry and the West Yorkshire.

The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment played a key role in lifting the siege at Imphal in Burma in 1944.  Recognising this achievement, the council renamed the Fulford Army quarters Imphal Barracks.  HMS York served the Royal Navy until it was sunk of Crete in May 1941 with the loss of two crew.

Until the Allied invasion of 1944, the RAF bomber was the only way Britain could hit back at the enemy on his home ground.  York was surrounded by air bases, including those at Elvington, Pocklington, Driffield and Linton-on-Ouse.  Clifton airfield was requisitioned in 1939 and its chief wartime use was as an aircraft repair depot.  Between 30 and 40 Halifax bombers were being repaired in its 14 hangars at any one time.

The city adapted for war.  York’s confectioners, hit by restrictions on sugar imports and rationing, had new roles.  Much of Rowntree’s office block on Haxby Road was given over to the Royal Army Pay Corps.  The cream department was reconfigured for the production of munitions, Ryvita and dried egg, while the gum department was converted into a secret fuse factory, named County Industries.  F Hills & Sons, manufacturers of propeller blades, moved into Terry’s factory.

In York city centre, shop window displays urged residents to ‘dig for victory’.  The basement of Betty’s Café became a haunt for foreign airmen stationed at the bases around York.  Many etched their name in the café’s mirror.

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