Huddersfield’s engineering industry played a vital role in the war.
One project involved building a miniature submarine which had a special role in the D-Day invasion. Four 50ft-long midget submarines were manufactured during the war years at Thomas Broadbent and Sons Ltd on Queen Street South, Huddersfield.
One of them, the X20 Exemplar, was used to guide in the main invasion fleet heading for Juno Beach on D-Day.
It was towed to within 60 miles of the French coast on June 2 by a trawler and then spied on the coastline as the pre-invasion hours counted down. The crew could even see the German soldiers sunbathing. At 5am on D-Day the midget submarine shone a green light to guide in the approaching ships.
They also used a ‘bong stick’ – an iron rod lowered into the water and struck by a hammer. The sound produced could be heard by ships up to 12 miles away.
During the war the Huddersfield Spitfire Fund had raised £15,858 by October 1941 – enough to buy three of the legendary 400mph aircraft, named Huddersfield I, II and III.
Amongst other things - David Brown built aircraft tugs for the RAF and produced gears for the Spitfires’ Merlin engines.
Huddersfield escaped relatively lightly from the German Luftwaffe during the Blitz.
But that did not stop people wanting their own air raid shelters in the town.
There were around 10,000 applications for Anderson shelters from Huddersfield residents. Trouble was, they were damp and prone to flooding so many people who got them ended up wet and miserable.
The shelters were provided free in some districts for families who earned less than £256 per year.
One Huddersfield person has no fond memory of the Anderson shelter: “The water would drain into it and it was all wet. You would have to climb down into this dank smelly thing surrounded by grass. It was horrible.”
The blackout caused problems – including car crashes – and made getting about at night difficult.
“All the windows had black-out curtains and not even a chink of light must show or the air raid warden came knocking,’’ said another woman.
“We had torches to see our way around as the streets had no lights, but we had to mask the glass so that only a small hole was left for the light to shine through.
“Bomber crews can see a lot more from the air than you think – even a spark from a match.”
There were other ways to try to avoid the falling bombs.
A ‘blast wall’ was built in front of a shallow tunnel near the Dryclough Road entrance to Beaumont Park where visitors could scramble for safety in an air raid.
One woman remembers: “The sound of the siren struck a fear into you. I could feel my heart pounding and you could tell which were German planes and which were English by the sound of them and we would sit under the cellar steps all night. “The planes went over steadily just droning and we could tell they were heavy with bombs, but when they came back they weren’t.”
The other times bombs fell on Huddersfield were:
August 29, 1940: Hall Bower October 13, 1940: Salendine Nook October 21, 1940: Marsden December 12, 1940: Moldgreen December 23, 1940: Oakes and Lindley March 14 and 15, 1941: Lindley Moor Road and Outlane June 2, 1941: Slaithwaite June 12, 1941: Lowerhouses and Newsome
One man recalls working at David Brown’s one night when a bomb fell.
He said: “I was working a machine during a dinner break.
“I was sat watching the machine running with my back against the wall but got bounced off the wall into the middle of the floor when a bomb dropped. “There was a bomb dropped in Honley woods about a mile away and the shock of the bomb made the wall bounce and me bounce.”
Children were also evacuated to Huddersfield from bomb-hit cities.
The biggest influx is believed to be 400 children and their mums who moved from Bradford to stay with families in the Kirkburton Urban District area in September 1939 – but when the expected bombing failed to happen in Bradford more than half had gone back to the city by January 1940.
One group of evacuees moved to the Brockholes area from Brighton.