Sunday, 13 November 2011

Howden in wartime

One of the projects which the Howden WEA local history group which I teach has worked on is how Howden was affected by the Second World War. Although we have not yet published the work, it seems appropriate on this Remembrance Sunday to make some of it available for people to read.

This is also in memory of Jane Pulleyn who was an enthusiastic member of the group and who typed much of the material including the article below. Jane died recently and we shall miss her.



The people of Howden 


In the first hours after the declaration of war the country was shocked by the sinking of the passenger liner S.S Athenia en route to America.  On board was Mrs. Esther Sellers, a Howden resident formerly employed at Goole Isolation Hospital, who described the sinking followed by twelve hours spent in a lifeboat.  A Howden man, Mr. C. Kirby, was on one of the ships that rescued survivors:  the captain of this vessel had a premonition that someone was trapped on the sinking ship, sent a boat alongside and brought off an unconscious woman who was successfully revived.

On the ‘home front’ Mr. W. Kirby left the Hull Cooperative Society shop where he had worked for 21 years to take up a commercial position elsewhere.  In October Howden had its first service casualty of the war when Gunner Arthur Watson was killed in a fall when on guard duty at an East Coast site: before the war he was a Post Office messenger, later a postman.

Shipping losses made an early impact.  Mr. R. Thornton of Hailgate was lost when the Goole steamer S.S. Corea was sunk, and Mr. W. Thornton, many years resident in Howden was lost in the destroyer H.M.S. Duchess.  In January 1940 the Union Castle ship ‘Dunbar Castle’ was mined and sunk: George Edward Snarr the assistant ship's butcher was rescued, his parents learning by telegram that he was safe.

In February the town’s medical services were depleted when Dr. Wigglesworth’s assistant Dr. Perry joined the forces.  He was replaced in May by Dr. Morley.  The war effort at home sometimes caused casualties as when George Anthony McKimm was trapped by the neck between tractor and plough, and died.

Two Howden sailors were reported missing believed killed when the destroyer H.M.S. Glowworm was sunk on 8th April.  They were Frank Lightowler aged 20 and James Arthur Pittock aged 41.  As part of the Norwegian campaign Glowworm was escorting HMS Renown when she stopped to find a man washed overboard: detached from the group she was engaged by German destroyers who led her within range of the heavy cruiser Hipper.  Badly damaged and on fire, Glowworm’s last act was to ram the German ship, which had to return to port for repairs.  Only one officer and 30 ratings were rescued, becoming prisoners of war, the full story emerging only after their repatriation to this country.  Both Howden men died during the action.

The evacuation of troops from Dunkirk and other French Channel ports dominated the country’s thinking at the end of May.  One survivor was driver Kenneth Powls who came home on two days leave.  Reluctant to speak of the experiences he described them as ‘only those of many thousands of others who were thankful to escape with their lives’.  Later in  June Second Lieutenant J.E. Cooke, aged 19, returned to Howden having escaped from Dunkirk.  Using a rowing boat he relayed his men to an abandoned barge which he then sailed to England, a journey taking 15 hours.

In July leading seaman George Claydon was confirmed to be a prisoner of war, but there was no news of the sister of Howden resident Mr. S. Rutter of Flatgate who had married a Belgian.  Their letters addressed to her as Mrs. Lowyck in Bruges had all been returned, but in a time of complete cross-channel turmoil this is perhaps not surprising.  The services continued to take Howden’s men, Mr. W.W. Kellington joining the Royal Army Service Corps.  Having survived the earlier sinking of Goole’s S.S. Lowland merchant seaman Alec Coulson survived the sinking of another vessel in September.

Trooper R. Danby, of South Howden station was reported as a P.O.W. in October, whilst in November Mr. Gus Phillips of the Howden Fire Brigade joined the Royal Air Force.  The Civil Defence lost another member when the ARP Sub-Controller Mr. J.S. Heald was called up in July 1941.

Many of the survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation would not return to full fitness and some had protracted illness.  In September 1941 the death was reported of one such survivor, Private E. Lawrence aged 23 of Skelton.  He died in Raywell Sanatorium and is buried in Howden cemetery.

The German hold on the Balkans was extending into Greece and the Aegean  Islands: Eric Birks of Hull Road was captured in September during that campaign.  North Africa was the major theatre of war for the British Army at this time: former Howden man, Driver Arthur Thompson, RASC died in March 1942 in that region.  He was 28 years old, a former pupil of the Grammar School and chorister in the parish church.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and Britain’s entry to that theatre of war our possessions in South-East Asia were quickly over-run.  Bombardier John  Snarr who was stationed at Singapore was officially reported missing in May 1942.  Another Howden man in North Africa, Lance-corporal Raymond Roginson, was able to send greetings to his family in a radio programme ‘Greeting from Cairo’.  He had survived the fighting in Crete and declared himself fit and well despite the heat and sand, and longing to see his parents, Emily, Dorothy and Cyril.

There were occasional opportunities to celebrate as in August 1942 when Dr. & Mrs. Wigglesworth attended Buckingham Palace for the investiture of their son-in-law Pilot Officer W.E. Newnham, RNZAF, with the Distinguished Flying Cross.  The following month news came to Mrs. Vera Proctor of the death of her husband Trooper William Proctor, aged 23 when serving with the Royal Tank Corps in North Africa.  His tank was hit during a bitter battle that blocked the German advance on Cairo, all the crew being killed or wounded.  In a letter to Mrs. Procter the commanding officer described William as one of his best and most experienced drivers, calm and courageous in the hottest of actions.

The second, and decisive, Battle of Alamein was fought in November, and that month two Howden men were reported wounded in action in the Middle East.  They were Gunner Arthur Hopkinson and Lance Corporal Harry Willingham.  The latter wrote to his parents to say he had been lifted from the battlefield by another Howden man, ambulance driver A. Bovill.

Early in 1943 Sergeant Gunner George Axup RAF was reported missing (later confirmed killed), and Ship's Officer Harry Boyes, Merchant Navy was a prisoner of war in Japan.

In March Robert Aske was promoted to the rank of Captain in the East Yorkshire Regiment.  

Engaged as a Royal Navy gunlayer serving on merchant shipping  Herbert Harrand was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in sinking a U-Boat.  Unfortunately the troopship in which he was sailing home was sunk by torpedo, and he spent many hours in the sea fighting off sharks.  Hospitalised in South Africa he was cleared to return home to Howden.  His investiture was in July 1945.

May saw Sergeant H. Tipping repatriated from a prisoner of war camp in Italy.  He had received a very severe thigh wound and was placed in Goole Hospital.  A former resident of Bridgegate, Major Leslie Douthwaite died of wounds on Easter Sunday.

Some casualties were not a direct result of enemy action, one such being Lance-Bombardier Harry Sweeting who died in Southwold Hospital after an accident.

Returning to this country in November was Sergeant Ken Powls, son of Mr. & Mrs. F. Powls of St. John St.  In civilian life a Relieving Officer employed by the County Council, he joined the Territorial Army two weeks before war was declared.  Evacuated from Dunkirk he had subsequently served in major operations in the Middle East.
 The same month a letter reached Mrs. Watson in Howden from her husband, Sgt. W.F.Watson in which he described an Allied landing in Italy. ‘We arrived off shore in the light …. I don’t mind the strafing so much when ashore, but I don’t like going in once the enemy starts slinging stuff about.  I was glad when our ramp went down and we got off.’  Sgt. Watson had volunteered soon after the outbreak of war and was one of the last British soldiers to escape from Boulogne in 1940.

Some British servicemen were welcomed and cared for when thousands of miles from home.  The mother of Stoker Clifford Smith received a letter in December from an American lady who had effectively ‘adopted’ him while he was in the States.

Good news of another kind reported that Private James Watts, aged 33, of Northolmby St, captured at Tobruk in June 1942, had escaped from a German P.O.W camp in Italy; a note to his wife said ‘safe and sound, back with the lads’.  On Hailgate one family had a very special Christmas when Corporal Harry Willingham, his ATS wife, and his brother Fred with the RAMC were all on home leave together.  Two more Hailgate men with home leave were Gunner Arthur Hopkinson and Craftsman Eric Shirbon; Hopkinson had been in the front line in the battle of El Alamein.

The early months of 1944 brought unwelcome news. Mr. & Mrs J Wain of Hailgate were notified that their son, Lieut. Peter Wain (23) had been killed in action in Italy, and Mr. & Mrs. A. Gamwell of Thorpe Rd. Avenue heard that their second son, Private Harry Gamwell aged 19, had died from wounds received in Italy after the landing on the Anzio beachhead. Before joining the Army in 1943 he had been a porter at North Howden station. A letter from a P.O.W to his mother said that his Christmas parcel had been robbed of its warm clothing and contained only bars of chocolate:  other prisoners were having similar experiences.

In March Signaller P. Roantree of Batty Lane was wounded in Italy, now the principal sphere of operations for the British Army in the West.

Seaman Joseph Naylor, son of Mr. & Mrs. H.C. Naylor of Bridgegate, had joined the Royal Navy at 18 and after training served as a gunner on the frigate HMS Gould.  His ship took part in a successful attack which sank a U-Boat, and less than a week later he survived the sinking of his own ship.  The U-Boat responsible was sunk by accompanying frigates, but the lifeboat with 30 men lowered from Gould overturned in rough seas.  They then climbed on to a float and were eventually rescued.

April emerged as a bad month for Howden families with sons in Italy, the latest casualty being Lance Corporal Eric Featherstone (28) son of Mr. & Mrs. J. Featherstone of Marsh End who died of wounds while serving with the Scots Guards.  After Easter came news that George Henry Newman (46) of St. John St. had been killed in Australia whilst engaged on unspecified government work.

Although as great a success as could be wished the D-Day invasion of Europe on 6th June brought inevitable casualties.  Corporal Harry Willingham was killed near Caen six days after the landing and Gunner J. Heald (late of Howden ARP) was wounded and back in an English hospital.  In August Corporal Harry Eastwood (24) of Hull Rd. Avenue died of wounds in France: he was serving with the Reconnaissance Corps in the 49th West Riding Regiment.  Wounded in Normandy was Sergeant Ronald Pridmore, the fourth time he had been wounded during the war.  Other local men in D-Day action were Sergeant Arthur Brown and Petty Officer Roy Thompson.

Two Howden men are known to have taken part in the airborne assault on the Rhine Bridge at Arnhem in September.  In his role as glider pilot Sergeant Arthur Brown landed his craft and became part of the attacking force.  He survived nine days of bitter house-to-house fighting before the order to withdraw was given and he escaped across the Rhine.  Jack Hewitt was one of the paratroopers, saw many of his colleagues killed, and reached safety by swimming across the Rhine.  Sergeant Brown was later wounded in Germany a few weeks before the war ended, and in February 1945 Private Charles Cameron was wounded in Europe serving with the Pioneer Corps.

A casualty of the Italian campaign, Corporal Jack Carrington was placed in a Leeds hospital in March, when the story of Bosun Norman Montell of 78 Hailgate also emerged.  After his ship had been torpedoed, bombed and sunk he spent 42 days in an open boat before being rescued.

The advancing allied armies began releasing prisoners of war.  One of the first was glider pilot Lieut. Peter Scott, captured at Arnhem in Sept 1944: his telegram with the good news reached Howden on 10th April. Captured in Southern Greece in April 1941 Corporal Eric Birks returned to Howden after captivity in Yugoslavia, Austria and Germany.

The invasion and advance into Germany was not a ‘men-only’ operation as shown by Sergeant Eleanor Tasker of Howden who in February, with four years service, was in North West Europe with a heavy Anti-Aircraft battery.  She said ‘the Belgians are very kind, but there is a shortage of soap’!

The month of May saw further repatriations. Leading seaman George Claydon was serving on HMS Vandyck when lost at Narvik, and paid tribute to the Red Cross for their parcels, and Private Claud Tipping (Flatgate) of the KOYLIs was captured in Norway.  Both had been PoW’s for 5 years.

The final months of the war saw promotions for Howden servicemen.  Jack  Holiday and Eric Connor gained commissioned rank, Eric Rutter became a captain and Sergeant Frank Leeman gained his wings as a glider pilot.

The continuing war in the Far East continued to make Howden-related news. A copy of the ‘Goole Times’ found under a tree in the Burmese jungle – (!!) was given to a Howden man, Major O’Hara, better known as Dr. O’Hara. The source of the copy was eventually discovered, it had been sent to a soldier by his family.  The abrupt end of that war found allied warships moored in Tokyo Bay: serving on the British flagship HMS Duke of York was Petty Officer Horace Newman of Howden.  The consequent release of PoW’s was good news for Mr. & Mrs. Amos Snarr in a letter from their son Bombardier John Snarr (aged 33).  After more than three years as a prisoner he told them he was safe and well and had reached India.  A few days later a Howden couple, Mr. & Mrs. E. Steel learned that their son-in-law, Second Officer Harry Boyes was free .  His ship the S.S. Gemstone was sunk in June 1942 and his fate remained unknown for many months.  He had been rescued and imprisoned in Japan. He returned to the UK via the USA

After a long silence Mr. S. Rutter of Flatgate had received news in 1944 of his sister Mrs. Lowyck in Belgium.  In July 1945 she wrote to say that her son Harry had returned home from four years of Gestapo custody, a grim reminder of the sufferings of civilians during that war.

The roll of honour for those service personnel who lost their lives in the Second World War is inscribed on Howden’s War Memorial in St. Helen’s Square.


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Updated January 2012: I have been contacted by a former Howden resident who wished me to add that another Howden man killed in the war was Sgt Clifford Moore Brewster. He was an air gunner in the RAF and died on 30th January 1944. Clifford was the son of Thomas and Annie Brewster (formerly Moore) of Howden. By the time of the war Mrs Brewster had died and Clifford and his sister Pauline (who worked on the Hull and Barnsley station) were living with their aunts on Hailgate.

1 comment:

  1. would appreciate a contact with the howdenshire history team concerning this blog..have PM'd twice

    ReplyDelete

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