This Memorial project extends testament behind how Huthwaite residents obviously shared the nations call of duty, through two world wars. Major events in relatively recent history, despite which our village shared no record of how it coped, nor of its role. Based now upon fading memories of passing generations, largely observed in innocent childhood. They are undramatic affairs if comparing targeted industrialised cities. But that was indeed reason why our remoter rural setting safely played small, nevertheless notably significant roles. These war time scenarios thusly introduces those Huthwaite efforts, and the groups this attracted.
The First World War outstretches living memory. Its effects retold through generations. From the outset our government first passed a Defence of the Realm Act. This began cautious restrictions of little noticeable relevance here, except its introduction of British summer time to give more daylight working hours. Despite best hopes for a swift end, warring continued draining national resources, especially after German u-boats disrupted regular imports. Our workforce faced some bread shortages amid rising food costs. Otherwise, any resulting rationing of barely afforded luxuries caused no greater hardship. Veterans could only express luck, for not being among the considerable death toll, unwilling to retell horrors which provoked nightmares.
Secluded from those overseas battlefields, our district did prove one safe area for training raw recruits. After commandeering New Hucknall Colliery Institute, the purposeful addressing given "Huthwaite Drill Hall" was adopted thereafter, when again hosting dance hall entertainments. Unfortunately for its workforce, after adding expense of rebuilding defences to impoverishing war torn misery, there arguably followed a global economic recession. Principal employment around the Ashfield district relied upon hosiery manufacturing and coal mining. Both remained underpaid, plus with government restrictions made on coal output, jobs at Huthwaite colliery were hardly secure when it faced possible closure. Rising long term unemployment was an issue raised April 1932 in the House of Commons by Mr. C. Brown, M.P. for the Mansfield Division. The same year also reports Sutton and Huthwaite Urban Councillors assisting local unemployed recreational facilities. One councillor adds plea for disarming. Few envisaged traumatic repeat into another Great War.
Intending no disrespect, it seems generally agreed how wartime rations affected city dwellers rather more than smaller rural communities. Here shared cheaper lifestyles supported off the land. Wild game pestered farm meadows, readily sporting hare or rabbit as a favoured cheap meat. Gardening sustained very competitive, healthily productive pastimes, and a post WWI clearance of degraded housing found replacement council properties benefited a large allotment. Hearing cry just after outbreak of WWII, "Dig for Victory" began similar announced slogans made by the Ministry of Agriculture. I must trust our prized flower and celery growers could cultivate more nutritional crops when needed. Furthermore to keeping pigeons, egg laying hens or ducks, and besides diary farms, a back yard pig fed on wastes was never short of a butcher for sharing out everything except its squeal.
Progression into a second world war realised dramatic difference between industrial city and rural English settings. Germans rapidly smashed through Europe, capturing Paris and holding bases along the English Channel. Amid this further threat of Nazi troops invading our British Isles, increasing range of mechanised warfare which easily managed to blitz Sheffield, brought frightening devastation nearer Nottingham, Derby and Chesterfield. Triangulated between, most countryside districts fortunately presented no major target for enemy bombers, here realising relative safety for rehousing city evacuees. Nevertheless, this threatening reach over our coalfields was taken seriously, also following strict blackouts to confuse aircraft navigation.
Precautionary measures included several air raid shelters. Elders recall barely used sites atop Woodland Avenue, on Clegg Hill Drive and Ashfield Road, with similar bricked over stairwells I remember left standing into late 1970's. One entrancing the Welfare Park off Sutton Road and cornering Huthwaite Market Place fronting the "Clubby" doorway. Others did share bunkered safety beneath cellared homes. Air raid sirens howled warning of flying dangers, leaving a glowing northerly skyline which glimpsed Sheffields fate.
Huthwaite was only ever shook once by a few unexplicable falling bombs exploding harmlessly near pit railways at Fulwood Cutting. Bigger scare came at New Street School when a child proudly presented in class an unexploded incendiary bomb. Apparently, one of several similar innocently carried trophies brought from Coventry by evacuee children. Found stashed among old terraced properties atop Common Road is where my great grandmother had helped house some of those city victims.
Retaining first war addressed used as the Huthwaite Drill Hall, the New Hucknall Colliery Institute on Newcastle Street again became our village centre for billeting and basic training of raw recruits. One soldier from Birmingham is found sharing training experience in Huthwaite, his enrollment showing how widely The Sherwood Foresters filled Notts. and Derbys. regiments. Additional billeting became needed to accommodate trainee soldiers. Armed troops also sharing rooms in homes among Ashfield Road. The old National School was well utilised, while commandeering more room at the Sutton Road Methodist Chapel.
While trainee soldiers marched these streets and held square bashing upon Huthwaite Market Place, they were similarly joined by another uniformed force. From May 1940 the nation readily grouped Local Defence Volunteers to face threatening reality against invasion by German forces. Renamed a few months later by Churchill, the Home Guard largely consisted of men already holding a reserved occupations. Disciplined exercises were held around the village, eagerly followed by children still happily playing outdoors.
Seems strange to associate an area remote from high seas with a British Royal Navy depot. Nonetheless, secretive Admiralty Fleet Orders dated 2nd April 1942, do confirm that Huthwaite was one of their medical depots supplying home and abroad. Few residents were actually ever aware that the recently extended Huthwaite CWS factory offered a safe base for nationally receiving and internationally despatching Naval Medical supplies. Bernard O'Connor was only a young child when his fathers work in London as a Navy Storeman in Medical Supplies transferred them to Huthwaite circa 1941. They lodged with a family on North Street for a few years until Thomas O'Connor was again reposted. Postal efficiency of this Naval base may well also suggest the same factory provided an army store when Drill Hall troops recalled being kitted out.
Reserved occupations certainly included skilled coal miners. Nevertheless, large groups readily enlisted. A tour of duty offered an heroic escape from undervalued, dirty and dangerous underground conditions. Joint war efforts found a heavily depleted workforce continuing to mine, manufacture, farm and market limited supplies. Home life had to be maintained while supporting our troops. Elsewhere, coal hungry industries turned into equipping armed land, sea and air forces which enticed young men away from such jobs. In desperation to replace lost miners, Ernest Bevin masterminded a random ballot scheme among recruits. Relocating some with great dismay into pit work, his Bevin Boys also arrived to man New Hucknall Colliery.
Simple fact often retold was Huthwaite sited a WWII Prisoner of War Camp. Youngsters memories from passing the guarded compound below Common Road, or its escorted Italian workers are sketchy. It was after all frowned upon to fraternise with enemy groups. Without photos or documented evidence even from National Archives, it proved difficult just dating its existence. But with thanks extending to Mr. Fredrick Pote in Cornwall for shedding new light upon our unidentified camp, based upon his 1946 soldering prison guard duties a little bit more of our history finally becomes revealed, including German and Ukrainian workers.
Huthwaite held numerous wartime fund raising events. These not only assisted church folk who sent out comforting parcels to our troops abroad, but also helped the Sutton-in-Ashfield district raise well above the £5,000 covering cost of a new spitfire. Lord Beaverbrook offered congratulation in November 1940, when Committee members chose its aptly named The Silver Snipe
Written 17 Mar 12 Revised 21 Jun 14 © by Gary Elliott