The year is 1938, Adolf Hitler, the German Führer has ordered his troops to occupy Austria and is in the midst of preparing plans to next invade Czechoslovakia.
Hitler’s obsession to create a master race which he called ‘Aryan’ was progressing with deadly pace. Germany had began rearmament in the 1930s and after making alliances with Italy and Japan, Germany was geared for world domination.
In Britain, the country was still not fully recovered from the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and understandably were reluctant for confrontation. France were in a similar position to Britain and both the Soviet Union and United States were fully concentrated on internal politics affecting their respective countries. At this point they played the part of concerned onlookers.
Fast forward to August 1939, Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. London and Paris were now forced to take more notice of the events in Eastern Europe and Westminster became engulfed with worry.
Hitler had long planned an invasion of Poland, a nation to which Great Britain and France had guaranteed military support if it was attacked by Germany. The pact with Stalin meant that Hitler would have Soviet assistance.
On September 1st, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.
Methley At War…
Hello, my name is Lita Scott, I was crowned the May Queen at the Church school in 1940. It was a wonderful day even though there was a war. I missed my dad and my uncle and we didn’t like the rations or being kept up at night when there was an air raid.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about Methley in World War 2 and how life changed for us all…
While the British Government was preparing for war in 1938 the children of Methley were carrying on with their busy lives. After all, war was the concern of ‘grown-ups’. There were still pantomimes at the Chapel and Parish Hall; cricket matches, football, school trips and quiet Sundays with Church followed by a walk round Park Lane or a game of cards.
September 1939 was a wake up call, the Log Books of our three Methley schools show how we were closed for 2-3 days for the distribution of gas masks. We even had to register in September 1940 and wear identity discs.
At school we had to practice putting on our masks to make sure they were working properly and we had to be able to hold a piece of paper at the end of the ‘snout’ just by breathing in.
Shelters began to be built in all the schools and houses. On the 8th September 1939, one boy was absent from Scholey Hill school because his mum and dad refused to send him to school unless adequate provision was made for his safety in the case of an air raid. By 1st November a shelter had been built and back to school he went!
At Church school on 2nd May 1940 the sirens sounded and the children immediately assembled in the shelter. It only took 2 minutes! At first it was fun to go into the shelter instead of being in the classroom but they were smelly. At home we went down into the cellar instead.
It was only when our dads, brothers and uncles went to war did it hurt us. Nearly every able bodied man who didn’t join the forces was a volunteer in one of the services organised by the Civil Defence.
These were ‘Specials’- special constables; members of the Home Guard; members of the Auxiliary Fire Service (Methley had its own but it was never called upon) and the ARP wardens.
Our Methley schools were fully involved in raising money for the War Effort. We used to have table top sales in our gardens. My friends, Patricia Scott, Betty Bell and Christine Heath raised £2 5 6d for ‘Aid to Russia’. When the receipt came for the money they had a lovely surprise – it was a hand written letter by Clementine, the wife of Winston Churchill!
In November 1941 a canteen was opened in Mickletown school and 288 meals were served that day to Mickletown, Scholey Hill and Church schools as well as St John’s Oulton and Woodlesford.
Methley was lucky because we had hardly any bombing, just a few incendiary bombs down ‘Low End’. But being near Leeds we had many air raid alerts. Most of these were during the night, we were really tired when this happened and sometimes we didn’t go to school the next day. One night there was an air raid warning which lasted until 3am. The Scholey Hill school had 23 children absent out of 58 the next day.
Some of our mums made camoflage nets but we don’t know what they covered.
Methley did have prisoners of war, who were billeted in the grounds of Methley Park, close to the North Lodge on Methley Lane. They were not confined to camp and some of them befriended us. Others worked on the land to replace the workers who had gone to war.
By April 1945 people were buying or making flags and bunting ready for the end of the war. All the communities in Methley had street parties. We had races and a big feast and dressing up competitions and some dads got dressed in womens’ clothes and acted the fool’. Then we went back to rations.
Methley was never an affluent village but we were used to ‘managing’ which helped us get through the hardships of war.
Many thanks to the Methley Archive for this article. To find more information about the history of Methley please visit www.methleyarchive.org