Thursday, March 02, 2023

GUEST POST How Blackpool won the Second World War

Ruth Bright looks at Blackpool's vital role in World War II and her own father's wartime training in the town.

When we think of the cities that 'won the War', inevitably it’s the places that soaked up the Blitz and the bombing that come to mind: London and Coventry of course, but also Cardiff, Hull, Southampton and Liverpool.

There is another place that won the hearts and gratitude of the wartime generation, but whose role is largely forgotten today: Blackpool. 

According to John Ellis in his fascinating book Blackpool at War, the town’s remoteness and remarkable number of hotel rooms made it the perfect home to RAF bomber crew recruits undergoing training during the war. 

My Dad was one of those recruits and he adored the place. An agricultural labourer aged 20 who had hardly spent any time outside his rural Hampshire, he remembered the wartime buzz and the hospitality all his life. 

He is Aircraftsman Bill Clark, second from left in the front row of the photograph below. He achieved 122/140 in his RAF exam at Blackpool in August 1940 when he was 20. He died in 1997 aged 76.

His only regret about his time in the resort was being unable to afford the Pleasure Beach attractions because money was tight and he had to send most of his wages home to his widowed mother (corny but true).

He learnt Morse code in classrooms at the Winter Gardens and did his exams as a wireless operator over Burton’s tailor’s shop. 

In some accounts this is the genesis of the phrase 'gone for a Burton', providing the RAF euphemism for the bomber crew death toll that was to reach a sickening 51 per cent.

Today the town’s population stands at only 140,000. Over the war years it hosted 800,000 untrained recruits and turned them into the young bomber crews who helped win the war. The RAF simply would not have functioned without Blackpool.

As the Second World War fades from living memory, it is time to say thank you: a title of 'Blackpool Regis' perhaps?

Ruth Bright has been a Liberal Democrat councillor in Southwark and parliamentary candidate for Hampshire East.


Phil Beesley said...

Thanks for the post, Ruth.

Bizarrely Squires Gate aerodrome was crossed by public roads for several years after the RAF took over in 1938. The 11c bus would have still passed over the runways whilst pilots were being trained -- the bus route changed many months after the start of war.

Squires gate airport hosted a non-working Lancaster bomber as sentry for many years after WWII when it had become a civilian facility.

The Fylde coast was wartime home for much of the Polish airforce and Czechoslovakian army. Many service people were fortunate to settle in 1945.

Ruth Bright said...

So interested to hear this Phil. My Dad adored the attitude of the Polish airmen saying that one of them was so keen to get to occupied Europe he took over a training aircraft which was not really equipped for the task! I know Dad trained in Avro Ansons so I do not know if it was one of those. He was in bomber crew briefly in 1944 but was mainly a wireless operator in the Orkneys.

In my rudimentary research I could not find any numbers but it is quite right to say that Blackpool was a significant hub for Polish servicemen during the war.