War is declared


The Yorkshire Post headline on the morning of September 4th 1939 read ‘Britain and France at war with Germany’. By the end of WW2 over 100,000 Leeds men and 10,000 women had enlisted.


Newspaper POW parcels


The Evening Post ran a Prisoner of War Club. Over 200,000 members sent out parcels and cigarettes to allied troops in POW camps abroad. At the end of the war all the POW’s who returned from the eastern camps received £5 from the papers POW fund and civic dignitaries held a reception in Roundhay Park.


Local Defence Volunteers


Leeds own ‘Dad’s Army’ defended railway lines, works depots and gas works. City Station, Wellington Bridge and the Canal Basin were guarded. 15,000 men served in the 8th Battalion Leeds Home Guard. Their HQ was at Elland Road.  They stood down on December 3rd 1944 with a parade down the Headrow. If Leeds came under threat of attack the code word that would be used was ‘bug bear’. Church bells ringing would have been the sign of invasion. The WVS, Women’s volunteer services, had10,000 members in Leeds.




During WW2 a bomber cost £20,000 and a fighter plane £5,000. Leeds was amongst the first cities to fund raise for the war effort. During war weapons week, 11th September 1940, over £5 million was raised which bought 250 bombers. In City Square there was a ‘cashometer’. This was assembled in front of the statue of the Black Prince and displayed the total raised so far. For every £20,000 raised another image of a bomber was put on the board. During Salute the Soldier week, in June 1944, over £6 million was raised. During Ark Royal week the city adopted a ship. The target of £5 million was exceeded. £7.2 million was raised in one week from 26th June to 3rd July 1943. Over the five years of WW2 Leeds saved £72 million on war bonds.




On 1st September 1939 18,250 children travelled on 51 trains, with 1450 teachers and 1350 volunteer helpers to new homes. Many carried a few belongings, mostly clothes in a pillowcase to places including Gainsborough, Doncaster, Retford, Ilkley and Lincoln. Many children returned before Christmas.


City Square Secrets


Where was the hidden entrance to the HQ for the North if London was invaded? Somewhere accessed from Leeds City Square. Does anyone know exactly where?




Watching a newly released film at the cinema during WW2 would cost you 6p or 9p. It was only 2p to watch a children’s matinee. People who did not carry their gas mask were refused entry.




Queuing was normal when shopping. Over 4 million ration books were distributed in Leeds.


POW camps in Leeds


There were two prisoner of war camps. No 244 on Butcher Hill, West Park and No 91 Post Hill at Farnley.




Only two hours warning was given to the people of Leeds when Winston Churchill visited Leeds Town Hall on 16th May 1942. Over 20,000 people crowded around the Town Hall steps to hear his speech. He also visited several factories and industrial sites. His famous cigar and V sign were in evidence.




Burtons the tailors manufactured army uniforms. At Waddingtons maps were printed on cloth and inserted secretly into Monopoly games. These were sent to POW camps. Money was also included in the packs. If there was a dot after Mayfair a map of Germany was inside. These maps helped 35,000 troops to escape. At Avro, an underground factory at Yeadon over 4,000 aircraft were produced. At Blackburns in Roundhay, today a Tesco, Torpedo and Blackburn bombers were manufactured. Vickers Armstrong in Leeds manufactured tanks. Over 14,500 women were employed in aircraft and engineering work.


Woodhouse Moor


On Woodhouse Moor anti aircraft guns protected the city during bombing raids. These were infrequent compared to other cities in Britain. There were 87 alerts. The 14th and 15th March 1941 were the worst two days with 9 raids. At 9pm sirens wailed and everyone waited for the hum of the aircraft approaching. A falling bomb made a whistling sound. There would be a huge bang if an explosion happened nearby. During raids trains were stopped from entering the city. There is a famous photograph of a stuffed ostrich in the ruins of the bombed city museum in Park Place. The Town Hall was also bombed as was Armley, Burley Road, Wellington Street, and Hanover Square.

During these two days 77 people were killed, 327 injured and over 6,500 buildings damaged during air raids.

On 1st September 1940 the Marsh Lane railway depot was hit. A shelter outside Leeds Market and Quarry Hill flats were hit.

5 people were killed at Kirkstall Forge on August 27th 1942. During this air raid 197 buildings were destroyed, 7623 damaged and there were 24 major fires.

101 private motorcars were converted to Ambulances to collect casualties during air raids.


Air raid shelters


In Leeds there were 14,000 domestic air raid shelters. These were mostly either Anderson shelters or reinforced cellars. There were 132 public shelters including one under the Grand Theatre. Blast walls protected the entrances to shops on the Headrow. 7,000 air raid precaution wardens were trained in 60 training centres.


Temple Newsam


Leeds City Council’s collection of paintings were transferred to this house on the outskirts of the city. During the war years, under the energetic directorship of Philip Hendy, there were staged loan exhibitions of many of the outstanding British artists of the day. These included Moore, Hepworth, and  Sutherland. This provided the people of Leeds with the equivalent of the music recitals at the National Gallery in London.


Victory in Europe Day


On the evening of VE day, 8th May 1945, the Evening Post headline read ‘The End’. Street parties were held across Leeds. An effigy of Hitler carried by a crowd as the marched down Briggate.


AVRO – Yeadon


Where was the aircraft factory?


Built in 1939 this was the largest factory under one roof in Europe. It had a camouflaged roof of 140724 square metres. It is situated just to the north of Leeds Bradford Airport.


Was it ever bombed?


During a bombing raid in the early hours of Monday 19th August 1940 over sixty incendiary bombs were dropped on Otley Chevin. Several craters, 25ft wide, were made, rabbits killed and a few walls damaged. In Otley Museum shrapnel from these raids can be seen. Two nights later the Carlton village was bombed. It is thought that the factory was not a target as it was never hit those nights or any other.


How many people worked there?


The majority of the 17,000 workers were unskilled. The learned their skills from other workers. Several thousand workers were billeted in local families in Yeadon. 150 buses transported the workers up to 40 miles away. At Westfield, in Yeadon, 300 brick bungalows were built. At Greenbanks, in Horsforth, a hostel housed 700 single workers. Shaftsbury House, Beeston, temporarily housed workers from AVRO.


How many hours each day did they work for?


The shifts were 12 hours long. Working six or sometimes seven days a week was not unusual. Six weeks on days could be followed by 3 weeks on nights.

The canteen seated 7,000 workers. Air Raid shelters housed 8,000.


What types of aircraft were built?


Over 5,000 aircraft were constructed. The majority, over 4,000, were the Anson. These were used for coastal reconnaissance and as air ambulances. The Anson was the primary aircraft for primary training. York, Lincoln and most famously Lancaster aircraft were made. Some aircraft manufactured at AVRO can been seen in museums such as Duxford and Sunderland.


What did the factory look like?


The roof was camouflaged to look like farmers fields when seen from above. Model cows and hedges made from fabric and wires were situated in and next to roads and fields painted onto the roof. Against the walls of the factory earth banks of rubble and soil were grassed over. Having an angle of 45 degrees they gave no shadow unlike a 90 degree wall.


Information for this page had been taken from ‘Mother Worked at AVRO’ by Gerald Myers.


From this book we also discovered …


Leeds University had an Air Squadron formed in 1941. The HQ was a 34 University Road.


There was a factory which manufactured Blackburn Aircraft on Roundhay Road. Today it is a Tesco supermarket.


On Kirkstall road there was a Government Training Centre. It was set up to give workers with engineering skills an understanding of aircraft production.


There was an anti aircraft gun in a field north east of Colton Village, close to East Chevin Road.