Darwen was not an obvious target for mass bombing, indeed it was considered to be a suitable centre for evacuated children. However from the very beginning of hostilities air raid precautions were put into practice. The black-out was enforced. The authorities stressed how the careless display of lighting could undo the care and diligence of everyone else. An ARP centre was set up and manned 24 hours a day.
There was some fear that Darwen Tower could be used by the enemy to find their bearings and attack the town. The Darwen News was quite strident in its demands that the tower be dismantled. The idea gained some momentum, but stalled before any serious moves were made to implement it.
It was decided Darwen could accommodate 5,000 evacuees, the first of them arrived on the 1st of September 1939. Many people in the town were prepared to do their bit and accept children. Difficulties arose mainly with very small children accompanied by adults and by large families who would not consent to be split up. Some prospective evacuees returned to Manchester.
The German bombs arrived at last in October 1940 when seven bombs were dropped and fatalities occurred. A bus travelling up Marsh House lane was machine-gunned by one of the attacking planes.
Rationing, paper-drives, scrap metal collections became features of the daily lives of people in Darwen. It was noted by some that while the iron railings of ordinary terraced houses in the town were removed for the war effort, the ornamental gates and railings of the grander houses at Whitehall were spared.
A spitfire fund was launched in the town in September 1940. The aircraft was accepted into service in March 1941 and was lost in July while on escort duty over the Hazebrunck marshalling yard.
Thousands of people gathered in the Market Square for VE Day on May 8th 1945. That day and the following were declared holidays. VJ Day was several months later on August 15th. On both occasions celebrations both official and unofficial went on until long into the night.
Maybe they thought it was as bad as it gets; crawling out of bed on black, icy mornings to work all day in a hellish, roaring, stifling weaving shed. Maybe they thought nothing could be much worse than a life lived in poor housing with half starved kids and the bleak prospect of a penurious old age and an early death from a work-related illness.
Well the First World War disabused them. Paschendaele, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, this is where Hell really was and a few days in the front line made them yearn for dear old 'Blighty' and home 'comforts,' however humble..
Many thousands never made it back home. There would be a telegram. Curtains would be drawn. Maybe neighbours would hear sobbing through paper-thin walls.
And even those who did return did not return whole. They left limbs. They left comrades. They left youth. They left hope. They left their dreams.
And the world at home had changed too. Trade was depressed, jobs uncertain. It was only fit for broken men and all these broken men were fit for was to sit by the fire and stare unblinking into the coals, hearing gunfire still, still seeing pals disintegrate.
This was a war which involved everybody, not just servicemen and their families. Everybody experienced the 'black-outs, 'rationing', evacuees. The citizens of London, Liverpool, Coventry, Portsmouth and many other towns and cities experienced much worse. They were in the front line and night after night the sound of German bombers would send them down to the air-raid shelters.
Not since Napoleon's day had the threat of invasion been so real. The Local Defence Volunteers were created, the 'Look, Duck and Vanish,' later known as the Home Guard. Sign posts were removed, milestones defaced. 'Pill boxes' were constructed at crossroads and on the beaches.
For servicemen there were long periods of boredom interspersed with intense activity and terror. For many soldiers the war was bracketed by the evacuation from Dunkirk and the Normandy landings. Sailors had to endure the perils of the U-Boat infested North Atlantic; airmen, the 'Battle of Britain' and the bombing raids over Germany.
Post-war, the world had to face the horrors of the concentration camps and the H-Bomb, but in Britain, despite the bleakness and the deprivation, a Labour Government was elected and, uniquely, one determined to make lives better for ordinary people. And it did, for a little while at any rate, it actually did.
by Katie Marsden
St. Wilfrid's School, Blackburn
Think back to when you were 15. What were your ambitions? What did you want to do with your life? Was there anything that you wanted to do, that no matter what anybody else said, no matter how much they wanted to dissuade you from doing it that you still wanted to do it?
Most people know that in World War 1 the Army was desperate for men that the recruitment officers turned a blind eye to boys who joined up that were obviously underage. People don’t tend to associate underage boys joining the Army and dying for their country in a foreign country during the Second World War. This is an element that people tend to forget. This is the story of a boy from Darwen, Lancashire, who joined the army when he was only 15 and died in Normandy in the Allies attempt to break into Hitler’s ‘Fortress’ Europe and is now being forgotten because his name is not on any war memorial.
In 1928, a woman called Fanny Banks gave birth to a son, her firstborn, who was named Jack, probably after his father who was also called Jack, who would one day become one of the nations unsung forgotten heroes. He attended Spring Bank School and after leaving school joined the work force at Shaw’s Glazed Brick Works. According to his sister Jean who was 8 when Jack was killed, Jack didn’t want to follow in his fathers’ footsteps, he wanted to prove himself and he never stopped talking about joining the army.
When he was 14, he joined the Home Guard and won many competitions with other older more experienced men and gained many certificates. But this wasn’t enough for Jack. He didn’t want to be at home, serving his country by being ready in case Hitler should decide to invade England. No he wanted to be in the Army fighting against the Germans, he wanted to be there in the middle of the action. He was tall for his age so when he claimed to be 18 was accepted in the Army. He became Private 14429036 Jack Banks of the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. He was only 15 in reality.
His parents didn’t agree with Jack’s decision but they let him make his own choices. However, his mother promised that if he were to be posted overseas then she would tell his true age to the authorities who would then send him back to England.
In 1944, the Allies finally launched an attack on Fortress Europe to begin what would become the liberation of Western Europe. The plan, Operation Overload, was to involve around three million servicemen and women from Britain, Canada and the United States of America. In the lead up to D-Day, everything that was considered important was shrouded in secrecy to prevent the Germans from finding out where the Allies were going to land. If the Germans had of known where the Allies were planning on landing they would have moved more troops and tanks to the Normandy coast and so it would take longer for the Allies to drive the German troops back. This meant that when Jack and Fanny Banks, back in Darwen, thought that their eldest son was training in Aldershot he was in fact on his way to Normandy to help the Allies attack.
The 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry landed on Gold Beach, which is just to the west of La Rivière, at 11:30hrs on D-Day. Once the Allies had fought their ways off the beach they had orders to make their way towards Bayeux. However there was little movement in this direction. The Germans were putting up strong resistance to the Allies. Many men were killed or injured from enemy sniper fire.
On July 21st, the battalions’ commander asked for three volunteers to take out an enemy machine gun post that was near a farmhouse with grenades that was about two hundred yards away from where the battalion was. Jack and two other men volunteered. All three men where hit by mortar fire. The two other men died instantly. Jack however was seriously injured in the thigh and was carried off in a field ambulance. His wound proved fatal and he died on July 21st 1944.
However the suffering for Jack’s parents continued for several weeks after they received news of his death because another report filed in the Records Office saying that he had been injured. This led Captain Prescott to launch an investigation as to why the mistake arose.
Jack’s mother, Fanny, never claimed his medals. She said she wanted Jack back rather than a few medals. He was buried in New Jerusalem Cemetery in row B, grave 15. After the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gave him and all the other soldiers there a proper headstone. Jack’s family chose the inscription on the stone. The cemetery is tended by the villagers of Chouain. They hold simple acts of remembrance each year.
Can you imagine being that eager to fight for your country? Do you think that you would have had the courage to lie about your age to get into the army, to take part in the fighting and to volunteer to take out an enemy machine gun post when your commander was asking for volunteers? Can you imagine yourself going through what for even the older men would have been the closest thing to a nightmare while only a teenager yourself?
He did all this and yet he is not listed on any war memorials simply because he was underage, too young for it to have been legal for him to fight. Too young to fight, too young for him to be remembered.
"Mr. And Mrs. J. Banks, of 47. Radford-street, Darwen, have received official intimation that their son, Private Jack Banks, has been killed in Normandy. He was 16 years of age.
Private Banks was an old boy of Spring Bank School: after leaving he was employed at Shaw’s Brick Works. At the age of 14 he joined the Home Guard, but so keen was he to be on active service that he enlisted with the Army, although he was only just 15. In order to take part in the invasion he transferred to another regiment, and volunteered for overseas service.
In the Home Guard Pte. Banks became a crack shot, winning friendly challenge contests against experienced men.
All along, of course, he gave wrong ages, and, as he was well built, and his height was 5ft. 9½in.; he was able to carry through the enlistment. His parents did their best to keep him at home, but their endeavor failed. A certain physical trouble, they thought, might result in his rejection, but he even managed to hide this from the medical authorities. They did not know he was abroad until a week or two ago, and were intending telling the Army authorities his correct age, so he would be sent back to England.
His Major writes that: “He was willing and always cheerful, and his work was always well done.”
Private Bank’s parents, his sister, and his two brothers have received many expressions of sympathy. The family worship at Railway – road Methodist Church."
Darwen Men in the War.
PRIVATE JACK BANKS. INTENDED INQUIRY BY DIVISION MEMBER.
ALLEGED “UNNECESSARY ANXIETY CAUSED.”
"The week before last we published the report that Pte. Jack Banks (16), of 47. Radford-street had been killed in Normandy.
last week-end Pte. Banks was “headline news” in the Sunday papers, the parents being doubt , owing to conflicting reports as to whether the news of his death was correct, and had hopes that he was still alive.
Definite information has now been received, the War Office having informed the parents that he has died of wounds.
The War Office has also sent a telegram to Captain Stanley Prescott, Mp., who has taken up the matter on behalf of the parents, confirming Private Banks’ death and stating that an explanation of the conflicting notifications has been sent to the next of kin.
Captain Prescott states that he intends to inquire from Major the Hon. R. E. Beaumont, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of War, in the view of the unnecessary anxiety caused to the family, how the error arose."
22nd September 1944
Darwen Boy Soldier’s Death.
How The Mistake Arose.
"Captain Prescott, M.P., has received an explanation from the Parliamentary to the Ministry of War regarding the error which occurred in connection with the death of Pte. J. Banks (16), son of Mr. And Mrs. Banks, 47, Radford-street, Darwen. As announced in the in the “Darwen News” at the time, the boy was first officially reported killed and later wounded, the report of his death proving, after the investigation by the War Office, to be correct.
The Parliamentary Secretary asks Captain Prescott to inform the parents that the Minister “regrets the error, which must have added to the heavy burden of the parents.”
It appears that the section of the Records Office which received the report of the wounding delayed sending it on to the parents until it had verified the identity of the soldier. Meanwhile another section of the Records Office received the death report and sent it off to the parents without delay. The two sections should, of course, have got in touch with each other. This apparently is how the unfortunate mistake arose."
The tram was an intrinsic part of life in Blackburn for over 50 years. In 1931 the Royal Commission on Transport had said that most tramways, 'if not an obsolete form of transport, are at all events in a state of obsolescence' and felt that they caused unnecessary congestion on the roadways and were in some cases a danger to the public. They recommended that no more tramways be constructed and that trams should gradually be taken out of commission to make way for other forms of transport. Blackburn's last tram made its final journey on the 3rd September 1949, almost twenty years after this recommendation was made. Why did Blackburn keep hold of its trams for so long?
There are several answers to this question, the same thing seemed to happen in many areas of the country. During the war there was a shortage of petrol and a drive to conserve metal so private motor-cars were not really a viable option. It seems that many people had great faith in the reliability of the tram service and abandonment of a perfectly good mass transport system seemed unnecessary. It would also have been very expensive to replace trams with buses en mass. If you add this to the fact that large amounts of capital would have been needed to lay the tramways in the first place and municipal tramway corporations also paid a great deal of money for the upkeep of roadways and were also paying a lot of money to the electricity departments then the reasons for keeping trams start to look stronger and more feasible. It is also possible that local authorities would have felt under pressure to ensure that trams were not scrapped too quickly as the electorate viewed them as an asset, and an expensive one at that.
Trams went into decline mainly due to the decline of the older industries such as textiles where routes would be laid according to the dense population in certain areas of the town. A move away to other industries such as engineering meant the construction of industrial estates in outlying areas. This had a knock-on effect on the housing with many municipal housing estates also springing up on the edges of town. Perhaps this is another reason why the Blackburn tram held on for so long. Blackburn was slow to let go of its dying trade, many in the town remained tied to the textile trade, it took longer for Blackburn to change its trades for those with brighter futures so the tram managed to remain.