World War Two
1938 was another depressed year for cotton, stemming largely from the threat posed in Europe by the demands of Hitler and his Nazi Party. After the Munich crisis in September, the volume of business was greatly reduced. By February 1939, cotton exports here were far less than in 1850. Ten per cent of Blackburn's population had migrated to the more prosperous South of England.
When the Second World War started in September 1939, there was renewed activity in the cotton mills, By January, 1940, two shifts were being worked, as the export of cotton goods was encouraged to help pay for spending on war materials. With the changed situation after the fall of France, the blockade and the Battle of the Atlantic, and the need to release workers for war production, the policy was changed to one of "Concentration" whereby many mills were closed down by the Government, so that the number of active mills in Blackburn was reduced from 65 to around 20, the Labour force shrinking proportionately.
The surviving mills found themselves engaged on the production of such unfamiliar fabrics as parachute cloth, camouflage material, and khaki drill. The empty mills were used for storage of food supplies or strategic material as Government Storage Depots or Buffer Depots. During the "Blitz" two mills were used to rehouse firms whose premises had been bombed. With the coming of the "Utility" scheme, contracts were given to some firms for production of a restricted range of cloths to a standard quality. At the end of the War, the labour force was dispersed, in the forces or engaged on munition production.
Many former cotton workers were not willing to return. One manufacturer who wrote to 180 of his old workers found that only 70 were prepared to come back. The numbers were made up by workers from European countries who had been uprooted by the war. There is still a sizable Polish population in Blackburn, while others came from the Ukraine.