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12 - Stillington at
In 1914 life in
Stillington continued as though it would never change. Cricket was a large part
of the village social scene and on 24 January over 200 dancers in fancy dress
attended the annual Cricket Club ball in the council schoolroom (now the village
hall). Come the start of the season Stillington lost by 25 runs to St Michael
le Belfry (York) but beat local rivals Huby by a similar margin. The Yorkshire
Gazette makes no mention of the likelihood of hostilities until the report of
the fortieth Huby and Sutton on the Forest Show when Lord Furness, proposing the
toast to 'The King', briefly mentioned the terrible crisis through which the
country was passing. Everyone hoped 'events would turn out better than appeared
to be at present'.
German invasion of neutral Belgium on 4 August, war was declared on Germany.
The team from the Army Pay Corps resigned from the local cricket league.
Ryedale Show was held at Duncombe Park, Helmsley, on 11 August but Pickering
Show was cancelled due to the outbreak of hostilities.
The Great War
seems to have passed above the heads of Stillington Parish Council. Prior to
the outbreak of hostilities the Council met infrequently and its main interest
appears to have been the Stillington Consolidated Charities Fund, the Calvert's
Widow Charity Fund and the appointment of a governor for Stillington Village
School. People from the village went away to war. Quite a number did not
return but there is no mention of them in Parish records. Existing church
records are also incomplete.
One local man,
Fred Burks, had already enlisted in the Green Howards in 1906 and held the rank
of sergeant. At the beginning of what promised to be a short war he was
stationed in Guernsey. On 28 August he left for the Western Front in Belgium.
By Christmas 1914 he had already seen active service near Ypres, a city as yet
undamaged, fighting against a Bavarian regiment which included Corporal Adolf
marched to Armentieres in Northern France where despite the season of goodwill
the only break in hostilities came in Christmas week when the German troops
requested a pause to recover their dead. During that period soldiers from both
sides fraternised; exchanging cigarettes, cigars and souvenirs - the only time
such an event occurred throughout the war. The British higher authority stopped
it happening again!
Back home in
England the well-known Yorkshire pacifist Arnold Rowntree encouraged military
service, stating that he would keep jobs open for all Rowntree employees who
volunteered to serve the colours. He declared that war was 'not a picnic' and
that soldiers would 'march hour after hour for 30-40 miles carrying 90 lbs on
their backs'. He was right. Meanwhile the recruiting sergeants, resplendent in
red sashes, marched through the towns and villages recruiting men to serve as
soldiers. A visit to Stillington on 20 November 1915 recruited three men for
the Green Howards. Raymond Hayes, from Farlington, was posted to active service
in France. He was killed on 22nd March 1918.
returned safely. The two men recruited alongside Raymond Hayes, H Burden and R
Barker, survived the war. Some had lucky escapes: Pte Lawrence Fothergill was
in the firing line and had, 'A marvellous experience. He had his hat shot off
but is luckily none the worse'. Others were not so lucky. Arthur Hobson joined
the Green Howards and served on the first day of what came to be known as the
Battle of the Somme. Unlike over 20,000 of his compatriots who were killed in
action, and 37,000 who were wounded, Arthur survived only to be killed at Arras
on 24 May 1917.
Alf Stubbs, who
lived on the village green at Stillington, joined the 18th Battalion of the
Manchester Regiment - the 'Manchester Pals'. On 12 October 1916 he was waiting
in a muddy trench, soaked to the skin, to attack Ligny-Thilloy, in the Somme
area. At 2.05 pm, after a short five minute bombardment, the Manchesters
attacked and the Germans retaliated. Heavy machine gun fire made progress
impossible and the British suffered terribly. Alf Stubbs sadly became one of
the 250 Manchesters, out of 350 who started the day, who were dead, wounded or
Harry Thompson of
Ashfield Cottage, Main Street, was recruited into the Yorkshire and Lancashire
Regiment. He was killed in the third battle of Ypres. At Passchendaele Harry
had served alongside Sergeant Burks who had now survived some of the worst
battles of the entire war. But Sergeant Burks was killed in action on 6 May
1918. The battalion diary for the day records, 'Quiet with nothing of
importance to report'. Doubtless his wife and family would strongly
disagree with that!
The First World
War did affect whole families. The Borwells - brothers George, Tom, Charlie,
and sister Doris, were all in the forces. Charlie joined the Yorkshire Hussars,
serving in Mesopotamia, Russia and India. Tom joined the Green Howards and was
in training at the end of the war. Doris served with the WAAC in Suffolk.
George had joined the Army in 1914 as a driver in the Army Service Corps and was
drafted to the front in May 1916. Twice he was mentioned in despatches for
taking up supplies under heavy shell fire. In the Spring of 1918 he was
transferred to the West Riding Regiment and had only been in the trenches a few
days when he was killed.
Reg and Percy
Dight lived with their parents on Main Street. Percy was a regular soldier in
the Royal Artillery and rose to the rank of CQMS. He was awarded the Military
Medal and Bar for bravery and was mentioned in despatches on a number of
occasions. Towards the end of the war he returned from France unable to work
and suffering from a combination of gas poisoning and shell shock - a complaint
not recognised by the British Army as an illness. His brother Reg also joined
the Royal Artillery and served alongside his brother in France. They were
standing together beside their gun when Reg was shot dead by a German sniper.
Gunfire was only
one of the many hazards. Robert Gibson of Stillington Mill, joined the Queen's
Own Yorkshire Dragoon Labour Corps. Usually their regiments were unarmed and
spent most of their time labouring at, or close to the front line - building or
repairing bridges and roads, deepening and widening trenches, constructing
wooden walkways. At the end of the war Bob sadly caught pneumonia and died in
the military hospital in Beverly. He is buried in Stillington graveyard - one
of few local soldiers to have a personal memorial in his own home village.
Parish Council records show no commemoration to those who were killed in action
during the First World War, their names are recorded on monuments and memorials
which decorate the Belgian and French countryside bearing testimony to the
sacrifice of British soldiers. The name of Alf Stubbs is recorded on the
monument at Thiepval, along with 70,000 other British soldiers, as 'having no
The names of Fred
Burks and Harry Thompson are recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Arthur Hobson
and Reg Dight are on the Arras Memorial, George Borwell on the Vis-en-Artois
Memorial and Raymond Hayes on the Pozieres Memorial at Albert.
The Great War
ended on 11 November 1918. Those who survived came home to the great relief of
their families and started to pick up their lives again. Among the survivors
was John Hutchinson, of Slingsby. John had enlisted in the Green Howards in
1916 and had spent a large part of his military service training recruits at
Rugeley, Warwickshire. In 1920, after demobilisation, he married, moved to
Stillington and became manager of the BATA store. He was later to become a well
known Stillington figure, closely associated with St Nicholas Church, where he
became secretary, vicar's warden and bellmaster.
After the war
life in Stillington went on much as before. No welcome home is recorded from
the Parish Council. Repairs to Lucy Balk, Joe Stees and Jenny Wren footpaths
continued to dominate Parish business. Stiles needed repairing, new gates
needed erecting and the Vicarage had a Hit and Miss paled hand-gate and palings
erected by Mr Hugill for £9/7/6d.
The First World
War was supposed to be 'The War to End Wars' but it was not to be. The 'Roaring
Twenties' came and went and a new generation of young people grew up not
remembering the 'Great War'. Even so, the storm clouds were gathering over the
whole of Europe.
In 1935 the
National Peace Ballot was held. A threat from Germany was now a real
possibility and strenuous efforts were made to keep the peace. Britain may have
been neutral, but British volunteers left to fight in the Spanish Civil War. In
1937, at about the same time as the coronation of King George VI, came the first
official hint of trouble. Easingwold Rural District Council asked the Parish
Council to set up an Air Raid Precautions Committee. Dr Bullen, the village GP,
assumed responsibility for Red Cross work, R W Wood became organiser of rescue
parties and William Redshaw offered to organise motor cars and lorries when
needed. Rev H W Smith, the vicar, was appointed Principal Air Warden. Public
lectures on air raid and anti-gas precautions were organised.
On 3 September
1939 war was declared. Evacuees from Hull and Middlesbrough came to
Stillington. 'Dig for Victory', 'Buy a Spitfire' and 'Buy a Tank' weeks were
held in the village. Salvage collection got into full swing and Stillington
Boys Scouts assumed responsibility for collecting waste paper, tins and scrap
iron. Fund raising events were held in the Village Hall where Fur and Feather
shows were popular. Farmers donated stock for auction.
were a vital need for soldiers. In January 1940 a collection raised £4/13/0d
and paid for twenty-three tins. Stillington formed a branch of the Home Guard
with forty-seven members. Initially known as the Local Defence Volunteers,
local wags claimed that LDV stood for 'Look, Duck and Vanish'! Apparently the
qualification required to join was an ability to climb the steps to the top of
the church tower and keep watch! Training for the Home Guard took place in the
Village Hall with manoeuvres in the grounds of Stillington Hall. These men were
entrusted with protecting the village in the event of enemy attack and guarding
ammunition stored in the Nissen huts which appeared on spare land and by
roadsides leading to Stillington.
twenty-one years had passed between the end of World War I and the start of
World War II many of those who saw military service between 1939 and 1945 had
vivid memories of the previous war. The two sons of Sergeant Fred Burks (the
gallant Green Howard who had fought through many of the worst battles in WWI and
finally been killed in action just six months before the end of the war)
enlisted in the British Army. Francis Burks was, like his father, a regular
soldier. He joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1933, serving in
Gibraltar and Burma before being demobilised in 1946. His brother, James,
enlisted in 1939 and served with the Durham Light Infantry and the West
Yorkshire Regiment. He saw service in Egypt and Tunisia before being wounded in
Abyssinia in 1941. He, like his father, lost his life as a result of war. He
was killed in action in Sicily in 1943.
Percy Dight, the
son of CQMS Dight of the Royal Artillery, did not see service as a regular
soldier. As a farmworker he was declared to be in a reserved occupation and
joined the Brandsby and Crayke Home Guard under the command of Captain Bullen
from Stillington. Percy remembers that twice he was stopped in York to show his
exemption card to prove that he wasn't in the Army. To Percy the Home Guard
were 'playing soldiers'. One rainy Sunday they lived up to the description.
His corporal took the platoon into the pub where they played cards all day!
To those who saw
active service away from home 'playing soldiers' - or 'sailors' or 'airmen' -
was an impossibility. Leslie Hutchinson volunteered for the Royal Navy in
1940. He joined HMS Kashmir, operating anti U-boat patrols in the English
Channel and North Atlantic. Later his ship went into the Mediterranean,
accompanying HMS Kelly in the bombardment of the airfield at Maleme. Ordered to
proceed to Alexandra, Egypt, HMS Kashmir was attacked by German Stuka bombers
off Gavdas Island, received a direct hit and sank. Leslie was killed and is
commemorated on the Memorial at Suda Bay.
In 1944, Charles
Hutchinson was called up into the RAF but transferred to the infantry. After
advanced jungle training at Comilla he joined the West Yorkshire Regiment and
took part in the battle of Meiktila commanded by General Bill Slim. He spent
some time in Chittagong Military Hospital being treated for jungle sores. Being
a talented musician he was delighted to find a piano in the hospital and his
recovery was greatly aided by playing it. He returned to England and was
finally demobbed in 1947.
who worked for a local builder, was called up, joined the Duke of Wellington's
Regiment, and was posted to India. He had many unpleasant experiences fighting
the Japanese in the jungle. Like many others he couldn't get home quick enough
when the war ended. He left for Stillington without even collecting his
medals. These he only received on his 80th birthday when his family applied for
them. Bert Thompson's brother, Charlie, who worked on the roads for the
Council, was called up and joined the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment. He was
in the North African and Italian campaigns. He too was also waiting to get home
to England and Stillington. His letter to the White Bear wished everyone a
Happy Christmas and showed him sitting on a large tin of spam dreaming of
turkey, Christmas pudding and the odd drink or two.
Cecil Wood, a
footballer who had trials with York City, joined the Royal Engineers in 1939.
He saw service in France and Belgium before being evacuated from Dunkirk.
Transferred to the Middle East, for bravery in the field he was mentioned in
despatches on 12th December 1941. He was captured in 1942 and became a Prisoner
of War. He was released from Stalag IVB in Saxony. His girl friend, later to
become his wife, Margaret, was shown a photograph of freed POW's and was amazed
to see her future husband in the photo - safe but not home. Cecil Wood finally
returned home on 14 May 1945.
War II the Army had huge camps in the Vale of Pickering. Many convoys went
through the village, some so long they took 2-3 days to pass. Tanks were
frequently parked in the grounds of Stillington Hall. Once a track came off a
tank and it veered into the front door of Corner House. The resident was at the
door with a child in her arms - not surprisingly she disappeared into the depths
of the house with great speed when the turret buried itself into the house.
The war brought
employment for many. East Moor air base, three miles from Stillington, was a
Royal Canadian Airforce base. Before the war a farm worker's weekly wage was
about £2 but one of the village blacksmiths, Ernest Burnett, found that when he
went to work at East Moor, he could earn £5 a week.
frequently visited the pubs in Stillington and batmen brought leather boots and
flying jackets to the Stillington cobbler, Arthur North, for repair. One sad
task when a plane was lost was to give away boots and jackets left by the crew.
formed between local girls and the visiting aircrews. Gertie Burks, who lived
on the Green and worked at Home Farm, had a Canadian boy friend. Stillington
was in line with the main runway at East Moor. Loaded aircraft took off very
slowly and gained height above the village. She could easily recognise his
plane by the number on its wing. Many hours later she waited anxiously for his
return and knew she still had a date when his plane flew back from Germany.
sometimes crashed. One came down in Folly wood. Another crashed on Sugar Hills
where the Army had a look-out tower. The pilot managed to climb out and raise
the alarm by telephone but the WAAFS on duty hadn't heard a thing. About
fifteen soldiers and WAAFS were billeted in the village with their office in
part of Wandell House. In addition to the Sugar Hills look-out, they worked a
searchlight on the Green.
The village was
never bombed but a land mine was dropped at Seaves Farm, near Brandsby, and a
great deal of glass was shattered. Another bomb fell close to South Farm but
the blast went over the hill at the back of the house without causing any
In May 1945 the
war in Europe ended. The church bells, which were to be used as emergency
signals, had not sounded since 1940. On 8 May they rang out to celebrate VE Day
and they rang again on 15 August for VJ Day. The Welcome Home Committee raised
money for gifts for all who served. Flags and bunting decorated the village,
there was a bonfire on the Green, a sports day for children and a whist drive
with proceeds to the Welcome Home Fund. And the bells rang... and rang... and