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Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Liberation of Ingleton dans les Dales

WW2, German, Ingleton, North Yorkshire

The first tendrils of dawn crept slowly, but inexorably, across the horizon.  Restless, I shifted my position, checked equipment for the umpteenth time and looked across at Shorty.  There was a flash of white teeth and the luminous hands of my imitation Breitling Superocean Chronographe glowed faintly in the gloom.  “Time to go,” I whispered.  Muffled sounds of packs being hoisted onto backs, zips pulled up, clips fastened.  Faces black in the half-light, we set off, hearts pounding, the rubber souls of our boots soundless on the tarmac.  So, this was it.  We turned left at the fourteenth sheep and headed across seemingly peaceful fields, wet with dew, full of morning smell.  Others had reconnoitred before us: we followed their advice and, occasionally, took a map bearing just to be sure.  One false step could take us along the wrong public footpath; this was Life at the Edge. 

Ingleton, North Yorkshire, visit Britain

Our objective – the village of Ingleton in North Yorkshire.  Many, including at the highest levels of Government, were unaware of any military activity in this area.  However, intelligence, supported by an effective leaflet and poster campaign, alerted us to the fact that Ingleton, for one weekend in July, has an alter-ego as a French village occupied during the Second World War.  It is called ‘Operation Homeguard’ – Ingleton’s 1940s Weekend.

Ingleton, North Yorkshire, visit Britain

We approached from the south, heading for the strategic road crossing over the River Greta.  Out of nowhere, disaster struck.  In a densely wooded rocky ravine quite a few feet deep, one member of our platoon slipped on a carelessly placed rock.  He suffered a nasty fall, narrowly missing the stream which gushed terrifyingly, and with all the rapidity of poured treacle, several inches below his nose.  Our rendezvous was due at 1100 hours; time, we felt, to have a mooch round and a pub lunch before the Spitfire flew over at 1425 (weather permitting).  So, with our casualty fighting back the pain from a lightly grazed elbow, and the discomfort of muddy trousers, we pressed on, resolutely.

1940s, Ingleton, North Yorkshire

No plan survives contact with the enemy.  The next setback was a sign which announced ‘Bull in field’.  The presence of an extremely large, undoubtedly male, cow established that this statement was true.  I like to imagine the creature gazing lazily over the top of its spectacles as it chewed the cud, daring us to enter his domain.  But was the notice some kind of clumsy disclaimer, should a member of the public be gored whilst walking along a public footpath?  Cursing the moronic farmer – doesn’t he know there’s a war on? – and rejecting the idea of shooting the bull on the grounds that a) it would possibly be a bit extreme, definitely unfair, and b) we did not have a gun, it was decided that cowardice was the better part of valour.  This was the spirit that built an empire (and then lost it).  So General Mayhem (commanding) decided that the best course of action was to retrace steps and come upon our objective from the west.  By the time we got there, Ingleton dans les Dales had already been liberated.  I was particularly pleased to note that the Americans appeared to have arrived early on this occasion.

1940s, Ingleton, North Yorkshire

Everyone seemed very happy.  The erstwhile combatants – mostly members of the Wehrmacht, GIs and Free French Resistance – looked as if they were getting on rather well.  Some civilians were shamelessly fraternising.  There were few British troops around – apart from, oddly enough, members of Ingleton’s Home Guard.  “Don’t tell them your name, Pike”.  Perhaps British WWII uniforms aren’t as nice – I certainly have it on good authority that they scratch a bit when dancing, as well as at other critical moments.  But it was an eclectic mix – including someone, fully whiskered and resplendent in a pith helmet, who looked as though he’d stumbled into the wrong war.

Home Guard, Ingleton, North Yorkshire

That said, there were a couple of tough-looking Red Devils - Paras.  However, several of the troops looked like they had been waiting since the 1940s to be there and had, meanwhile, taken the opportunity to eat thoroughly.  In general, the Germans looked somewhat fitter.

German soldiers, Ingleton, North Yorkshire


The presence of very authentic-looking German troops was vaguely unnerving.  Apparently it upsets some people.  I did overhear someone ask, in a slightly offended tone, “What are they doing here?” I completely get this reaction, but wanted to point out that the Second World War just would not have been the same if Germany had stayed out.

Germans, North Yorkshire, Ingleton, 1940s


Operation Homeguard, Ingleton's 1940s weekend

On a, brief, serious note: it’s a potentially delicate debate, but clearly this event, like any other involving people dressing up in public, was intended to be light-hearted.  And it was.  Staying away from the fun for another moment, I did wonder what a village in the Yorkshire Dales had been like during the War.  That’s for another day; but I do suspect that an event like this would be very different if staged somewhere that had suffered heavy destruction - like Coventry, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Clydebank, or London.  And I wondered if it could take place at all in countries that suffered far worse than Britain – including France and Germany.  But critics should know that 48 men from Ingleton gave their lives in the two world wars.  We should remember ALL who perished and at the same time be absurdly grateful if we are lucky enough to live in a reasonably liberal, tolerant, society. I won’t put up with intolerance.

GIs, Ingleton, 1940s weekend

Back to the Liberation; we spent an awful lot of time waiting for the Spitfire.  I love these aircraft and had the perfect photo-shot in my head, imagining the sleek fighter zooming up the valley by the railway viaduct, waggling its wings as it banked off to attack a local farmer, who had been careless with his bulls.  “Wo ist die RAF?” I thought I heard a captured elderly Hauptman ask.  No one seemed to know.  Rumours circulated: it had got lost (not great for morale); it had run out of petrol (slightly worrying); both of the above and was currently in Morecambe (possible); it had been bounced by two Messerschmitts coming out of the sun (unlikely – it was a cloudy day).  We subsequently heard rumours that: it had turned up, but after sundown and nobody saw it; it did an impressive flypast over the wrong village; the pilot had left his varifocals at home.

George Formby impersonator, Colin Bourdiec, Ingleton, 1940s weekend

There was a lot of amusing stuff to take in at Ingleton’s 1940s weekend, some of it intentional.  For some reason, I found it hilarious that the Italian Restaurant was closed, because the proprietors had gone on holiday; that’s their story, I thought.  There was period music – big band, of course – plus we were entertained by one Colin Bourdiec, allegedly on loan from ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), who did a very passable impersonation of George Formby.  It’s turned out nice again.

Ingleton, 1940s, parade

There were stalls selling period bric-a-brac, clothing and uniforms, some of it possibly genuine and most of it over-priced.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for 20th century memorabilia – ask Head Office (only a twisted mind would spot any ambiguity there) – but I’m sure some of these vendors are looking for people called Wally or Charlie.

GIs, Ingleton, Re-enactment

The organisation of ‘Operation Homeguard’ was decidedly flaky in places, but you’d worry if things like this were horribly efficient, wouldn’t you?  We enjoyed it so much that we returned the following day to witness the street parade.  This time, we used some of our petrol ration and took the car.  The parade was led by the City of Bradford Pipe Band and featured a Winston Churchill lookalike who, I must say, did a fine job.  The band was great – you might initially think they originated from that well-known Bradford in the Highlands but, no, they are indisputably from the Bradford in Yorkshire, were established in 1914 and have won all sorts of awards.

Winston Churchill, Ingleton, 1940s weekend, Yorkshire

As we set off back to Blighty, the cheers of the liberated ringing in our ears, I’m sure I saw a member of the Homeguard, binoculars glued to his eye-sockets, vainly searching for that illusive Spitfire.  He may be there still.

City of Bradford Pipe Band, Ingleton, Yorkshire

Events like this take an enormous amount of organising.  I hope this one continues – I heard that it might not.  Check out the Ingleton Home Guard website for more details and, notwithstanding a few grammatical errors, some fascinating information and photographs.  Finally, here's the original George Formby with "When I'm Cleaning Windows".  Toodle-pip!



42 comments:

  1. Oh what fun. Love your narrative, and your shots. I'd love to have one of those old Willy's

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  2. I went to a 40s weekend event in Sheringham in Norfolk a couple of years ago and it was great fun to see everyone dressed up and they had the steam engine train running back and forth to the countryside where the stalls were set up.

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  3. Eisenhower would have been horrified at the very obvious lack or proper military discipline and decorum. :-)

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  4. This was absolutely awesome! I found myself actually holding my breath in anticipation of what was to come next. (Yeah, I am missing a few marbles, but I am trying to be complimentary here.)

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  5. What wonderful thoughts and photos!

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  6. I love this! What fun and such a lovely village! Would b e a fun time to visit!

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  7. What a great way to put Ingleton on the map. Amusing observations of the day, hope you took a full part in the activities.

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  8. Beautifully and sensitively written, Mike - and great fun. Thank you.

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  9. Oh my goodness you know you're just the best storyteller right? This was so pleasurable for me, and most assuredly all sides and parties must be brought in! Even the Germans! Two of my grandsons, ages 5 and 7 just went (also my son their father) to a recent reenactment which covered several periods! The boys of course are too young to understand but soon enough. Our history is valuable for us all. Excellent photos, and the lady on the bicycle is by far my favorite! And the puppy.

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  10. So enjoy your postings. Had a good laugh. As to the bull in field, when we took our walking tour of Cotswolds we didn't let that sign stop us. After all we needed to stick to the path or get lost which we still did.

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  11. It looks like a fun, good natured event, put on with a lot of enthusiasm and humor.

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  12. What a fantastic event. So nice to see that people can appreciate history!!

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  13. Really enjoyed this one! Great story.

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  14. Hi Mike,

    What a funny and entertaining post!! I love these pictures! There are so many interesting details, I'll have to look through them more than once to catch everything. This re-enactment sounds like a great idea -- lots of fun. I do agree that it might not go over so well in Coventry or London. The Winston Churchill look-alike seemed well-suited for the part. :) I think it's good that you mentioned the 48 men from Ingleton who gave their lives in this war. My maternal grandfather's oldest brother was killed in Anzio, Italy, at the age of 25. I always thought that was so sad.

    I was glad to see your images of Yorkshire; I think this is a beautiful area of Britain. I'm a big, big fan of the James Herriot novels and the BBC series as well. If we visit England again, I'd really love to go to Yorkshire. I enjoyed your post, Mike; thanks for sharing! Hope you have a great weekend!

    Hugs,

    Denise at Forest Manor

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  15. Great narrative and beautiful images, a very good post indeed.

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  16. What fun - back to the 1940s! It sounds like you had a great day, and it is a nice way to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and celebrate British stoicism!

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  17. Fantastically written and reported! Looks as though it was a great day out with everyone enjoying it and taking part!

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  18. As a German who all her life has been confronted with the terrible things that happened two generations before me, I have very mixed feelings about such events. Here in Germany, it would be unthinkable for anyone else than an actor being filmed to walk about in a Wehrmacht uniform. Actually, he'd risk legal concequences if he'd walk the streets bearing a Swastika anywhere on his outfit (and for good reason).
    The idea of transforming an entire village for one weekend into a place in the 1940s does of course appeal greatly to me. Who doesn't love time travel?

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  19. I wonder if other countries do this? Surely, it must be a British thing!
    A very enjoyable narrative Mike to accompany your images.

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  20. Blimey, mate! Are they still at war up there? Down 'ere in the Fens that's all over a long time ago. (But if you're ever in Chatteris just don't mention that Elvis is dead!).

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    1. Hi John - as you know, there are some in Britain still fighting wars a lot older than WW2...What? Elvis gone - no way! - I see him quite often down the chip shop.

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  21. Great post! Looks like everyone is having a brilliant time!

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  22. Delightful post! And, they never fail to inform me....you a great storyteller.

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  23. What a great story you've told.

    I am grateful to veterans everyday. My father was a World War II veteran and respect comes natural to me to those in uniform and to those who have worn one.

    Thank you.

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  24. A wonderful tale of British tradition being kept alive, Mike. May they continue with the reenactments in future years. I hope you didn't disturb any of my favorite sheep when you fell into the stream. ;-) Two Yorkshire variety stores, one in Leyburn and one in Thirsk, were like walking into time capsules from the 1940s. Thanks for the very fun read. Mr. C. enjoyed it as well.

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  25. Your day out sounds like a lot of fun and you have captured the flavour of the event well.

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  26. Your narrative was a work of genius here - sounds like a brilliant day! I think I'd quite fancy going along to the next one if there is a next one!

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  27. What a wonderful post, educational and entertaining. Thank you for sharing and the pictures were grand! Have a wonderful weekend!

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  28. What a wonderful post, educational and entertaining. Thank you for sharing and the pictures were grand! Have a wonderful weekend!

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  30. What a super post Mike. Your words and photo's made it such an informative read ...

    My favourite photo's are the lady on the bike and that cute dog.

    Hope you have a lovely weekend

    All the best Jan

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  31. Very amusing indeed.
    Your narrative is brilliant.
    I guess could only happen in dear old Blighty!
    Captain Mainwaring and Lance-Corporal Jones ( and his bit of steel up the you know where)
    would have been in their mind boggling military exercise elements.
    You are not writing a new BBC TV show are you?
    Cheers
    Colin

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  32. Well, just loved your delightful running and reconnoitering commentary. When I pushed the button to listen to George Formby, I realized that it was the very song my Dad told me about last week that had sullied his childhood. He's 86 and lived in Wimbledon in the 30s before it became prime real estate, and unfortunately picked up more information on its streets than a 6 year old should know. The photo of the dog next to the machine gun bullet belt is a bit unsettling. However, if he is representative if the dogs of war, surely wars would be a faint memory! Good to see the cuddly Winnie look-alike, too. I'm so glad I found your ever entertaining bits of the past!! Hello from Winchester (California) - Ann

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  33. Wonderfully written. I suspect that the growth of 1940s weekends is such that some of the main characters must travel from location to location on a weekly basis. Half of that cast were in Brighouse last month.

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  34. You are such a brilliant story teller Mike, with just the right amount of humour. Love all the photos and the comments on them. I'm so proud to be British and agree that we are lucky to live in a liberal, tolerant society. Elvis regularly appears in venues around here, as well as chip shops :-)

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  35. Would love to make one of those some day.
    We did the North York Moors train line a coule of years ago and would love to return for their event also.

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  36. An interesting take on war re-enacting. At first I didn't like it; it was disconcerting. But your writing won me over and I was smiling by the end.

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  37. It looks a lot of fun,and seems as if the local people really got into it. I have a weirdly soft spot for George Formby, and am getting really quite into banjos. Thanks for yet another encouraging and unexpected glimpse into an England I thought I knew rather well but actually don't know as well as I thought!.

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  38. It looks a lot of fun,and seems as if the local people really got into it. I have a weirdly soft spot for George Formby, and am getting really quite into banjos. Thanks for yet another encouraging and unexpected glimpse into an England I thought I knew rather well but actually don't know as well as I thought!.

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  39. great photos. I love all the re enactment.

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  40. Think the Spitfire was at Silverstone, I nearly missed it but managed to get a shot of it flying past. Sounds like a great weekend you had there

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  41. To answer you're very serious question... There were a few reenactment here in France, or at least one, in Paimpol, where I went. Everybody was in costumes and it was also intended to be light hearted and fun, given it was only the representation of the festivities linked to the liberation. Still, seeing all the military stuff made me very un-at-ease (this word must exist?), thinking for some people at a certain time, this was their every day reality.
    And I was in tear when they told the story of a massacre that happened just days before the liberation day in a nearby village.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.