As Haworth gears up for its biggest event of the year, Lindsey Moore looks back at its origins
Back in 1995, as the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day approached, a chance remark led to the launch of what has become one of the most popular nostalgia events in the North.
Dennis Smith was having a meal with fellow traders in Haworth about ways to mark the anniversary when one suggested the festivities could centre around Dennis’ Second World War Jeep.
“And so the Haworth 1940s Weekend was born,” said Dennis, who had a keen interest in the Second World War after hearing stories from his father.
The first event, in 1995, was a relatively small affair, with just a handful of vehicles going up the Main Street.
By contrast, this year’s event – which runs from 19 to 21 May – is expected to attract a daily attendance of about 25,000, with visitors coming from the length and breadth of England to enjoy a wide range of re-enactments, military vehicles and vintage stalls.
Following the success of the initial event, the traders decided there should be an annual celebration, with funds in the early days going towards other events in the town.
Dennis and his wife, Ann, took on the organisation, as well as running two shops in the village – Land of Gondal and the Carousel Ice Cream Parlour. They were helped by a small team of people.
“Obviously it has changed a lot over the years, particularly with health and safety,” said Dennis. “We never imagined it would become as big as it is now.”
Dennis and Ann were at the helm for eleven years before stepping down. Sadly Ann died in 2007.
After a number of organisational changes, current event manager Nikki Milner – owner of Firths Boutique – took charge five years ago when the weekend was under threat.
“We had to save the reputation of Haworth,” said Nikki. “I have never regretted my decision but organising the weekend does take a lot of time and effort. However, I really, really enjoy it.
“The weekend is now staged for charity and that generates a lot of goodwill. We try to replicate Haworth in the 1940s, with the camaraderie and the coming together of a community. It is lovely to see people talking to each other.
“There is a really good atmosphere and I think it is important for the current generation to remember those who fought in the war and to learn from it.”
Her comments are echoed by committee member Graham Wright. “The 1940s weekend gets bigger and bigger and our aim is to raise as much money as possible to help servicemen and women who have been injured,” he said.
Also taking part in the weekend will be Haworth Home Guard – a group of enthusiasts who came together in 2005 to form the West Riding 28th Battalion Home Guard, C Company, to remind people of “the unselfish effort and commitment that volunteer forces gave to help protect families and homes from an imminent invasion force”.
“Twelve-hundred members of the Home Guard were killed during the Second World War,” said commanding officer Major Gordon Hutchison. “It was a serious business and it is good to remind people what went on. The Home Guard was the last line of defence.”
This year’s 1940s weekend will commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Cockleshell Heroes – harbingers of today’s Special Boat Service (SBS). They launched a daring attack on merchant ships moored in the harbour of Bordeaux. To reach their targets, ten commandos paddled canoes (cockles) for nights on end, carrying limpet mines to be attached to the ships’ hulls.
In line with the Top Secret theme, proceeds from the weekend will go to the Pilgrim Bandits charity, which was formed by Special Forces veterans to challenge injured service personnel from modern- day conflicts.
One of its patrons, Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, will attend the event, having been an “inspirational guest” last year.
Said to be the most severely injured soldier to survive, Ben, from Doncaster, sustained more than forty injuries when the vehicle he was travelling in hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2006.
He was expected to die, remained in a coma for more than six months, and was told he would never walk or talk again.
But the extent of his recovery has since defied all medical opinion. He is now able to both speak and, with the aid of prosthetic limbs, walk. He was awarded the MBE in 2013 for his remarkable contribution to charity, raising more than £1 million by that time.
Nikki said: “Pilgrim Bandits had a stand with us last year and we were all amazed by the energy and drive they brought to the event. Ben and the team were out collecting until 11pm. They were just phenomenal.”
To give added poignancy to this year’s event, Ben will give one of the readings at the remembrance service on the Sunday. “It will be really moving,” said Nikki.
Roberta Winterton, Pilgrim Bandits area manager for Northern England, added: “This is an amazing chance for Pilgrim Bandits. We will be bringing our entire charity community to make the most of the weekend, both in terms of raising awareness and funds for the work we do, but it also affords a rare and valuable opportunity for all of us to work together on what is a compelling national event.”
Programmes for the weekend are available from www.dalesman.co.uk/ shop/haworth-1940s-weekend-2017-programme and all proceeds from sales will go to Pilgrim Bandits. The Down Your Way team will also be selling programmes at the event so please come along and have a word.
For more information, visit www.haworth1940sweekend.co.uk