CIGAR MAN: Winston Churchill paid a visit to troops in Teesdale ahead of D-Day
CIGAR MAN: Winston Churchill paid a visit to troops in Teesdale ahead of D-Day

Barnard Castle’s Annie Clouston has been looking at the Second World War in Barnard Castle for a Teesdale U3A project. Here, she tells of her fascinating discoveries

MY background in social research led me to fascinating interviews with two men who were children living in the dale during the war – Barry Proctor, born in 1934, was an urbanite (he lived on The Bank) and his father was a grocer who served as a platoon commander in the Home Guard.
David Atkinson, born in 1937,was brought up at Thorpe Farm at Greta Bridge but spent a good deal of time with his grandfather at High Barford Farm. I also drew on archive information and fellow U3A member Hazel Yeadon’s excellent and informative book What Did You Do in the War Granny?
The war brought about huge demographic changes to the town. Barnard Castle had serious unemployment problems and the army camps brought in as many as 20,000 troops, bringing with them a social and economic revival. Veterans from the First World War helped to service the camps, with an increase in the “hospitality industries’”such as pubs, canteens, dance halls and cinemas.
There was an imbalance between the genders that lasted until the end of conscription in 1960. There were also POW camps – the Italians at Cotherstone, behind the Fox and Hounds, worked on the land and were released in 1944. The Germans at Stainton Grove worked the farms once the Italians left.
Barnard Castle became a garrison town.
By 1941, all six camps were built –Deerbolt (54th Regiment), Streatlam and Stainton (61st), West Barford (59th), Westwick (School of Infantry) and Humbleton (Infantry). There were tank parks – Stainton Grove and the massing on the Demesnes before Dunkirk.
Buildings were requisitioned for military use– Thorngate House, The Mission Hall, the Masonic Hall, the Methodist Chapel and the Drill Hall, which was the base for the Home Guard.
Hospitals were converted to war use; Rokeby Hall became a rehab centre, and Robert Richardson Hospital had operating theatres whose use was differentiated by rank.
For leisure there were public houses, each with distinct clientele – The Burns Head at Amen Corner for the young lads, The Black Horse and The King’s Head for officers and NCOs, and The Shoulder of Mutton, aka The Bucket of Blood (now 34 The Bank), for a good scrap.
For food there were canteens at Scar Top Methodist Hall, the Mission Hall, and at the YMCA on Birch Road. There was dancing – every weekend at The Witham, and officers’ balls at The Morritt. There were cinemas, the Scala on Galgate, and the Victoria Hall on Birch Road.
However the Wycliffe Hall on The Bank that had been a cinema before the war, became a billet in 1939 for the garrison. Here, the troops slept on two tier bunk beds, which looked most uncomfortable.They could be clearly seen from Cleasbys Yard just above.
There were celebrities and grandees – Winston Churchill came to Barnard Castle to visit the training camp at Stainton in 1942. Norman Wisdom played in the military band – a band that was called out whatever the time of day when troops returning from the front were marched back into town – Barry recalls being awoken at 3am by the parade down The Bank. John Le Mesurier was stationed at Deerbolt, not so much Dad’s Army there.
David told me that the percussion of his childhood was the sound of live ammunition being used for practice – firing across the railway line “to teach them to keep their heads down”.
Casualties were numerous, including when a gunner lost control of a machine gun. David’s grandad went out with a horse and cart to retrieve the bodies.
Unexploded bombs were left on the farm, and eventually cleared by bomb disposal from Catterick. Some of the bombs had silk parachutes and his grandma made them into silk handkerchiefs. He recalls that a German plane was shot down on Humbleton Hill. Before surrendering, the pilot fired it with his pistol showering molten metal everywhere.
There were, however, some benefits. For example, the soldiers would help on the farm and were rewarded with “a good tea”. David told me that one harvest, corn was cut by a binder one day and had to be stoked the next day.
The following day, when his grandfather returned to the field the job was done. The workers never claimed credit.
There was compensation – damage to fences - £42 6s 6d, one cow shot - £34.
The army had water plumbed to farms because of pollution to Humbleton Beck and it was then covenanted in the Wether Hill deed that this stream had to be fenced in perpetuity. When the camps were dismantled, the assets were auctioned and bargains were plentiful – particularly for the scrap man who gained steel, generators, and very profitable coke, on which at the time of the coal strike, he made 1000 per cent profit.
For local children there were Christmas parties at the Officers’ Mess, high quality toys made by German POWs, and a diving board built by soldiers at the Gents’ Pool.
My thanks go to Barry and David for being entertaining and gracious raconteurs and providing a fascinating insight into a period of time that changed so many lives forever.