Tynedale at War 1939-1945, Brian Tilley

Tynedale at War 1939-1945, Brian Tilley

This book looks at the impact of the Second World War on the rural valley of Tynedale, and its largest town of Hexham. This is a very different world to the more familiar one of the lower industrial part of the Tyne, and is one of the least densely populated areas in England.

Although Newcastle was heavily bombed, Tynedale largely avoided direct attack. The main impact of the war on the area was the call-up of many of its inhabitants, and the construction of military facilities in the relatively safe countryside of the Tyne. This included an RAF airfield at Ouston and POW camps. The latter caused a certain amount of controversy, especially the officers camp where there were complaints about how well the prisoners were living, but later on the locals and the POWs appear to have struck up a good relationship.

The book is mainly organised in chronological order, although in some cases a story is introduced when it first occurred and then traced through to the end, as with the story of RAF Ouston. This approach works well with this sort of sparcely populated region, as there isn’t too much scope for repetition, and allows us to see how the impact of the war changed over time. We thus start with invasion scares and fund raising drives, but later move on to rest homes for exhausted works. 

A great deal of information has come from the archives of the local newspaper, the Hexham Courant (of which the author was deputy editor), so we get a feel for how normal life was impacted as well as the more dramatic incidents. One can’t help but be struck by the pomposity of the local magistrates, who fine a dispatch rider on duty for going too fast and really don’t approve of servicemen letting off steam – some of their comments when Australians were in court were quite ridiculous. There was also a debate about whether the local parks should be opened for play on Sundays, where the local vicar sided with the children, but the council voted ‘no’. 

This is an evocative book, giving us a good idea of the impact of the Second World War on even the most remote of rural communities.

1 - The Gathering Storm
2 - Tynedale Braced for Invasion
3 - Taking Stock and Fighting Back
4 - Women Help to Turn the Tide
5 - The Rocky Road to Normandy
6 - The Empire Strikes Back
7 - Managing the Peace

Author: Brian Tilley
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 199
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Year: 2017

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