Jim Delves

Written Contributions:

Memories of Long Preston during the War

Other annecdotes about Long Preston

Jim Delves now lives in Harrogate.

Jim came to the Railway Exhibition at Long Preston in 2009, which reminded him of his long chats with Adam Beatty, the signalman, and
inspired him to write about his memories of staying in Long Preston.

My memories of Long Preston during the 1939-45 War

I always consider Long Preston my "home", even though I was born in Calcutta. My Father was an engineer, representing British manufacturing companies in India, was born in Long Preston.

My parents, Victor and Clare Delves, brought me back when I was 2 ½ , and I lived with my Grandmother and Aunt Madge at Lochinvar, until my Parents returned from a second appointment in Calcutta.

 Before the War we lived in Surrey, but we always came up to Long Preston for holidays, and in fact we were staying at the Maypole in late August 1939, when war was inevitable, and I remember helping Billy Clayton, the publican, to ensure that the blackouts on the widows were O.K. I was then, at 15, "roped-in" as a guide and escort to take the evacuee children to their recipient homes. We then went home to Surrey, and I remember hearing Neville Chamberlain declaring war on our car radio as we went.

At the beginning of the War I was a day boy at Epsom College, and we lived at the back of Epsom Downs. The 1st Canadian Division , having just arrived in England, camped on Epsom Downs, and somehow the Luftwaffe got to know, and started bombing. My Father decided to move his office to Long Preston, so I finished my education at Ermysteds, as he had done before me.

My Parents rented a house on Back Lane, just beyond the end of Pendle View, and on either Easter Monday or Whit Monday in 1941, I was home from school, and we were sitting in the rear living room, which had a marvellous view over the Ribble valley, when I heard an aircraft engine, looked out, and there was a Dornier 217 German bomber cruising south on the other side of the valley, at only about 500 Feet. I could easily see the swastika on his rudder. He disappeared in the distance,- however a few minutes later, he reappeared, flying north on about the same track, and again disappeared towards Settle.  A little while later, I took the coal scuttle to the outside coal bin to refill it, and heard the same aero engine, and sure enough, it was the Dornier, but this time it came right over my head, very low. There he was flying parallel to and only about 100 yards from one of the main railway arteries between England and Scotland. He could have caused untold damage if he had dropped a bomb.

We then moved into the cottage next to Fred Stork's shoe shop near the Boars Head. Again my bedroom looked over the valley, and one morning, as I was getting up, I heard aircraft engines, and there was an RAF Whitley bomber, very low, coming towards me, with his wheels down, as if to land. He then turned South and went out of my sight. There had been RAF personnel around the village, so I speculated that they had secretly built an airfield locally- actually they were setting up a huge bomb store along the lanes between Wigglesworth and Gisburn.

In actual fact, I later learnt that the Whitley had been on a leaflet raid over Germany as they did in the early years of the War. He had got lost on his way home, and was running out of fuel, and spotted a large field, where he force-landed. I walked out in the evening, to see the plane. The pilot had done a remarkable feat. He came down in the field by the Gisburn road, at Arnford farm. He had flown under local power lines, but lost his undercarriage on the raised driveway to the farmhouse, which probably saved lives, as the plane belly-flopped, and skidded to a stop just before it hit the cow-shed.

Mrs. Stables, the farmer's wife knew nothing of the drama in one of their fields, until the kitchen door opened and the fully-kilted flying crew entered , asking, " Is there any breakfast?"!

 Long Preston was on the route the German bombers took to bomb Manchester and Liverpool, in fact there was a searchlight at the top of Moors Lane, below Beacon Coppy. On a clear night we used to walk up Moors Lane to watch the searchlights, and we could see the flashes of the bombs and ack-ack fire.

My father had to go to London for meetings from time to time, and before the London Blitz started, my Mother would go too. On one occasion as they got off the train the porter said "Mr. Delves, you have missed the Blitz here!" The night before a train was going North through Long Preston, it was dark, and the driver obviously was unaware that the bombers were overhead. He opened the fire-box door to shovel some more coal on, and when that happened, the steam just lit up. A bomber obviously saw this and dropped a bomb; fortunately it missed both the train and the track, in fact nobody knew where it had landed, just heard the bang!

John Mellin found it next morning when he was starting his milk round, coming up Back Lane in his trap! There was a great hole in the road, so he had to turn round, and come up Station Road. The trouble was that not only had it blocked Back Lane, it had broken the main sewer from the village to the filter beds near the Ings.

There were two other railway incidents that I remember. I was very lucky, in my school holidays Adam Beatty, the signal man, used to invite me into the signal-box, and I spent many a happy hour with him, and he let me operate the levers and the telegraph.

My Father and I used to go fishing in the Ribble, - I can only recall catching one eel! But one day we had been fishing on the Ings at West End. There is a little culvert bridge and a lane onto the fields by the river, and we were walking back up there, when a train came down from the north, and the passengers were leaning out waving, so we waved back. We later learnt that they were Italian prisoners of war being taken to a POW camp, - they were probably happy to be out of the War. What we didn't realise, the tragedy that had happened further up the line.

The train of course was a special, not scheduled. An inspection team were checking the track, above Langcliff, walking along it, and with no signals in sight, they were unaware of the oncoming special, and one of the team was hit and killed. I understood that even the driver was unaware what had happened until he stopped for coal and water at Hellifield.

The other incident, - a near-disaster, was later. The north-bound daytime "Thames-Clyde" came through Hellifield at about 5pm, every day. The "Carlisle Slow" was usually at Horton-in-Ribblesdale ahead of it. To clear the track, it generally was switched onto the southbound line and held there, but on this particular day, for some unknown reason, it was shunted into the siding. Up ahead, coincidentally on that day, there was a special, a Government supply train, hauled by a heavy wartime utility 2-8-0-0. That was at Ribblehead, so to clear the track it was shunted on to the southbound line. Those 8 massive driving wheels had equally great braking power, and in those days, there was no through-train braking on goods trains, - the only other brakes were in the guardsvan. The guard applied his hand-wheel brakes, but then noticed that they were still gaining speed. With the weight of the train on the down slope which starts at Ribblehead, the coupling on the first wagon had snapped! The guard saw that the engine was getting further away, - guessed what had happened, so wound his brake wheel on as hard as he was able, could do no more so jumped off.

The train gathered speed, and when it went through Settle was estimated to be doing 90 mph, and the brake-blocks on the guardsvan were red hot! After the steep gradient from Ribblehead down to Settle Junction, there is a very slight rise through Long Preston, and then it is downhill most of the way to Skipton, so if it was not stopped, it could cause serious accidents at either Hellifield or Skipton , both busy junctions in those days. In order to prevent this it was decided to lay sleepers across the line at the cattle-dock, near Gisburn road bridge, to derail it. However, the slight gradient up to Long Preston was just enough, and it stopped of its own accord before it hit the sleepers! I expect one could hear the sighs of relief all the way to Skipton!

The first time I had the experience of travelling on the Settle – Carlisle line, was when I joined the Army, on my way to Glasgow for initial training at Maryhill Barracks! I don't think I took in the scenic beauty of the journey, but that is another long story!

Jim Delves - November 2009

Other Anecdotes about Long Preston

I thought that I would add in this note, some other points that might be of interest in the Village Archives. Long Preston is only a small village, yet it has some claims to fame in the War.

Both my Aunts, Marie and Madge Delves, were awarded the Royal Red Cross as Matrons in the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Corps. (Always known as the QA's for short.)

Aunt Marie was a regular in the QA's before the War. During the War she served in the Middle East, and was sent with PAI Force, (it stood for Persia And Iraq), a force sent there to stop the Germans capturing the Middle East oil supplies, if they had overcome the Russians at Stalingrad. She was a Matron in a British Army hospital in Baghdad. Aunt Madge was a reservist, but was recalled and was a Matron all during the Siege of Malta, then after D day, was a Matron in a Hospital in Bruges.

John Clark was born in Long Preston, and he and my Father went to Long Preston school together. He and his Wife, Molly, lived at Mount Pleasant. He went into the regular Army before the War, and retired in the rank of Major just before the War. When the War started he was recalled and went to India, and retired after the War as a Brigadier.

Just to make you laugh! I did an Engineering Cadetship at Bradford Tech, (as it was then,) during the War, for a technical commission. I was enrolled in the Royal Corps of Signals, and when they saw I had been born in India, I was sent there and commissioned at Mhow. John Clark invited me to Lucknow for my commissioning leave. He was Chief of Staff to the G.O.C. Lucknow District. On the Saturday it was Lucknow races, so the G.O.C.- a Major General,- and John were going, and as John's guest I went too, - in the G.O.C's Staff car, with his pennant flying.!  Muggins sat in front beside the driver. Every time we came to a crossroad the police stopped all the traffic, and came to the salute. I had to return them, - all with my one pip!!

Enough of my rambling. I hope you are well and the village is thriving, as I am sure it is.

Jim Delves - November 2009