Saluting the past in Haworth's annual 1940s Weekend

Memories come flooding back for hundreds of villagers and visitors who head for Haworth and the annual 1940s Weekend as Terry Fletcher reports Photographs by Joan Russell

Few communities need to fast forward to the 1940s but Haworth, high on the moors above Keighley, is not just any village. For most of the year it is more or less anchored in the 19th century as a shrine to the Bronte sisters who penned classic novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in the gloomy local Parsonage.

But each spring it skips forward an entire century to the days of Winston Churchill and Dad’s Army as thousands of visitors, many in World War II uniforms, invade the village and turn the clocks forward to the days of the Blitz.

Pam Howorth, one of the organisers said: ‘It’s the biggest event of the year in the village. It’s hard to say how exactly many people turn up over the whole weekend. Last year there were at least 15,000 and some estimates put it as high as 25,000. I think there’s a bit of guessology in that but we certainly know that people have to stay as far away as Bradford and Halifax because all the accommodation in the local area gets fully booked.’

The 1940s Weekends began 16 years ago in a deceptively small way when a local man who owned a wartime US Army Jeep got together with a few fellow enthusiasts to put their vehicles on display.

‘From there it just took off,’ said Pam, who runs a vintage clothing shop in the village. ‘People seem to love the 1940s. We start trimming up the Main Street during the week before and the shops have special window displays and people put up ARP posters to get the right atmosphere.

Visitors start arriving on the Friday evening and you see them walking up the street in period costume. We have people in civvies as well as all the service uniforms from the British and American forces. Over the course of the weekend there are displays of vintage vehicles, civilian as well as some pretty big military ones.’ Meanwhile children from the local school re-enact the arrival of evacuees in the village, pulling up at the railway station on a train pulled by a preserved steam locomotive on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

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This year there will be a military camp set up in the park so that visitors can see how soldiers lived in the field and the kind of equipment they had. There will also be displays by the Haworth Home Guard, which was born out of the 40s Weekends but is now a permanent fixture in the village with 60 members holding meetings and events throughout the year.

One of the highlights of the weekend is a flypast by an aircraft from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, either a preserved Spitfire or the village can vibrate to the deep rumble of a four-engine Lancaster bomber of the type that took part in the Dambusters Raid in 1943, dropping ‘bouncing bombs’ on German reservoirs.

‘The arrival of the plane is always a special moment but the Lancaster creates a particular impression. You can hear the drone of the engines before you see it and that really brings up the hairs on the back of your neck,’ said Pam.

Quite why there should be such nostalgia for the 1940s is a bit of mystery as for many who lived through them, the 40s were a time of war and hardship with food and clothes rationed and followed by years of grim austerity. Pam says: ‘I think people look back on it as a time when people all pulled together. They see it as a time when people looked out for each other, perhaps more than they do today.

‘And they like getting dressed up and wearing the clothes. Even with the rationing the clothes seem very elegant and glamorous. Certainly the men look much more attractive in their smart 1940s suits than a lot of do in today’s more casual fashions. People also enjoy the music and we have special dances on the Friday and Saturday evenings when people can get dressed up with big bands playing live,’ she said.

The dances have proved so popular over the years that now an overspill event has had to be organised in Keighley, further down the valley to cope with demand. And no effort is spared in the search for authenticity.

‘Last year we had an air raid,’ said Pam. ‘The lights went out and the siren began sounding. Then we had a tape with the sound of bombs dropping and exploding. It was very eerie and really raised the goosebumps but it made you think about what people had gone through in the war.’

This year’s 1940s Weekend takes place from May 13th-15th.

Getting there: Haworth lies between Bradford, Keighley and Hebden Bridge but for the full period experience why not take a steam train on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. Times from or 01535 647777.

Parking: Pay and display car parks by the Parsonage and in Sun Street. Beware: Private clampers have been so notoriously active in the village that even the tourist information website carries a warning about them.

What to do: For most of the year Haworth is a shrine to the Bronte sisters with pride of place going to the internationally-recognised Parsonage Museum. Also take a walk onto the moors to visit the Bronte Falls or the ruins of Top Withens, widely-believed to have been the model for Wuthering Heights.

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