Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town



September 1939: Great Britain at war with Germany for a second time in 21 years

ADOLF HITLER
A German WW1 soldier, who in 1918 was awarded the Class 1 Iron Cross for bravery, had been born in Linz, Austria in 1889. He was called Adolf Hitler and he deeply resented the treatment of Germany by the victorious Allies and the action his own Government even after the German November 1918 Revolution that had seen the German Empire dissolved to be replaced by the Weimar Republic. Hitler was convinced that the German Army had never been truly defeated and that the Treaty of Versailles had left Germany weakened and under the control of Jews and in his eyes, traitors. Hitler joined the German Workers' Party, the precursor of the Nazi Party and became leader in 1921. After an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Munich in November 1923, Hitler was imprisoned for treason, serving only nine months of his five year sentence, during which time he wrote "Mein Kampf".

After his release from prison, Hitler emerged as a messianic figure to the German people at a time of massive inflation, the failure of the Weimar Government and the onset of the 1930s Depression. The Treaty of Versailles had deprived Germany of her status as a sovereign nation and all of this provided grounds for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler started secretly building up the German army and navy in deference to the Treaty of Versailles. By the late 1930s he was openly ignoring the terms of the Treaty as Germany massively re-armed itself.

Hitler wanted more land, especially in the east to expand Germany according to the Nazi policy of "Lebensraum." He also used the harsh limitations set against Germany by the Treaty of Versailles as a pretext for Germany to acquire land where German speaking people lived. Before WW2 started, Germany had annexed two countries: Austria on the 13th March 1938 and then Czechoslovakia when the British and French allowed Germany to annex the Sudentland at the Munich Conference which took place September 28/29th 1938. The Sudetenland is the German name to refer to those northern, southwest, and western areas of Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by ethnic German speakers, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939.

PEACE IN OUR TIME
Britain and France were desperate to not repeat the bloodshed of WW1 and believed incorrectly that they could appease Hitler with concessions such as Austria and Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was criticised by many for appeasing Hitler and not taking Britain to war with Germany, which would have been disastrous since the UK was not ready. In 1938 his famous "Peace for our Time" speech after the Munich Conference haunted him until his death in 1940.

"My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Now I recommend you go home, and sleep quietly in your beds."

Sadly, Neville Chamberlain was mistaken and, on the 1st of September 1939, the emboldened Hitler moved east again and invaded Poland in the mistaken belief that he could invade without fighting Britain or France. Britain declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939.

WW2 main players

Above: Some of the main players at the start of WW2. From top left clockwise, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.

Italy, who fought on the side of the Allies during WW1 were now led by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini. The Italians believed they deserved much more territorial gains than they received at the end of WW1. This led to Italy's belief that her invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, Albania in April 1939 and Greece in October 1940 were justified. Italy consequently fought on the side of the Axis powers with Germany, Japan, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria until they surrendered on the 8th of September 1943. The Italians may have surrendered, but their war was far from over.

CONSCRIPTION IN WW2
Conscription was introduced in 1939, at the start of WW2, to redress a shortage of soldiers in Great Britain. Single men aged between 20 and 22 years were called up to service, though the age range was extended to all man, single or married, between 18 and 41 years within a few months. In late 1941, women between 20 and 30 years were added to the list of those who could be conscripted, although women only served in non-combat roles. The upper age for men was extended to 51 years later in the war. There were some exceptions to conscription, for example men and women in reserved occupations such as coal miners, merchant navy and public utility workers (gas, electricity and water). Conscientious objectors were offered non-combatant duties, and some worked as ambulance men, stretcher bearers or on bomb disposal duties.

IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF

The Ossett and Horbury Men Who Lost Their Lives In World War Two

1939-1945

Presented on this page are the biographies of the 75 Ossett men and women who gave their lives during the Second World War. They are listed alphabetically in the right-hand sidebar and if you click on the name of the person listed, anew window will open with their biography.

Also included in the left-hand sidebar are the biographies of those remembered on the Ossett Grammar School WW2 Memorial, which was unveiled in 1951. This includes some men from Horbury and Middlestown as well as Ossett.

This new WW2 page is still work in progress, but in the left-hand sidebar there are additional biographies of some of the men that survived and also some that received medals for bravery. These will be expanded with more names as time permits.

Compiled by Stephen Wilson & Alan Howe: January 2017