08 April 2012

My Grandad, James 'Jim' Watts.

James was born in 1922 and brought up in Sheffield, an industrial steelmaking city situated in the county of Yorkshire in the north of England. James was part of a large family and prior to joining up he was (according to his Army Pay Book) employed as a brick maker. The family home was on Maltravers Road, on the Wybourn Estate close to the city centre. 

War was declared with Nazi Germany on the 3rd September 1939, following Germany's invasion of Poland. Nine months later on the 13th June 1940, and three months after his eighteenth birthday, James enlisted in the Army at Sheffield and Private 4543585 Watts was posted to the 10th Home Defence Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment

His Army Pay Book lists his description on enlistment as being 5'8 in height, 13½ stone in weight, a fresh complexion with dark brown hair, and having scars on his left forehead, chin and upper right eyelid. His Army Service Records record that he was medically classified as A1 which indicated that he was fit for general service both at home and abroad. August 1940 saw James undergoing a series of vaccinations. 

In joining the 10th Home Defence Battalion, James was probably one of the young soldiers of 'G' and 'H' companies. The September 1940 issue of 'Ca Ira', the quarterly journal of the West Yorkshire Regiment reveals that G and H companies were based on the Knavesmire at York during that month.

 Transfer to 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment

On the 19th September 1940, James was transferred to the newly raised 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion HQ was in Leeds and the nucleus of the Battalion was provided by 'G' and 'H' companies of the 10th Home Defence Battalion. Initially, the role of the 70th Battalion was to provide guards for a variety of vital points such as aerodromes, ammunition dumps, post offices, factories, railway bridges and tunnels, but later they were restricted to guarding Aerodromes.

James was likely part of 'A' company of the new Battalion, and 'A' company were placed at Yeadon Aerodrome (now Leeds Bradford Airport). 

Yeadon Aerodrome
© Leeds Library and Information Service www.leodis.net

View Yeadon Aerodrome in a larger map

On the 28th October 1940, James' Army Service Records indicate that he took his first period of Leave. It was for seven days and it is recorded as being with 'RA' and 'free warrant'. 'RA' stands for ration allowance. By now food and everyday essentials were being rationed, and it would have been an unreasonable burden to not provide James with a ration allowance to allow him to purchase his food. 'Free warrant' relates to a free railway warrant, the normal entitlement for a soldier being two such free rail warrants per year.

This period of leave coincided with the movement of companies to different locations, 'A' company moving initially to the racecourse at Wetherby for a period of training, before moving again to Sherburn Aerodrome.

Masonic Hall, Wetherby Image © Google

On the 01st November 1940 the regimental war diary recorded that the Battalion HQ moved from Leeds to the Grange Estate Office, at Wetherby. Later that month, on the 23rd November the first of a series of Saturday night dances were held at the Masonic Hall in Wetherby. These dances were useful because officers and men from scattered guards and billets were able to meet and to get to know each other. The war diary records that the civilian populations of Wetherby and Boston Spa reciprocated with similar hospitality.

Emergency Leave - Sheffield Blitz

Throughout the Summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain had raged between the RAF and the Luftwaffe in the skies over England. The Luftwaffe were confident of success in destroying the RAF, thus clearing the way for the invasion of Britain. However, thanks to 'The Few'  it was not to be and consequently at the beginning of September 1940, the Luftwaffe changed tactics. The alternative plan became known as the Blitz, and consisted of the systematic bombing of British cities, particularly industrial centres and ports. 

Coventry, Southampton, Birmingham and Bristol were all hit in huge single-target raids at intervals of about a week. The people of Sheffield no doubt anxiously expected their fate, and on the evening of Thursday the 12th December 1940, it arrived. The city was attacked by over 330 German aircraft operating out of bases in occupied France. Codenamed Operation Crucible by the Germans, the targets were predominantly the steel works situated in the industrial east end. However the main industrial part of the city was largely defended that night by a covering of fog. Instead the city centre and the suburbs bore the brunt as over 12,000 bombs were dropped over a nine hour period.

James' Service Records show that the following day he was granted WTPP Leave. 

It seems that WTPP stood for 'Welfare Time Private and Personal'. His records do not indicate what he did or how long the leave was for, but one can only imagine the worry James must've felt not knowing whether his loved ones had survived. Presumably, he headed home to Sheffield. The Wybourn estate had been hit by multiple bombs, and the city roll of honour shows that three people were killed in the immediate vicinity of the family home.

How the raid was reported in The Sheffield Star
© Sheffield Local Studies Library

The raid was reported in the local and national press, where casualties were described as 'not unduly heavy'. 

Three nights later, and potentially whilst James was still at home, the Luftwaffe returned. This time 77 German aircraft attacked the city, thousands of bombs were dropped with the Steel Works bearing the brunt of the attack.

As a result of the two raids, over 660 people were killed, 1,500 injured and 40,000 made homeless. 3,000 homes were demolished with a further 3,000 badly damaged. Over 82,000 houses of a total stock of 150,000 were damaged. A number of well known buildings were also badly damaged or destroyed.


The start of the year saw the first of James' promotions, when he was appointed as an unpaid Lance Corporal on the 15th January. This coincided with severe weather affecting the Battalion, with the Regimental War Diary recording regular heavy snowfalls and a considerable frost throughout January resulting in difficult road conditions, although no accidents were recorded.

The severe weather continued into February, with 'a long spell of bitterly cold weather with heavy snow and ice covered roads. In spite of difficult conditions the health of the troops has been remarkably good'. On the 25th February James was granted seven days leave, again with a ration allowance.

The March edition of 'Ca Ira' stated with regard to 'A' company that 'Our company, sad to relate, is still marooned in the wilds of Yorkshire, cut off from the amenities of civilisation, but the spirit of youth is not conquered and we manage to keep our heads up.' 

Despite the adverse weather conditions, 'We have held some Inter-Company football matches, playing 'B' company in a heavy gale and losing 2-1, on our own ground we won with a score of 5-1. A number of matches have been played with the R.A.F., and the Army have proved top-dogs in all the games.'

The 08th March until the 19th April saw James attached to the Infantry Training Centre for the West Yorkshire Regiment which was situated at Strensall, just to the north of York.

Following completion of this training James returned to 'A' company, who were now stationed at RAF Sherburn in Elmet situated to the south of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. At the start of the War the airfield had been taken over by RAF Fighter Command and was used as a satellite airfield for nearby RAF Church Fenton.

View RAF Sherburn in Elmet in a larger map

Wetherby Grange
© Leeds Library and Information Service www.leodis.net

June saw 'A' company move to Wetherby Grange. The following month's regimental war diary recorded an influx of young officers in replacement of veterans from the First World War who had filled the breach as a temporary measure. It was considered preferable that the young soldiers should be commanded by officers who were not too senior.

'Off duty' time also gained a mention in the diary, 'recreation hours continue to be enlivened by inter-company football matches and various cricket matches' and the weekly dances which were as 'successful as ever'.

The end of August saw another period of leave for a week. Upon his return James was then sent to a Training School at the Catterick Garrison. In the meantime, 'A' company moved from Wetherby Grange to Rawdon Hall near Leeds.

The 19th September 1941 saw the first anniversary of the formation of the 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion and to mark the occasion a Special Battalion Order was issued by its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel GWH Innes:

October saw another move for 'A' company, this time to RAF Firbeck. This was closer to home for James, being situated close to the village of Maltby in South Yorkshire.

The 28th November saw a Small Arms demonstration being given by specialists from the small arms school at Hythe, in St Matthew’s Parochial Hall, Chapel Allerton which all officers and non commissioned ranks (James being a Lance Corporal, the lowest ranked non commisioned officer) attended.

James saw out the year with a period of Leave, from 30th December to 05th January 1942, and likely headed home to Sheffield.


January saw a period of change, for on the 07th January 1942 James was appointed as an unpaid Acting Corporal on his return to RAF Firbeck, and then on the 09th January he was transferred from 'A' to ‘C’ company. The week commencing the 20th January then saw 'C' company move from RAF Firbeck and return to the familiar surrounds of Yeadon Aerodrome. On the 30th January James was promoted substantively to Corporal.

The Regimental War Diary records that the 06th February the Commanding Officer of the West Riding District, Major General P.J. Shears visited both 'C' and 'E' companies at Yeadon, and then later that day 'C' company moved from Yeadon to No. 1 Reinforcement Camp at Bramham (this was at Bramham Park, 5 miles to the west of Tadcaster).

This was only a temporary move, for between the 16th - 20th February the whole Battalion relocated to Usselby near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire for a period of training. 

To be continued