An appeal has been launched to find memorabilia for an exhibition about of the crucial role played by Colwyn Bay in keeping war-time Britain fed.
The town became home to the Ministry of Food’s HQ in World War Two with its head, businessman Lord Woolton, setting up his office in Colwyn Bay Hotel on the Promenade.
More than 5,000 staff moved to the town, launching campaigns such as Dig For Victory and overseeing the supply of food on the Home Front through ration books.
The team at Colwyn Business Improvement District (BID), which is aiming to revitalise the area, want to stage a free exhibition of memorabilia as part of the town’s successful Forties Festival, on Saturday May 20 and Sunday May 21.
They are seeking old ration books, photographs of the period, documents and wartime artefacts for the display.
The Colwyn Bay 1940s Festival will be a trip down memory lane for many of the town’s visitors and residents.
Organised by the Bay of Colwyn Business Network (BCBN), the family festival will help rekindle the wartime spirit. It will host a full sized replica Spitfire and Hurricane, battle skirmishes, military vehicles, weapons display and heritage tours.
The town’s street will host Forties style performers, food producers, wartime ephemera and nostalgia items, along with the UK’s top George Formby tribute act plus a Blitz Ball will feature with music from the era.
Anna Openshaw, project manager of Colwyn BID which is helping organise the event, said: “It is thanks to the persistence of local history groups that Colwyn Bay is at last receiving recognition for its momentous contribution to the war effort and the Forties Festival is a real celebration of that fact.
“It attracts visitors from all over the UK who come here specially to join in the fun and even dress up in true Forties style. For 2017 we anticipate an even larger crowd than ever, as it is being held a little later than usual, in the beautifully warm month of May.
“And this year, thanks to this new exhibition, we’re hoping people can learn even more about our area’s intriguing past and enjoy what will be a unique chance for the whole community to see some of the extraordinary articles which have for so long been tucked away in people’s homes.
“I grew up in Old Colwyn and I’ve always been fascinated by the town’s role in World War Two. I am really looking forward to seeing what turns up.
“We welcome all submissions. People can bring their memorabilia to me at our offices in Wynnstay Road, which we share with North Wales Tourism. We will carefully treasure and look after all their times for the duration of the exhibition.”
In 1940 the Ministry’s civil servants were moved from Whitehall to North Wales to escape the German bombing raids and free up space in London for the War Office.
They requisitioned 38 hotels in the town, including the fashionable Metropole, and The Queens, along with large houses as offices or places to live for the staff. At the Imperial officials monitored ships going into and out of Liverpool.
The Ministry’s bread division was based at the Edelweiss Hotel, the bacon and ham division at the Mount Stewart Hotel and the cocoa and chocolate department at the Colwyn Bay Hotel. The workers also took over Rydal School, which was evacuated to the Sychnant Pass in Conwy, and Penrhos College, with pupils moving to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
The last department – the Bakery Finance Division – left the town on 29 September 1956.
Historian Graham Roberts said: “It ignited a huge transformation to the way of life in the town, which all of a sudden became a bustling hub of the war effort.
“From here the distribution of food was actioned and campaigns run to educate the people of Britain on how to best feed themselves and reduce food waste during a time of crisis.”
He added: “The transformation to Colwyn Bay that the Ministry brought about did not just last for the duration of the war, but in the post war years, as many local young women married Ministry workers. They subsequently moved away with them to the areas around London when the war was over and the Ministry moved out.
“As a result, even today, there are still quite strong family links between Colwyn Bay and the Home Counties.
“It will be extremely interesting to see what people bring forward for the exhibition.
“Many of those who worked for the Ministry of Food during that period will no longer be with us, but it’s entirely possible that their children or grandchildren may have inherited some of the vestiges of the time, maybe old cutlery, clothes once worn by their grandparents, family curios and keepsakes.
“Plus we would love to see old photographs from the time, which always tell a fascinating story.”
Author Cindy Lowe, who penned Colwyn Bay Accredited: The Wartime Experience, will also be gathering people’s memories of schooldays in Colwyn Bay for a new publication.
She said: “My mother-in-law would talk to me frequently about that time and had vivid memories of Colwyn Bay as a bustling hive of industrious activity.
“Local people made huge sacrifices to accommodate the workers of the Ministry of Food and its staff were diligent in their commitment to keeping Britain’s population nutritionally fit at a time of great struggle.
“The staff who relocated brought their families, this had an impact on schools and they had to operate a two tier system, which was hugely disrupting. Additional clerical staff were recruited from the local people, women and teenagers – some travelled from as far away as Denbigh daily to work in the Bay.
“There are some people still in Colwyn Bay who were in school during wartime, and we will be pleased to hear memories of schooldays from anyone who went to school in the Colwyn Bay area.
“The Forties Festival is simply entrancing, such a colourful and welcoming event, which does not just attract people from North Wales, but from all over the country. It is such a lovely, friendly, fun and educational experience, I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Businesses in Rhos on Sea, Old Colwyn, Mochdre and Colwyn Bay voted to set up the BID, where firms pay a levy and the cash raised is used for projects to boost trade.
The non-for-profit social enterprise is aiming to revitalise the business communities across the Bay of Colwyn and to attract more visitors, investment and shoppers to the area.
Anyone who has artefacts, photographs or other 1940s mementoes to submit for the local exhibition can contact Anna Openshaw on 01492 588374. More details about the event at facebook.com/FortiesFestival
- Colwyn Bay Accredited, The Wartime Experience is published by Bridge Books, Wrexham
- Colwyn Bay at War from Old Photographs is published by Amberley Publishing