Memories of Holmfirth floods recalled as old photographs are discovered

Staff at Holme Valley Memorial Hospital have turned back the clock with newly-discovered photos of the 1944 Holmfirth flood

 

A lost cache of historic photographs have, quite literally, brought memories flooding back to Holmfirth.

The photographs and postcards of the 1944 Holmfirth floods were uncovered by staff at Holme Valley Memorial Hospital.

And in light of the devastation caused across much of southern England by flooding in recent weeks, it was a timely reminder of the power of nature.

The photos show the River Holme turned into a raging torrent which swept down the valley after heavy rain.

It was on Whit Monday, May 29, 1944, that the flash flooding following a severe thunderstorm caused the deaths of three people in the Holme Valley.

Due to reporting restrictions in place because of World War II, it was not widely reported and was overshadowed by the invasion of Normandy a week later.

There was some confusion as to the exact cause of the flood but it was confirmed that Bilberry reservoir was not to blame, as it had been in an earlier flood.

It was suggested that the reservoir prevented the flood from being more severe.

German prisoners of war, housed in the area, assisted with the rescue of local residents and property. There was extensive damage to properties in the valley as 17 mills, 61 shops and 109 homes were flooded.

Holmfirth 1944 flood film explores town’s picturesque – but vulnerable – setting 

Geoffrey Riley, who was aged 14 at the time of the event, was awarded the George Cross in recognition of his attempts to save the life of an elderly woman caught in the flood.

The woman and Geoffrey’s father, who also tried to save her from drowning, both lost their lives in the flood. Geoffrey was initially awarded the Albert Medal. However, the Royal Warrant was discontinued in 1971 and he exchanged this for the George Cross at Buckingham Palace in March 1973.

He died in 2005.

Peter Horner, operational manager at the hospital, said: “Given the current weather problems elsewhere, the photographs are very relevant.

“We are having a big reshuffle at the hospital as the District Nurses are moving in and we are moving offices around to accommodate them. We were clearing files that belonged to a former matron, Julia Calcraft, and the photos and postcards were found by our current Matron, Carol Atkin.

“We have done a little bit of research and wonder just how big a role the hospital played in helping victims of the flood. We know that people died but there were probably many more who came to the hospital for treatment”.

The hospital plans to have the photos and cars framed for a permanent display.

They were taken by renowned Holmfirth photographer Harry Bray.

His grand-daughter Helen, who still runs the family photographic business, said: “We plan to hold an exhibition of work about the floods later this year, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the tragedy.

“It will be in early June at the start of the Holmfirth Arts Festival”.

FACTFILE

The 1944 flood was the fifth to hit Holmfirth

It followed earlier floods in 1738 and in 1777 when three people died

There was another flood in 1821

The worst was in 1852 when Bilberry reservoir burst its banks

The resultant flooding left 81 people dead.

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