It seemed that the only comfort on that dank morning in wartime Britain was the warmth in the bowl of his pipe and the aromatic smell of tobacco. A glance at his watch would have showed that it was almost 8am.
Smoking was not allowed in the works so he carried out his daily ritual by which he would tap out the burning ash into the curbside near the front door. Having slipped the pipe into his pocket, he entered the workplace and headed straight for the fitting room where he hung his coat.
The starting bell rang and the machines burst into life just as the manager made for his office. Within 10 minutes, flames were discovered leaping from the coat stand.
That Friday also started as a normal day for John and Lilly Gatenby.
From their comfortable Alder Street Home in Fartown. Lilly had waved goodbye to their beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Doris, as she started out on her mile or so walk to the factory.
Doris had been employed at Booth’s since leaving Hillhouse School and was a member of Woodhouse Parish Church.
That morning she died after jumping from Booth’s building to escape the flames. Seventeen-year-old Barbara Chadwick too had everything to live for. She was engaged to her fiancé, Francis Costello, and was soon to be married. It was an exciting time for a girl who would turn 18 the following Friday.
But with the inferno dangerously close she found herself, like Doris, perched on the window ledge contemplating the long drop to the ground.
In the next instant, the glass from the upper windows shattered, smoke and flames were belching out of the gaping holes and Barbara’s broken body lay in the street below.
That is where the story of a young lady’s life would have ended had it not been for a strange but fortunate turn of events.
She was spotted by Minnie Coletta from the well-known Huddersfield ice-cream factory family. Minnie was driving her own black London cab that day. She lifted Barbara in and drove her straight to the former Royal Infirmary in Portland Street.
In the months ahead Barbara would slowly recover, but her injures were not without severe consequences.
Her pelvis had taken the impact of her fall and the doctors had to explain to her that because of internal damage she would never be able to bear children. Sadly, she and Francis parted.
But nearing the time of her discharge from hospital things were much brighter and Barbara was to find herself something of a cause célèbre.
Barbara had three proposals of marriage and married a man called Charles Tyndall.
There are very few people around from that era who were eyewitnesses to the tragic events at Booth’s let alone those who remember some of the workforce. One exception is 89-year-old Roy Heath who lives in Bradley.
He can still picture the scene in the aftermath just as the fire brigade had finally dampened all but the last of the flames. He knew Barbara Chadwick well and recalls dancing with Doris Gatenby at Charlie Frost’s Dance Hall in the town.
Some years later after the Second World War had ended he was busy in his peacetime occupation as a plumber for a firm called Edmonsons.
Travelling from job to job on his motorbike with a tool-filled sidecar he noticed a familiar face at a bus stop. It was Barbara. The reunion was, needless to say, a joyful one. He had survived the war having served in the navy and she had survived a terrible fire.
She told there had been a second miracle in her life – she was pregnant! Against the prognosis of all the doctors, Barbara went on to have two children – a girl and a boy.
These are only two of the stories that emerged in the aftermath of the fire. Many others were equally touching. Harold Smith, of Linthwaite, lost both his daughters.
Leonard Moorhouse survived the Somme but he died at Booth’s.
Brave George Thirkill was a well-known usher at Huddersfield Town Hall. He was said to have “tackled the flames like a Trojan”.
The inquest heard how he used a fire extinguisher near the stairway, allowing some of the girls to escape.
George could have easily saved himself but he died saving others.
James Woffenden should never have been at Booth’s. He was a talented musician who played the violoncello, but his career was cut short by an injury in the First World War.
Other selfless and compassionate acts happened, during the mayhem. The Rev Patrick Reeves, a Catholic priest from St Patrick’s Church, raced to the scene to give ministrations to anyone brought out alive, even being assisted by firemen to mount a ladder to give absolution to anyone trapped and dying in the smouldering shell.
He instantly realised that his work was in vain when he peered into the blackness of this hell hole.
It was a tragedy to hit Huddersfield like no other.
ONE of the unsung heroes of the Booths’ fire tragedy was a young woman.
Minnie Coletta, from the well-known Huddersfield ice-cream factory family, rescued one of the terrified women who leapt from the blazing factory.
And her prompt actions in lifting her into the back of her black London cab and driving her to the former Royal Infirmary in Portland Street saved the girl’s life. The girl was Barbara Chadwick, who had suffered appalling injuries but recovered.
Afterwards Miss Coletta calmly drove home to her family’s home in Bradford Road, Hillhouse, for tea, without telling anyone what she had done.
It was only later when a police officer called at the house that her actions were uncovered.
Miss Coletta’s niece, Linda Coletta-Whiteley, of Almondbury, said: “She never wanted any fuss made about it.
“She didn’t tell anyone in the family until the police called round to see her. Minnie, who was properly known as Domenica, arrived in Huddersfield from Italy aged just 13 to live with her grandfather, Camillio, who with his brother had ice-cream factories in Bradford Road. She worked at the factory and later went on to drive an ice-cream van before also buying the black cab and starting her taxi business. She was a real character.”
An Examiner report on Miss Coletta quoted Barbara Chadwick’s mother, Mrs C Sykes, as saying: “We think what Miss Coletta did was splendid. Barbara owed her life to her and we are all very grateful.”
Miss Coletta died 10 years ago.