5 November 2003

Ullswater WW2 Convoy

This a tale of a lost army convoy but a little history first. You may need a map to appreciate this.

Today the main highway from Penrith and the motorway to Pooley Bridge and Ullswater is the A592 road. In the 1940s the main road from Penrith and the A6 main highway to Ullswater and Pooley Bridge is the road now designated B5320. There was no motorway then and the A6 was the main highway.

In the early 1940s on dark night a long army convoy came from the Penrith direction to head along the western shores of Ullswater in the Patterdale direction and then to goodness knows where. Unfortunately they misread their maps and turned off at Mains Farm just before Pooley Bridge and along the eastern shores of Ullswater, along the narrow road leading to where we lived towards Howtown.

It was about 8 p.m. in the evening and dark, we heard the rumble of engines, thought it was the Commandos on manoeuvres and thought no more of it. About 10 p.m. we heard shouts and the heavy revving of engines and we then realized it was something unusual. The convoy leader had reached Howtown over a mile past our home and realized his mistake. The leader halted the convoy and returned on a motorbike to access the situation, he was on a no exit road and the large lorries and many of the other vehicles were too large to turn in the road. He decided to use Thwaite Hill Farm opposite us as a giant car park and reform the convoy from there. So the vehicles, which had not passed the farm gate, drove into the field but the vehicles, which had passed the gate, had to reverse, the ones, which were at the head of the column needed to reverse for over 1 mile. It was a slow exercise!

This went on all night until daylight next morning before the convoy reformed and slowly drove away. How did the convoy get lost? Well the navigator had to do his best in a darkened cab with a shielded torch. There were no road signs to guide him, all road signs had been removed at the start of the war to make it difficult for enemy agents.

Not only that, all vehicle headlights were dimmed and their light shielded from the air in case of prowling enemy aircraft. This shield was a round/oval black disk fitted over the headlight face with narrow horizontal slits to let some light through. Each slit had a light deflector above it forcing the light from each slit downwards. It was very difficult to see ahead when driving in the dark. The most difficult task of the evening was the reversing lorry drivers in the dark, their only guide the drivers mate holding a dim shielded torch.

This was just one more of the everyday trials and tribulations of wartime.

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