How town became ‘humanitarian capital of the North’
THE TOWN may be best known these days as the home of Yorkshire’s only Premier League club, but Huddersfield may just have yet another claim to fame to take civic pride in: researchers have suggested it could well be described as ‘the humanitarian capital of the North’.
A team of historians from the town’s university has investigated varied strands of the district’s humanitarian tradition in supporting people feeling persecution, tyranny and warfare, as well as the establishment of the relief organisation Hudfam, a local equivalent of Oxfam.
The researchers have presented their findings at a public event and say they are continuing to uncover different dimensions of the story. Later this month, the university’s history department is to stage a two-day event on the topic, specifically focused on the Holocaust.
It will take place on June 15 and 16 and involve a series of talks, workshops and films at the university’s Oastler Building.
It follows a series of interconnected research projects on the many and varied forms of assistance offered to those in need by people and organisations from Huddersfield, particularly during the darkest days of the 20th century.
Senior lecturer Dr Rebecca Gill specialises in the history of humanitarian organisations and she has researched the experience of Belgians who came to Huddersfield in the First World War.
Her work found that individuals who helped the refugees then came together to establish a local branch of the Save the Children Fund 1919.
This was the subject of Dr Gill’s contribution to a Lunchtime Club session titled Huddersfield Humanitarians, which recently took place at the town’s library.
She was followed at the event by history student Haaris Mahmood, who has researched the role of the town in housing Basque children fleeing the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.
Then PhD researcher and University of Huddersfield graduate Frank Grombir, who edits the
spoke about arrival of Czech refugees from Nazism in the 1930s.
Hostels were opened and an Anglo-Refugee Friendship Club was established. Former mayor and editor of the Ernest Woodhead, became the president of a Czechoslovak-British Friendship Club.
During the Second World War, the town also saw the formation of the Huddersfield Famine Relief Committee, which became known as Hudfam, in response to famines in India and Greece.
It operated as a sister branch of Oxfam, had a shop in the town for many years and funded various overseas relief ventures in India and elsewhere.
The story of Hudfam was covered by Adam Millar, who researched the history of the organisation for his University of Huddersfield MA degree. In attendance at the public lecture was Peter Wilson, son of Hudfam founder Elizabeth Wilson.
Dr Gill said that there were several explanations for Huddersfield’s humanitarian traditions. One was the fact that the local Press took a lead in creating sympathy for refugees and it adopted political stances, such as being anti-appeasement of Nazi Germany.
“During both world wars the textile industry round here did require a lot of additional labour because it was producing material for uniforms. So there wasn’t potential for the difficulties faced elsewhere, where refugees were not always welcome,” says Dr Gill.
But with her colleague Dr Rob Ellis, she is now investigating a contrasting strand to the story – Belgian refugees who never became part of the community, but were consigned to mental asylums in the First World War.