1891 — 1940

Warth Mills is built in 1891 by Mellor Limited. It is situated in the Redvales area of Bury, alongside the River Irwell.

In 1911, Warth Mills houses 46,000 spindles and 500 looms, employing people from Bury and Radcliffe.

Warth Mills suffers a decline in fortunes and conditions and is disused by the mid-1930s.

On 30 September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns to London having signed a peace pact with German leader Adolf Hitler.

In November 1938, Germany provokes outrage by not intervening when civilians launched anti-Semitic attacks during Kristallnacht. The following year, Germany invades Czechoslovakia and Poland, breaking the Treaty of Munich.

On 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain declares that Britain is at war.

September 1939 to May 1940 sees no military operations in Western Europe – the so-called Phoney War.

By early-1940, over 70,000 German and Austrian men resident in Britain were summonsed to tribunals to assess the level of threat. Aliens were categorised as: Category A - to be interned (600); Category B - to be exempt from internment but subject to the restrictions on movements (6500); Category C - to be exempt from both internment and restrictions (64,000). Camps in Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Bury begin to take Category A internees alongside captured Nazis.

In April 1940, Germany invades Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrender immediately.

Germany invades Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands on 10 May 1940. They are all soon occupied by Nazi forces. Neville Chamberlain resigns and is succeeded by Winston Churchill.

On 15 May 1940, French Prime Minister Paul Renaud telephones Churchill to tell him they have been defeated.

On 10 June 1940, Italy enters the war on the side of Germany. Anti-Italian riots break out on streets in various British cities.

Following Italy’s declaration, Italians resident in Britain are ordered to be interned. Germans and Austrians classed as Category B or C are also interned and the upper age limit increased from 60 to 70.

On 12 June 1940, Italian internees begin to arrive at Warth Mills along with previously exempted German and Austrians. Bury Times reports, ‘Up to two thousand aliens can be accommodated in the three storeys.’ But the capacity is soon exceeded.

On 17 June 1940, the War Office meet to discuss the possible deportation of internees.

Weissenborn linocut of Warth Mills internment camp

On 21 June 1940, hurriedly prepared lists from the War Office arrive at Warth Mills. The first groups, mainly German and Austrian Jewish refugees, are sent to camps on the Isle of Man.

The Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands is completed on 1 July 1940.

On 1 July 1940, hundreds of Italian internees travel by rail from Warth Mills to Liverpool. They board the SS Arandora Star.

While en route to Canada, the SS Arandora Star is struck by a German torpedo. 805 people are killed, many of them Italian internees from Warth Mills. Survivors are picked up by a Canadian destroyer and taken to Greenock in Scotland.

Within days, many of the survivors of the SS Arandora Star have been put on board HMT Dunera, bound for Australia.

In the days after the sinking of the SS Arandora Star, questions are raised in Parliament. “Is it the fact that these men were embarked on the Arandora Star without any details of their names or identities, and, if so, is this not a perfectly monstrous admission?” asked Edmund Radford, MP for Rusholme, whose constituent Clement Fiorini had drowned on the SS Arandora Star

The Battle of Britain begins on 10 July 1940.

On 7 September 1940, Germans change tactics and begin to bomb British cities. Tens of thousands of children are evacuated to the countryside as bombs are dropped on London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff.

During late-1940, Warth Mills prepares to become a prisoner of war camp exclusively. Conditions are improved in accordance with the Geneva Conventions Act 1929.