This Week in Peterborough: 1941


Peterborough Examiner, January 29th, 1941.

On to 1941, and we discover the war situation much different than it had been at this time in 1940.  Since then, France and the Low Countries had fallen, Italy had entered the war, and the massive Luftwaffe attack on Great Britain had begun.  Read on, as we discuss some of those items, along with — of course — what was going on in Peterborough itself.


Bomb damage in Cardiff, Wales, January 2nd 1941. (Image Source)

The Battle of Britain, in which a large number of Canadian pilots had taken part, was over; the Blitz, however, was not.  German aircraft were still bombing British cities in large numbers, and the fear of a German invasion was still strong.  In late January, bad weather led to a number of nights free of aerial attack, but even that was of little solace; “Raid Lull Sign of Invasion?” read one Peterborough Examiner headline on January 25th, and the article below it described Britons “[preparing] doggedly to meet what authorities believe will be the greatest assault in history during the Spring.”  Unbeknownst to the Allies, Adolf Hitler had already postponed plans for the invasion, and they would not be taken up again.

Despite the ongoing bombing raids in Britain, much of the newspaper attention at this time, at least as far as the war was concerned, was focused on North Africa.  There, Allied forces (mostly British, Australian, and French) were engaged against the Italian army, steadily pushing it back from Egypt and through Libya towards Benghazi.  In Italy itself, the impending defeat in Africa and similar military difficulties in Greece and the Balkans were causing the stirrings of unrest.  Anti-Fascist demonstrations were reported in several northern Italian cities, with rumours that some Italian army units were joining the protestors.  And that, in turn, had been noted in Berlin, leading to a sudden suspicious increase in the number of German soldiers and Gestapo officers in Italy.  In a January 28th editorial, the Examiner called the situation what it was — an invasion:

“…Hitler is not marching his men in there to help Italy against the Greeks or to save them from the British… It would cause no great surprise to read some day  — and soon — that Germany had taken possession of Italy.”

And, as Mussolini’s position weakened, that is more-or-less what happened.

The Examiner was having an astute week in terms of its prognostications for the course of the war.  Noting Germany’s need for larger quantities of natural resources, the newspaper opined, on January 31st, that “The next move will be the invasion of the Russian Soviet.”  And that event, as matters turned out, was only five months away.

Back on the home front, the factories were on a war footing, resulting in Peterborough gaining roughly 1000 new residents over the course of 1940.  However, the main war-related activity in Peterborough at this time in 1941 was fund-raising.  The British War Victims Fund, started by a Toronto journalist to help those affected by the German bombing campaign, was one popular destination for charitable giving.  On January 25th, the Examiner reported donations to the fund from St. Aiden’s Church in Young’s Point ($25.50), Keene United Church ($100), the Brinton Carpet Co. Employees’ Club ($11.00), not to mention several other organizations and individuals.


Peterborough Examiner, January 25th, 1941.

The big money-raising effort was the Peterborough War Services and Community Fund campaign, inaugurated on January 25th with the goal of raising $85,000 inside a week.  The campaign got off to a good start, when the County Council chipped in $10,000 on the first day, to go along with $6,000 from General Electric and another $2,000 from Canada Packers.  A large corps of volunteers, meanwhile, were going door-to-door around the city, and the newspaper, in a January 27th editorial, urged people to give generously:

“Peterborough War Services and Community Fund.  The individual who calls on you may not repeat that title in its entirety, but you will know and understand that is what he represents.

Unless you have a 100 per cent. reason, attend to him at once… And do not ask him to come back tomorrow or the day after or any other time.”

The donations continued to roll in ($750 from Dominion Woolens & Worsteds, $1000 from Standard Medical and Surgical Clinic, and so on), and in the end, organizers estimated that more than 10,000 Peterborians had given to the fund.  On February 1st came the happy news: the campaign had not only reached its goal, it had surpassed it by nearly half again.  Cue delirious joy at campaign headquarters, as that day’s Examiner reported:

“As the total of $125,653.00 of the Community chest drive was announced by Ross L. Dobbin, the vice-chairman of the campaign, more than 200 workers in the drive arose and sang ‘Rule Britannia’…

Leaving aside the fund-raising, the January 25th Examiner contained some interesting policing statstics for the previous year.  In 1941, the Peterborough Police had laid charges in 912 cases, 259 of them involving liquor offences.  There had been 432 car accidents, resulting in 88 people injured, three of them fatally.  Fifteen motor vehicles and 116 bicycles had been stolen during the year; all of the cars and trucks taken, and 103 of the bicycles, were recovered.  Peterborough’s Chief Constable recommended the hiring of another policeman for the city, as one officer was overseas with the army, and workload was increasing due to “Factory extension workers, sabotage, soldiers at camps, arrests of defaulters… [and] vagrants from all parts with long and dangerous records.”  As regards that last item: the Great Depression may have been, technically, over, but its effects were still being felt.


Peterborough Examiner, January 29th, 1941.

And finally, the Senior ‘B’ Petes were making their way through another Ontario Hockey Association season, and even here we can detect traces of the war.  On January 24th, the Petes played the Air Force team from Trenton, the Flyers, who were icing a weakened team to do men being overseas fighting the Battle of Britain.  A teenager from Kenora by the name of Joe Sponorski was making his first Senior start in goal for the Flyers, and sad to say he had a rough night of it.  The Petes led 1-0 after the first period… and 11-0 after the second.  The final score was 13-1.  The Peterborough side went on , this week 75 years ago, to record victories over Whitby (5-3) and Kingston (11-3); the Petes were a genuinely good team that year, although they would come up short of a title in the end.

And that will probably do for 1941!  We’ll check in again with the war effort next week, when we look at early February of 1942, and we will again find the situation much-changed.  In the meantime, however, you can catch up on goings-on around Peterborough and elsewhere at this time of year in 1889.  Thank you for reading!

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