Robin Longbottom describes how a German field gun ended up dumped in the beck after sparking anger in a village

THERE was public indignation in Steeton when a German field gun was delivered to the village in March, 1920.

It and two others had been given to the Rural District Council to be displayed as war trophies, but Keighley Town Council refused to accept them and therefore one of them was delivered to Steeton.

Steeton Parish Council was said to be “fairly flabbergasted” when it arrived in the park and “some of them locked themselves indoors until the storm of indignation should have subsided”.

The councillors were even more alarmed when they woke-up on the morning of Sunday, March 21 to find that the gun had been “tippled into the beck” and lay on its side.

They couldn’t leave it lying in the beck but were reluctant to return it to the park in the light of the current outrage.

Initially a half-hearted inquiry was set-up in an effort to discover the culprits, but no one was saying anything.

A former serviceman when asked about it said “it wouldn’t do to say ‘at anybody did it for a bet; an’ it mightn’t be advisable to say as lad’s ‘es done their bit, they were reight mad when that bit of owd iron was plonked dahn i’ t’ park; an tha’ might lay thisel oppen to question if tha’ suggested ‘at young bloods finally decided to shift it, and did so on Setterday neet.

“Anyhow t’guns in’t beck now, an a good shop for it. It’ll tak a bit o’ lifting out, an’ if it is lifted out, somebody’ll shove it back in ageean.”

Another old Steetoner said “it’s a pity they tippled it into t’beck. Aye, they should ha’ takken it dahn t’river Aire, and tippled it in theer”.

Clearly Steetoners did not want reminding of the war.

It was reported that 95 per cent of their young men had joined-up to fight and many of those did not come back.

The village lost a total of 56 men killed and in Elmsley Street alone, out of 40 households, a quarter lost sons killed in the war and many others were badly wounded.

Eventually the gun was dragged out of the beck by a team of heavy horses from Dixon’s Bobbin Mill and placed back in the park.

Other parts of Yorkshire experienced similar resentment.

In Milnsbridge, near Huddersfield, a German howitzer addressed to the “Town Clerk of Milnsbridge” lay unclaimed in the railway goods yard because the village didn’t have a town clerk and no one was prepared to accept it.

Milnsbridge suggested that nearby Golcar might want it but they suggested that the railway returned it to the sender, or otherwise delivered it to Golcar Wood where they would dig a hole and bury it!

At Atherstone, near Sheffield, a group of ex-servicemen ripped their war trophy from its mountings and dragged it to the edge of a precipice where one of the wheels broke and prevented them from tipping it over.

Unlike the Steeton lads they were caught, brought up before the magistrates and fined £2 each and costs.

With regard to the other two guns that Keighley had refused, one was taken to Sutton Park and set-up on a special plinth and secured to avoid a repetition of the incident in Steeton.

The park was also closed to the public at night and had a resident park keeper who was able to keep an eye on things.

The fate of the third gun is unknown.

Most guns were soon scrapped and the proceeds divided between the widows and orphans of servicemen.

By 1929 the price of scrap was so low that a gun once displayed in Bradford was buried in a field in Esholt. It was dug-up in 1981 and is now on display at Beamish Museum in County Durham.