War Time for an Archbishop

When war was declared in September 1939, Dr. William Temple was Archbishop of York.  He and his wife threw themselves into the war effort taking in evacuees and making the Palace and its grounds available to local organisations.  Three years later, in 1942, he was translated to Canterbury.

The following extract is taken from the Archbishop’s biography, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: His Life and Letters, by F. A. Iremonger.

On Sunday, 3 September [1939], the Archbishop Temple announced from his throne in the Minster that the country was at war, and that night the first sirens wailed over the city of York.

Changes were inevitable at Bishopthorpe, and were smoothly made.  Towards the end of their time the Archbishop and his wife took to living almost entirely in the north wing of the palace; a pleasant bedroom facing south and west did duty for Temple’s study, and a small room near the kitchen, looking out on the garden, for their dining-room.  Mrs. Temple and her invaluable secretary, Miss Sinker, became adept at improvising floor (and bed) space at the shortest notice; a dozen evacuees, including some children, occupied rooms at the end of the north wing and a flat over the garage; members of the Women’s Institute made jam in the old kitchen; for a few months the drawing-room was used for A. R. P. lectures, whist-drives, and dances; the Home Guard had a rifle-range for practice in the walled garden; and the local N. F. S. did not disguise their amusement when Temple took part in a rehearsal and lay flat on his front directing the nozzle of a stirrup-pump at an imaginary incendiary bomb.

An important local achievement was the institution of the York Council for War-time Service, which co-ordinated the work of all the canteens and clubs for the troops organized by many agencies; the voluntary helpers at one of the largest of these centres were organized by Mrs. Temple and Miss Sinker who, on several nights in the week, drove nine miles to the I.T.C. at Strensall; sometimes the Archbishop, who was Chairman of the Council,  came out to the canteen to talk with the men or to hold an occasional service for them in the canteen.

Yorkshire had its full share of attacks from the air; there were two devastating raids on Hull, and one on the city of York; but it was not until they reached Canterbury that the Archbishop and his wife were to know the horrors of an air-raid at first hand.

  1. A. Iremonger, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: His Life and Letters, (OUP, 1948) pp385-6