Littleborough’s History

Nora Caveney - First ATS Girl to be killed in WW2


Nora was born in Todmorden on 10th May 1923 to parents John and Hannah. In 1939 she lived in Todmorden at 4 Cooperative Street, Walsden. Nora was a Cotton Bobbin Winder whilst her parents were employed in weaving Cotton Sheeting. Mary Copley, probably her sister, was a shorthand typist. Where she worked in 1939 isn’t clear but she was later employed by Breda Visada (Python Mill) in Littleborough working in the reeling room. This mill made Rayon or artificial silk and was started by Dutch emigres from Breda who were escaping from the Germans. Although she only worked at Python Mill for a short time, she had many friends in the Littleborough District.

Nora was a tall and dark girl who volunteered for AA duties in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Royal Artillery and was posted to one of the first mixed (sex) batteries to take over front line gun sites on the south coast at Westwood, 2nd Battery, (5th AA Division, 35th AA Brigade, Anti-Aircraft Command, Southampton). There she operated specialist Predictor computers monitoring enemy planes approaching Britain so as to alert gunners stationed across the UK.

 On the 17th April 1942, possibly on her first engagement with the enemy, she was operating a range-finder on an anti-aircraft battery site. During a German Bombing raid Private Nora Caveney was stood at a predictor machine following an enemy plane at a gun site on the south Coast when she was struck by a bomb splinter. Another AA girl took Nora’s place and the guns were able to continue firing without a moments delay. Other ATS girls on the predictor kept on with their jobs throughout the rest of the raid which lasted nearly an hour. Private Caveney’s commanding officer commented “The guns were still firing as the stretcher party took her back to camp”. ”The girls’ discipline under fire was praiseworthy” said the second in command “The drill for the replacement of a casualty was carried out perfectly as if it had been a demonstration. Seasoned soldiers could not have behaved better”.

 Nora was the first ATS girl to be killed during the war and the second employee of Breda Visada to be killed. Her name is remembered on the Breda Visada War Memorial now in Littleborough Library. Nora was buried with full military honours at Netley Military Cemetery, grave No 2210. Unfortunately, her parents were on holiday in Blackpool when they received a telegram saying that Nora had been killed. Fortunately, they were able to attend their daughter’s funeral where members of her own battery formed a guard of honour. Her headstone is pictured.

Following her death a recreational hut on the gun site where she died has been erected in memory of Private Nora Caveney and a photograph in uniform is hung on a wall draped in the Union Jack (photo

Colleagues repaired and decorated the hut and constructed a stage with fitted with footlights made from old cocoa tins and curtains from the tail fin of an old barrage balloon. Many local and national newspapers carried details of Nora’s death in action with The London Illustrated News including her photograph which is reproduced above.

The Halifax Courier on Tuesday 4th October 2016 published an article ‘War Hero Never will be Forgotten’ with a by-line ‘A Walsden girl who became the first female soldier to be killed during combat in World War Two is to be remembered with two information plaques on the site where she died’. The article continued - Brave Nora Caveney was just 18 when she perished at the hands of German bombers on April 17, 1942. She was serving with the Anti-Aircraft Command in Southampton at the time, operating the specialist Predictor computers which monitored enemy planes approaching Britain so gunners across the country could be alerted. Now the site in Southampton where Nora met her tragic end will be marked with two information boards (see picture) ensuring the young war hero will never be forgotten. The campaign was spearheaded by author Paul Keast, who lives in the south coast city. He is currently working on a book about World War Two and Nora’s name came up in his research. Mr Keast said: “A friend, Mike Parker of the Royal Air Force Association, and I dug a bit deeper into her story. “We both felt strongly that Nora’s story should be recorded and remembered “We approached Hampshire County Council, which shared our enthusiasm and it arranged for the information boards to be produced.” It’s thought the teenager, who would almost certainly have lied about her age to have been accepted into the 148th (Mixed) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, would have been one of the first women in the post. It was only opened up to female recruits’ part way through the Second World War.

On Wednesday 12th October 2016, an information board was unveiled to remember Nora, the people and the buildings that made up the Westwood Royal Artillery Camp in Westwood.