A party of 12 civic leaders and professionals is visiting Sheffield next week from a French town which knows the city as its ‘Godmother’ after the kindness of our residents helped it recover from the First World War.
They are coming from Bapaume, a town close to the Somme, which was heavily damaged during the First World War and helped soon after by the people of Sheffield, who gave money for new homes and funded a new nursery and school.
Sheffield ‘adopted’ Bapaume in 1920, at a time when other British cities were doing the same to help France cope with the heavy destruction it suffered during the war.
The arrangements were summed up at the time by the then Lord Mayor of Liverpool who said: “You keep vigil over our dead, we will help your survivors.”
Sheffield’s Lord Mayor, William Farewell Wardley, visited Bapaume in 1920 and promised to send furniture, linens and other items in desperate need. But Sheffielders dug deep and also raised money through local events and donations, giving 210,000 francs to a group of Bapalmois visitors in 1921.
The relationship between the areas continued to blossom and during the same year, the “Comite Locale de la Ville de Sheffield” decided to use the funding for new homes, with the hope that the rental income from them would fund a new town nursery.
The homes were finished in 1929 and, with additional funding given by Sheffield industrialist, George Lawrence, a new nursery was opened in 1939.
Two hundred visitors from Sheffield attended the opening ceremony and each of the 25 nursery chairs were fitted with a plaque bearing the name of a Sheffield soldier lost in France during the war. Every child at the ceremony was also given a presentation box containing a knife, fork and spoon made in Sheffield.
The Lawrence family continued their generosity to the town and the nursery was converted into a school.
This year’s party of Bapalmois dignitaries are now visiting Sheffield to continue to strengthen the relationship and visit the city’s cultural attractions. Their visit will include a tour of Kelham Island, Weston Park – which was designated a centenary field to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield Theatres and the Cutlers’ Company. The dignitaries will also meet Sheffield’s Culture Consortium and hear a performance from the Sheffield Pipe Band.
Councillor Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council, said: “Sheffield has a very special history with Bapaume and I’m very proud of the help Sheffielders were able to give generations ago.
“We will not forget the lives lost during the First World War and our strong ties continue. I, and Sheffield’s Lord Mayor, are very pleased to welcome our Bapalmois visitors. We have a lot to be proud of about our great city and it will be wonderful to show our cultural and historic assets and explore how our ties with Bapaume can be strengthened.”
Colonel Geoffrey Norton of The York and Lancaster Regiment said: “We have been keen to restore the link with Bapaume after Councillor Jackie Drayton visited the town in 2001 and we then started working together on first the 90th anniversary and then last year’s 100th anniversary commemorations.
“On 1 July last year, the town let everyone know that Sheffield was still considered to be its Godmother. We marched together to the French War Memorial behind the Sheffield Pipe Band. So it is appropriate that the representative of Bapaume now come to see who adopted them nearly 100 years ago. May these exchanges now long continue.”