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Bettys Bar York - Solace of Yorkshires WW2 Airmen

Updated: Mar 2

I had read about Bettys Bar in York and during a recent reunion with 102 Squadron Association just had to pay it a visit.


Bettys Café Tea Rooms are 100 years old this year and offer a traditional eating experience to the customer. Their exquisitely decorated rooms at St Helens Square almost transport the customer back in time to an era of afternoon tea with teapots, cups and saucers and cakes being served from beautiful cake stands.


You can see a short video of Bettys at the following link :-

https://youtu.be/-BkFtOg5-GY

But it was the service that they provided during World War 2 to the Squadrons of the Yorkshire Based 4 Group RAF that interested me!


The service on this occasion wasn’t its tea and cake but its bars!


Years before the war the owner had applied for and obtained an alcohol licence before opening two bars, a cocktail bar on the ground floor and a further bar which became known as ‘The Dive’ in the basement area.



Bettys in York

Bettys became popular amongst Airmen stationed in the area during world war two and would see men who had already fuelled up elsewhere weave their way through Yorks lanes destined for Betty’s Bar and what would be an exceptional evening.


In 1942 Bettys was unfortunately hit by a bomb and it was only due to the prompt actions of a van driver acting as a fire watcher (as many did during the war) that Bettys escaped major damage.


The following year the Army attempted to requisition Bettys as they did with many other large buildings and stately homes during the war. If it hadn’t been for the owner explaining that Bettys offered a valuable service to the war effort by offering 20,000 meals and drinks per week then our poor RAF personnel might have had to find somewhere else to let off steam.


Remarkably during a time of food shortages and rationing, Bettys managed to stretch rations and salvage goods to ensure that meals would be served all day.

On an evening the smoky, dimly lit, wood panelled bar at Bettys roared with the sound of excited airmen on their nights off as they sought a release from the stress of operations, some of them coming from as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and Canada.


Bettys became known as their unofficial ‘Ops’ Room where forthcoming missions were discussed, pranks were played, off the record crews were negotiated and ultimately where friends were made and lost.



But it was the mirrors that hung behind the bar at Bettys where they would leave their mark! Using a diamond pen which can be used to engrave on glass or mirrors they would inscribe their names, squadron numbers and crests approximately 600 of them in total.



Bettys Mirrors

Now moved to the hallway near to the toilets observing these mirrors was an amazing experience for me.


I did try to look for my Great Uncles name thinking that it might have been nice for him to have had somewhere like Bettys to visit as a release from his duties as a Flight Engineer with 102 Squadron at Pocklington but there were just too many names to go through!



Bettys Mirrors

Sadly, most of the men who would sign their names on Betty’s mirrors would either be killed in Action or serve out the rest of their days in Prisoner of War camps.


Its remarkable that in 2019 these mirrors still stand as a monument to their memory!


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Thank you to Bettys for allowing me to view these mirrors and take photographs.


Interested in visiting Bettys yourself? Booking is essential please visit their website at https://www.bettys.co.uk/cafe-tea-rooms/our-locations/bettys-york


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