A Colne Valley mill has helped raise hundreds of pounds for armed forces veterans.

Spectrum Yarns in Slaithwaite manufactures the well-known Glenbrae lambswool and merino wool luxury knitwear and donated many items to sell at an event in London which raises money for the Army Benevolent Fund, The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.

The RAF and army has poignant connections to the mill as owner Richard Brown’s father-in-law, Squadron Leader Daniel O’Leary, was a Spitfire pilot and his identical twin brother, Jeremiah O’Leary was a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber. Their father, Michael, won the Victoria Cross while serving in the army in the First World War.

Richard’s grandfather, Mellor Whitwam, from Golcar was in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War serving as a mechanic and was the first engineer to fit a Rolls Royce engine into an airplane. He was also the test pilot for its inaugural flight.

Daniel and Jeremiah joined the RAF in 1941 and first saw action the following year.

Daniel flew Spitfires, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar as a fighter pilot and later became a reconnaissance pilot during the Italy campaign. Only the best pilots were given this role as the planes were stripped of all their guns and armour plating so they could fly faster to evade enemy aircraft.

Daniel later flew bombers during the Berlin Airlift and became a specialist in radar and missile defence systems. He retired from the RAF in April 1971 and his 30 years’ service included being in charge of the RAF base on Malta between 1963 and 1966.

O’Leary family – L to R – Daniel, Jeremiah and their father Michael

Richard, who met his wife Sharon – Daniel’s daughter – in London in 1974, said: “He was an extremely modest guy despite everything he’d done.”

Jeremiah also wanted to be a pilot but ended up as a rear gunner on Lancaster bombers.

After he’d completed a tour of 30 missions he was given the chance to leave operations against the enemy and become a trainer but he turned it down as he didn’t want to leave his crew.

In the end he completed more than 100 missions so survived against all the odds with most crews doing no more than one tour. When Jeremiah started as rear gunner the average life expectancy of bomber rear gunners was just three weeks.

Richard said: “Jeremiah once told me his bomber had flown over one target three times before they dropped their bombs to be sure they were on target.

“Daniel ended up in Germany towards the end of the war and saw for himself the horror of a concentration camp that had been newly liberated. It was a sight which never left him.”

The brothers had come from tough fighting stock.

Their father, Michael O’Leary, was the first Irish Guardsman to win the Victoria Cross in World War One when he single-handedly charged two German machine gun posts, killing eight of the enemy and taking the rest prisoner in January 1915.

He became well-known for his bravery with all the newspapers covering the story and received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace.

A bout of malaria seriously affected his health but he emigrated to Canada and became a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer for a while but returned to England, joined the army and served as a major in charge of a POW camp during World War Two. After the war he became a building contractor and died in 1961.

Both Daniel and Jeremiah lived into their 80s with Daniel dying in 2009 aged 88.

Richard Brown – Spectrum Yarns managing director

The annual London event Spectrum Yarns supported is called the Big Curry Lunch at the Guildhall attended by more than 1,500 people and the fundraising stalls along with a silent auction all add to the day’s total which this year brought in more than £300,000 for the charities.

The donated Glenbrae knitwear was sold at a stand run by The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters and the Glenbrae items helped them to raise £2,300 on that stall alone.

The £300,000 will be used for post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health treatment and specialist pain management along with ‘back to work’ courses to help people leaving the armed forces and returning to civilian life to get full-time work.

Spectrum Yarns is the huge mill on New Street in Slaithwaite and makes top quality knitwear for such prestigious clients as the Open golf tournament and some of the UK’s biggest corporate names under its tradename Glenbrae.

The company is also one of the main suppliers of knitting wool in the UK which it sells via its Stylecraft tradename in 900 retail outlets nationwide.

  • Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.