“We have indeed seen Sheffield burn. Many parts of our city have been destroyed; our peacetime occupations have been replaced by a complete conversion to wartime conditions. We must rebuild, reorganise, and reabsorb the men who are now away fighting. What a task! It will not be done by talking. It can only be achieved by enterprise, organisation, and very hard work. Also, we shall need good fortune and that which happens elsewhere will determine in large measure our own opportunities. If this war has taught us one thing, it is that our city is simply a cog in the wheel which is our country, and that our country is a part, and no mean part, of the mechanism of the civilised world.” – Dr W.H. Hatfield, Sheffield, 1943.
On the nights of 11th and 13th December 1940, a German attack on Sheffield lasted for many hours, and cinemas, stores, and shops, were wrecked, and some churches damaged. Two days later, on the 15th and 16th, Sheffield was again attacked with material results, explosions, and a considerable number of fires observed.
“Between 3.30 and 4.00 a.m. on 13th December 1940, from our terrace we watched Sheffield burn. Sheffield is my native city. I felt then that the rest of my life must be devoted to helping to restore and rebuild the fortunes of the city.”
These words were written by Dr W. H. Hatfield in the introduction of his book, Sheffield Burns, published in 1943, in which he idealises and hopes the city will have a brighter future.
“My father desired to rest with his father, and I remember subsequently on a quiet wintry afternoon standing before their tombstone and reading the dates on which my grandfather and my father passed away, and then realising that I could from the inscriptions before me, predict the approximate date upon which I, given good fortune, would also pass away.”
Hatfield gave the final proofs of his book to his publisher on 13th October 1943 and died four days later, much sooner than he had probably anticipated.
“He died through strain and overwork in furthering our war effort,” said his wife Edith at the time. “Working unflinchingly at all hours, day and night for four years without rest or holiday, for our armaments and aircraft industry.”
William Herbert Hatfield was born in 1882, and worked in the laboratory of Henry Bessemer and Co, while at the same time studying at University College, Sheffield, where he became Doctor of Metallurgy in 1913. Later he became a metallurgist at John Crowley and Co and was subsequently appointed director of the Brown-Firth Research Laboratories, and later with the board of Thomas Firth and John Brown.
It was Hatfield who discovered 18/8 stainless steel in 1924 which happens to be the most widely used stainless steel in the world today. For all his efforts, he is sadly overlooked by history, except for the Hatfield Memorial Lecture, held every December by the University of Sheffield.
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