Sir William Bulmer

Sir William Bulmer
Sir William Bulmer
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SIR William Bulmer, who has died at the age of 92, was knighted for services to the wool industry and served as Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire from 1978 to 1985.

Having fought in the desert campaign against Rommel, he became one of the youngest captains in the British Army. He was subsequently captured but managed to escape, joining Yugoslav partisans while being hunted by the Germans.

When the war ended he joined the family textile business in Bradford as a junior on £10 a week. The company, Bulmer & Lumb, had been started by his late father in 1905 and at its
peak employed some 2,500 people.

With two sisters, Sir William was brought up in Bradford. After leaving Bradford Grammar School he took a wool textile course at Bradford Technical College.

He played rugby for Bradford Lidget Green, and in later life took up golf at Heaton.

At school he was in the Officers’ Training Corps and as war approached he joined the Territorial Gunner Unit in Halifax. Bored by that, he joined the Royal Artillery Supplementary Reserve for a 13-week full-time course with the 7th Field Regiment Royal Artilley at Catterick.

Recently engaged to Betty Obank whom he had known since his teens, he and his lifelong friend Roy Stroud were posted as second lieutenants to the Middle East.

At Alexandria the pair were posted to the 31st Field Regiment RA, and while waiting for their posting they pooled funds and bought a Bentley for £35 and toured Cairo in it. Active service saw them fighting as part of the 8th Army, 4th Indian Division.

The friends were parted in 1942 during a desert battle against Rommel’s troops when the troops they were commanding were operating behind enemy lines and Captain Stroud was wounded.

It would be some years before the two would meet again.

Sir William took part in the Battle of Sidi Barrani in the Western Desert, and was wounded at the Battle of Keren in Eritrea when he was hit by a mortar bomb. He returned to his regiment in time to fight at the battle of Alem Hamza when the regiment was overrun by the enemy.

Captured, he was sent by submarine to Tarento in southern Italy, transferred to Bari, and then to an empty monastery at Padula, where he spent 18 months.

By September 1943 he was in a POW holding camp at Bologna, and aware that he and the other officers were about to be transferred to a camp in Germany, took part in a mass escape.

He and two others eventually made their way to San Marino, were they hid for five months in a shrine high on the mountainside in north-east Perugia. With the help of a band of Yugoslav escapees from a forced labour camp, they robbed banks and raided the houses of prominent fascists believed to be collaborating with the Germans, taking weapons and vehicles. When Sir William protested at the brutality inflicted on the Yugoslavs’ German prisoners, he and his fellow officers were themselves held prisoner by the partisans and threatened with execution or being handed over to the Germans, who were offering a large reward for their capture and would have shot them on sight.

They escaped once again, and this time reached safety behind Allied lines.

Sir William ended the war in Germany, where he once again met up with Mr Stroud, now a Major. In 1996 they were both awarded the Emergency Reserve Decoration (ERD) for their 
heroic services as British Army officers.

Sir William later wrote about his wartime experiences in A Long Long Way to Go Home, one of the three books he was to write.

Having been mentioned in despatches twice, he was demobilised in 1945 and he and Major Stroud joined their respective family textile businesses, attending Bradford Technical College in the evenings to completed their textile studies.

Sir William began in sales, and in 1963, having been on the board for 10 years, became managing director. During his 40 years in the textile industry, he served in many of its organisations, and played a central role in ensuring its voice was heard in Whitehall and by the Government.

A visionary, he realised the benefits of consolidating production onto one site. The company already owned 45 acres of land in Buttershaw, Bradford, and in 1957 a new factory, equipped with the latest machinery and the first computer that could colour match fibre, was built there.

On the back of the new technology, Bulmer and Lumb developed a worldwide market.

When Sir William retired in 1985, profits had grown substantially, and the company was sold to Allied Textiles.

He was knighted in the 1974 New Years Honours, and in March that year he was appointed High Sheriff of West Yorkshire. Having been a Deputy Lieutenant for West Yorkshire, in 1978 he was made Lord Lieutenant.

Sir William retired in 1985 and he and his wife moved to Jersey, where he learnt to fly at the age of 65. Lady Bulmer died in 1998 and he is survived by their children James, Peter and Anne, and five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.