LONG before Britain joined the European Union, movement of labour between nations was already important to Radcliffe employers.

In 1954, fifteen Austrian girls came to the town at the behest of the firm JC Hamer and Co. Ltd.

It was nine years after their country had been at war with Britain, and they were invited to relieve a pressing shortage of weavers.

One third of the 600 machines in the concern's circular box loom weaving department were standing idle at the time.

The Austrian girls, aged between 18 and 28, were brought to the UK after intensive local efforts to recruit staff failed.

There was such a shortage that not one weaver had registered on the books of Radcliffe Labour Exchange during the previous year.

In Austria, the situation was very different. The country had a grave unemployment problem and the girls who had arrived in Radcliffe told the Radcliffe Times reporter who visited them that there was no work at all.

Only one of them had any previous experience in textiles.

Among the others were a hairdresser, a tailoress and a seamstress.

On arrival they began work in the firm's well-equipped training school, with 53-year-old Annie Mallalieu as their instructor.

Miss Mallalieu had been in the weaving trade for 38 years, and, since the firm's training school was established in 1948, had been engaged almost continuously in training newcomers.

The average length of a weaving course at the school was about eight weeks, although this varied according to the ability of the trainee.

Regarding the new recruits, she told a reporter: "They seem to be very intelligent and pick things up very quickly. They are very keen to learn."

Only one or two of the girls spoke any English and so a male German jacquard weaver, named Gerhard Lange was appointed as an interpreter.

Gerhard, who had stayed in England and became a weaver after his release as a Prisoner of War, had also learnt his trade at the school.

At first, the girls were travelling by coach from a hostel in Chorley.

But many were planning to find accommodation in Radcliffe to see out their two-year contract.

They were, apparently, a "gay and lively group" and found going to work in England an adventure.

"England seems nice," said one, "but don't you have funny houses."

Most of the girls were also described as "young and pretty", although only one had confessed that she wanted to marry an Englishman.

What happened to the Austrian girls? Do you know if any of them stayed in Radcliffe? Internet Editor Chris Sudlow