A new book tells the stories of Yorkshire children during the Second World War.
In the cities they were bombed but the countryside wasn’t safe either, with planes crashing and fantastic new toys like abandoned rifles to play with.
It’s a miracle some of these kids survived – messing about with unexploded bombs, hiding in ammunition dumps and throwing bullets into bonfires.
Richmond-based writer and publisher Caroline Brannigan has collected new first-hand accounts to produce War Kids: Yorkshire and the North East.
She said: “When my children were taught at school about the Second World War they learned very little about their own area.
“Stories centred on London evacuees with labels round their necks. I felt very strongly that a book was needed to make the balance right and it’s now being enjoyed by both adults and children. “
David Sherry lived in York. He remembers: “One day I was with my father in the car when we came close to Pocklington airfield.
“The road was so close to the base that when the aircraft were taking off or landing, barriers were closed and you had to wait.
“We were sitting there watching a fleet of huge bombers taking off for a raid, fully laden with bombs and fuel, when suddenly something went wrong with one of them and it fell out of the sky some distance from us.
“I will never forget the feeling of the blast as it hit the canvas roof of the car. All the crew were killed. As a small boy I just accepted this as yet another interesting event.”
Denise McCool was born in Leeds a few days before the city’s worst air raid and was carried to the basement shelter by nurses. She had no memory of her father, who was in the Army, until he came home at the end of the war.
She remembers: “I was sitting on our back doorstep overlooking the ginnel when I saw a very handsome soldier with a kitbag on his shoulder walking towards me. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He made a striking figure, very upright and, to my mind, appeared as a hero.
“Heroes were tall, handsome men who fought enemies for you. Yes, a hero was walking down our ginnel and - here was the surprise - he was opening our gate.
“This is the first memory I have of my lovely dad. The year was 1945 and he was returning after being away for years during the Second World War.
“Dad must have saved up all his sweet coupons for in his kitbag were chocolates, sweets and toffees, which we had never tasted in our short, wartime lives.”
Caroline Brannigan adds: “People who have read the book are amazed to discover, for example, that a small rural town like Kirkbymoorside on the North York Moors was bombed.”
Robin Butler was a young boy in Kirkbymoorside then and experienced raids targeting the glider factory.
He remembers: “One afternoon the siren went and instead of taking cover under the stairs as I should have done I peered out of the back door to see what was happening . The roar of a plane filled the air and I saw its great black shape from which bombs were dropping. However, no explosions came, just clouds of dust, so I thought perhaps they were dropping great bags of soot. By a miracle, none of the bombs exploded.
“We had a lodger staying with us at the time who was sitting on the outside toilet and I heard his voice screaming out at me from behind the wooden door to get inside. ‘They’re gunning on us! They’re gunning on us!’
“It makes me laugh to think of it now. The plane veered off and started strafing anything that moved including someone working in the graveyard where bullets hit the church. The main street was packed with people waiting to go into the pet show but none was hit. As the pilot headed back out over open countryside he took pot-shots at the local huntsman who was in what we called the Kennel Field. Some friends of ours were camping and the husband leapt under a hedge into a bed of nettles as the bullets whistled round the tent in which his wife was cowering. After just a few minutes it was all over, leaving Kirkbymoorside shocked but grateful for its narrow escape. For me it had been a hugely exciting adventure.”
Caroline says: “For those who experienced tragedy first-hand the war was a serious, life-changing event but for the lucky ones it was a fantastic adventure. For young children, searchlights and flares in the sky were a firework display put on just for them.”
War Kids: Yorkshire and the North East is published by Caroline Brannigan Memoir Writer, and is available only from www.carolinebrannigan.com or by calling 01748 821041. Illustrated paperback, 144 pages, £9 & £2 p&p.