Forward Assist commissioned photographer Ian Forsyth and writer, artist and animator Niel Bushnell to work with the group of older people and veterans, in partnership with Forward Assist and Tees Valley Arts, capturing and hearing about their life experiences.
Forward Assist Stories from the Veterans
Alice Irving (94)
“I served in London as an ambulance driver and remember all the bombing night and day. It was very scary. I treated lots of children, it was such a sad time.”
Dennis Metcallfe (89)
“When I was about five years old I remember going round the streets with the other kids looking for bits of shrapnel to collect. It was like finding treasure, and I’d keep it till it went rusty. We’d explore in places we weren’t supposed to go. I found shells and even part of a rocket once.
After the war I did my National Service in the Army and went to Italy and Egypt. It taught me to look after myself and keep my uniform smart. I thought it was smashing! The food was good but I couldn’t afford to drink because I would send most of my wages home to my mother.”
Harry (Brother-in-law of Dennis)
“In 1952 when I was 18 I was called up to do my National Service. I joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and served with the 4th Hussars Regiment.
For a while I served in Belsen camp in Germany. It was such a sad, eerie place. We’d take a tank out on tests every day into the middle of the pine forest. There were sign posts up, just like a ‘No Trespass’ sign but they said: 5000 buried here, 3000 buried here. We’d get out of the tanks for a smoke and there were no birds at all, no sign of anything. It was deathly silent.”
Joan Forman (94)
“I was underage when I joined up. I was supposed to be 18 years old but they just turned a blind eye. I joined up at the start of the war and stayed in service for four and a half years –the whole tootie!
I was in the Women’s Auxiliary Force and I served with Bomber Command at Bicester Airfield doing accounts. The lads there bet me five shillings to jump from the parachute trainer platform. I did it more than once.”
Betty Clarke (84)
“I remember watching dog fights during the day. German bombers would target the docks in Liverpool where we lived, hoping to blow up the oil refinery there.
It was exciting, especially when we were sent home from school. There was a time bomb dropped in our playground and we were sent home while they removed it. We thought that was brilliant! We often had to wear gas masks in lessons to get us used to wearing them.
We slept in our shelter in the garden every night so that we didn’t have to get out of bed if an air raid siren went off. We had a tiny three-piece suite in there and my sister Nina slept at one end and I slept the other, and Mam and Dad had a chair. I was just ten years old and my sister, Nina, was five but I remember it well. “
Joyce Millett (90)
“I was in the Land Army. We worked out in the fields. It was hard work. We had to feed you lot!
I went to school around Grove Hill. My husband was in the RAF.”
Jimmy Kirk (90)
“Just after the war I was in an Able Seaman in the Navy. I went to Jamaica, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Gibraltar and served on the HMS Paladin. They were happy days. We’d get a small cup of rum every day, which we called sippers or grog.”
Margaret Kirk (90)
“I was a volunteer Police woman in lodgings in Bedale.”
Marjorie Roberts (90)
“My Dad served with the Bantam Regiment during World War 1. He was injured during The Battle of the Somme, losing a leg and sent home for medical care.
During World War Two I served in the Women’s Land Army. Once I was married I followed my husband Theo to his various postings, including Turkey. My Mam was a widow and I wouldn’t leave her on her own so she came with us wherever we went. She didn’t mind travelling as long as we went with her.
When I gave birth to our son Jeff, Theo came home to see his new-born. He was put on a charge of desertion because he hadn’t got permission to leave the base.”
Vera Sparks (93)
“I served in the Women’s Auxiliary Force between 1942 and 1946. It was a big thing to serve your country in those days and I wanted to do my thing. I was a cook at Thornaby Aerodrome. I enjoyed being with the lads, serving them their food. I would wave off the young airmen as they left in their aeroplanes, never knowing if they’d return again.
I was also stationed in Alness, Invergordon for about three years. The people were very sociable. The villagers used to come out and wave to us, I felt very safe there. I remember in August 1942 we had a very special visitor: Prince George, the Duke of Kent. We waved him off but were shocked to hear his plane had crashed further north at Caithness.
After the war I went back home to look after my father, but I missed the company.”
Sheila (Vera’s Niece)
“I was brought up in London and I remember helping my Mum hang out washing on the line when the Germans were coming to bomb the railway sidings down the bottom of the road.
We were bombed seven times. One time I was in bed with Mum and we heard the alarm going off. We were sick of hearing it so we didn’t go to a shelter. Mum said, ‘We’ll stay here, your Dad’s on fire watch.’ So we stayed in bed and a bomb hit. The roof came in and the widows came in and Mum pulled up the covers and we hid underneath.”
One of the German pilots leant out of his cockpit and at the women in the street. Everybody was terrified, nobody could move. I remember the noise of the bullets pinging off the tin baths in the back yards.”
Geoffrey Bennison (88)
“When the war broke out I was working as a farmer. I wanted to join the RAF but farming was a reserved occupation so I left and got a job as a porter in Thornaby Hospital. That way I could enlist.
I was a driver in the army and stationed in Egypt for two years. I would often drive from Egypt to Palestine. You had to be careful not to get sunburnt – that was a self-inflicted wound and you’d be put on report. My rank was Leading aircraftman (LAC) and I was also stationed at Thornaby Aerodrome and Bicester Airfield.
I once went on a training flight and the pilot allowed me to take the controls for a while even though I’d never been trained to fly a plane. I also got to drop a bomb and I hit the target.
I stayed on after the war for a further 6 years.”