I was approached recently by Tees Valley Arts
to see if I would like to work with a veterans group called Forward Assist
as part of a writer/photographer collaboration project which would offer an opportunity to meet and document the experiences of a number of older people and veterans who are currently living at the Helen McArdle
care home in Redcar on Teesside.
So over a couple of weeks I joined with writer, artist and animator Niel Bushnell
who spoke with the veterans and collected some of their stand-out memories and recollections from their childhood or military service and I photographed them. The writing and pictures were then put together and will now be displayed around the home following an opening earlier today.
Below are the pictures I shot from the project along with some of the memories shared by those involved and our deepest sympathy goes to the family of Alice Irving who is featured below and who died recently.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Jimmy (90) and Margaret 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.”
“I was a volunteer Police woman in lodgings in Bedale.”
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.”
From the opening today:
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Images copyright Ian Forsyth
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