East Riding at War

A Skidby volunteer team exhibition about WWII, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day.


A Skidby volunteer team exhibition about WWII, to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. This exhibition was due to be displayed at Skidby Mill but has now been displayed online during museum closures.

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Rat Catchers in the Women's Land Army (WLA)

Image: Rat Catchers in the Women's Land Army (WLA)


Dummy aircraft such as this were designed to confuse bombers that were attacking airfields. Skipsea decoy, protecting Catfoss airfield, was equipped with dummy aircraft.

Image: Dummy aircraft such as this were designed to confuse bombers that were attacking airfields. Skipsea decoy, protecting Catfoss airfield, was equipped with dummy aircraft.

The Airfield Deception Campaign

In 1939, the R.A.F. began planning with the Air Ministry to establish decoy airfields near to their operational stations as they were vulnerable to being attacked. They needed the decoys to divert the enemy bombing; dozens of dummy airfields began to be built with elaborate props taken from the Shepperton Studios, London.

To protect the real airfields, the dummies were constructed in sparsely populated areas near to their parent station, where enemy bombers would drop their bombs not realising that it was a fake airfield. Parent stations in the East Riding were at Leconfield, Driffield, Catfoss, Pocklington and Holme-on-Spalding-Moor. Decoys were built at Routh, Skipsea, Skerne, Kilham, Beeford, Burnby and South Newbald.

Protecting The City

In an effort to confuse German bombers heading for Hull, an arrangement of 47 water-filled concrete tanks, each one illuminated by an overhead lamp, was constructed on the Outstray. This was a large area of saltings on the north bank of the Humber estuary, downstream from Hull. The tanks were designed and positioned in such a way as to simulate the Hull docks at night in an imperfectly blacked-out state.

The walls of the tanks were 0.5m high and were either rectangular (9m by 5m), right-angled triangle (6.5m by 6.5m) or pentagonal (10m by 9m).

The lamps were attached to the top of 3metre high wooden posts set in concrete and were angled to shine onto the water-filled tanks. The overhead lamps were known as 'Leaking Lights' and were operated by the Royal Navy from a post centred near Little Humber farm at Paull.

The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

Image: The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

Image: The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

Image: The two drains situated at [1] were dammed to flood the area between them in imitation of the River Hull in 1941. [2] shows the area at Cherry Cob Sands in Holderness, East Yorkshire where the decoy ponds (right) were situated.

Drawings of aircraft at Stone Creek HAA site, presumably to aid distinguishing friend and foe.

Image: Drawings of aircraft at Stone Creek HAA site, presumably to aid distinguishing friend and foe.

Remains of the Stone Creek gun emplacements.

Image: Remains of the Stone Creek gun emplacements.

Stone Creek anti-aircraft battery

Located at the western end of Sunk Island, between Hull and Spurn Head, Stone Creek has the best-preserved remains of a WWII Heavy Anti-aircraft gun site in the East Riding. Even the domestic buildings, although ruined, are a rare survival; at most other sites they have been demolished. The site was originally known as Station J when it opened in September 1939, fitted with 3-inch guns. From August 1941 it became Station H9. At around the same women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service were at the site as radar operators.

Coastal Defences

After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, it was thought that an invasion of British shores was very likely. The Holderness Coast was very vulnerable and the landing places for the enemy would certainly include Atwick, Mappleton, Withernsea and Easington right down the estuary to Sunk Island and Paull. Defence measures were needed to prevent such attacks from going unopposed.

Along the beaches of the Holderness coast, pillboxes were to be built and the Home Guard and Territorials were given training. Pillboxes were very important for coastal defence, the only snag being they were static. They were solidly made and were tough obstacles for attacking forces throughout the Second World War. They were manned 24 hours a day.

During the winter of 1939, the Germans began to drop magnetic mines in the Humber. It was the job of the 'Wrens' (Women's Royal Naval Service) who were deployed at Fort Paull to degauss ships using electric cables laid over the river bed, so would not set off the magnetic mines.

Beach defences were a matter of urgency; soldiers and civil engineers caused great concern as the first rolls of barbed wire were washed out with the tide. A row of scaffolding to prevent tanks and vehicles from landing and large anti-tank blocks were created. On top of the cliffs, there were reinforced concrete pillboxes and six-pounder gun emplacements.

Impressive remains of Sunk Island battery. It was originally built during the Great War to defend the Humber estuary. It was reactivated during WWII and equipped with two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns. It was also the Control Centre for an anti-submarine minefield in the river.

Image: Impressive remains of Sunk Island battery. It was originally built during the Great War to defend the Humber estuary. It was reactivated during WWII and equipped with two 4.7-inch quick-firing guns. It was also the Control Centre for an anti-submarine minefield in the river.

In the end, Britain was not invaded but all that had been put in place seemed to be a deterrent. At the end of the war, all the defences were dismantled. "The beaches were cleared and paths made through the maze of barbed wire". Traps were still about but "still one must not complain as at least one could wander along the shore, swim or sunbathe".

Coastal defences, Holderness coast

Image: Coastal defences, Holderness coast

The other defences, such as anti-aircraft batteries and, most importantly, the development of radar played a key part in the defence of Britain. Anti-aircraft batteries, such as that at Hornsea, operated searchlights against incoming German raids. The searchlights were mainly used to enable gunners to take accurate aim at night, but they could be used to help damaged bombers navigate in the dark on their return.

This was not without its hazards. Mary Latham of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) reported that:

"During our time in Hull, we shot down one of our own aircraft (a Wellington) the crew gave us the wrong signal. Fortunately, he landed safely with just the tail missing. We were commended for our accurate firing but the crew were not impressed. Hull was badly hit at the time."

Pillboxes, Paull.

Image: Pillboxes, Paull.

Pillboxes, Paull.

Image: Pillboxes, Paull.


In 1940 the threat of invasion became imminent as the Germans had begun to assemble a massive force on the other side of the English Channel. With the amount of equipment losses in France and the lack of reserves, this became a critical time in our defence of Great Britain. Defences such as using canals and rivers as gigantic anti-tank ditches were in place, but Winston Churchill realised that this was not enough to slow any enemy. One solution was the creation of a highly secret volunteer army of saboteurs called the 'Auxiliary Units'.

Auxiliary Unit training.

Image: Auxiliary Unit training.

The Auxiliaries were intended to carry out sabotage, guerrilla warfare and spying. Emerging at night from their Underground operations bases, their purpose was to carry out attacks against enemy targets such as supply dumps, railway lines, convoys and enemy-occupied airfields.

In the East Riding, Brough, Catfoss, Driffield, Leconfield and Cottam were listed as Class 1 airfields, and many Operational Bases were sited near these for high priority of sabotage in the event of an invasion.


Men would be discreetly invited to join a local Auxiliary unit because they possessed a valued skill such as marksmanship, or knowledge of the local landscape. Most of the patrol leaders would be recruited from the Home Guard, with only the best and fittest men selected. They were not enrolled in the regular forces; they were in effect private citizens.

The county was under the control of an Intelligence Officer who was a volunteer forces officer with the rank of Captain.

The men would have to sign the Official Secrets Act and would have their own, and their families' backgrounds checked for security.

Auxiliary Unit badge.

Image: Auxiliary Unit badge.

Plan of Rise Auxiliary Unit hideout.

Image: Plan of Rise Auxiliary Unit hideout.


Each Auxiliary Patrol had an Operational Base or hideout. Auxiliary Unit hideouts were all made differently but were large enough to house six or seven men. Usually constructed underground, the hideouts were eventually fitted with bunks, cooking stoves, Tilley lamps and chemical toilets. They were stocked with enough food and water to sustain a patrol for as long as a month.

Most hideouts had plenty of room for the patrols' arms, ammunition and sabotage material, but an extra hide could be dug nearby to hold stores of additional food and ammunition.

Engineers would dig a giant hole for the secret bunkers, then lay a concrete floor and roof it with a half-cylinder of corrugated iron. They were 12 to 15 feet in length and tall enough to stand up in. One end had an entrance shaft that was lined with brick or corrugated iron. At the other end was an escape tunnel, often a tube made of concrete that ran 20 to 30 feet away from the base.

Intelligence Officer

In 1940, Captain Peter Hollis became the Intelligence Officer for the Auxiliary unit in East Yorkshire. He was the son of the Vicar of Hornsea, Canon Hollis.

In 1939, Captain Hollis had volunteered for the Territorial Army in the East Yorkshire Regiment, aged 19. In May 1940 after the Dunkirk Operation, he volunteered for the role of Intelligence Officer. Captain Hollis controlled the East Yorkshire area as far as the village of Bainton.

Cpt, Peter Hollis.

Image: Cpt, Peter Hollis.

Members of Cottingham Auxiliary Unit.

Image: Members of Cottingham Auxiliary Unit.

Cottingham Patrols

The Operational Base for the Cottingham North Patrol was on the site of the Grange at Harland Rise, Cottingham. The hide was beneath a greenhouse and the patrol was once almost wiped out by fumes from the boiler house. Fortunately, patrol member Dr Lindsay who had been on a call returned to find his comrades on the point of death.

Cottingham North Patrol Members in 1944

  • Sgt Jack H. Steel, Sanitary Inspector, D.O.B: 10.09.1908
  • Cpl Joseph Long, Grocer, D.O.B: 17.07.1897
  • Pte John G. Lindsay, Doctor (GP)
  • Pte Ronald Newlove, Fitter, D.O.B: 19.11.1926
  • Pte Mark K. Wilson, Market Gardener, D.O.B: 04.12.1913
  • Pte Alan Bolton, Farmer, D.O.B: 25.12.1926
  • Pte John S. Rhodes, Butcher, D.O.B: 24.06.1913

East Riding Yeomanry

The East Riding Yeomanry (ERY) was a local Territorial Army armoured unit based in Hull. In 1939 it consisted of two regiments: the 1st and 2nd ERY. In February 1940 the 1st ERY was sent to join the British Expeditionary Force in France whilst the 2nd ERY remained at home. The Germans invaded France and the Low Countries on 10th May 1940, quickly breaking through the Allied Lines. The 1st ERY was thrown into battle, fighting seven rear guard actions before being surrounded and destroyed at Cassel on 29th May. Only about half escaped via Dunkirk; 55 were killed and the rest were captured.

The 1st ERY was brought up to strength by the 2nd ERY (which was disbanded) and spent the next 4 years training in preparation for D-Day. The regiment landed on Sword beach and was involved in the bitter fighting in Normandy, afterwards liberating Le Havre in September 1944. Following heavy fighting to free Holland in October 1944, the regiment was rushed south to block any German advance north during "The Battle of the Bulge". The 1st ERY subsequently supported the Allied counterattack in the bitter winter temperatures of January 1945.

The ERY was re-equipped with "Buffalo" amphibious vehicles, taking part in the assault crossing of the Rhine in March 1945, ferrying troops and supplies over the river. After this, their tanks were returned and at the end of the war, they occupied Kiel and Laboe on the German Baltic coast. The regiment was demobilised in 1946, to be reformed in the Territorial Army in 1947.

East Riding Yeomanry camp in 1939/40 (Treasure House collection).

Image: East Riding Yeomanry camp in 1939/40 (Treasure House collection).

ERY prisoners of war in Germany (Treasure House collection).

Image: ERY prisoners of war in Germany (Treasure House collection).

Above Sherman tanks waiting to go into action, June 1944.

Image: Above Sherman tanks waiting to go into action, June 1944.

ERY landing during a D-Day rehearsal.

Image: ERY landing during a D-Day rehearsal.

ERY tanks advancing, October 1944.

Image: ERY tanks advancing, October 1944.

ERY tanks moving to the front, January 1945.

Image: ERY tanks moving to the front, January 1945.


The D-Day landings began on 6th June 1944. These images show the involvement of the East Riding Yeomanry in that campaign. Pictures courtesy of East Riding Archives and the Imperial War Museum.


Leaving aside members of the armed forces who might be on active service abroad, one of the biggest impacts of the war on the population was the air war. In the summer of 1940, the Germans attempted to defeat the Royal Air Force in the 'Battle of Britain' and in 1944 the so-called 'Vengeance weapons' (the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket) brought terror to civilian populations far from the war fronts. Although not in itself a key target area for the German Luftwaffe, the East Riding did see a lot of activity during the Battle of Britain. It lay across the route to the industrial cities of the West Riding and was adjacent to the port city of Hull, the most bombed city in Britain after London.

Bombing in East Yorkshire

Much of the bombing activity in our area was a result of German bombers who had lost their way and needed to offload their bombs somewhere before making their way home. Sometimes too, they may have misidentified targets. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain bombs falling in isolated rural fields, troubling some livestock, but very few people.

Coastal ports were more intentional targets, and Bridlington, in particular, received much attention, with Hornsea and Withernsea also seeing raids. Likewise, there were deliberate attacks on the Blackburn aircraft factory at Brough and the oil terminal at Saltend.

Hull may have suffered as many as 82 air raids, with about 1200 people being killed. In the East Riding, the figure was much lower - 82 civilians and 39 military personnel (mainly on airfields, such as RAF Leconfield).

Article from the Hull Daily Mail 7 April 1940.

Image: Article from the Hull Daily Mail 7 April 1940.

A crashed Heinkel 111H, possibly near Garrowby. From the Hull Daily Mail 7th April 1940.

Image: A crashed Heinkel 111H, possibly near Garrowby. From the Hull Daily Mail 7th April 1940.

V-1 Flying Bomb

In general, the 'V' weapons were not a problem in this region. They were launched from sites in the Calais area to concentrate on the south coast of England. They only had fuel for about 30 minutes of flying time and so could not reach the north of England.

In order to attack industrial cities in the north, V-1 missiles were launched from Heinkel 111 bombers from off the mouth of the Humber. During such a mass attack on Christmas Eve 1944, a V-1 aimed at Manchester fell short and landed in Willerby, causing damage to houses and a pumping station.

V-1 missiles had a relatively short range and were also very inaccurate: when the rocket engine cut out they fell to the ground like any other bomb. One cunning German scheme to determine where the V-1s had landed was to load some with leaflets called V1 P.O.W. Post which purported to contain letters from prisoners of war to their families. The leaflets asked finders to post them on to the relatives; this would enable those who dispatched to rocket to know where it had fallen.

Bridlington Battle Honours

In 1942 a plaque was presented to Alderman T.D. Fenby JP, Mayor of Bridlington and chairman of the Air Raid Precautions committee, which listed the bombing raids on Bridlington for the period October 1939 to October 1941. Forty-three separate incidents are itemised for the two years.

The list distinguishes what weapons the bombers were delivering. The least deadly event was the dropping of leaflets over a wide area to the north of Bridlington on 4/5 August 1940. Types of bombs were mostly high explosive (H.E.) and incendiary bombs (I.B.), designed to cause a fire. There were also 2 Parachute Mines, 2 Oil Bombs, 2 "G" mines and one Sea Mine.

The most severe bombing was in May 1941. On May 3rd-4th six high explosive and 160 incendiary bombs fell on the 'cemetery, near Baker's Cafe, Sewerby Drive' and on May 11th-12th 14 H.E. and 500 I.B. fell on 'South Pier, South Side Beach, King Street, Windsor Crescent, Manor Street, New Burlington Road, Hilderthorpe Road'.

Bridlington Battle Honours list.

Image: Bridlington Battle Honours list.

Aerial view of Driffield airfield.

Image: Aerial view of Driffield airfield.

Hangar, Driffield airfield.

Image: Hangar, Driffield airfield.

Attack on RAF Driffield

At around midday on 15th August 1940, about 50 Junkers JU88 bombers attacked Driffield aerodrome killing seven ground crew, including a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, five members of the East Yorkshire Regiment, a Royal Artillery gunner and one civilian. 169 bombs were dropped and twelve Armstrong Whitworth Whitley aircraft were destroyed. The attack was part of a larger operation in which German bombers based in Denmark planned to attack a number of airfields in the north of England. Fighters from Leconfield and Church Fenton (now Leeds East Airport) prevented most of the force from reaching its intended targets. The only successful attack was on RAF Driffield.

One survivor of the attack was an airframe fitter who was in the guardhouse having 'borrowed' a Fairy Battle single-engine bomber for a 'joy ride'. The guardhouse was demolished in the Luftwaffe attack but the offender walked away unharmed.

It is noticeable that the fatalities in the attack were all ground crew. Because of the risk of attack most of the aircrew, including overseas pilots from Canada, New Zealand, Poland and Australia, were billeted in and around Driffield, including 20 at Sunderlandwick Hall which burned down on VJ Day in 1945. The present hall hosts the Driffield Golf Club.

Norah Pinder, Air-raid warden

Norah Pinder was an air-raid warden who was interviewed in 1999 as part of a programme of collecting oral histories. Air Raid Precaution wardens (ARPs) had wide ranging powers (in addition to the police) to enforce blackouts and to control traffic flow, as well as to watch for fires, set off air raid sirens, direct people to bomb shelters and help casualties.

Norah Pinder's husband was seconded to Hull Fire Brigade and she was often on her own at their cottage in Skidby during air raids. 'He was in Hull most of the time'. If the sirens were sounding when the Hull bus reached Skidby, then the driver was put up in her house and the bus went back after the raid. Trained medical personnel were also sometimes called into Hull if there had been a heavy raid with lots of casualties.

Norah recounted stories that showed that stray bombs falling could have consequences both serious and comical:

'Yes, light bombs, fire bombs. They were fire ones. And it set most of the trees alight up there. We found one at the top of our garden. One that hadn't gone off. There were quite a lot of incendiary bombs dropped... There was a big one dropped, that's down at the bottom of Church Rise [in Skidby],...there was a big one dropped there at Cherry Trees.' ('Mr Dixon (a neighbour) fell on an incendiary bomb, on his face, it was a mess. There was an old lady at the end cottage...she always used to put her fur coat on every time the sirens blew and she always had a light on - I used to say - turn that light off. [She replied] When I've put my coat on!'

Presumably the lady wanted to look her best if she was an air raid casualty! Remembering that Norah was an air raid warden, the lady's behaviour must have caused her some annoyance as she was charged with ensuring there was a blackout. Norah Pinder interview, ERYC Museums collection)

Public services

The threat of bomb damage to key public services was recognised and local authorities took precautionary measures where they could. For example, in Pocklington a series of dwarf walls were built across the Beck, allowing water to be collected in pools. This would provide an emergency supply of water should the water mains be damaged in a raid. Control centres were set up in larger towns and useful supplies stock piled there. Recently some WWII era canvas stretchers were found in the basement at Bridlington Town Hall and two have been added to the Museum Service's collections. Whilst local authorities struggled to maintain some basic services, much of their business in the war years inevitably related to the conflict.


Women's Voluntary Service

Originally created in 1938, the organisation became the Royal Voluntary Service in 1966.

Set up by the Government, its original aim was 'the enrolment of women for air raid precaution services for local authorities' and more generally, to spread knowledge in civilian circles as to what to do during and after air raids.

Technically, there were no ranks in the WVS, but there were titles. The organisation was split into 12 regions, with almost 2000 centres during the war. Women from all classes of society joined. This social diversity did raise some issues with regard to uniforms. In June 1939, a suit uniform, hat and overcoat could be obtained, but as these were made by Harrods, they were rather expensive for working women! Uniforms, therefore, remained optional, and many wore their own clothes with just a WVS badge for identification.

WVS members were employed in a wide variety of roles and were an important and much-appreciated resource. For example, they staffed canteens for those fighting fires, drove ambulances and operated information points during air raids. They also greeted returning soldiers, handing out clothes, food and drink.

Service in the WVS counted as war service and members were, therefore, eligible for the Defence Medal after the war ended.

Women's Voluntary Service Badge

Image: Women's Voluntary Service Badge

Amy Johnson's ATA Badge.

Image: Amy Johnson's ATA Badge.

Air Transport Auxiliary

The role of the air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was to ferry newly produced planes from factories and airfields to RAF bases for active service. The women's section of the ATA was created in January 1940, led by Pauline Gower, initially consisting of just eight female pilots. Initially confined to delivering training and transport aircraft, the Women's ATA had to overcome considerable prejudice about female flying capabilities before being able to fly large bombers and also the famous (and fast) 'Spitfire' and 'Hurricane' fighters. From 1943 female ATA personnel had the same pay as the men, a first for that period.

ATA women wore a dark navy blue tunic, RAF-type shirt and black tie and slacks (skirts were only worn off duty). RAF wings were worn on the tunic, along with rank indications. Some wealthier pilots did unofficially sew brightly coloured linings into their tunics!

Service in the ATA was far from routine. Although operating mostly in the UK, they were still flying in a combat zone, with no radios, and usually unarmed. ATA pilots were therefore vulnerable to being shot down by the Germans or by their own side if misidentified by antiaircraft positions on the ground. In all, 174 ATA pilots were killed during the war (about 15 were women); their courageous services freed up large numbers of trained RAF pilots for front-line roles.

The Land Army

The Women's Land Army (WLA) was originally established during the First World War but was reconstituted during WWII. Its primary purpose was to ensure an adequate supply of food for the home population as a large proportion of the male workforce in the countryside was called up for military service. The WLA was eventually involved in all aspects of agriculture including driving tractors and other machinery, planting crops and looking after animals. Sometimes they had to work alongside German and Italian prisoners of war and although fraternisation was officially banned, relationships could (and did) develop.

The WLA met considerable opposition in some quarters, with many farmers for example feeling that women would simply not be strong enough for farming work. It is certainly true that with women volunteering from all walks of life, some found their new circumstances harder than others.

Surviving accounts tell of the comradeship and the laughs that were had, but also make clear the unremitting hard work and often basic living conditions. Despite the initial prejudice, the WLA kept the country fed through the war and proved its worth.

Official recognition was a long time coming - it was not until 2007 that surviving members were awarded a badge for all their efforts.

Join the Women's Land Army poster.

Image: Join the Women's Land Army poster.

WLA enrolment card: conditions were a bit hard!

Image: WLA enrolment card: conditions were a bit hard!

Land girls, Market Weighton.

Image: Land girls, Market Weighton.

Rat catchers.

Image: Rat catchers.

Painting by Bernard Casson.

Image: Painting by Bernard Casson.


With men in the services, many of their jobs had to be done by women. Women worked in shipbuilding, factories and particularly munitions

They had to learn new skills such as handling machinery and welding as in this painting by Bernard Casson which shows factory workers in Hull making military vehicles. (Beverley Art Gallery collection)

Amy Johnson

One celebrity pilot in the ATA was Amy Johnson (1903-1941), the first woman to fly solo to Australia. She joined the ATA in May 1940, based at RAF Hatfield, with the rank of 2nd officer. Initially Amy ferried training aircraft such as Tiger Moths to squadrons in the north of England and Scotland. On 5th January 1941 Amy's Airspeed Oxford transport ditched in the Thames Estuary (she had probably run out of fuel and lost her way in bad weather) and an attempt to rescue her was unsuccessful. A pigskin bag found at the crash scene and the ATA badge from her spare uniform are amongst relics in the Amy Johnson collection at Sewerby Hall near Bridlington.

Dorothy Robson - 'Bomb Sight Bertha'

After studying for a Physics degree at Leeds University, which was remarkable for a woman in 1940, Dorothy Robson joined the Ministry of Aircraft Production. She was initially based at Farnborough, where the work she undertook was so secret, that not even her parents knew about it. Dorothy became an expert in the development of the bomb aiming equipment and, because of her diligence, commanded respect wherever she worked.

Dorothy was later sent to work predominantly on the Bomber Command airfields in the north of England. Her job led to her being nicknamed Bomb Sight Bertha, although she was also referred to as the girl with the laughing eyes, which illustrates the affection felt for her by the crews with whom she worked.

On November 3rd 1943, a week before her 24th birthday, Dorothy was testing a bomb sight in a new Halifax bomber ('Hetty the Hefflump'), flying out of Holme-on-Spalding-Moor airfield. Tragically, the plane crashed onto the Wolds at Enthorpe near Market Weighton and Dorothy, along with the crew of five, were all killed. It is a measure of her dedication that she had insisted on being present for the test, in order that the equipment was thoroughly checked.

Eileen Medford - recollections

Eileen Medford was originally from Hull and commuted by train to Market Weighton when she joined the Land Army. Later she lived in a Land Army hostel and then on one of the farms until she married at the end of the War. These recollections were recorded by Jayne Fisher in January 2008.

We went out to whatever farm we had to go to, either picking potatoes, weeding carrots on your hands and knees - awful job that, I think that's why we've all got bad knees now, all the kneeling in the damp grounds.

I more or less worked along with the men. I had a good set of men to work with and I worked the same hours as they did... So I worked then amongst..., you know doing everything on the farm, I was just the same as an ordinary man - tractoring. Some of the men at some of the farms weren't [O.K. with girls coming in]. They were, you know, resentful because they were girls from towns. Granted some of them had never seen a cow in their lives, they were terrified of them.

I was lucky, I worked with horses. I had big shire horses to work with, 18 hand shire horses. They were big horses. They were a pair of old horses, well I say old, they were knowledgeable horses. They knew what to do if you went to put a head collar on one of them he would immediately lift his head as high as he could do, where he should have put it down - he knew what he was doing. And when it was towards dinner time he knew it was dinner time and he would stop and wouldn't go any further...

I worked on threshing machines, yes. Most of the girls had to carry caff as they called it, that was the husks and all the stuff that came out the bottom. You had to bundle it up, put it on your back and carry it away. Well I did do that occasionally...but mainly I was allowed to work on the machine, I was insured to do that you see. We used to carry corn; we used to do all sorts.

Amy Johnson

Image: Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson's pig skin bag was left at the scene of the crash.

Image: Amy Johnson's pig skin bag was left at the scene of the crash.

Dorothy Robson

Image: Dorothy Robson


Whilst the Second World War pitted nations against others, it also brought different peoples and cultures together on a scale which had never occurred before in Britain. As British service men and women landed on foreign soils across the world, foreign nationals including refugees, allies and prisoners of war arrived in Britain, including the East Riding.

Thousands of people from overseas found themselves in the East Riding between 1939 and 1945, indeed the number of inhabitants across the East Riding who did not come into contact with foreign nationals at some point during the war must have been very few. Memories of French, Italians, Germans, Polish, Americans and Canadians loom large in the recollections of locals who lived through this time, and they provide an insight into the curiosity, amusement and empathy that was often felt towards those from other countries who found themselves far from home amidst the conflict.

Prisoners of War

The Riding's largely remote location and rural economy made it favourable for the holding of enemy prisoners of war. There were camps at Welton, Goole, Bishop Burton, Rudston and West Cowick. The first POWs held in Britain were German pilots, aircrew and naval personnel; however, these were only small in number. The first major influx of enemy prisoners occurred in July 1941 when Italians captured in the Middle East arrived on British shores.

The arrival of these Italians allowed the Government to begin alleviating the labour shortage, particularly within agriculture. Gordon Bulmer recalls encountering Italian POWs at South Cave as a teenager in 1941:

"We went down into the woods and said "what are we going to eat" and they said "well there's some pigeons here" so one of them had a catapult so I said "well you shoot a pigeon and we can roast it" y'see? ... this was going down into South Cave in the woods there and then suddenly this man appeared and he was an Italian prisoner of war ... their camp was on the way down that hill into South Cave on the left-hand side. They had some Nissen huts, they were working on the lands of the farmers and he said "don't do that" this Italian, he said "come and have tea and a cake with us" and we went into this camp and all the chalk in the area they'd carved it into beautiful statues did the Italian prisoners and he said "sit down and he said the only thing is we can't buy anything in the shops because we only have prisoner of war money and we can only use that at sort of the NAAFI but we could use it if you could change one of my notes for one of your notes". So I think we swapped a pound coin or something can't remember what it was a pound note I suppose it was in those days and he gave us this prisoner of war money for it."

Land Army girls with Italian prisoners of war.

Image: Land Army girls with Italian prisoners of war.

German prisoner of war farm worker and horse.

Image: German prisoner of war farm worker and horse.

After the Italian surrender on 3 September 1943, some 100,000 Italians volunteered to work as 'co-operators'. They were given freedom and mixed with local people. Ted Williamson from Hornsea recalled how he encountered Italian 'co-operators' in the Holderness area:

"When the Italians changed sides, well they surrendered, all their prisoners were effectively released and they all found bikes from somewhere and I used to see dozens of them at Thorngumbald and the Germans were at Roos and I think the Italians were at Burstwick somewhere and they [the Italians] all used to come into Withernsea 'cos they used to get 10 bob a week pocket money and I suppose they could have a drink and chat up the local lasses."

In Britain, the Italians were joined by German POWs just over a year later following the D-Day landings in the summer of 1944. Although there was an initial reluctance to utilise German labour for the war effort some 70,000 were working across Britain by March 1945. Ted's wife, Joyce recollected German POWs working in the Holderness area and how bonds were formed between locals and captives:

"The Brown's they had three German prisoners of war who worked at the Church Farm at Sunk Island and I remember one of them was called Karl and I remember my mother saying that he was a lovely lad was Karl and when they started to repatriate them to their own country Karl did not want to go home! But they made him go back, but some of the prisoners of war did stay."


Amongst Britain's allies, it was the French who were the first large overseas group to arrive in Britain. After the evacuation of Dunkirk between 26th May and 4th June 1940, thousands of French found themselves in Britain. Betty Atkinson related her memories of the 'Free French' who resided in Hornsea:

"We had Free French [in Hornsea]... for quite a while. I don't know why they ended up in Hornsea they were just landed on us and we just took it for granted like. They used to do exercises in the park, you know? and they weren't any bother a lot of the girls went with 'em."

From the very early stages of the conflict, the RAF and Fleet Air Arm also included personnel from outside of the United Kingdom. The open and flat expanses of land in the East Riding, coupled with the region's close proximity to occupied Europe made it suitable for the establishment of airbases and therefore the arrival of a large number of foreign pilots. Many of these were exiles from Nazi-occupied Europe and also some American emigrants. James Hardy of Beverley reminisced about a particularly dramatic episode involving a Polish pilot:

"One night my dad said to me, come and have a look here, they've shot a Jerry down! and we went outside to see this plane coming down in flames and the next day we went to look and it [the plane] was in a field opposite Figham, he'd crashed in there and the pilot had bailed out and he was a Pole - a Polish pilot and he was in a [Hawker] Hurricane [aircraft] and they took him in and they thought he was a Jerry."

Women's Land Army girl Lena (Laverack) marries an American soldier at Welton Church in November 1944.

Image: Women's Land Army girl Lena (Laverack) marries an American soldier at Welton Church in November 1944.

West Indian serviceman Billy Strachan (far left) was stationed in Brough during the war.

Image: West Indian serviceman Billy Strachan (far left) was stationed in Brough during the war.

The number of foreign allies on British soil swelled hugely following the entry of the United States into the War, particularly from 1942 onwards. Over two million American servicemen passed through Britain during the Second World War. In the East Riding, Beverley was a major station for Americans. Beverlonian Barbara Oxtoby remembered:

"We saw the Americans [in Beverley] and we lived next door to Mr Brantano's which was a garage and these Americans used to all come and collect there at the garage - why? I don't know and I was really shy, I'd be about 2 or 3 [years old] and they used to try to talk to me but I can remember them offering me a stick of Wrigley's chewing gum and we'd never seen that before."

The village of Cottingham too was a well-known American base. Dorothy Catterick remembered her intrigue seeing the 'Yanks':

"The Americans came [to Cottingham] which was a big thing and they were near to us 'cos they were at The Lawns - what is now The Lawns and we used to see them marching which, to me, was the most humorous thing - they marched and they chanted and they'd go so many paces one and then huh! So many paces the other and we just thought that this was so strange 'cos we'd go to the end of Park Lane as they were marching down Hallgate.- it was the time of "got any gum chum?" and they gave nylons out to their ladies."

Vivienne Wray also remembered the Americans in Cottingham:

I remember my dad saying "now don't you dare ask them [American troops] for gum'! My mum used to have some [American troops] to Sunday lunch and they used to bring something with them - they weren't on rations like we were - they'd bring a couple of chickens with them and my mum would cook them and they [the soldiers] always needed a bath because there were no baths were they were situated.


A recollection from Muriel Berzins (oral history, Guildhall collection.)

The Italians used to serenade us. They had a cook with them making coffee in the field. They were at Storwood camp, they were very artistic and they made beautiful fountains there. They used to make gold rings for farmers wives (brass of course) and they used to rub them on their trousers. They had these uniforms with round patches like targets so they could be shot when escaping, a patch on their leg and on their back. They were real softies though... They were happy days.

Migrant workers

POWs were not the only foreigners to work on the land during wartime. Former Land Girl Gwendolyn Pinder explained how non-native migrants worked alongside British labourers at North Ferriby:

Erna was a Land Girl - she was Austrian, but lived in Ferriby, she came from Austria [before the war] as an au pair and she married Tom Cooper. There were quite a few Irish men working there, they'd come from Ireland to work on Market Gardening - tomatoes and cucumbers because it [North Ferriby] was quite a big area for market gardening.

Model plane hand-crafted and given to Joan Burnett and her sister by prisoners of war who worked on their father's farm at Cottingwith. Storwood POW camp was at Cottingwith.

Image: Model plane hand-crafted and given to Joan Burnett and her sister by prisoners of war who worked on their father's farm at Cottingwith. Storwood POW camp was at Cottingwith.