Memories of an Aycliffe Angel - Vera Pattison

My Mum Vera Pattison was 19 when war broke out and was working as a Hairdresser in Darlington. Her then fiancée Percy Wildsmith was doing national service with the Green Howards in Richmond. After GB joined the war my Mum joined the war effort working at the Munitions factory in Aycliffe. (later in history the ladies who worked there became known as the Aycliffe Angels).

She told me of her winter journeys to work every day which included travelling by bus from her home in Linden Avenue to North Road station in total blackout not knowing who you were sat next to. Her next journey to Aycliffe was on the train from North Road to Aycliffe. I suspect the journey was not the easiest particularly in the winter.

My Mum talked about her time at the factory and often referred to it as her “finishing school” as she had led a relatively sheltered life and whilst working in the factory her eyes were opened to much wider aspects of life shall we say. She told me about the health and safety rules put in place to protect the staff that were often ignored leading to accidents.

The most vivid memory I have of her tales was her telling me how whilst in an enclosed space one of the women set off a bomb and there was nothing anyone could do to save her, but she said the sight and smell of a burning colleague stayed with her all her life. My Dad had many similar experiences in the War, but we all expect that soldiers saw such things on foreign soil whereas we probably do not think such awful things happened on our doorstep.

My Mum and Dad got married in 1941 after his belated return from Dunkirk but spent most of their early married life apart. When Dad was in England stationed in various parts of the country my Mum would travel by train to meet him often taking a day to get to wherever he was. Mum and Dad both survived the war and were married over 50 years until my Dad passed in 1992 aged 73 and my Mum lived as a widow until she passed at the age of 93.

I reflect that as a nation we are facing challenges now probably the worst since the war however compared to what my parents and millions of others had to deal with, I think although its tough today in the war the sacrifices were much greater.

Paul Wildsmith