A war veteran is set to launch Harrogate war memorial’s centenary commemorations this year.
The 12-week commemorations will begin on September 1 and mark 100 years to the day after the memorial was unveiled in Prospect Square.
World War Two veteran Sheila Pantin, who lives in Harrogate and will celebrate her own 100th birthday in October, will launch the programme.
She won a scholarship to Leeds Girls’ High School aged 11, and went on to become one of the first women in this country to earn her public service vehicle licence.
Sheila joined the army aged just 17 and trained as an ambulance and staff car driver with the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army, rising to the rank of sergeant.
She was also one of the first British service women to enter a German concentration camp in April 1945.
After being posted abroad in autumn 1944, she was detailed to lead a convoy of about ten three-tonne Bedford lorries across France and Belgium entering into Nazi Germany from Holland.
When she got there she was asked if she wanted to work in the camps.
Reflecting on the time, Sheila said:
“I thought they meant barracks but it turned out they didn’t mean that at all. There was the camp with this huge entrance and an awful lot of huts surrounded by barbed wire fencing.
“We were entering Belsen. I could see our boys digging out mass graves to give the bodies proper burials.
“The only people left alive were in rags and were in a terrible state. They didn’t even know how to eat.”
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It was Sheila’s job to look after the survivors in the camp, to clean them, dress them, show them how to use a knife and fork, to try to restore a little humanity after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.
As part of the war memorial centenary commemoration programme, a series of events will be held including 15 illustrates talked running from September 1 to Remembrance Sunday on November 12.
Meanwhile, to mark the anniversary, the names of 1,163 service men and women who died in the two World Wars and are etched onto the Harrogate memorial will feature in a multimedia exhibition called More than a Name on a Memorial.
Sheila will also give a talk on her experience during the war on Wednesday, September 27.
The exhibition and talks will be held at the West Park United Reformed Church and are free to attend.
More details of the centenary commemorations are available here.