Memories of War
Everyone who experienced the Second World War has their own story to tell. It was a time of danger, loss, and anxiety. Yet for some, wartime activities at home or abroad also resulted in new friendships and opportunities.
The photographs, films and displays in this area explore the stories of local people. If you have a story to share about yourself, a friend, or family member, you can contact us at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you.
This bench in this area is dedicated to the memory of John Albert Hood. As a young man, John was an active anti-fascist and served in the British Amy during the Second World War. He went on to become Senior Clerk of Works for Stoke-on-Trent, overseeing the construction of major public buildings and the first installation of Spitfire RW388 in 1972. His proudest project was the 1981 extension to this museum.
George ‘Ben’ Bennions
Squadron Leader George ‘Ben’ Bennions was born in Burslem. He flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his bravery.
In October 1940, Ben spotted a flight Hurricanes about to be ambushed by 40 Messerschmitt Bf 109s. He single-handedly attacked and dispersed the enemy and the Hurricane pilots survived unscathed. A cannon shell exploded in Ben’s cockpit, severely injuring his head, face and right arm, forcing him to bail out.
Plastic surgery was in its infancy. Ben was treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe whose patients became known as “Archie’s Guinea Pigs.” Ben left the RAF in 1946 to become a teacher. He died in 2004, aged 90.
Objects in this display were kindly lent by Nick Thomas
Albert Edward Brain
Albert Edward Brain was a fusilier in the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). In November 1943, he lost his life during fierce fighting in Italy, aged just 27.
During his service, Albert regularly wrote to his family at home in Aston-by-Stone, Staffordshire.
“I’m in the thick of it in Italy, the worst of it is the weather is bad, it rains almost every day. How I wished that I was back home again, there’s no knowing how much longer I’ll be out here.”
He was survived by his parents Thomas and Maud, his wife Constance, and his sons Edward and Ivan. Albert’s children and grandchildren have visited his final resting place at Sango River War Cemetery, Italy.
Objects in this display were kindly lent by the Brain family
Yvonne Gwendolen Birch
Yvonne Gwendolen Birch was 13 years old when the Second World War broke out. She attended Westwood Girls School in Leek, Staffordshire, and had a particular flair for maths. Yvonne decided to write to pilots, collecting autographs and letters from some of the RAF’s leading fighter aces. Her autograph book records, “Some of the few, to whom the many owe so much”.
At the age of 17 she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and became one of the first female radar mechanics. She was posted to Lossiemouth, Scotland, to work on Seafires. Later in life, she moved back to Leek with her family.
The autograph book was kindly lent by Yvonne’s family
Ken Hollins was born in Smallthorne in 1925 and worked at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery. In 1943 he joined the RAF and was assigned to 75 New Zealand Squadron in Cambridgeshire.
Ken served in the dangerous role of Gunner on a Lancaster Bomber. He was liked by his crew for his mischievous sense of humour. In January 1944 the bomber crashed while returning to base. Three members of the crew were killed. Ken wasn’t badly injured and managed to free the other survivors before the aeroplane was engulfed in flames.
In 1946, Ken left the RAF and returned to work at Chatterley Whitfield, later joining Stoke-on-Trent Police. He died in 1994, aged 68.
William Henry Allen
William Henry Allen was born in 1921 at Clarence Street, Fenton. He travelled to Australia just before his 18th birthday as part of the Salvation Army’s Migration and Settlement Scheme.
William worked across farms and sheep-stations in New South Wales and other States. He joined the Australian Imperial Forces at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving with the 2/15th Australian Infantry Battalion in the Middle East and North Africa.
William was killed during the Second Battle of El Alamein on the 29th October 1942. He was 21 years old. His medals were sent his parents, Cyril and Ethel, in Fenton, and he was buried at El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt.
Discover more local stories and memories of the Second World War
Blog: Personal Stories
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