Leeds’ older residents relive wartime memories as part of special events to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day: Rita Green - D Day event

03 Jun 2024

Leeds’ older residents relive wartime memories as part of special events to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day

Armed Forces/Remembrance Adult social care Older people

Inspiring stories and poignant memories of life in wartime Leeds are being shared by the city’s older people as part of special events to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Burmantofts Community Friends, a neighbourhood network supporting over 55s in the area, has been collecting family stories and wartime memories in preparation for an event to commemorate June 6 1944, the day when Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of north-west Europe against Nazi occupation.

Members of the network have organised a special gathering to take place on Thursday June 6, featuring displays of family photos and images of D-Day itself, to reflect and remember relatives who fought overseas as well as the impact on those who remained in the city.

The group is one of 34 city-wide neighbourhood networks which Leeds City Council contributes funding towards, delivering services to help older people live independent lives and play an active part in their local communities. 

Members of other networks have been invited to bring along their memories and photos to the event at the Leeds Anglers Club, which will also feature musicians performing songs from the era, as well as a wartime-themed lunch of bread and dripping and some members dressing up in outfits such as Land Army uniforms.

There will also be a minute’s silence, with the lighting of candles to remember those lost.

The event is one of many organised in communities up and down the land as the country marks the historic anniversary.

In Leeds, plans recently announced include the lighting up of civic buildings across the city in red, white and blue and a wreath-laying service taking place at the war memorial in Victoria Gardens at 1.30pm on the day, led by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Abigail Marshall Katung.

Among those sharing their memories for the Burmantofts Community Friends event has been 96-year-old member Rita Green (pictured) who has lived in the area all her life and was aged 11 when the war broke out.

Rita said: “All I can remember is being very afraid. When the sirens went off your blood ran cold and you froze. You just got out of the way and into the shelters. Listening to the planes and thinking bombs were going to be dropped was terrifying. Even now when I hear a plane – I hate going to airports.”

Rita’s older two brothers, David and Alfie, went off to fight in the war and she and her younger siblings were temporarily evacuated to Kippax, before Alfie returned injured 18 months later and brought the family back together.

Rita said: “He said to my parents ‘The kids are coming home now; I’m here to look after you all’. He had been injured, in Dunkirk. He never did talk a lot about it. He was in hospital for six months. When he came home he used to have to go to the Infirmary every day to have shrapnel removed from his head.

“We had a terrific air raid shelter – I think the best in Leeds, because he dug it really deep. It was underground, at the bottom of the garden and we had bunk beds so us kids could be taken out of our beds and put straight into the shelter beds.”

Rita, who worked at Leeds factory Burtons – which supplied military uniforms during the war - from the age of 14, recalled the night a bomb dropped terrifyingly close to their home, near York Road in Burmantofts.

She said: “We saw the German planes were coming and the bomb dropped about half a mile as the crow files. We were in the shelter but we heard the bomb, oh yes. We knew it sounded close.”

Rita said this D-Day anniversary, as on other commemorative occasions, her thoughts will be with all those who never made it home.

She said: “It always makes me cry. My family didn’t lose anyone in the war but it still makes me very sad, thinking about all those young lads who didn’t come back. They paid with their lives for this country.”

Sheila Davenport, service co-ordinator of Burmantofts Community Friends, said she hopes the event will be one of “remembrance but also a fun celebration”.

She said: “It’s about the people and how Leeds changed forever and the impact it had on them.

“Some of these members are not going to be around for ever and I want their memories to be kept and I want Leeds to know. We should be proud of these people and what they did for us and each other, and what their families did.”

Leeds Neighbourhood Networks were first developed in the 1980s and today have nearly 27,000 members across the city, benefiting from around 800 activities to help reduce social isolation, enhance well-being and promote healthier lifestyle choices.

Activities include lunch clubs, exercise sessions and befriending as well as trips and excursions with each scheme’s offer based on local needs and demand.  

Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult social care, active lifestyles and culture, said: “It’s so important that we take every opportunity to remember the sacrifices made during the war and it’s a real privilege to be able to hear first-hand from those who lived through it in the city as well as the incredible family stories about the bravery of those on the frontline.

“This D-Day event is a great example of the support neighbourhood networks provide for people and how they can play such an important role in helping older people live independent lives and bringing communities together to commemorate events such as this.

“Enabling people to access neighbourhood networks, along with other support available to people in communities across Leeds, was identified as a key priority in Leeds City Council’s recent Adult Social Care Plan 2024-2027.”

June will also see Leeds play host to a month-long Armed Forces Festival, to mark the anniversary, culminating in the annual Armed Forces Day event, taking place in the city centre on Sunday June 30.

To find out more about what local neighbourhood networks may be doing on or around D-Day, as well as day-to-day in your area, contact the service via Leeds Directory on 0113 378 4610 or visit www.leedsdirectory.org.



Any media interested in attending any of the D-Day events, or for interviews or further images, please contact:

Leeds City Council communications and marketing,

Email: communicationsteam@leeds.gov.uk

Tel: 0113 378 6007

For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team