Now the chaplains and nurses who were killed as a result of conflict in Normandy have been honoured with an exhibition dedicated in their name.
The showcase at York St John University’s chapel was brought together under students’ research, featuring the stories of people who served on the frontline and in the everyday items they used. From matches to ration boxes and the letters to loved ones that nurses had scribed, they give a fascinating insight into the people to whom they once belonged.
One display features a nurse’s cap, another pocket watches and prayer books. A final one reflects the heartfelt appreciation of York D-Day veteran Ken Cooke, who paid tribute to the tireless efforts of the nurses who brought him home.
“They say nurses are dedicated people,” the now 96-year-old said yesterday. “I found that out the hard way, they definitely are.”
The research for the exhibition was brought together by History and American History students at York St John University.
Dr Gary Rivett, senior lecturer in Early Modern History, said it is particularly poignant to hold it in the university’s chapel, with every object a reflection of people’s personal history.
He said: “Allowing access to intricate items, all with significance connections to the time period and the people they belonged to, we can develop a greater sense of how they lived during the war.
“They were individuals with belongings, everyday rituals, and roles to play. In doing so, we can ruminate upon the sacrifice they made.”
By dedicating the exhibition to chaplains and nurses, he said, students and academics were able to delve deeper into particular occupations during the Second World War.
Throughout the exhibition, newspaper clippings and photographs tell the story of individual nurses and chaplains, alongside artefacts that bring the story to vivid life.
“This was important,” said Dr Rivett. “We can imagine these held in a person’s hand, worn on a person head. They are not just captured in a black and white image.”
Mr Cooke, who had been just 18 when he landed on Normandy’s Gold Beach on June 6, 1944, was injured by shrapnel shortly after and shipped home to Stracathro Hospital.
He was cared for by a nurse called Celia Maggetti, whose reassuring letters to his mother he had kept in a wardrobe all these years. Sixty-two years later, he had travelled to Aberdeen to thank her, and photographs of their reunion feature in the exhibition alongside the original letters.
“When I showed her the letters she recognised her handwriting,” said Mr Cooke. “The exhibition is well worth looking at.
“When I was wounded in Normandy I was picked up by two soldiers. I must have lost consciousness, because the next time I woke I could see a circle of lights above me.
“It was the lights of the operating theatre. The next time I woke was in a field hospital. The nurses were brilliant. In the first days they had to sleep in slip trenches, they worked long hours.
“They more or less saved my life.”
The Faith and Healing Under Fire memorial exhibition is at York St John University’s chapel on select days until next Saturday, November 27.
Items from the collection come from historical collector and university resource assistant Carl Shilleto, who along with information adviser Isabel Wilkinson was a key architect of the exhibition’s creation with students and academics.
Among the items to feature are the ‘blue’ Kit Kat bar, as wrappers changed colour during the war so that consumers would know they were eating a wartime edition – made from ration reserves, with less sugar and made with plain chocolate.