ON the night of April 16, 1941, more than 100 German bombers targeted the North-East coastal areas of Tyneside and Teesside, but something went wrong for one Heinkel which found itself over the North Yorkshire market town of Masham with one of its engines on fire.

Its five man crew shovelled a couple of parachute mines out of the plane before, minutes later, it crashed into a bridge at Huby, near York. The Germans survived and were captured, but for Masham, the moment was devastating.

The bombs fell on a field between the Wensleydale Garage and the White Bear Hotel near the Black Sheep brewery, destroying the properties inbetween – one of the few items salvageable from the hotel was a glass-encased polar bear which the 3rd Baron of Masham had shot in Alaska in 1901.

Three doors away from the hotel, grocery provisions manager and Home Guard member, Douglas Watkinson, 32, was killed along with his wife, Elsie, 31. Their next door neighbours, malt roaster Herbert Scaife, 59, and his wife, Annie, 62, also died, and two member of the Pioneer Corps stationed nearby – Privates Hubert Page, 26, from Wootton Bassett, and Alfred Sweet, 25, from Tuckingmill in Cornwall – lost their lives in the explosion.

Six dead in a sad footnote in war history – the four locals were buried in Masham churchyard and the two servicemen were taken to their home towns.

It is one of the many stories recorded in a new book by Keith Taylor who, 15 years ago, published Wensleydale Remembered followed by Swaledale and Wharfedale Remembered, which told the stories of the people who died in those districts in the two world wars. Inspired by the renewed interest in war history, he has returned to the dales to complete his survey of “Dales folk who gave their lives during the Second World War”, as the strapline on the new book says.

It looks at the area from Settle over to Dent, Malham, Masham, West Tanfield, Bedale and Crakehall: an area whose stories begin and end with men from Bedale.

The first to die was probably Warrant Officer Frederick Bennington, 35, of the Royal Artillery. He fell from a train near Welwyn Garden City on April 11, 1940, on his way to camp, leaving his wife Nora, a draper’s assistant of South End, Bedale, to bring up their two boys aged under two.

And the last to die was probably Pte John Gibson, 33, on May 7, 1945, who, in peacetime, had been the railway porter at Bedale station. He’d been away fighting for more than two years through north Africa and into Italy when at Rome he died while on “duty of service” from a bullet wound, although not from enemy action.

The 340-page book packs in loads more stories, and is well illustrated with a fine selection of postcards – a few of which we show here.

The book costs £10 from Castle Hill Book Shop in Richmond and National Park centres, or by calling the author on 01629-732622.

As it says on the headstone of Warrant Officer Frederick Bennington in Bedale churchyard: “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of April 5, 1919

The great Wensleydale fishing creel controversy appeared to have been finally solved 100 years ago this week.

It had kicked off earlier in the year when an old leather fishing creel sold had sold at Sothebys auctionhouse in London for £28. The creel – an angler’s basket – was inscribed “JD Anderson, from his friend, Izaak Walton, 1646”. It also appeared to have the initials IW on it.

The creel had belonged to the Reverend JD Anderson, who had been the vicar of Thornton Watlass, near Bedale, until his death in May 1900, although the inscription was obviously to one of his ancestors.

The British Museum had decreed that the creel was genuine 17th Century, although it had doubts about the inscription, and for two months, fishing newspapers and even The Times were full of letters debating the authenticity of the item.

The vicar was himself a well known Wensleydale angler, but Izaak Walton was the doyen of fishermen. He was an author who had written The Compleat Angler in 1653, a book of prose and verse about fishing which he had updated and enlarged over the decades.

But many of the vicar’s friends, including Sir Matthew Dodsworth of Thornton Watlass Hall, were surprised that he had never mentioned that in his collection of fishing memorabilia – and the vicar loved to show off his old tackle – he had a piece with a personal connection to Walton.

There was also discussion about how leather creels were traditionally unique to Yorkshire. Everywhere else in the country, creels were made of wicker, although they may have had leather hinges and fittings.

The D&S believed that LR Avery, the manager of Barclays bank in Hawes had solved the mystery.

He wrote: “These creels were made in the first place at Hawes, about 1800, by one John Wade, who was verger in the parish church.”

He had sent a photograph of an old Hawes creel to the editor of the Fishing Gazette who had compared it to the controversial creel.

“The likeness they bear to each other almost suggests that they had been fashioned by the same hand,” concluded the bank manager. “Izaak Walton’s initials and the initials of John Wade are very similar and might be mistaken in those days for each other.”

So someone had deliberately confused JW with IW and added an inscription to the vicar’s angling basket to inflate its value.

Perhaps the great creel controversy was a sign that life was returning to normal after the privations of the First World War – the Food Controller had announced that June 30 would be the last day of meeting rationing, the D&S reported 100 years ago this week.

It also reported that soldiers who had been policemen before the war were being re-sworn back into the North Riding force.

In Ripon, PC Arthur Bennett was welcomed back. He had joined up in 1916, been awarded the Military Medal in April 1917 “for conspicuous bravery in rescuing a comrade under heavy shell fire at Arras”. He had received a bar (ie: a second Military Medal) when, as a sergeant, “he destroyed his guns after his ammunition had been exhausted and he was in a very tight corner”.

In Northallerton, PC Keown was returning to his former duties after surviving the entire war on the Western Front with the Irish Guards. He had been in the retreat from Mons in 1914, he’d won the Military Medal on the Somme in 1916 and in August 1918, he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry.

W Brown, the chairman of Northallerton magistrates told him: “The bench congratulate you upon your excellent record and safe return. You are a credit to the police force, and not only your colleagues but everyone in the North Riding will be proud of you.”

To which PC Keown replied: “Thank you sir.”

April 3, 1869

EASTER was very early 150 years ago, and the D&S was overwhelmed with the pioneering decorations which had been created in Gainford church by the villagers under the direction of their new vicar.

“Floral decorations for the first time graced the festival,” said its report. “A very rich dossal (an ornamental cloth behind the altar) in green, red and gold, used for the first time on this occasion, covered the east wall, under the triple lancet window. Immediately behind the altar was hung a diaper of red and gold, on a white ground. The super-altar (also used for the first time) carried an altar-cross upon which was hung a wreath of choice hot-house flowers, two vases of flowers, and two altar lights.

“The font was wreathed with laurel and daffodils, and the choir sears with primroses and violets.”

The vicar, who preached a very impressive and appropriate sermon, was the Reverend Joseph Edleston, who had become vicar in 1863, having spent 30 years as a doctor of divinity at Trinity College in Cambridge.

The reverend had a profound effect on Gainford – he’d created the village gas company in 1866 – and his two surviving children, Robert and Alice, lived into the 1950s in Spite House (so named because they’d built on land the church wanted to extend the graveyard into) which is now called Edleston House. They collected architectural stones from old stately homes and dotted them peculiarly around the village – the village hall has wonderfully out-of-place windows on it, while the church is looked down on by a tall column from Stanwick Hall.

Beneath the column are the bodies of racehorses, and it is dedicated to their father, the flower-loving vicar.

Perhaps the floral display was an attempt by the vicar to divert attention from a rather unfortunate affair within his own family: his wife, Harriet, and his daughter, Miss Alice, were converting to Catholicism and attended a church in the village that was not his!