"WE had a terrible raid on Exeter this morning. The warning sounded at 1.45am...Soon the planes were over and bombs were dropped. Jean and I dived under the dining-room table...I lost my new hat and coat and my glasses in the fire... Nothing is left of the house expect its four walls.”

The neatly handwritten letter, by an evacuee called Pam to her parents, was found in an old suitcase, along with a ration book, identity card, a gas mask and a wooden yo-yo. The case would have been used by a child, presumably Pam, evacuated during the Second World War. Today its contents feature in reminiscence sessions at care homes, using wartime items and footage from the Yorkshire Film Archive to stir memories and prompt discussions among people who served in and lived during the war and other conflicts. The Alzheimer’s Society has teamed up with Age UK Bradford’s Military Memories team on the NHS-backed initiative.

Brian Percival, project co-ordinator for Military Memories, said: "War veterans living in care homes can get a bit lost in the system. I visit men who served in Korea, Burma and in National Service and encourage them to talk about their memories. Their service years are so important to them but some of them tell me they don’t think anyone will be interested. I encourage them to talk about their memories, and engage with each other."

Brian is collecting stories and anecdotes for a schools' pack, comprising a DVD, recorded interviews and photographs, funded by the Ministry of Defence. "As well as history it covers a range of subjects, such as citizenship," he says. "I take military veterans into schools - I went to one school with a paratrooper and a fullscale parachute, the children loved it. Meeting someone who has done active service brings history alive for them. And once veterans realise that children are interested, it's a great boost for them and encourages social engagement."

At Heaton Grange care home, I joined a recent reminiscence session in which residents watched short films from the Yorkshire Film Archive, looking at the Home Guard, the Land Army and evacuees. Various items were passed around, including a gas mask, a pack of darts, a pair of children's ice skates, an old ginger beer bottle, a 1950s sweet tin, a bar of Fairy soap, a tea strainer, an old newspaper, and a powdered egg tin. Some items are found at car boot sales, others are donated.

Three residents at the home are military veterans, and the oldest resident, a 99-year-old, was evacuated from London to the Bradford district. Gazing at a gas mask, Ethel Woolley smiled as she remembered the distinct smell of them. Another resident, Shirley Wilkinson, leafed through a ration book and recalled: “I hid in the dustbin when I heard the bombs. My mother didn’t know where I was, until she saw the bin move."

Watching footage of the Home Guard marching with wooden rifles at Oxenhope, Bill Kenney, 82, talked about his days in National Service. "I lied about my age, said I was 17," he smiled. "We used real rifles in ammunition training. And we had to shine our shoes so the sergeant could see face in them. For a lad like me, it was an adventure."

Says Brian: "This work is of enormous value to both military veterans and people affected by the war now living in care homes. Service years and post-war experiences are so important to them and sharing them shows how much in common they have with each other.”

Brian would like to hear from military veterans interested in sharing their memories in care homes. People with other backgrounds, skills and interests are also needed for the reminiscence project, which is part of the Airedale Social Movement, aimed at enriching the lives of care home residents and helping them build connections with communities they live in.

"We'd love to hear from local choirs, dance schools and theatre groups who can visit care homes," says Laura Cope from the Alzheimer's Society. "The aim is to bring people and groups into contact with residents in care homes within their communities. Activities such as singing, creative arts, indoor bowls, ping pong really helps with social engagement. Most people in the care homes we're working in have some level of dementia, and these activities help to unlock memories. We'd like to develop the idea of local schools adopting a care home, with children doing storytelling, crafts, gardening and being penpals.

"The idea is to create a tool kit for care homes to sustain this work after our project finishes at the end of March."

Vicky Thompson, manager at both Heaton Grange and Regency Court care home in Keighley, said “The residents really enjoy these sessions. They look forward to Brian coming in and are always asking when the next session is. We’ve seen a great improvement in the interaction between the residents through this work.”

Julie Duerden from Alzheimer’s Society said: "Reminiscence therapy is a really effective, enjoyable way to help those living with dementia remember past events and memories, allowing friends and family to reconnect with them and help them to manage the more distressing symptoms of the condition. It is also reported that this type of therapy can help to boost mood and stimulate wider conversation.

“It’s vital we make our reminiscence sessions sustainable and fully inclusive and would love members of the local community to get involved.“

* For more about getting involved a month call Julie on 07483 926 212 or email Julie.duerden@alzheimers.org.uk