IF it wasn’t for the bombing of St Peter’s Church, Mary Szpitter would never have gone to Linton Camp.

More than 100 bombs fell on Bradford on the night of August 31, 1940. Most of the bombing was in the city centre but some of it reached as far as Laisterdyke, where St Peter’s Church was hit.

Mary was 10-years-old and hiding in the cellar of her home nearby. “When the warning sirens went off people went into their cellars or garden shelters. We stayed down in the cellar until we heard the all-clear,” she recalls.

Nothing prepared Mary, her family and their neighbours for the shock of seeing their church destroyed. “My parents always said they didn’t want me to be evacuated. But when that bomb dropped on the church, a 10-minute walk from our house, they changed their minds,” says Mary. “My mother went to the Town Hall to arrange it.”

So it was that Mary was sent to Linton Camp in the Yorkshire Dales - home to many young evacuees during the Second World War.

Mary, whose older brother was at war in the Army, was the only child from her school, St Peter’s, to go to Linton Camp. It was to be her home for the next four years.

“Before going to Linton Camp I was evacuated to a private house in Cottingley, where I learned how the other half live,” she smiles. “When I arrived at Linton it seemed a very big place, with all those dormitories. Some children were homesick, I was a bit at first but I met a girl from Bradford, Edna, and soon settled in. We all became like a family. The teachers lived with us,. The headmaster was Mr Sternwrite, he was quite strict. We had school lessons in the morning and evening. In the afternoons the teachers took us to Grassington woods, that was my favourite place.

“We did lots of walking, for us children from the city it was lovely to be out in the countryside. I’d been quite a poorly child and the fresh air made me a lot more fit and healthy.”

Adds Mary: “We were always occupied, we never had time to be bored. Mr Newbould ran a stamp collection club, Mr Dunne taught woodwork, Mrs Ellison, the deputy head, took needlework. We had parties at Christmas and parents sent presents. We didn’t have any trips home but our parents came to visit once a month. We were allowed to take our spending money to the tuck shop in Grassington.”

Now 91, Mary has fond memories of her time at Linton Camp. She was one of many Bradford children sent there during the war.

Edward Tong, also 91, was there at the same time. He remains a friend of Mary and her husband Roman, who live at Sandy Lane. “It was rough in the Dales in winter but I enjoyed it,” Edward told the T&A. “We lads played football - the only camp we didn’t beat was Clitheroe. I was there until I was 14. I later joined the RAF. Linton Camp was good standing for the forces.”

“We felt very safe there,” adds Mary. “We all had porridge in the morning together before lessons. A big container of cod liver oil was delivered from Bradford, we had a teaspoon of it once a week. I helped to give it out to the other children and I’d give my friends two spoons full!

“We spent lots of time outdoors; we had lots of fun playing rounders and in winter we used to sledge down the field. We did baking, sometimes we cooked meals for the staff. My mum had my bike delivered to the camp and Nurse O’Connor and I used to pedal to Skipton on Sundays to the Catholic church. Mine was a ‘sit up and beg’ bike and very heavy, hers was a racing bike and she went a lot faster!

“A few of us girls joined Grassington Guides and we asked a cobbler in the town how to mend shoes, so we could get a badge. He was so impressed he took our shoes to his boys to show them how to mend a pair of shoes!”

While it was mostly local children at Linton Camp, there were some from further afield. “There were some boys from the Channel Islands, and a German boy, Kurt, who wanted to sing a German song at one of our concerts but only from the side of the stage,” recalls Mary.

Mary left Linton Camp aged 14: “I used to help Nurse O’Connor in the clinic, and she asked if I’d like to train to be a nursery nurse. I went to Lilycroft Nursery for two years, I got £1 a week which I had to collect from the Town Hall,” says Mary. “It was strange going to live at home again, I missed everyone.”

Mary has been to Linton Camp reunions over the years and she helped Doreen Lehr, who arrived at Linton Camp aged five “carrying a Mickey Mouse gas mask, a suitcase and an identity label”, with a book she wrote about the evacuee experience there. “She came over from America and met a few of us,” says Mary. “We met former teacher Frank Newbould too.”

Linton Camp was one of around 30 ‘camp schools’ built by the National Camps Corporation in rural locations. After the war it was a residential school, purchased by Bradford Council, and many children were sent there on medical grounds, to benefit from the open spaces. It closed in the mid-1980s.

Now developers have planning approval to turn the site into a holiday accommodation complex. Mary welcomes the plans. “I’ve taken the family there over the years. It’s a sorry state now,” she says. “It would be a nice use of the site if they built a hotel and chalets there.”

Mary, who worked at Albert Slater and later in home care for Bradford Council, met her husband Roman in 1948 and they recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary. Roman, 95, is from Poland and after serving with the Allies in the war he came to Bradford and worked in textiles. “My mother had a friend whose daughter went out with a Polish man, Michael. He’d been in the same Army unit as Roman,” says Mary. “My mother took Michael in as a lodger and one day he brought a friend to tea. It was Roman.” The couple married in 1950 at St Peter’s Church, 10 years after it was nearly destroyed in the bombing. They have four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Leafing through old photographs of Linton Camp, Mary says: “I feel lucky to have gone there. It was an experience I would otherwise never have had, and I made some good friends.”

l Pictured in the main photograph are: Back row; Dorothy North, Irene Simpson, Irene Thorpe. Below, fourth from left: Joyce Carter; Bottom row, third left: Joyce Bromley, Mary, Rose Goy.