A famous forager has told how her unusual career was inspired by her granddad’s fight for survival during the Nazi regime.

Alysia Vasey, known as The Yorkshire Forager, has brought her family legacy to TV shows and the nation’s top restaurants for more than a decade.

The Denholme resident is a fan favourite on James Martin’s Saturday Morning show as well as Countryfile and Steph’s Packed Lunch.

But her story begins over 70 years ago with her teenage granddad and his brother in the Polish city of Poznan. 

“The borders in Poland changed all the time,” Alysia said.

“A lot of the time when people were born, they were German and the borders would change again. It kept going back and forth. They renounced their German citizenship and they were Polish so, when it came to 1939, those who renounced their German citizenship were non grata.

“My great granddad was a rail engineer/driver, and my granddad and his brother were doing apprenticeships.

“My granddad had noticed instead of cattle they were transporting people. They clicked on very quickly what was happening. They [the Nazi regime] were taking people to this fort and they wouldn’t come back out.”

This horrific fort was in fact Konzentrationslager Posen, where SS chemist Dr August Becker killed over 400 patients and staff from the nearby psychiatric hospital in early gas chamber execution experiments.

Different estimates suggest between 4,500 and 20,000 people, mostly Polish, were killed at the camp.

Alysia said: “He was able to get the message out by being a driver to let it be known. My granddad and his brother would stop the train off mid journey. If they could get away with it they would let people out. They did get caught doing this.

“My great granddad was shot in the head. My granddad and his brother were put into the back of a cattle truck.”

Alysia’s granddad says he only had five days of life left when the siblings got a stroke of luck.

As a German farmer started a fight over a fur coat, everyone in the back of the truck sprinted off into the forest.

“The Germans not for a minute stopped hunting them down,” she said.

“They would hang them from the trees and send a girl out mushroom picking to see if it drove them out. They had to lay low and live from foraging and trapping rabbits and squirrels.”

A trustworthy school friend rescued the siblings and they bravely joined the Polish resistance efforts in Warsaw.

It landed the siblings in a POW camp in Italy.

After the war, the pair answered the UK Government’s call for help to rebuild the economy.

Alysia’s grandfather began working for a carpet factory in Bradford and raised four children with his wife.

Her nana and granddad are now in their 90s and live in Sowerby Bridge.

Alysia said: “My granddad used to get things on the way back from work to subsidise his wages. He used to know all the trees and what you couldn’t eat.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Yorkshire Forager Alysia Vasey during filmingThe Yorkshire Forager Alysia Vasey during filming (Image: UGC)

Alysia soaked up her grandfather’s foraging knowledge whilst growing up in Ripponden.

“I never thought about it as a job, because you don’t do you?,” she said.

“I’ve worked as a waitress. I joined the navy when I was 19, I was an aircraft engineer. I worked for P&O cruises.”

Upon returning to Calderdale, she rediscovered her roots and foraged different types of Yorkshire truffles.

After moving to Doncaster with her first husband, she dedicated more and more time to foraging.

Alysia said: “I just couldn’t let it go. I was part of a growing trend of using natural produce and things growing on our doorsteps.

“I started doing some research. I started working with some really top chefs and they had this massive amount of creativity going on, bringing out all the flavours.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Yorkshire Forager Alysia Vasey during filming with fellow Yorkshire chef James MartinThe Yorkshire Forager Alysia Vasey during filming with fellow Yorkshire chef James Martin (Image: UGC)

Alysia is now living in Denholme on her partner’s farm and foraging from the Thornton and Oxenhope area.

She is set to feature foraged goods from Denholme on ITV’s James Martin’s Saturday Morning on November 12.

“I sometimes have to pinch myself,” she said.

“We have a lot of fun. I’m very lucky.

“I’m taking a year out to find my bearings. I’m training my partner’s son as well.”

Describing what she loves about Denholme, she said: “It’s got that village community feel.”

Alysia’s book - The Yorkshire Forager: A Wild Food Survival Journey – is available from £9.99 on Amazon and Waterstones.

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